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Gas masks and filters are the essential items for anyone looking to prepare against the worries of the modern day world.
Sure, you might think someone is going overboard in their preparedness if they have a gas mask, but with the current threat of global war and terrorism at play, and the high risk of a nuclear, chemical or biological attack on the forefront of everyone’s mind, there’s no doubt the gas mask has a high priority position in any emergency supply.
When it comes down to the basics, whether it’s a plague, nuclear attack, radiation leak, or a government defusing citizens with pepper spray or tear gas, a gas mask is going to save your life. It was once that only soldiers on the front line would need to carry such an item, but with the global coverage of the modern war, struggle, and societal collapse, anyone is at risk.
Before we look at why you would need a gas mask, how they work and a specific review of each of the three best-selling and mos reliable CBRN gas masks, here are the three top gas masks that are held to high standards of specifications to ensure that they provide the right protection you need for your safety.
|Drager 4500||Avon M50||SGE 400/3BB|
|NIOSH CBRN |
|40mm NATO |
|No Straw||Straw Fit||Straw Fit|
One of our writers is Venezuelan. His life was much like yours and mine, he lived in an established first-world economy which had laws, morals and good times. That was until Venezuela’s financial system collapsed overnight. He now lives in a world where every day he is exposed to government-run paramilitary police clashing with protestors in a five-year war on the streets. A daily smell is the constant lingering of tear gas and pepper spray used by both sides. His family has emergency gas masks for this reason alone.
In another part of the world, Hawaiian residents do a monthly clean and practice drill of their gas masks as the nuclear threat to the US island after heated intimidations by North Korea. Hawaii’s emergency services and first responders also stock gas masks for this fear as well.
I personally have seen the sale of gas masks and filters skyrocket in the past year to the point where many outlets have either sold out, or are on the brink of running out of stock. With the current climate of tensions between North Korea, the United States, Russia and China, we have rarely been in such a time where threats to “push the red button” have been so close.
And this isn’t to forget other issues at play, such as radicalist homegrown terrorism, where cell networks plot new chemical attacks every month on public sites in western countries such as US, UK, and Australia. There is also the threat of widespread contagious diseases and plagues that have besieged cities in viral pandemics.
Through all of those examples, it is easy to understand why gas masks are selling out, and why they are a staple item in an emergency situation, and are the first thing preparedness individuals and first responders train to grab along with their emergency supplies.
For instance, the family man caught in a societal collapse carries one with him on his way home from collecting food for the family, but he might also carry a bulletproof vest and a helmet, much like what you would see a war correspondent wearing.
When it comes to using the gas mask in its CBRN (chemical, biological, radioactive or nuclear) or NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) environment, to have full protective coverage you need to ensure you are providing your body with a full protective seal, otherwise when you are in your decontaminated environment, your skin or clothing may be carrying traces of the dangerous substance you want to stay protected against.
In those situations (what is deemed as a true sh-t hit the fan situation) you would need complete protection using the following equipment:
Gas masks work on a similar principle to water filters, which most domestic countertops have these days. It acts as a filter catching anything carried in the air, so that what you are consuming is clean oxygen.
Obviously there’s no point using this if nothing has happened, but in the case that there is an airborne virus spread, a chemical attack has been made, or there is a strong presence of radiation in the air, the gas mask acts as a filter to remove the radiation or other compounds from the oxygen, much like the filter removes chemicals from water.
How does it do this? A military-grade rated gas mask works in two ways:
These two processes are done by an attachable filter to a gas mask, it’s something that needs to be replaced, so it’s a good idea to have spares. Filters run their course by using activated, or oxidized, charcoal which creates a blockade of what can be referred to as a ‘sticky fence’ which any toxins being carried by the airflow would get stuck to and prevented from moving into the gas mask.
There are a lot of gas masks available in the market, especially in online stores and marketplaces. And while many may be at an attractively cheap price, there may be issues with the way they are made or their filtering capability to create a good decontamination space for your face and air supply.
