A gas mask is one of those tools in your survival kit that you really hope you never have to use. Nevertheless, it’s an important inclusion simply because of the world we live in today. For law enforcement, security, and military personnel, gas masks have become a critical piece of equipment that allows them to do their job to the best of their ability. A quality gas mask will protect you from CBRN and NBC agents (1), whether they’re in weaponized form or not.
A full-face gas mask is much more effective than a simple mouth and nose shield. When it comes to performance and protection, a full-face mask respirator really is the only way to go. Our list of the Top Ten Gas Masks will help you narrow down your options so that you can choose the best mask for your needs. Our thorough Buyer’s Guide will also break down the most important factors to consider when buying a gas mask.
This full-face respirator protects your entire face, as well as your vital internal organs, from the potentially fatal effects of Chemical Warfare Agents (CWA). When used with a suitable gas filter or breathing apparatus, it also provides protection against a number of CBRN agents, which can appear in the form of gas, vapor, aerosol, or radioactive dust-based toxins.
The Mira Safety CM-6M gas mask is a tactical choice that’s approved by a number of governmental entities worldwide, including Norway, Portugal, and Chile. The mask boasts a 20-year shelf life and is compatible with 40-millimeter filter cartridges. It is made with durable bromobutyl rubber construction, which meets CBRN protection standards. The mask has been tested to resist mustard gas penetration for nearly 30 hours and comes with a hypoallergenic inner mask that prevents fogging so you’ll never lose critical visibility.
2. Avon M50
The Avon M50 Full-Face Respirator is constructed to military specifications and includes an interior drinking tube as well as a clear outer lens. This gas mask uses an M61 filter assembly and it ‘s one of the most advanced masks in existence and is capable of providing superior protection against chemical, biological, radioactive, and nuclear agents.
The M50 model’s cast flexible visor offers a wide field of vision while maintaining the best in impact and scratch resistance. The mask’s curved conformal filters also offer reduced breathing resistance and improved weight distribution. Additionally, the mask boasts an integrated Electronic Communication Port to connect an internal microphone for communication systems.
3. Dräger 6300
This gas mask is made for comfort with a 5-point harness and wide straps that prevent pressure points on the head and allow for easy donning and doffing. It is designed to fit virtually any face shape and size and the mask body itself is made from durable, skin-friendly EPDM (2). It also offers a double-layer face seal and triple sealing edges.
The Dräger 6300 provides both respiratory and face protection in an efficient, full-face breathing mask. It’s great for multiple applications and can be used with Rd40 (40-millimeter threaded) particle filters, gas or combination cartridges. That mask also features a distortion-free PMMA (3) lens that provides a 180°wide-angle field of vision.
4. SGE 1
The SGE1 is a full-face gas mask respirator designed to NATO specifications. It will protect against nuclear, biological, and chemical agents and it’s compatible with 40-millimeter filters via three distinct filter ports. It’s also drinking tube compatible, but this must be purchased separately and installed by the manufacturer.
This gas mask comes with a soft, quick-release harness with six adjustable straps. The mask’s durable polycarbonate visor has been tested to resist a one-inch steel ball propelled at 335 mph without cracking or otherwise being damaged. It also offers full visibility face protection and is heat resistant up to 800 degrees Celsius.
5. 3M FR-7800B
This full-face respirator is designed for first responders and protects against certain chemical warfare agents, such as sarin and mustard gas. It also protects against industrial chemicals and particulates. The mask’s facepiece is made of butyl rubber.
The 3M FR-7800B offers the ability to mount filter canisters on either side for convenience via 40-millimeter connections. The head harness is made from silicone and secures to your head using a suspension, six-part strap. This mask also includes a speaking diaphragm and meets NIOSH standards (4).
6. MSA Millennium
The MSA Millennium is designed to protect law enforcement and military personnel from a variety of respiratory hazards. It’s capable of protecting the wearer against chemical, biological, radioactive, and nuclear agents and has great application as a riot control gas mask.
This mask offers a flexible lens and a wider field of view. It provides permeation-resistant construction and built-in speaking diaphragms. It also offers a customizable, comfortable fit and the ability for easy On/Off adjustment.
7. Avon FM12
This gas mask is compatible with weapon sights and other optical devices, which makes it a great choice for tactical situations. The mask’s six-buckle fit provides an excellent seal and the contoured face seal helps to ensure compatibility with a variety of helmets.
The Avon FM12 has two filter mounts on the left and right that are designed to minimize interference and provide the ability to customize to fit your needs. The mask also contains a high-flow, fail-safe drinking device that enables connection to a canteen or hydration bladder.
8. Israeli Rubber Respirator Mask
This full-face gas mask will have you prepared in the case of an emergency that involves nuclear, biological, or chemical agents. It’s compatible with any 40-millimeter NATO filer gas canister and the mask’s straps are easily adjustable to fit all sizes.
