Chemical weapons and chemical warfare have been banned indefinitely under the 1925 Geneva Protocol which should infer that we have little to worry about as far as dying from asphyxiating gas or having our lungs melted by chlorine, right?
Unfortunately, a quick trip down memory lane reveals that tyrannical dictatorships, rogue mercenary groups, and terrorists have little regard for the treaty against chemical weapons and since 2012, there have been over 300 documented unlawful chemical attacks.
If the laws fail to end chemical warfare and treaties aren’t upheld by everyone, there is little you can do other than suit up and be prepared with the proper equipment. Gas masks seem like a thing of the past, something you’d see only in a historical war film, but the truth is, everyone should probably have a few on hand and ready to go.
Obtaining a gas mask can be a little tricky since they come in many different styles and designs. Before we go out and spend our hard-earned money on a gas mask that may or may not be up to the task of saving our life, we need to understand the basic principals behind the operation of a gas mask.
How a Gas Mask Works
A gas mask’s primary usage is to ensure the user is breathing in clean air, protected from toxic elements in their environment. If you find yourself in the event of a pandemic, chemical or biological attack, placing a gas mask on your face may be the difference between life and horrendously painful death.
Gas masks operate on two basic principles. The first is the utilization of a particle filter, similar to what you’d find in an air-purifying system. These consist of a simple physical barrier designed specifically to close off the air you breath from the air outside of the mask. This barrier ensures contaminants aren’t leaking into the mask and polluting your air supply by creating a fibrous barrier that traps and entangles particles such as bacteria, protecting you from biological threats.
The second feature of a gas mask is the implementation of a chemical bond between toxic molecules and carbon, which is a highly absorptive material widely used in air purification systems. This carbon-based material essentially traps dangerous particles such as sarin gas and removes them from the stream of air entering your mask.
Air filters found inside gas masks can vary greatly in design and capability, but for the most part, they use something like activated charcoal or oxidized charcoal to attract and remove contaminants from the air.
Charcoal is one of the leading elements for filtering out particles in the air because once it’s activated with oxygen, on a molecular level, it becomes a bit like a very tightly knit chicken wire fence. Particles moving through the filter become trapped in this fence and never make it into the actual mask itself, protecting us from any and all contaminants. Many of the best gas masks are capable of trapping 99.9% of harmful particles, but this comes at a tradeoff.
Since these charcoal fences are so tightly compressed, the filter will trap many particles rather quickly, essentially filling up the holes in the fence that allow air to travel through the filter. Once a large amount of these holes become full of particles, the mask becomes difficult to breathe through and begins losing its trapping and filtering capabilities.
Related: How to make your own charcoal?
Gas masks are only meant to be worn for a specific time duration, typically dependent on the capacity of the filter. If you find yourself in a situation where a gas mask is warranted, you need to quickly devise an exit plan and find fresh air as soon as possible. Furthermore, stocking up on backup filters is imperative, especially if there was a large scale war between two major countries or a virus outbreak with no foreseeable vaccination.
Old gas masks such as war relics found in military surplus stores are not safe to use and may, in fact, be dangerous to the user. The old Russian GP-5 gas mask filters actually trapped particles by using asbestos! Expired filters can degrade and send their filtering particles in the lungs of the user. I suppose surviving a chemical attack no matter the cost is something attractive to most people, but dying a few years later of cancer certainly isn’t ideal.
As a final note, since most people stocking up on protective gas mask equipment won’t be using them until an attack or chemical accident occurs, you need to protect your filters from degrading and going bad over time. Just sitting on a shelf, a filter will trap particles in the air that passes through it, so many people either buy a special container or have filters that come with a protective cap over the filter. Furthermore, even protected filters expire from degradation, so ensure you’re checking the dates and keeping fresh filters in stock.
What Can a Gas Mask Protect You From?
First and foremost, the magic is in the rating of the filter you’re using and the quality of mask it’s attached to. Ideally, you’d have your gas mask equipped with a NATO CBRN rated filter, which is of the highest ratings for personal respiratory protection.
A NATO NBC or NATO CBRN filter attached to a minimum of NBC rated gas mask that is properly sealed against your face can protect from a myriad of environmental threats including asbestos, oil-based chemicals, bacteria, viruses, fungi, mustard gas, sarin gas, pepper spray, tear gas, and nerve agents.
