Eight things to know before buying a gas mask

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Eight things (and more) to know before buying a gas mask.
It's a stereotype of the Doomsday Prepper: a gas mask. Yet a
gas mask might just save your life. What do you know about gas
masks? Probably not much. No worries! We'll get you started and
we'll answer your questions about gas masks....

What to Know about a Gas Mask
You will survive only three minutes without air in a chemical
attack, so get your gas mask on quickly! Oh, but first you must
buy one... and they are difficult to get right now. At some times
Amazon is sold out of gas masks!

There are eight things to know before buying a gas mask:
  1. Surplus gas masks usually aren't a good deal.
  2. Gas masks were not created equally. Get an NBC gas mask.
  3. You'll need spare filters!
  4. Your gas mask must be secured before the attack or
  5. Facial hair will not work with gas masks (and most do not fit
  6. Remove the plastic filter plug and know how to operate your
    gas mask.
  7. Your location matters, as attacks will likely happen over
    large cities.
  8. You can't live in a gas mask, though you may very well drink
    from one!

Questions you may have about Gas Masks

#1:  Why is it so important to get an NBC gas mask?
NBC masks cover Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical exposures.
These are the top three threats that a soldier would face, which
is why military personnel has access to them in targeted zones.

Reasons to own an NBC gas mask, include:
  1. Nuclear: Nuclear fission or fusion from accident or attack.
    protection from particles of radioactive fallout
  2. Biological: Viruses, bacteria, fungi or other micro organisms,
    such as anthrax (bacterial agent); Ebola;  Avian flu and
    other pandemics; also volcanic ash. Unfortunately, there is
    no way to give advance notice of a biological attack.
  3. Chemical: Toxic chemicals such as mustard gas, Sarin gas,  
    tear gas (riot control), blister gas, blood gas, or choking gas
    (nerve agent), etc.

Preppers should look for an NBC gas mask (and get one if

#2: What constitutes a quality gas mask?
An NBC gas mask is usually an assurance of a quality gas mask;
however, there are many variables. Most people think the highest
caliber of gas mask you can buy is an NBC gas mask. Certainly an
NBC gas mask protects against Nuclear, Biological and Chemical
attacks, and the U.S. Military uses them as do preppers, but if
you want to go one step higher, and it is available, get a CBRN
gas mask if you can afford one. They are the most expensive and
designed for first responders in a terror attack.

A CBRN gas mask protects against Chemical, Biological,
Radiological and Nuclear threats, though sometimes people
confuse the "R" to mean riot protection for civil unrest. The
difference between radiological and nuclear in a gas mask is that
a radiological mask (CBRN gas mask) provides protection from
radioactive material generated from the byproducts and waste of
industrial or medical therapies, or those occurring naturally in the
environment. First responders use them for CBRN incidents. They
are often associated with riot control because they have the
highest level of protection. Riot control requires the ability to
speak through the gas mask. They usually also have a wider field
of view as well.

In short, the CBRN gas mask was designed for the military. A
CBRN gas mask covers the following increased specifications over
an NBC gas mask:
  • increased visor ballistics protection;
  • reduced weight and bulk (greater comfort);
  • improved field of view;
  • lowered breathing resistance; and
  • ability to change out cartridges on a contaminated field.

Additionally, a CBRN gas mask may be fire resistant.

#3: What about a NATO or NIOSH-approved gas
mask? Aren't those good too?
An NBC gas mask can be NATO or NIOSH-approved and here is an
explanation of what this really means:

  • NATO rating ~ NATO gas mask filter specifications are
    those from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO),
    and they include a standard for a 40 mm thread. The
    standard thread ensures you can interchange the
    replacement cartridges.

  • NIOSH rating ~ Just because it's NIOSH approved, doesn't
    mean it's a gas mask! Although some are gas masks, NIOSH
    approved is simply a rating given by the National Institute
    for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Generally,
    these kinds of masks are "air purifying" and approved for
    work use. Manufacturers must apply for NIOSH respirator
    approval and there are categories. The highest category they
    approve is a CBRN gas mask. It's important to note that a
    NIOSH respirator will help protect you against airborne
    contaminants, such as solvents, pesticides, and paint, not
    necessarily gas. For example, a NIOSH-approved welding
    respirator is not a gas mask. Another important distinction is
    that NIOSH doesn't approve surgical masks or medical

Preppers should own an NBC gas mask, preferably U.S. made to
not only help make America great again, but to assure you of
American standards.