When you actually come around to using your mask, you’re not going to want something that fails instantly or doesn’t do the right job. In that case, you may as well not bother with protective gear at all. Thankfully, to ensure you are buying something you can actually rely upon, there is a system of grading the quality of a gas mask.
To know if a gas mask is quality or not, you simply have to check whether it is NBC (Nuclear Biological, Chemical) or CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear) approved. Previously the rating only used the NBC equivalent, but now the CBRN rating is the standard to include the radiological element in case of radiological weapons where radiation poisoning may be a risk.
Having confidence to wear a gas mask in a toxic environment will only come from knowing it has been tested to be able to not only withstand, but filter that air so that you are able to operate to either find a safe decontaminated area, or assist to rescue family or others that may be caught in the dangerous situation. NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) is the authority testing body that requires manufacturers to meet standard guidelines for the production and design of the personal protective equipment.
In order for gas masks to have a CBRN (formerly NBC) rating, they are evaluated against criteria in the Statement of Standard for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Full-Facepiece Air Purifying Respirator (APR). This was designed as a way to ensure first responders, military and civilians know that they are buying reliable and valid CBRN authorized gas masks.
The specific testing run by NIOSH is known as the Chemical Agent Permeation Resistance test and uses distilled mustard (HD) and Sarin (GB) gas as well as a thorough examination of the mask by specialists. Essentially, this is a way to ‘field test’ the gas mask by a quality assurance board.
In looking at this rating system, it’s pretty easy to say that if the gas mask has a CBRN rating, then it’s going to be reliable for the uses I outlined in the beginning of this post.
So let’s take a look at the three top-selling CBRN gas masks.
Here is a quick overview of the three CBRN gas masks I would advise you to choose from:
|Drager 4500||Avon M50||SGE 400/3BB|
|NIOSH CBRN |
|40mm NATO |
|No Straw||Straw Fit||Straw Fit|
So why did I choose these gas masks to review over any others? First, they are CBRN approved, which means that they are going to work in the environment they are made for, being a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and/or Nuclear environment. These masks are also functional, well designed, and are relatively affordable for what they are.
My other preference for these masks, over any others, is that they are all used by militaries or first responders around the world. The M50, for instance, is the current issue gas mask for the US Military. So if anything speaks as to the quality and use of these items, then that should.
These masks do differ in some aspects, which you can read on further to get a little more understanding about each one below. However, I will rank them starting with what I believe is the most reliable, best-performing CBRN mask, and then second and third, respectively.
The M50 is the creme of the crop for gas masks. It is such that it is the standard operating chemical, biological, nuclear and radiation protection mask for the US Military and the US Department of Defense. There are also a number of other military organizations across the world that rely on this system.
There are a number of reasons why I like the M50 above any other mask, primarily it was the comfort and ease I was able to move around while wearing it. This would obviously be a reason why it is a service mask given the picture above, a primary part of specialist military training is being able to operate effectively under all conditions, including ones where a gas mask is a necessary protection. It is these specifics that make it the best face mask for a nuclear fallout, and the best nuclear gas mask all around.
One of the best ways to do a review on these types of products is to mention why this is better than the next one. So for this mask, there’s a couple of things:
First, it has a straw assembly. In thinking about the realities of a situation, if I am moving around in full protective gear I am going to want to stay hydrated without the requirement of taking off my mask for water consumption. This has a straw assembly to attach to a water bottle or water bladder.
Second, I am able to clearly hear what someone is saying when they are wearing the mask. In fact, I found that there was no disturbance to communication whatsoever.
This mask has a lot more optional accessories than all of the other masks, quite possibly due to its use as a military system. For instance, it has an inside lens mount so as to mount an attachable prescription vision lens to the mask as well as outserts for different sunlight scenarios.
Its de-mist ability is one of the pure comforts in life. For some masks, I will seem to fog them up in the first five minutes. This one definitely didn’t do that for me.
One downside is that the M50 uses its own type of filter and does not fit the standard NATO 40mm filter that most other gas masks use. If you ever run low on these, you might find it difficult to find a replacement from neighbors. However, if there are any military or law enforcement nearby, they would be carrying spares for theirs.