The Israeli Rubber Respirator Mask is made of high-quality, professional-grade materials. The goggles are made with scratch-resistant polycarbonate lenses. It’s also great for industrial and commercial uses such as painting, sanding, dusting, cleaning, and grinding fumes.
The PD-100 full-face respirator is designed for those who work with chemical and other toxic substances. It’s also a great gas mask for pesticide protection, chemical laboratory use, fire inspection equipment, health and epidemic prevention, and environmental technology applications.
The mask comes with dual filter cartridges and an impact-resistant lens. It’s compatible with 3M cartridges and the mask itself is manufactured using non-toxic materials. The mask’s high-density elastic straps also ensure an airtight seal and a snug fit in any conditions.
10. M15 Rubber Respirator Mask
The M15 is an IDF Government-Issue Israeli gas mask. The mask’s large triangular eyepieces provide a superior field of vision and its integrated voice meter enhances verbal communication capability. It’s the standard issue mask for all Israeli defense forces.
This gas mask also contains an upgraded exhalation valve for easier breathing. It offers compatibility with a drinking tube assembly and it fits any standard 40-millimeter NATO filter gas canister. The goggles are made from scratch-resistant polycarbonate lens and the mask’s easily adjustable straps truly make it a ‘one-size-fits-all’ option.
Gas masks have evolved significantly since the first M17 that contained chromium in the filters, a substance we now know to be a carcinogen. However, with improvements in filtration, comfort, and seals, there are so many options available on the market today. To help you make an educated decision, our Buyer’s Guide will focus on protection, visibility, and hydration compatibility.
Gas masks are specifically designed to protect against specific agents. Many provide protection against a host of toxic substances, but knowing exactly what each mask you’re interested in protects against is important before making a purchase. In general, even those looking to buy a gas mask primarily for civil defense should invest in a military grade gas mask respirator.
There are several important ratings and/or “seals of approval” to look for when evaluating the level of protection that a gas mask offers. CBRN masks will largely provide the highest degree of protection possible against chemical, biological, radioactive, and nuclear agents. Masks with a CBRN rating are verified and rate to provide protection against chemical, biological, radioactive, and nuclear agents for an 8-hour period.
NBC masks provide protection against nuclear, biological, and chemical agents, but not against radioactive substances. Masks with an NBC rating are verified and rated to withstand the aforementioned agents for up to an 8-hour window as well. There are other important ratings such as CBA, RCA, and even specialty ratings that delineate a mask or filter’s ability to protect against a specific NBC or HAZMAT threat. Most of the ratings you’ll find will specify the mask’s effectiveness against the four most known types of toxic agents: chemical, biological, radioactive, and nuclear.
In addition, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) distinction is another “seal of approval” to look for. Most of the best gas masks come with a specific NIOSH rating that advertises its effectiveness. The NIOSH rating system is best understood by viewing the table below.
NIOSH ratings will appear in a gas mask’s specifications in the form of one of the letters on the left column followed by a number from the right column. A gas mask with a rating of N95, for example, means that it is effective in filtering out 95% of all airborne particles, but the mask is not resistant to oil. When it comes to buying protection, a NIOSH rating of N95 is the absolutely baseline for an effective mask. If you really want complete protection, the P100 rating is the best that NIOSH hands out to gas masks.
These CBRN, NBC, and NIOSH specifications all lend considerable credibility to any gas mask you’re looking at, but aside from the specifications for the types of agents a mask will protect you from, there are also half-masked and full-face respirators to choose from. As you might imagine, full-face respirators provide the highest degree of protection possible, which is why you’ll see them in use with law enforcement, security, and military personnel.
Filter cartridge compatibility is also important to consider when it comes to how much protection you’re getting. In general, it’s good to find a mask that accepts filters with a 40-millimeter NATO thread. This will give you the ability to choose from the widest variety of NATO filters available. Other thread options may limit the type of filters you can use with a certain mask.
Especially when it comes to firefighting, law enforcement, and military applications, a high degree of visibility and large field of view is important. These are circumstances in which it’s highly critical to be able to identify risks, objects, and other parts of the world around you in order to make decisions that can ultimately have high consequences or rewards.
Masks with singular lenses tend to provide the best clarity of vision and minimize obstructions to your peripheral vision. Some users, for example, may find that goggle-type masks don’t give them the freedom they need to survey their exterior landscape adequately.
In addition, the type of material that the lens or goggles of a mask is made with will affect the clarity of the mask, especially in adverse conditions. Just to offer an idea, many of the best gas masks only obstruct about one inch of your peripheral vision. In addition, you should make sure that the visor of your gas mask is heat-resistant, at least to an appreciable degree.
