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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 big stockpiles of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons at the forefront of everyone’s mind, there’s no doubt the gas mask has a high priority position in an emergency supply.
When it comes down to the basics, whether it’s a plague pathogen, nuclear fallout, chemical agent, or a government defusing citizens with pepper spray or tear gas, a gas mask is going to save your life, or make it a lot easier to get to safety. It was once that only soldiers on the front line would need to carry such an item as they dealt with agents only used in war, 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 best-selling and most reliable CBRN gas masks, here are the six top gas masks that are held to high standards of specifications to ensure that they provide the right protection you need for your safety.
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 lives in a world where every day he is exposed to government-ran 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, survivalists do monthly cleans and practice drills with their gas masks and protective suits as the threat of a nuclear attack or chemical threat to their homeland increases after heated intimidations by powerful countries.
I personally have seen the sale of gas masks, filters, protective wear and even underground bunkers 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 the world’s superpowers, 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, pathogens, and plagues that have besieged cities in viral pandemics.
Through all of those examples, it is easy to understand why CBRN gas masks are selling out, 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.
Having the right protection is ensuring that your skin is protected against harmful particles that may react to your body, through your skin. This could be pathogens, radioactive particles from a fallout, lethal weaponized chemicals or protection from viral diseases and plagues.
In those situations (what is deemed as a true sh-t hit the fan situation) you would need complete protection using a hazmat suit, and effective gloves and boots. Sealing these at the joins with duct tape is the method used in military and containment units to ensure a zero contamination.
Tyvek hazmat suits are very affordable, with most high-quality brands available for less than USD$10. The best NBC suits we have used ourselves come from manufacturer DuPont. Both the TY122S Tyvek coverall suit and DuPont’s Tychem coveralls are affordable and will provide protection against contamination in any CBRN situation. These should be worn with Honeywell Butyl Gloves and Honeywell Safety Boots to provide a durable fixed footing. In the case of nuclear fallout, protective equipment should always be accompanied with a radiation detector such as the RADEX RD1503, as radiation is not visible, has no smell, and cannot be seen.
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 top-selling CBRN gas masks.
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 Avon M50 is the cream 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.
The Draeger 6300 (pictured right) is also a frequently purchased option for those seeking NBC protection, and offers a competitive pricing against the 4500, however, as it currently stands, the rubber used in the lining of the mask does not yet pass NIOSH standards.
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 six 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.
It should be noted that this is the Iraeli Special Forces preferential gas mask. This is not to be confused with another gas mask called the Israeli 4A1 Defense Force Civilian Mask which is an NBC mask that has been used in a number of chemical attacks on residents in the Middle East and Israel. This mask was made with the intention of providing highly effective protection against dirty bombs to as many residents as possible. While it is graded as an NBC mask, it is not NIOSH approved and not a CBRN mask, so I did not include it in this list. But it is definitely worth checking out.
Personally, however, I found the fit of the M50 the best for my face, you might be different though.
The FR-7800B is 3M’s CBRN solution, designed specifically for first responders to toxic incidents. This mask has been NIOSH-approved as a CBRN face mask when used in conjunction with 3M’s CBRN Canister FR-15.
3M’s FR-7800’s facepiece is well designed with an internal speaking diaphragm that improves voice pitch, volume, and clarity, an essential component not only for first responders, but for anyone using a CBRN mask in an emergency situation.
As the mask is specifically designed for emergency personel, it is able to filter various CBRN particles, and when used with other graded canisters, can be worn as protection against CS gas, CN, and as a P100 filter in riot conditions that might involve teargas.
The FR-7800’s lens is a high impact protective facepiece and has optical correction to ensure there is no visual distortion through the face shield. It uses a butyl rubber seal for comfort and fit and allows the wearer to choose between fitting filter cartridges on either side of the face piece to customize for possible shooting preferences. Another bonus for this 3M CBRN mask is that comes in small, medium, and large, so that you can order the right size for your face and wear a more comfortable mask, unlike many others that use a single sizing.
The MSA Millenium was the first ever gas mask to be CBRN approved by the NIOSH regulator and have been a highly used CBRN gas mask since its validation in 2004. The Millenium gas mask comes from the very prestigious gas mask manufacturers MSA Safety, who have been creating gas mask solutions since 1914.