#4:  What about surplus gas masks?
Owning a surplus gas mask is better than no gas mask at all.
Having said this, surplus gas masks usually aren't a good deal for
many reasons:

  • Surplus usually means it has been sitting on the shelf too
    long for a reason: the expiration date may be nearing.
    Expiration dates are the main reason not to buy a surplus
    gas mask; unless you are on an extreme budget. Many
    preppers aren't aware that gas masks expire!

  • Guarantees for surplus are next to nil. In all fairness,
    there's no regulation for testing of gas masks in the United
    States. No agency in the U.S. certifies their respirators for
    public use, but you have no recourse with an inferior gas
    mask made overseas. Buy on Amazon with Prime and you'll
    have a guarantee.

  • Sometimes you can't read the instructions. Sometimes
    you'll find an Israeli surplus gas mask intended for civilians,
    or one from China or Russia, but it has instructions in the
    respective foreign language. Unfortunately, people have died
    by using gas masks incorrectly.

  • You could be breathing asbestos. A Russian GP filter
    circulating is laden with asbestos, so it may help you live
    through the Sarin gas exposure, but die of lung cancer years

Surplus gas masks usually aren't a good deal, though you may be
able to find some inexpensive Israeli gas masks, your best bet as
a prepper is to get an NBC gas mask.

#5: Can an NBC gas mask protect you in a pandemic?
Absolutely an NBC gas mask can protect you in a pandemic crisis.
The "B" in NBC stands for biological threats and this includes
pandemics. Your family deserves the protection of an NBC mask
for nuclear, biological, and chemical threats.

NBC gas masks not only serve to protect you from toxic gases
and fumes, but they have the benefit in a pandemic situation of
sealing over the nose and mouth to create a superior barrier over
traditional surgical masks, as well as providing ample coverage
for shielding your face from tiny droplets. The only problem being
that an NBC gas mask used for
combatting and preventing Ebola
will need to be properly decontaminated and disposed after a one-
time-use. It's not very economical, but it's lifesaving!

#6: Where do you get a quality gas mask?
The real question is "where can you get a gas mask at all?" Gas
masks are not easy to find at the moment.

Since the
Ebola fear that spread panic in October of 2014 sales of
gas masks went through the roof and manufacturers have been
working hard to restock. It's all about supply and demand, and
well into 2017 the demand is high because of the growing threats
Sarin gas and nuclear attack!

#7: What's the difference between a respirator and a
gas mask?
A respirator is a general term for a protective device worn over
the mouth and nose (or covering the entire face) to prevent
inhalation of dust, smoke, or noxious substances.

While the
CDC refers to gas mask as respirators, and surprisingly
doesn't recommend them*,  could be as simple as a dust mask or
surgical mask. A gas mask on the other hand is a more
substantial protective shield and breathing apparatus with the
specific purpose of covering a person's face as a defense against
poisonous gas.

*Say what!? The U.S. government does not recommend gas
masks during a chemical threat (because of a false sense of
security). They say that gas masks don't fit everyone. This is
true! Children and people with beards will have a problem with
gas masks because they will not be snug enough to allow the
proper barrier.

#8: Is there an N95 or N100 gas mask?
These are not gas masks. The classification of N95 or N100 is for
respirators cleared by FDA for use by healthcare workers and are
used for minimizing risk of disease transmission both from the
patient and from the health professional. Think of them as
surgical masks! They are disposable, one time use only and do
not protect the entire face.

An N-95 or N-100 is not a gas mask. It has been tested to
remove 95% of the airborne particles you see N95 on the
packaging. It has been tested to remove 100% of threats if you
see N100 on the packaging.

You'll find N95 and N100 respirators excellent for protection
bird flu, swine flu and the like; however, for a pandemic,
Ebola, you'll want a full-face respirator.

#9: Where can I get a child's gas mask?
In the 1950s it was commonplace for schools to hold drills with
gas masks, but today they are hardly available. As world tensions
rise, many sizes of gas masks are sold out on Amazon and
elsewhere. It means that a gas mask for your child is difficult if
not impossible to find. Right is a
child's NBC gas mask. NBC
means it's ready for Nuclear Biological or Chemical protection.
This Israeli NATO Military Gas Mask with Filter is rather expensive.