A filter, no matter its quality, is nothing without a proper gas mask supporting it and sealing off the air supply. Buying a gas mask that is rated for “NBC” usage is ideally what you’d want to look for at a minimum. NBC gas masks ensure protection from radioactive nuclear particles, biological organisms, and chemical toxins.
A CBRN gas mask is one step higher than an NBC and is what first responders, riot police, and the military primarily use. If you want the absolute best protection, spending the extra to get a CBRN mask is probably a good investment. These masks implement stronger materials and build quality to protect from physical damage, are lighter and easier to maneuver while using, encompass a very wide field of view, and allow for filter swaps even when in a dangerous situation.
Related: The First Thing You Should Do After a Nuclear Attack
Half-Masks Versus Full-Face Masks
The two are actually very similar in how they work in terms of filtering the air you breathe and keeping dangerous particles out of your body. They will both cover and protect the mouth and nose and will utilize a built-in valve that regulates the air coming in and exhaled CO2.
A full-face unit offers a much higher level of protection to the user since it encapsulates much more than just your nose and mouth area and sometimes even your entire head. In many cases where chemical weapons are used, the particles actually attach and irritate the skin and other parts of your body such as the eyes.A half-mask may be a good back-up or lightweight tool to carry with you, but if possible, having a full-face mask on hand is ideal. If a chemical such as chlorine gas is introduced into your environment, you’ll almost certainly lose your vision if you use a half-mask. Your eyes will burn and water and the danger you’re in will be multiplied by the fact that gas is being absorbed into the eyes and causing serious damage, debilitating amounts of pain, and blindness.
Full masks also offer a tighter and more complete seal around the face. In the event you fall or come into contact with something, it is much less likely that your gas mask leaks or becomes compromised.
In the event of a biological pandemic or biological weapon, a half-mask simply won’t suffice. Most pandemic level viruses and bacteria like Ebola can enter the body through the eyes rendering your safe air supply basically useless. Ideally, in a pandemic or radioactive situation, you would want a full-face gas mask with a hood and protection for the rest of your body as well.
Related: If You See These 6 Signs It’s Time to Bugout
Tips For Using a Gas Mask
Gas masks are fairly easy to use and will come with the proper instructions on how to put them on and strap them down tightly. You should practice putting on your gas mask and also helping others to put theirs on. Perhaps you should practice in the dark too, ensuring you can strap up even without seeing what you’re doing.
Remember, if you have a significant amount of facial hair, your gas mask may have trouble creating a seal on your skin, allowing unfiltered air to seep in.
Using a gas mask will come with a lot of negative drawbacks in terms of mobility, comfort and overall usage. Wearing a gas mask will almost always result in a headache due to the pressure on your face and the possibility of breathing in more CO2 than normal.
If it’s hot outside, expect your face to feel like its inside of an oven. A gas mask does not allow heat to escape and all of that hot breath adds up incredibly quickly. Making matters even worse, profuse sweating could hinder the effectiveness of your mask in the same way that facial hair does.
Breathing through a filter is significantly more difficult than breathing normally and may catch you off guard, especially if your heart rate is elevated due to stress or physical movement. Over a long duration, this effect compounds and can create significant fatigue and exhaustion.
Remember, you need a filter that can both protect you from the possible dangers you may incur and fits your gas mask properly. Most gas masks come with a 40mm threaded platform to attach the filter to the mask, but some masks may have proprietary threads or utilize a different kind of attachment method.
Buying a gas mask can be surprisingly difficult. There are many options out there that claim many different things, making it difficult to identify exactly what gas mask is perfect for you. Conducting lots of research and physically testing them is probably your best bet!
There are tons of things you should be doing to prepare for chemical and biological threats and gas masks are just one piece of the puzzle, but breathing and seeing are certainly vital to your survival and should be at the forefront of your priority list.
This article was gladly contributed by author Corporal Wabo from marineapproved.com.
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Well one note is the military is upgrading to a modern new mask. And its possible that the current will be sold surplus. Good mask various sizes. .