The Millenium has not only been tried and tested by NIOSH, but also by police and military agencies around the world as the first mask to be able to safely filter toxins in CBRN environments. The mask itself comes with the traits of a high-quality gas mask, with its wide field of view through a polyurethane lens, a hycar rubber facepiece, and ability to change which side the filter sits to allow for different shooter requirements.
It comes with all of the specific requirements of a long-wear mask, such as comfort, a nose cup to avoid inner-mask fogging, an internal drinking system and voice emitter. The mask also comes with a butyl coated nylon hood which provides total head protection in CBRN environments.
Avon’s FM12 is one of the most well-known CBRN gas masks in the civilian and military gas mask community. I would have no difficulty in saying it is the most widely used in collective law enforcement, security, and containment professions. It is also the standard issue gas mask for militaries in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway and is the armory mask for British Police, Singapore Police, and Chicago Police Force.
Why is the FM12 so widely used? Its features are that it comes in three sizes (a bonus to allow for a better fit with the mask), uses a six buckle harness system to allow for a greater fit, it allows for easy use with precision aiming and other optical devices, has a flexible face seal which works well with various helmets and CBRN protective clothing suits, has an internal drinking system and the internals ensure the masks has a good airflow to eliminate heat and fogging.
I have used the FM12 previously as a trial mask (not in a CBRN field) and have not one single complaint as to its comfort or wearability. Having performed high-intensity exercises in this mask I would say that if you are planning on moving quickly, or wearing a gas mask while running, it is definitely one suitable for that purpose. I had no problem with movement in this mask and was happy to see that I did not sweat any more than usual with the mask on.
The affordability of this CBRN mask also makes it a great buy, as you don’t have to look far to find a second-hand FM12 mask in good condition for less than $100. What I also like about this mask is that even though it is an Avon brand (same as the M50) it uses a 40mm NATO CBRN gas mask filter which is very easy to come across online.
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. The 3M CBRN mask uses 3M’s own CBRN canisters as well. Otherwise, the 40mm NATO CBRN filter will suffice for the Draeger, the SGE 3/400BB, the Millenium and the FM12.
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.
There are a lot of respiratory options out there from DIY gas masks, to half-respirators and dust masks. Do not get them confused with a military-grade CBRN gas mask. It is a common question for first-time buyers to ask “what is the difference between a $40 mask and a $400 gas mask”, the answer is simple, cheaper masks will not be usable against harmful particles.
When it comes to woodworking, pollution and dust particles, there are various options that cater for that from half-face respirators to disposable masks. You would not use a CBRN military mask for those activities as it is not made for that. The same thing applies to nuclear fallout, CS gas, biological and chemical weapon particles – a mask designed for sawdust will not work. This is why CBRN gas masks are a vital component of any survival or emergency kit.
As I have pointed out in this post, there are various prices and various masks which are all verified to provide CBRN respiration. It should be noted though, that in a CBRN environment, a gas mask won’t be enough, and full body protection should be utilized.
1. What is the purpose of the CBRN gas mask – How a gas mask is used is completely up to the individual that wears it. You might be regularly working with paints, aerosols, around dangerous and toxic waste, or you could be a first responder that is concerned with inhaling dangerous airborne chemicals. The purpose of your gas mask will identify how you should be looking for your mask and what type you should be getting.
If you are intending on using your gas mask as a way to breathe clean air in a nuclear attack, or to keep your air supply decontaminated when you are in an area with a known epidemic such as a serious disease or plague, then you should be considering a CBRN or NBC mask, as both cover nuclear and biological events, scenarios and incidents.
2. What type of gas masks are there? Depending on the circumstance you are facing, there are these CBRN/NBC gas masks we have listed in this guide, industrial paint gas masks, chemical gas masks, gas masks suitable for disease and pandemic environments and much cheaper and easier to use masks that filter dust and pollution.
3. How long will you be wearing your gas mask for? An important consideration when choosing a gas mask is to look at the factor of how long you are looking to be wearing the mask. If you are preparing for a nuclear attack, you should be considering a gas mask that you are able to wear for a long time. However, it should be remembered that a gas mask is to be used to reach a place that is safe and decontaminated, that is the priority. If the mask has to be worn for long periods, it is useful to have a gas mask that has a drinking attachment so that you can fit a drinking straw into the mask to keep your fluid intake up.
