The world is an increasingly dangerous place. Civilians and the military equally need to be prepared for the present and future dangers of warfare. It’s not the large bombs that are your primary concern any longer. It’s the small, silent killers in the form of biological and chemical agents that will be the most significant concern to your welfare. How, then, can you protect yourself? Is it sensible to purchase a gas mask to prepare for that eventuality?
The best masks are constructed using butyl rubber, have multiple straps to seal correctly, take standard 40 mm filters, and use polycarbonate to build the visor. Once your chosen mask meets these criteria, considerations such as weight, look, feel, ventilation, and speech diaphragm come into play.
There are many options when choosing the right gas mask to protect yourself from biological warfare and chemical attacks. Although it can be hard to select the exact model, there are common characteristics to look out for that will offer the utmost protection.
Best Gas Masks Available
Gas masks are also commonly called air-purifying respirators. Their function is to remove chemicals and sometimes particulates from the air before you inhale them. The difference between a gas mask for chemical or biological warfare is the filter that you put into it. The rest of the mask, i.e., the facemask, straps, and construction materials, are all the same. Sometimes, the filter is kept in a metallic shell, in which case the filter you require is sold in the form of a canister.
Gas masks are expensive, setting you back a couple of hundred dollars before buying the filter(s). Affordability is a concern when preparing for biological warfare or chemical attacks. After all, it shouldn’t be something that you are often facing, if at all, in your lifetime.
Here are some of the best gas masks that will protect you from both biological warfare and chemical attacks:
My personal favorite mask and the one I highly recommend.
- This is a full face mask, so it will protect your eyes as well as your airways.
- It has five back staps to ensure you get a perfect fit and a tight seal around your face.
- It is constructed from butyl rubber, meaning that it can be used in extreme temperatures (-30 °C to 70 °C).
- Resistant to most chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) reagents; therefore, degradation while wearing the device is not an issue. Depending on the climate, this may be a significant attribute.
This mask’s visor section is designed to provide the wearer with 180 degrees of vision, meaning your eye line is not compromised while wearing this.
Helpful Tip: If you prefer a face shield design for your mask, opt for the CM-6M instead.
As a bonus, the inside of the visor is hypoallergenic and designed to limit the amount of fogging you may experience. It is also highly resistive to scratches and impacts, so the chances of it breaking or having your vision obscured are negatable.
Other features include a system for draining sweat and a method for drinking. It also comes with a canteen that will hook into the water drinking system. If you want to use this mask with the Camelbak, you will have to buy an adapter. Usefully, the speech diaphragm is constructed to allow for clear communication without the need for additional communication devices.
Importantly, the CM-7M allows for the insertion of two NATO-standard 40 mm filters (Click to see Listing), enabling you to diversify or expand your protection capacity. You can also opt just to wear one if you need the other side to shoot, or if you only have one filter available. Here is a video demonstration showing how this works:
These masks will last a couple of decades is they are stored in a cool, dry place when not in use.
Please Note: This mask does not have NIOSH CBRN approval, which is why it is not part of the U.S. military kit. However, it is used by other countries to protect their soldiers.
If you are looking for the mask that is used by the U.S. Military, then look no further than the Avon M50. It is rated as a CBRN, so it will protect you from biological warfare and chemical attacks. Its construction is similar to the CM-7M, with a few tweaks. There are many outstanding features to this mask, and it should be considered.
Key Feature: If you are concerned about vision but do not want a full face shield design, then the panoramic lens might be precisely what you are looking for. Akin to googles, this visor in no way inhibits your eyesight range. The M50 is also designed with anti-fogging technology, and the material used is scratch and impact-proof too.
This mask has the capacity to hold two filters, 40 mm NATO-standard filters. Significantly, when you are changing the filters, you do not need to hold your breath with this model as you do with others. The double filter system also works to double your airflow during an inhale, making it a low resistance for inhalation. If you have any lung capacity issues or plan to exert yourself while wearing the mask, then this is worth considering.
