With the plot of many post apocalyptic movies seeming even more plausible in the light of the recent pandemic outbreak. Many people have begun to wonder if they should consider purchasing a gas mask. After all the filters on them have to be able to keep out bacterial agents right? So if you are wondering “ Should I buy a gas Mask?” then read on.
10 Things to Consider
If you are considering the purchase of a gas mask then there are several things that you should consider. The CDC has an excellent gas mask guide if you think of any additional questions not answered here.
The Location in Which You Live
Where you live plays a huge factor in whether or not you may even need to purchase a gas mask. If you live in a large city then obviously your exposure to a chemical attack or potential biological dangers is at a greater chance of occurring than if you reside in the middle of a Southern Georgia Peanut Farm.
With the recent viral outbreak the possibility of a location being a military target is no longer your only concern. You need to consider how many cases are local, how densely populated the area is and then what is the likelihood that you may encounter a situation where you need the mask.
Once you have considered these factors then you can determine if a gas mask is worth the expenditure, perhaps that money could be better spent on some other item.
With a Gas Mask Timing is Everything
In order for a gas mask to be effective it must be inplace before you are exposed to the contaminant. This is true no matter if you’re dealing with a chemical weapon or a biological agent such as a virus. Momentary exposure to either of these agents can be fatal.
With that in mind you must ask yourself the question, “Where do I store my mask?”. Should I keep it in my car, at the office, or in a closet at home. Then again maybe you need to have one at each of these locations, only you can decide this.
Another option might be to have an EDC bag that you keep it in. In case your not familiar EDC is everyday carry and consists of those items you always want to have around you.
Remember simply owning a mask doesn’t provide any protection, you have to have early warning so that you can deploy it.
The Beard Is Out
With some exceptions, most gas masks will not work properly with a beard or other facial hair. This is due to the fact that for the mask to properly filter the air it must seal tightly around your face.
Even facial hair growth of only a few days can affect this seal. If you are considering a gas mask you need to decide if you plan on keeping a fresh shave every day.
On a side note, there are some hooded versions of masks that can be used with a beard. So you may want to consider one of those if you’re attached to your facial hair.
You Have Decided to Purchase a Mask – Remember They are not all Equal
When you get ready to buy a gas mask there are several criteria that you should consider.
First check the ratings, you want a mask that is rated for chemical and riot control agents. This will be designated by a CBA/RCA rating. You also want to consider nuclear, biological and chemical agents. These will be designated by a NBC rating.
Some gas masks sold on the market are not much better than a surgical mask. It is important to consider the listed ratings and if possible they should have some third party testing results. You should also carefully examine the filter, the mask itself may have sufficient ratings, but the accompanying filter could be insufficient for your needs.
The next thing you should consider is how the filter attaches to the mask itself. Often this is through a threaded port on either side of the mask, or in the center near the mouth. Some masks have fittings on both sides allowing you to attach the filter to either side based on your preferences.
Replacing the filter is one reason this might matter. If you’re right handed, you could have some minor issues attaching a filter to the left side of the mask. Another concern with point of attachment might be sighting a firearm and the possibility of the filter interfering.
Some older masks use small eye holes, while newer masks have full face shields. The ability to see out of the mask can play a huge role in its effectiveness. You should also consider wearing prescription glasses while wearing the mask.
Some gas masks have special straws that can attach to a hydration system. This could be a critical option if you end up in a full chemical suit. Due to sweating fluid loss can be nearly as dangerous as the chemical or biological agent you are trying to protect yourself from.
Military Surplus is Surplus for a Reason
While military surplus items can be a great place to find some gear at a budget price, you should always consider why it is surplus.
Was this item moved to the surplus list because it is expired, in efficient or defective. Those are all possibilities and if you are considering something as important and critical as a gas mask, is this really an area where you want to take a risk and try to cut costs?
Some of the older masks are surprisingly difficult to deploy and often do not fit correctly. Plus none of these “surplus” items come with any guarantee of performance. Oftentimes these surplus masks have filters that have long since expired and finding new filters may be near impossible.
Though in a pinch you could possibly get by with a surplus mask, I would not risk it.
Spare Filters are Just as Important
The lifespan of gas mask filters is not indefinite. First you have to be concerned with their shelf lives. This is how long is the filter reliable when stored in its unopened original packaging.
Once opened they have a much shorter life than you would expect. Many of them contain a chemical such as activated charcoal. This tends to lose its potency after just a few hours of exposure to normal air.
Even if you are breathing clean air with no contamination at all these filters will last less than 24 hours. Many expire after only four or eight hours. This could be even sooner depending on the environmental contaminants present.
Considering having two or three filters for each mask can quickly add up if you have multiple people in your family who need them. The most common size is 40mm NATO threaded canisters so you should select one in this size if possible.
Donning Your Mask Takes Practice
Putting on a gas mask is not as easy as it looks. You should take the time to learn the best ways to put the mask on as each particular style will have its own nuances. For example the way the straps are set up and tightened can shave seconds off of the time required for you to put the mask on.
By practicing before it’s needed, you will be able to better put it on under stress. There have even been reports of people who suffocated because they did not remove the plastic wrap over the filter.
This need to practice is why most militaries practice gas mask drills on at least a yearly basis. This time also serves as a reminder to check the expiration dates. Speaking of expired filters, this training is a good time to use these filters.
By practicing with a filter installed you can get a real feel for what it is like to breathe in a gas mask. You can also see how it is going to work with your gear. Keep in mind that gear can include things such as the pouch it is carried in, weapons you intend to use and even canteens.
You Cannot Remain in a Gas Mask Forever
It is important to remember that you cannot live in your gas mask indefinitely. Gas masks are intended to be a short term defense for escaping the contaminated area. If you remain in the threat area and don’t have a more permanent solution then your chances of survival quickly decline.
Even though you can remain hydrated in a gas mask, you cannot eat while wearing one. If you find yourself exposed, you should make every effort to get out of the contaminated area as soon as possible.
What are my Options for Obtaining a Mask?
If you have decided that you do want to purchase a mask, then you could always purchase one from a surplus store. But more than likely you will want to make sure to get one from a reputable seller.