Right now kids gas masks are hard to come by or expensive. It
doesn't mean you should lose hope in finding a gas mask for your
kids. You might consider buying a medium sized gas mask, which
will can meet your child's needs as he or she grows up. Also,
keep checking...

  • Bookmark this page if you don't find the NBC gas mask
    you need for a child, because they will return to stock

#10: What other gear do I need for a gas mask?
Consider the following additions:
  • chemical suit (with booties and gloves);
  • canteen and hydration straw;
  • Kevlar tactical helmet
  • gas mask pouch (for spare filters in the field)
  • spare filters (check as they expire)

#11: How long can you wear a gas mask?
Realistically, you can only wear a gas mask for a few hours for  
many reasons:
  • Overheating: A gas mask will become too hot.
  • Headaches: Severe headaches from pressure were a
    common complaint during the Gulf war.
  • Exhaustion: There's a lot of work needed todraw air through
    a carbon filter in a gas mask.
  • Eating and drinking: While there is gear available to drink
    through your gas mask (be sure you have a hydration plug),
    eventually you'll need to eat (and you can't do that through
    a gas mask)!

#12: What's the most important thing to know about
gas masks?
The most important thing to know about gas masks is that they
can fail from improper use. Problems may also arise from the
circumstance of use. If you use a gas mask correctly you can
reduce the exposure you might otherwise receive. Consider the
problems so you can remedy them:

Problems with gas masks
Having a gas mask is a good start, but it's not a failsafe and you
may have some problems, including:

  • Proper fitting. It's important to ensure you have a good fit
    with your gas mask. This is especially true if you have
    children. Typically they are too big. It's also a problem in
    men who have beards. A man's whiskers can make it difficult
    to get a secure fit. The respirator, right, works better than a
    half face respirator for mustaches and goatees NIOSH
    approved (P100 class); however, it's not an NBC gas mask.

  • Training. Improper use of a gas mask could result in injury
    or death! If you strap a gas mask on too tightly, it can snap
    your jaw: too loosely and you'll die of the nuclear, biological
    or chemical exposure. During the gulf war people died simply
    for not unscrewing the cap from the filter. They suffocated.

  • You might not have a real gas mask. The respirator, right,
    is a Survivair Opti-Fit Full Face APR Respirator (NIOSH) and
    provides audio transmission, has anti-fog, a wide viewing
    area, but it's unclear as to what it's true purpose is. If it
    doesn't say it's an NBC gas mask, don't buy it.

  • Fogging: Fogging is a problem, and some gas mask have
    anti-fog capabilities. It's a particular problem with kids who
    are you're prone to cry particularly during times of stress!
    This was true of the gulf war, when kids were crying fogged
    up their gas masks impeding visibility and effectiveness.
    Some gas masks have a nose cup to prevent fogging.

  • Claustrophobia: Kids will become restless and will have the
    most difficulty in wearing gas masks for extended periods;
    however, anyone who suffers from claustrophobia is at risk
    for taking a gas mask off too early.

  • Improper use: During the Gulf War parents accidentally
    suffocated their children by forcing them to wear gas mask
    in which they forgot to properly remove the plastic filter on
    the carbon filter!

  • Some gas effects both lungs and skin. A gas mask won't
    protect you against the skin blistering power of mustard gas
    (though it provides a level of protection from inhalation of
    mustard gas)! You'll need other protective gear for your skin,
    including chemical suit, boots, and gloves in addition to your
    gas mask.

  • It may be too late. Chemical detection kits are available to
    warn you of chemical agents, but such detection kits are
    difficult to source (without one, you may not know when to
    put on a gas mask and it may be too late).

  • Gas masks expire. Gas masks have an expiration date!
    Many preppers don't realize that gas masks have a shelf life,
    but they do! Gas masks are not only limited by the, but they
    are also limited in the absorbent capacity of the filter itself.
    Sealing caps help protect the filter from air intake prior to

Questions to ask yourself:
  • Do you know how and when to use a gas mask?
  • Do you have decontamination equipment and know how to
  • How are you going to drink? Get yourself a specially
    designed canteen.
  • Do you know how to put on a child's gas mask? Negative
    pressure on a child can cause suffocation!
  • Can you afford to be without a gas mask? At the bottom of
    the page are gas masks that are sold out on Amazon!