The construction of the Avon M50 has limiting overheating in mind. There is only a marginal increase in temperature, internally, over time. This makes this model comfortable when wearing it for a prolonged period. It also eliminates any feeling of suffocation, something other models cannot boast.
If claustrophobia is a concern, then the M50 might be the best mask for you.
This mask will offer you complete protection and is suitable when faced with biological warfare or chemical attacks and has been NIOSH approved. Therefore, you have government oversight stating that the MSA is proven to work against CBRN agents. It is easy to fit on a user’s face, with five adjustable head straps, and it is designed with comfort in mind. Your vision will be wholly unobscured with its full face mask design, enabling an unparalleled view. The visor is fog-resistant and is also protected against scratches and impact damage.
A word of caution: One downside to the uncompromised design and sturdy construction is the weight (2 lbs) and its overall bulkiness compared to other models. If you foresee wearing this mask extensively or have neck problems, a lighter model may be more suitable.
A second downside to this mask is that it only uses one filter at a time. While this may be suitable for some uses, you may want to use two different filters to increase your coverage in biological warfare and chemical attacks. A one canister capacity also means a single airflow when you are inhaling, making breathing more difficult compared to models with a two filter capacity.
This full-face mask offers complete protection against biological agents and chemical attacks if the correct 40 mm filter is in place. It is designed with a head harness that uses six tightening points to ensure the fit is perfect around your face. The manufacturer also offers adjusters to help the mask fit all, as it is only available in a single size.
To be assured that the M-350 will protect you against all CBRN threats entirely, the mask has been NBC certified. Such regulatory approval helps you feel better about it, only having space for a single filter, compared to some models that have two. Made from rubber butyl, the construction is lightweight, so there is no issue wearing this mask for a prolonged period. Assembly from this material also ensures that the mask will have a long shelf-life with proper storage.
Best Value Overall: These masks have proven popular during the COVID-19 pandemic of early 2020. Their popularity has been increased due to the lower price point compared to military-grade products and the manufacturer’s money-back guarantee.
Considerations When Purchasing a Gas Mask
There are many models of gas masks available, and choosing the right on for you can be a difficult decision. When combating biological or chemical warfare, getting a mask that fits well and can be comfortably worn for an extended period is the most beneficial.
When choosing a gas mask to protect yourself in biological warfare or during a chemical attack, make sure it is rated to work in those conditions. Many masks are suited to providing clean air in working conditions, but not when a biological agent is exposed to the atmosphere. However, most protection is offered through the filter in the mask. Ensure you are using the correct filter to get the most out of your mask, no matter which one you pick.
Here are additional features to consider:
There are two primary forms of gas masks:
- Some will cover your nose and mouth only, leaving your eyes exposed to whatever is in the air. These types of masks are more commonly known as respirators, rather than a gas mask. They are not suitable for biological warfare or most chemical attacks. Many aerosolized biological weapons and chemical reagents can be transmitted through the vitreous fluid in your eye.
- The other version, which covers your eyes and most of your head, is termed a full-face gas mask. Both varieties use a filter that is located at the bottom of the mask, usually below the mouth.
It is vital that you get a respirator that fits you perfectly. Even the smallest leak can expose you to enough of a biological or chemical weapon for it to harm or kill you.
If there is more than one size, take as many measurements as you can to make sure it will work for you. For example, if you have a beard, you may find it hard to make the air respirator gas mask tighten correctly. One way around this may be using vaseline on your beard to create a seal.
Pro Tip: If you wear glasses, you will have a harder time finding a mask that works well with them, depending on their size and shape. If this is the case, do test the mask before committing to owning it.
The best gas masks are made from butyl rubber or silicone, so ensure you purchase one made from these. Less robust materials will not stand up well to biological and chemical threats and will disintegrate or degrade quicker than better-made models.