In a situation where a gas mask is in use, it’s likely that you’ll need to wear it for an extended period. The types of agents that gas masks protect you from don’t typically disappear in a matter of minutes. Because of the risk that you’ll need to wear your gas mask on a prolonged basis, you want to make sure that the mask you choose is going to offer a comfortable fit.
When it comes to finding a comfortable gas mask, there are two features that you should pay attention to. The first is the mask’s nose cup. This is the area that protects the mouth and nose. If it pinches your cheeks or presses on the bridge of your nose with too much force, that’s simply not going to be comfortable for a long time. Transversely, if the nose cup doesn’t provide a snug fit, then you put yourself at risk of exposure to potentially toxic agents.
The second feature you should pay attention to when it comes to comfort is the straps. These are responsible for securing the mask to your head and making sure it fits tight enough to afford you the degree of protection you’re searching for. But, just like with the nose cup, if these straps aren’t adjustable enough to give you some freedom in terms of how the mask fits, you risk them being too tight and squeezing your head uncomfortably.
Another consideration when selecting a gas mask is how it will stand up to long-term use. Gas masks are deployed in some of the most extreme circumstances imaginable, so they need to be able to withstand those circumstances and come out on the other end ready to go for another round. What you really want to avoid is a gas mask that ends up being a “one-and-done” kind of purchase.
When you think about the durability of a gas mask, the main thing you’ll look at is the materials used in its manufacture. The best materials for a high-performing gas mask are butyl rubber and silicone. These are the common materials used in the main structure of the best gas masks. When it comes to the lens, it’s hard to beat the benefits of polycarbonate material, which is best to provide maximum visibility and protection.
Hydration and Communication Compatibility
When you’re looking at gas masks, you’ll also want to find an option that makes it easy to stay hydrated and to communicate with your team. In some masks, these features are a mere afterthought. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you need to wear your gas mask for a prolonged period, the ability to remain sufficiently hydrated while still protecting yourself against harmful agents will be essential. As such, we highly recommend finding a gas mask that can be used in conjunction with an approved drinking tube.
Additionally, all law enforcement, security, and military personnel are part of larger teams. These teams must be able to communicate effectively if they’re going to perform their duties. Even if you’re buying a gas mask for civil defense, the ability to still communicate once you put it on is vital. Some masks contain a voice amplifier or meter that helps you effectively communicate through them. Depending on your intended use, this can also be an important addition. Those who work in a team in which quick, effective communication is essential to success or survival should certainly have a gas mask with a voice amplifier or meter.
Frequently Asked Questions
A gas mask is one of those survival and tactical tools that often mean the difference between life and death. But if you don’t know how to use and maintain your mask correctly, it won’t be nearly as effective as it should be. This list of Frequently Asked Questions will help you bolster your gas mask knowledge so that you can use your new mask to the best of its ability.
How long does a gas mask last?
Many of the best gas masks on the market have a shelf life of up to 20 years. But when it comes to longevity, it’s also apt to talk about the lifespan of the filters that the mask contains. Generally, most gas mask filters will last up to about 24 hours in a nuclear, biological, or chemical situation.
How often should I change the filter in my mask?
The rule of thumb for replacing the filter in your gas mask recommends that you remove yourself from the contaminated area and dispose of the existing filter if it becomes damaged, soiled, or breathing becomes difficult. If this circumstance never occurs, it’s generally recommended to change the filter after 40 hours of use or 30 days, whichever comes first.
How should I clean my respirator?
You can clean the face piece of your respirator using the pre-packaged cleaning wipes that often come with it. If this isn’t available, you can also immerse the face piece in a warm cleaning solution and then scrub with a soft brush until clean. You can always add a little natural detergent if needed, but the temperature of your cleaning solution should never exceed 120°Fahrenheit.
What is an organic vapor?
This term most often refers to liquids that evaporate quickly and are petroleum based. Some examples include the solvents in paint, nail polish remover, and gasoline.
Will I be able to get a tight seal with my gas mask if I have a beard?
The simplest answer to this question is no. Some have tried to apply oils to their beard in order to mat it down in an attempt to achieve a better seal. But there’s really no substitute for direct skin contact when it comes to creating an airtight seal. When your life depends on it, it’s worth shaving that neckbeard.
Can anyone wear a respirator gas mask?
It’s important to note that breathing through a respirator is noticeably more difficult than breathing in open air. Therefore, people with lung diseases (asthma or emphysema), elderly individuals, and other populations may struggle to breathe when wearing a gas mask. Additionally, those with vision problems may also have trouble seeing with a gas mask on.
The first effective, charcoal-activated gas mask was invented way back in 1915 by Russian chemist Nikolay Zelinsky (5). Today’s masks are more effective and comfortable than ever. We hope that you’ve found this article useful and we wish you the best of luck selecting the right gas mask for you.