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8 Things You Should Know Before Buying a Gas Mask

The driving plot behind some of our best-selling post-apocalyptic fiction novels in America is a looming reality for many people and nations in the world. As droves of Israeli citizens line up at the post office in Israel to pick up their government-issued gas masks, many of us can’t help but ask the depressing question, “Should I buy a gas mask?”

gas-mask-solo-web

In this article I’ll do my best to clear up many of the questions and myths that surround one of the most iconic symbols of the survivalist movement – the gas mask.

To make an educated decision about whether or not to go on a gas-mask buying spree, you should first consider the following:

 

Surplus does not necessarily mean ‘good deal’

At one point or another, all of us have seen the military “surplus” gas masks advertised online, in catalogs or in Army/Navy retail stores. These masks are “surplus” for a reason. They’re either outdated and have been replaced by more effective models or they are defective. Many of the older surplus masks are famous for being incredibly difficult to deploy and also very ill-fitting even when strapped on correctly. You’ll never find a guarantee of performance on these domestic or imported surplus masks. There’s a reason for that, too. Many of them also ship with filters that are also long expired. I’ll get into that in a later heading. The price of surplus gas masks is enticing, I’ll admit, but the risk is not worth the savings. A good current gas mask that’s up to spec is going to cost at least $125, and more for many models. And that doesn’t include a stock of $40-$50 replacement filters. Surplus gas masks do make great novelties for the man cave, however.

 

Not all gas masks are created equal

Shocker, right? There are certain criteria you need to look for when buying a gas mask. First, make sure the mask and filter is rated for chemical blowing and riot control agents, designated by the CBA/RCA rating, and nuclear, biological and chemical agents, carrying the NBC rating.

Some gas masks on the market are nothing more than glorified surgical masks. While this may be sufficient for most biological threats, it’s also important that any mask and accompanying filter you purchase is certified to protect against nuclear and chemical threats as well. Be sure to discuss this with any supplier before ordering. Third party testing is preferred.

I prefer a mask with filter connections on both sides versus just one side or just in the front. This not only offers more flexibility (i.e. positioning the filter opposite where a gun stock may interfere), but also allows the user to positively attach a replacement filter on the opposite port before removing an expired one.

Field of view is a common frustration with many masks on the market. It’s important to have an unobstructed view during times that warrant the use of a gas mask. Many older surplus masks have small goggle-type eye holes, which virtually eliminate all peripheral vision. How about prescription glasses? It’s important to make sure the mask in consideration accommodates spectacles.

 

You’ll probably need a few spare filters

Not only do filters have a shelf life, but they also don’t last as long while in use as you might imagine. Most need to be replaced after just several hours of use depending on the environment and gas concentrations. Even if breathing in “uninfected air,” they last less than 24 hours. What does this mean? First, it’s not hard to imagine the need for several filters per person depending on exposure times. Second, it’s important to keep track of the expiration date for any filters on hand. At $40-$50 a pop, the cost of replacement filters can add up quick. I would suggest purchasing a mask that accepts 40mm NATO threaded filter canisters. These tend to be the most readily available and popular.

 

Too late is almost always too late

Unless a gas mask is securely deployed before attacks are made, it’s often already too late. Especially in the case of biological and chemical agents, even momentary exposure can be fatal. This begs the question about where you should keep a gas mask. Should it be kept in the home? At work? In the car? Or, should there be one in each location? It’s impossible to predict the time and place that a potential threat may take place. Even if you own a gas mask, a sudden and unexpected attack may not give enough warning to deploy it in time before you have to take your next breath.

 

Paul Bunyan probably won’t make it

paul

Most gas masks don’t play well with facial hair, and I’m not just talking about Duck Dynasty-sized beards either. The 1-week lazy man can be affected. I even have a few female relatives that might have an issue. Any type of facial hair can degrade a critically tight seal against the user’s face. If you’re serious about buying a gas mask, you should also be serious about a clean shave each morning.  NOTE:  Hooded versions of gas masks are manufactured that can be used with beards.

 

You were not born with innate knowledge on using a gas mask

plug-filter

Deploying and strapping on a gas mask isn’t as easy as they make it look in the movies. In fact, many have died by either putting it on incorrectly or not being able to put it on at all while under stress and panic. There are even accounts of people suffocating to death by not removing the plastic seal before screwing on a new filter. I even did this when I installed my first new filter. It’s an easy mistake to make. There is a reason the military conducts gas-mask training exercises. Properly fitting and using a gas mask requires practice. Hands-on training by a professional is preferred. Prior practice at home is an absolute minimum.

 

The United States is a big place

It would be very difficult to cover the entire U.S. with nuclear, biological and chemical agents. Most agree that it is those in the large cities who are in the red zones. A farmer in the middle of Kansas is much less likely to need a gas mask than someone who works in Washington, D.C. This should be considered when making preparedness expenditures. There may be better things to spend a preparedness budget on besides gas masks if you live in areas unlikely to be targeted with nuclear, biological or chemical threats.