The material of the visor is also vital, as anti-fogging and robustness are essential. Look for polycarbonate visors to give you the best results.
Respirators can be cumbersome, weighing up to 3 lbs. This can be far to heavy for some to wear with reasonable comfort for several minutes, never mind extended periods. Consequently, you should choose a respirator that you can wear for a period of time that fits with your personal plan to safety.
Breathing through a respirator involves far more pulmonary effort than breathing air normally. Therefore, if you have a lung disease, such as emphysema, cancer, or asthma, you are unlikely to have the ability to breathe sufficiently with a respirator mask.
For the same reasons, children and the elderly will struggle to be protected by a mask. Chose a model that has two filters or increased airflow make it easier for these populations to breathe.
By the way, if you are interested in a mask for children, Mira Safety also makes an excellent smaller model specifically designed for kids.
All respirators require training prior to use. It is worth investigating how extensive and complicated the training is for the gas mask that you are planning on purchasing is. If you are planning on purchasing a mask, trying it on, and then putting it away until you need it, then buying a model that doesn’t require much training is essential.
How Long They Last
Masks and the straps will start to degrade over time. Their longevity will be determined by their construction materials and how they have been used and stored. To elongate the lifetime of your mask, keep it away from extreme temperatures and moisture.
Make it a habit to inspect the integrity of the mask frequently, as you don’t want to be left with an ineffective mask when it matters most. If butyl rubber has been used in the mask’s construction, it should last 10-20 years if looked after properly.
Limitations of Gas Mask Filters
Alas, there is no one filter that can protect you from everything. Therefore, the effectiveness of your gas mask is down to the filters that you use, more than which actual mask you buy. Even with the correct filter against the biological or chemical weapon, your gas mask may not fully protect you. Filters are designed with a specific capacity. Therefore, if exposure levels are high or the exposure is prolonged, then the filter may not be able to prevent you from inhaling the biological or chemical weapon.
It is worthwhile noting that there is no oversight for respirator filter testing for the general public in the U.S. for biological weapons. Therefore, you are wholly trusting the manufacturer to be selling you a functional filter. Of course, there is no way for you to test that these filters work safely. Further, be aware that even fitted gas masks can leak slightly. In the event that the biological substance is in high enough concentrations around you, even a tiny leak can lead to lethal doses.
Filters will not last indefinitely, even if they are not used. Any filter or cartridge that are past their expiration date, been exposed to the air (i.e., not stored in an airtight container), or are in any way physically damaged, will not protect you.
When purchasing a gas mask, ensure you are buying a mask that fits you properly and is a weight that you can wear comfortably. Materials should be made of butyl rubber for the mask and polycarbonate for the visor.
Make sure you purchase a mask that takes the standard 40 mm filters and look for certifications to ensure you are buying a reliable product that has been vetted. If it doesn’t have a certification, see if the mask is used by any military or law enforcement officials throughout the world.
What Exactly Is Biological Warfare?
Biological or germ warfare, is the purposeful release, during a war of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or insects with the intent to kill or incapacitate. The target of this type of warfare can be humans, animals, or agriculture. It has existed in some form for over 3,500 years and often took the form of spreading diseases such as the plague or smallpox intentionally.
Advancements in germ theory made World War I the start of modern biological warfare when anthrax and glanders were used frequently, with varying degrees of success. The consequence of this was the Geneva Protocol, which outlawed the use of chemical and biological weapons in 1925.
Does N95 Mask Protect You Against Tear Gas?
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of wearing masks/respirators to prevent the spread of virus particles through your aerosolized breath. Alas, viruses aren’t the only substance in the air that we need to be protected from.
Tear gas is often deployed by law enforcement for crowd control and is used increasingly throughout the world. Inhaling tear gas, a lachrymator, can cause lung irritation and respiratory issues, so avoiding it is desired. However, a N95 respirator will not fully protect you from tear gas. They will work slightly better than a standard surgical mark, but they are not as effective as a gas mask/respirator.