Pandmic Masks Prepper Families
In addition to a gas mask, be sure to have a pandemic mask and
kit available for every member of your family.
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NBC Gas Mask
Fire mask. Lesser known in the prepper circles in terms of
respirators is a
fire mask, pictured right, which protects against
toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, smoke, hydrogen sulfide,
chlorine, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, sulfur dioxide, tear gas and
more. It's what members of congress wore at to the "insurrection"
on January 6, 2021. Smoke hood and fire mask protects against
radiant heat, but does not offer the same level of protection as a
CBRN gas mask, so it' not designed to protect you against a
radiological catastrophe, a nuclear incident or biological
contaminates. Think of it as a respiratory escape in the event of
fire or in a riot situation where tear gas is used.

Final thoughts about gas masks...
A respirator is part of an emergency preparedness plan. For
nuclear, biological or chemical substances, you should also have a
shelter-in-place plan. The goal of a shelter-in-place is to help
filter the large amounts of debris which may infiltrate the air and
which may be contaminated.

A respirator (gas mask)is only effective when:
  1. You use the correct respirator. Be careful not to buy a
    costume gas mask. Look for an NBC gas mask that protects
    against Nuclear, Biological and Chemical attack.
  2. It fits properly.  Pay close attention to children, people with
    small faces or facial hair. A respirator will help reduce
    exposure to certain airborne contaminants; however, misuse
    may result in sickness or death.
  3. You know how to use it. Respirators require proper training.
  4. It's available when you need it. By the time you realize you
    need your gas mask, it might be too late, such is the case
    with nerve agents, which are the most toxic and fast-acting.
  5. It's not already contaminated. Even the most sophisticated
    gas mask might be for one use only and should be disposed.
    Contagion or chemical exposure could render a gas mask
    useless on the second go around. How many respirators can
    you stock for Ebola?

Respirator types:
There are many kinds of respirators:

  • Respirator: Generic term to mean surgical mask, escape
    hood or gas mask.

  • Dust mask: (N-95, N100) sawing, bagging or processing
    minerals, coal, iron ore, flour, metal, wood, pollen, and
    certain other substances.

  • Surgical mask. Surgical masks are disposable coverings for
    mouth and nose to protect against infection during surgical

  • Anti viral face mask: An antiviral face mask inactivates
    some harmful pathogens, including imminent strains of
    influenza, such as H1N1, avian flu and swine flu. (It contains
    citric acid, zinc and copper to inactivate flu viruses.)

  • Escape hoods: Smoke escape mask has a filter designed to
    remove dangerous smoke particles from the air. The price of
    these kinds of respirators varies greatly! Immediate right is
    a powered escape mask that provides 30-minute protection
    for fire, smoke chemical spills, sarin or mustard gas, nuclear
    contamination or other terrorist threats, so it's an NBC gas
    mask. The other escape hood is good only for escaping fire.

  • CRBN gas mask. A CRBN mask is one that protects against
    four threats: Chemical, Radiological, Biological and Nuclear.
    To clarify, nuclear contaminants come from incidents involve
    detonation of a nuclear device, whereas radiological
    contaminants come from incidents that produce radiation
    without detonation of a nuclear device. It's one step above
    the NBC gas mask.

  • NIOSH gas mask (N95 and N100). NIOSH-approved
    respirators are for use in environments containing certain oil
    and non-oil based particles. It's an air-purifying respirator
    that filters particles from the air the user is breathing.

  • NBC Gas Mask. This full-face respirator protects against
    Nuclear, Biological and Chemical substances.

  • NATO Gas Mask. A NATO approved gas mask. NATO is North
    Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Happy endings...
Most preppers will eventually get a gas mask, though it may not
be one of their first purchases. The first priority is always food
and water. When you get yourself a gas mask remember also
coveralls as part of your complete biochemical protection kit.

Remember, a  gas mask is only a part of your overall
preparedness plan. You'll need to guard against a wide array of
exposures that are nuclear, biological or chemical.

Related articles...

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