So why does this gas mask meet the standards of a quality system? Unlike the M50 above, the Draeger 4500 runs with a 40mm threating for gas filters. This means it takes the NATO 40mm filter which is the easiest type of gas filter to get and are much more widely available than the M50 filter.
There are also a few other considerations that make this mask a great fit to the emergency kit. First, the visor and visible range on the mask is huge. Taking one look at it in comparison to the M50 above shows what I mean by that. With this vision, you are easily able to see in an almost unhindered range of vision. This means the mask is great for those working in first response situations such as firefighters that might use then when entering areas with thick toxic smoke, or for those that might be near a protest or public riot areas and need to have a more clear vision for situational awareness.
Second, the Draeger mask is a very comfortable fit with a sizing system that adjusts to various size faces. I found it one of the most comfortable masks, on par with the M50. For others that have sizing issues, I would recommend the Draeger simply because it works on a universal sizing with one size covering male and female faces and fitting children faces as well. Although some have said this might not fit anyone under 12-years-old.
Third, in a specific situation that might call for you to be using weapons, the Draeger mask has been designed to be used in conjunction with precision shooting. Draeger has the advantage of free cheek space so that when you go to take a well-aimed shot, you can still aim down the barrel very effectively without any limitation whatsoever. The SGE (below) does not cater for this as well as the Draeger.
So what is the downside to this system? There is no drinking attachment option.
First, let me clarify, this is a CBRN gas mask. There is a previous version of this called the SGE 400/3 however it was found that the rubber face seal on that gas mask was not resistant to certain chemicals, and in a CBRN situation, the rubber seal could have deteriorated when in contact with specific chemicals and break the seal of decontaminated space on the face. Mestel, the manufacturers, used a butyl rubber seal in the SGE 400/3 BB version making it compliant with international CBRN standards.
This SGE comes with a lot of extras that other gas masks don’t, such as three filter ports (for the 40mm NATO filters), and has a mouthpiece drinking assembly, which the Draeger fails at. Another attractive feature is, similar to the Draeger’s feature of wide vision, is the full vision capacity you can see in the pictures. The visor itself is made of durable polycarbonate and has been tested to resist a one-inch steel ball at 335 miles per hour without inflicting any damage on the visor.
To stop the visor from fogging up, the mask has a moisture release valve to help with any situations where it may be used for extensive periods.
I will also say that this face mask does provide a very quality seal. When it comes to CBRN gas masks, the seal is the most important thing and it’s what you pay the money for. If it didn’t have a strong face seal, you may as well buy something cheap and unapproved. The problem is, some people just don’t fit certain masks. If you don’t, send it back and get another one. While all three of these masks are great for their comfort, wear, and quality, the SGE mask uses a silicon base which some have said creates a much more comfortable seal to the point where they feel they would be comfortable if they had to spend a few days wearing it, so keep that in mind if you are having trouble with any of the other masks.
Personally, however, I found the fit of the M50 the best for my face, you might be different though.
After choosing the right military-grade CBRN gas mask, make sure you also get the right filter to go with it. Remember that the 40mm NATO filter is the standard go-to filter for gas mask filters unless of course, you decide to go with the US Military option of the M50 gas mask (my favorite) which takes its own filters that you can find here. Otherwise, the 40mm NATO filter will suffice for the Draeger or the SGE 3/400BB.
When purchasing the filter, make sure you only choose the CBRN filters which will filter gases and chemicals as well as thicker particles. Good options for CBRN filters in the 40mm NATO range are:
These filters should always have their expiry checked, which will be checked on the packaging. If in doubt, you should message the seller or manufacturer to see when they were produced, and when they expire.
When you receive your gas mask, also make sure that you know how to use it straight away by putting it on, testing the adjustable straps and fitting it to your face. Doing this makes you aware of how to use it before you put it away in that emergency kit, only to pull it out in a rush and not knowing what to do.
For more information on gas masks, and specifically, what to do in a nuclear attack, check out my guide: