Proper gas masks and respirators make a huge difference in situations like severe air pollution, riot control, fires, natural disasters, pandemics, and nuclear attacks.
Yet most people have dangerously wrong ideas about these products. Bandanas and surgical masks are not good enough — you need at least a proper disposable N95/P100 mask, and likely a reusable half face respirator or full-face gas mask. We spent 43 hours doing the research, so you don’t buy the wrong thing and die.
The best masks for emergencies are respirators because they prevent bad stuff from getting into your respiratory system. Bandanas, dust masks, and surgical masks are not respirators and are not helpful in emergencies!
Respirators have a nice cost/weight/volume to benefit ratio, especially the smaller disposable ones, and should be in every emergency kit.
Yet many preppers either overlook them entirely, think N95 is the answer to everything, or buy a cheap gas mask while believing they can bug out to Chernobyl.
There are common but serious misunderstandings about lingo, how they work, and what types of masks work well for emergencies (rather than masks meant for painting or sawing).
For example, the masks you see many people wear during daily life in Asia do almost nothing to protect you from external threats like disease — they are designed to protect other people from you.
When people refer to “gas masks”, those are respirators. So are the disposable N95/P100 ones that form a tight seal around your nose and mouth, or the half-face versions commonly used in industrial or construction settings.
During the 2017 wildfires that choked major California cities with smoke, local stores completely sold out as people rushed in to buy masks. So you can’t depend on finding respirator masks easily when you need them at the last minute. Buy some today!
Most important tips for emergency respirators:
Most people should have a mix of cheap disposables and a half-face model in their emergency bags, and possibly a CBRN- or NBC-rated gas mask at home.
Start with the disposables and work your way up. A nuclear gas mask should not be one of your first purchases, if you ever buy one at all.
Respirators are temporary solutions to help you escape danger. You will not be spending days traveling the wastelands wearing just a gas mask.
There is a wide range of gas masks and respirators. They are not equal. What you buy matters.
Masks cannot protect you from everything in all cases. It’s an 80-20 game.
Do not buy surplus masks or clones from cheap countries.
You can run through 1-3 filters in a single day. Stock up.
Pay attention to mask fit, proper storage and care, proper use, and respecting expiration dates.
Children and those with facial hair don’t have a lot of good options, but we offer tips below.
To be honest, this article took a lot longer than expected, mostly due to the overwhelming amount of fraudulent garbage and grossly disorganized info on the internet.
Here are our top recommendations. Full details and background info are below the fold.
Industry tested comfort:
Very popular mask among workers that use them daily. Comfortable. Exhale valve deflects hot breath downward. Compatible with wide range of commonly found ‘bayonet’ filters. Three sizes.
We think the professional half face respirators are a great but too-often-overlooked choice for preppers. They’re not much more expensive than the disposables and take up about the same amount of room in your supplies and bags. Yet they provide better protection and comfort. We like the very popular 3M 7500 masks for $22. When matched with the 3M 7093C P100 plus Nuisance Gas filter ($25 per pair) or 3M 60926 Cartridge plus P100 Filter ($23 per pair), you get the highest level of particulate filtration and relatively good protection against gases and vapors like chlorine and ammonia.
Cheap and plentiful, the right disposable respirator is an easy way to protect yourself in the most likely emergencies (fires, pollution, illness, etc.). We like the 3M 8293 P100 and Honeywell P1130 P100 Saf-T-Fit because of their best-in-class protection against the widest range of threats. A cheaper but still great option is the 3M 8576 P95 Acid Gas at $40 per 10.
Exhalation valve. One of the toughest disposables. Best P100-level filtration plus protection against things like lead, arsenic, and nuisance gases.
Best gas mask:
Mestel SGE 400/3 Gas Mask
Complete protection against Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical threats. Optional CBRN-rated model. Very sturdy, wide view visor. Popular among preppers. Easy(ish) to reliably buy. Three 40mm filter mounts.
There are fewer appropriate gas masks than you might expect. Among the few we trust with our lives, the Mestel SGE 400/3 is the best for most people at $175 (before filters). It’s rated for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical threats, while its $230 bigger brother, the CBRN-rated SGE 400/3 BB, can also handle particularly nasty threats like mustard gas. We dig deeper into CBRN vs. NBC, how to buy gas masks for sale, accessories, budget masks, and more further down the page.
Slim combo for half masks:
3M 7093C Nuisance Gas Filter
Slim combo unit with built-in seal check. P100 filter. Rated for minor levels of organic vapors and acidic gases, including hydrogen fluoride and chlorine.
Best for gas masks
Mestel 40mm CBRN Filter
The best bang for your buck. Full CBRN / ABEK2P3 protection. Top brand. One of the more reliably easy to buy filters. Should have clear manufacture and expiration dates printed.