4. Getting the right seal – The most important part of a protective gas mask is the seal that it makes on the face. If the mask cannot make a seal then it cannot create a clean air environment for you to breathe clean uncontaminated oxygen. While this is predominantly the gas mask that is responsible for creating this seal, it is also the responsibility of the wearer to ensure that they have removed any facial hair which can stop the mask from creating a seal around the face.
5. Choosing a gas mask that has accessible filters – Most gas masks have a standard filter that is essentially a one-size fits all. This is the NATO 40mm filter and is widely available. Despite the fact that most gas masks use the NATO 40mm filter, you should always check before purchasing as to the type of filter it requires. In our recommendations of gas masks, the only gas mask that does not use the NATO 40mm filter is the Avon M50 gas mask, which uses its own filters. However, as a US Military and UK Defense gas mask, these filters for the M50 are also readily available online.
6. Finding the best gas mask for your budget – Because there are a number of options for CBRN and NBC gas masks, you should be able to find one that suits your budget quite easily. In the recommended options we have in this buyer’s guide, there are high-quality CBRN military gas masks that are in the high-end budget of USD$200-$350. When it comes to gas masks, quality CBRN masks are worth more money as they are more effective, comfortable, have a better range of vision and have better-added specifications. If you are on a budget, the Israeli Defense Force NBC gas mask is great as they can be purchased for less than USD$50.
Both an NBC gas mask or a CBRN gas mask will keep your air supply decontaminated from radiation that would be in the air after a nuclear attack. All of the gas masks above, fitted with an NBC gas mask filter, will filter radiation from any air that passes through the filter of the gas mask. Provided there is a tight seal around the face, no radiation will be consumed through normal breathing.
However, it must be noted that while these gas masks will help in a nuclear fallout to keep your body safe from the consumption of radiation, there must also be other NBC protective gear worn when in an area that has radiation contamination. This is because radiation can be absorbed through the skin causing radiation poisoning. When entering a decontaminated area, one must ensure that they remove any contaminated clothing and protective gear, and use a full body of while wearing the protective equipment to ensure the equipment is free of radiation contamination, and then the body, to further ensure a full decontamination process. As a safety precaution, do not use conditioner when washing, only use shampoo, as the conditioner will bond any possible radioactive particles to the hair.
In the case of a chemical attack, the gas mask you need to ensure you don’t breath in any of the gas or vapor-based toxic agents is an NBC or CBRN gas mask, as both cover the basic necessity of filtering chemicals from coming in contact with the body.
Much like in a nuclear attack, when using a gas mask in a chemical attack it is not good enough just using a gas mask, as full body protection is also needed to ensure full protection. Of course, this can’t always be achieved, so in the case of a chemical attack, or dirty bomb, where the chemical is a choking or nerve agent, a gas mask should be used immediately to ensure nothing is consumed via the airways. Using the gas mask in a chemical attack is a method of keeping yourself alive while finding a safe, decontaminated area, preferably away from the scene of the chemical attack.
According to NIOSH standards, CBRN gas masks are not for use in environments where there is less than 19.5 per cent oxygen levels. Gas masks are air-purifying systems and do not supply oxygen. Instead, if an environment is void of oxygen a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) must be selected for use in those environments. Often you will see these used by firefighters as they are known to work in environments where oxygen may be limited.
Short answer, Yes. But, A CBRN gas mask only provides respiratory protection against inhalation of radiological, nuclear, biological and chemical dust particles. The respirator does not stop all forms of radiation that may be emitted by these particles or radiation released from a nuclear attack.
In the case of exposure to radiation, dosage will be a function of the type of radiation, exposure time, distance from the source and shielding (if any). Respirators will provide little to no protection from radiation in a nuclear attack, but may help reduce exposure to dust or radionuclide particles after the attack.
Choosing the best NBC gas mask is choosing the mask that does what it needs to during its intended use ultimately keeping you safe. One CBRN or NBC gas mask that may be good for one person or use will not be for another. With that in mind, the above points should help in determining and narrowing down the best gas mask for you.