 

Gas masks are a means to an end, not the end themselves

You can’t live in a gas mask. They are meant to be a temporary defense for escaping the “green cloud.” If the threat doesn’t stop (i.e. NBC attacks keep coming) and you don’t have a permanent protected place in which to retreat (like an NBC-filtered bunker or safe room), that’s bad news indeed. Even though some gas masks are fitted with drinking straws, it’s just not practical to wear a gas mask for an extended period of time. Gas masks are a short-term solution to hopefully what will be a short-term problem.

Hopefully these insights have helped to “clear the fog” around this somewhat confusing topic. Some reading this article might decide the “surplus” gas mask in the closet purchased online after 9/11 is probably better used as a Halloween costume than a life-saving survival tool. I wouldn’t hold your breath for U.S. government-issued gas masks any time soon. I don’t see that happening in the near future. If you want one, you’re going to have to buy it.

Do you own a gas mask?  Why or why not?

Remember, it’s not if, but when.

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Bob
    June 27, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    3M supplied 6059 combination filtres are stated to last up to 6 months after deployment by manufacturers.

    I use such, in combination with 3M 6800 duel filter mask to do regular landfill gaswell and flare monitoring at a local site. The primary target gas is H2S, and to a lesser digree CH4. Most gas exposure occurrs in the cooler wetter months, when the landfill gas production is higher, up to 360 meter cubed volumes/hour at the flare.

    Problem is, if you are exsposed to CH4 it’s odourless. Second, H2S quickly dulls olfactory senses (probably taste too, ((just like sars cov 2 lol)) if it gets through, resulting in the potential for subtle exsposure minus awareness. Individuals working on site who choose to wear no protection at all are heavily exposed. Some literary drwal, have slurred speech and occasionally can act out of character.

    The common way i can tell if expousure has occurred is a ‘headache’ and then i’m likely to just assume a seal breach, adjust my mask system and carry on. Doesn’t mean i’m not still exsposed, and there’s no way to tell once your senses are dulled.

    A headache can last 24 hours as well as subtle cognitive impairments and respiratory irritation. Obviously having symptoms is useless information after the fact.

    Gas rounds can take 3.5 hours, all on foot, 32 sites to monitor per round, once a fortnight. The site is oddly situated on a hillside too, so physical exertion is required treading between sites/wells.

    Question is, ‘How long are these 6059’s really lasting?
    this is hard to tell, I decided to change filters every three months. After reading this post, I’m going to monthly. Any comments appreciated.

    Bob

  • Reply
    jr233
    June 19, 2020 at 2:22 pm

    reading comments you dont need a gas mask for covid 19 and unless your working with known ill patients you dont need a n 95 a surgical mask or 3 layer cough shield is sufficient. i got an idea from a tv doomsday prepper who has a youtube
    now this is unlikely for a nuke but he suggested a 3m type paint respirator and a pare of swim goggles that fit tight. useful for some chemical and tear gas mainly to help you get away. a full blown army invasion type is a unknown but not too likely
    but localised terror or riot nearby is. i still wonder about the quality of israeli masks with new canisters east european probably junk

  • Reply
    Sat
    May 5, 2020 at 5:12 pm

    Begs the question does not mean to ask the obvious question. See proper definition.

  • Reply
    Han
    April 13, 2020 at 10:59 pm

    I have an Israeli civilian gas mask, that was bought in 2012, both it & its filter (the filter is marked as “ABL 05/86 over 002”) are still sealed in plastic & unused. I’ve read online that they have a shelf-life of 15-20 years. I was wondering if you know this to be true, & if my gas mask & its filter are still good & unexpired based on the fact of them being sealed in plastic & unused? Your help will be greatly appreciated, thank you.

  • Reply
    Best Prepper Tips To Avoid Prepper Mistakes | Everyday Carry Gear
    March 22, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    […] and water filtration systems that you’ve purchased. Would you actually know what to do with that gas mask in your basement quickly enough for it to be effective? Regularly train with any weapons that you […]

  • Reply
    Amin
    March 17, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    I just purchased one. A GSR (British Military model) and a few NATO filters. It’s in response to coronavirus situation. At one point I need to go out to get food for my family.

    Also, be careful about old Soviet era masks. Many of their filters contain asbestos.

    • Reply
      Eric
      March 26, 2020 at 10:02 am

      Im suprised you could find any.

  • Reply
    Tim P
    February 28, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    I should add, they are “Drager”.

  • Reply
    Tim P
    February 28, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    Thanks for the article! I have a couple of Israel masks with sealed filters marked ABL 07/89. and below this is 002. They are a little over 2″ tall. Are these sufficient for biological (I.E. Coronavirus)?

  • Reply
    random visitor
    February 22, 2020 at 7:10 am

    Thanks to COVID-19, and Weaponsandstuff93 on youtube, I’m learning real fast about gas masks. Lol!
    I see the games being played on ebay and 100% agree on Surplus masks. Folks in the UK and US are paying crazy prices for masks 25+ years old. I roll my eyes at items that have “coronavirus” in the title and then state in the description that the item is being sold for collectors or fancy dress purposes.

    I started looking for a gas mask because of COVID-19. But I’ll definitely be holding on to the one I now have in case of any “situations” that arise in future. I certainly won’t be waiting for government advice to invest in a gas mask, or advice to close all doors and windows and to stay inside in the event of some serious chemical gas leak. I was looking at filters and wondering when I’d ever need one that protected against something like ammonia etc. Surely such leaks are a rare thing and I’d just be throwing my money away on a filter that will never be used. And then I Googled for ammonia gas leak news stories…Oh dear.

  • Reply
    Murry
    January 26, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    I wouldn’t, Prepper1, unless you have some kind of pre-existing respiratory issue that makes it hard for you to breathe already, or plan on doing constant, extreme physical activity whilst wearing your mask. While it makes it easier to take breaths, constantly forcing air through the filter greatly reduces its lifespan. Unless you’ve got a lot of extra cash to throw at 40mm filters, I wouldn’t. I personally invested in a full face respirator for that very reason, I realized my wallet demanded a couple options for the escalation of hazard, as usual the one-tool-does-all philosophy is a prohibitively expensive endeavor reserved for the military… P100 respirator filters can be had for $2-$3, which will cover biological threats, with maybe a couple sets of Organic Vapor P100’s thrown in at $8-10 ea. for heartier chemical hazards. Most 40mm filters run minimum $20 ea. and really good ones that you can actually hope to juice 24 hrs. of genuine NBC protection out of will probably run you closer to $40 -$50 new, and can even soar up to $100+ a pop, depending on availability and sourcing at any given time. That’s why it’s good to diversify… sometimes you need strength, but most of the time you need endurance

  • Reply
    Prepper1
    January 2, 2020 at 8:56 am

    Hi
    I have Israeli civilian” masks”.
    Wondering if I should get a blower add on system ?

    • Reply
      Alistair
      February 3, 2020 at 1:57 pm

      Hi Prepper 1
      I support the thrust of Murry’s general observations. He is right about the greatly reduced lifespan of the filters and therefore the increased cost of spares and possibly the logistics burden of transporting them if you have to move.

      He also makes a good observation about “some kind of pre-existing respiratory issue that makes it hard for you to breathe already, or plan on doing constant, extreme physical activity whilst wearing your mask”.

      Without knowing your age, fitness, health and likely bug-out scenario, I feel that he dismisses the blower question a bit too easily though. If you are young, fit and regualrly practice wearing respirators whilst lugging half your bodyweight over rough ground – i.e. you are in the military – this might be a fair point. For the rest of us, particualrly if you are not used to wearing a respirator, not overly fit, possibly the wrong side of 40, and are also physically exerting yourself hard in a very high stress environment, it would be very easy to rapidly overexert yourself and end up in real trouble, (particularly if you are not hydrating yourself properly and the climate is warmish). This is where considering a two filter respirator or a blower is entirely valid, not withstanding the higher filter consumption.

      My other observation is that in the military context you could be fighting over contaminated ground for hours, and therefore they need to get as much life out of the filters as possible. Hence the blower is not so helpful, not least of all because of the weight and batteries. As a civilian however, if an incident occurs, you are more likely to be getting th f***k out of Dodge as fast as possible and therefore are likely to be in the contaminated area for a short or very short period of time. For example if you live downwind of a chemical complex you are not going to be hanging around contemplating your situation. You are going to be moving upwind as fast as possible. What you want in these circumstances is to maximise airflow and minimise breathing resistance and overall stress, allowing you to move fast, maintain situational awareness and make the best tactical decisions possible. It really doesn’t matter how long your filters last because you will be well clear of the area before they expire.

      Put another way. Soldiers on the battlefield won’t have blowers on their respirators. SWAT teams and CBRN first responders typically will. This is pretty much for the reasons above. Therefore your decision about using a blower should be informed by your physical condition, familiarity with wearing respirators, how fast you need to move and for what duration, and how long you see yourself wearing the respirator for, and also to some extent whether you think you will be on foot or in a vehicle. The latter consideration is relevant as on the one hand it suggests that you might not be working hard and therefore don’t need a blower. On the other hand you have a vehicle to carry the extra batteries, charger and filters…

      Have you considered fitting a powered system to your car so that you don’t need to wear a respirator at all? It is actually relatively easily plumbed into the regular air conditioning to put positive pressure on the inside of the vehicle. 😉

      Personally I have compromised in my scenario with a Mira CM-6M. If I don’t need to exert myself much it can be fitted with one filter. If I need to be mobile and move fast it has the ability to use twin filters, much reducing breathing resistance (but without having the additional logistics of a blower). Although in truth my fitness levels are not what they were, I am sufficiently familiar with wearing respirators that wearing this mask for a longish period isn’t too much of a trauma. (And having the drinking tube is a very major advantage over most models as well).

    • Reply
      Togo Bujs
      March 31, 2020 at 11:28 am

      Can anyone advise if the Czech M10M gas mask filters have chromium hexavalent inside of them ????
      Please answer as this is not found in too many places
      Thank you very much for your help

  • Reply
    Chase
    November 10, 2019 at 10:25 pm

    hey there, Canadian here. I see you say that good ones are $125, I’m maybe not looking in the right spots, if you could send a link as to where you look for them I would be very grateful

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