Speaking of which is sizes. Your face needs to seal to the mask and often enough the self check isnt good enough to test the seal
Secondly how you going to roll with it. I cant say most will want it strapped to your leg all day long. So deploying it when the mask is needed becomes interesting.
Some chemicals are so bad they can be obsorbed in the skin so your dead without a mopp suite
So you’re not interested in having one. I’m willing to take advantage of having one even if… there’s not a seal with my beard And it’s going to take a second to get it out and on my face. It’s going to add protection, protections that You won’t have.
Its a moot topic. You would need to have it on you all day and night. With a beard your not going to seal so why bother in the first place ..
I hear you loud and clear. I deal with chemical warfare everyday with my 13 year old son. I dawn that gas mask quite often.
What are the best gas masks available to the public?
Great article! As a retired Air Force member, I spent a lot of hours on the flightline in a MOPP suit, wishing I was somewhere else. The key takeaway from wearing and using this stuff is GET AWAY from the area under attack.
If that’s not possible, the only way to make it through is by TRAINING in this gear before the attack until it’s second nature.
You’re looking for muscle memory-level training to don a mask, and possibly a chem suit, before being overcome.
Because while you’re doing that, the REST of your life is going on, and you won’t have time for thinking, “does this strap pull backwards or forwards? Is my beard inside? (don’t wear a beard. If you do you’re dead).
In the mid 60’s I served in the Navy, and we were NOT ALLOWED to have beards for the reasons stated above. That and we Carried millions of gallons of fuel oil, Avgas, and other assorted chemicals! If we had a fire, shark infested enemy territory was not in our plans! So stay onboard and put it out!
think about getting homes habitable again after a serious SHTF – refrigerators and freezers to clean out – dead animals and possibly having to handle corpses >>> you want something better than a rag across the face ….
For that purpose, cleaning out fridges and freezers and corpses, an N95 with peppermint extract sprinkled on it will reduce the noxious odors significantly. It used to be many years ago that one could buy Sen-Sen in a little spray bottle. Useful for coming home with cigarette smoke on your breath when a teen-ager. You can guess how I know that factoid.
Would work on an N95 mask too and allow you to refresh the mask and continue working.
I haven’t smoked in over 40 years, so am not conversant with what is in the marketplace presently, but there surely is something similar because lots of teens still smoke.
A little quick on-line search revealed a wide variety of masks on sale. The price ranges from $17 for a used gas mask from Sportsmans Guide to $1500.00 for what I would hope would be a top of the line mask. Sportsmans Guide has new gas mask bags for $17.00 which seems to be a good price for a new item.
Lots of new and lightly used U.S. gas masks on Ebay. Wonder how they got there?
Well mostly junk and you need something that fits your face. It would be more ideal to check out the us army last generation model
In the interest of science and for the edification of readers and to augment my earlier post wherein I suggested an N95 mask with breath freshener spray to overcome unpleasant odors, I went on line and checked breath spray offered by Amazon. Truly a cornucopia of breath spray is offered, from peppermint to all natural herbal cinnamon spray to SanJin Guilin Watermelon Frost Spray Breath Freshener. Apparently Sen-Sen no longer offers spray breath freshener — at least on Amazon. There is, however, an amazing array of other Sen-Sen products offered by the mail order giant.
I work at a chemical plant so I have to use a full face respirator with acid filters
Also have a half face which accepts the same filter.
Pretty sure it would filter out tear gas and some of the other nasty stuff out there.
I’ve got one at home too.
well the geneva convention rules are for international use ——- fyi teargas is banned from use in warfare —- the USA uses teargas regularly against the civilian population ——- that alone is reason enought to keep a mask handy —– be prepared
The Chinese must be buying CS in bulk these days to use in the Hong Kong riots. They are using everything from fire hoses to hand held dispensers like you get at the gun show for $5.00 against the rioters. The rioters are using umbrellas to protect against the CS spray in addition to goggles, snorkeling masks and just plain old handkerchiefs.
Does a full gasmask work/seal on the face if you wear glasses ? Do they cover the ears also ?
“Back in the day” military gas masks required special eyeglasses that were made available to those who needed them.
There is such an array of mask on the market, that I am sure that some of the high end models made for civilian use do not require special eyeglasses. As a whole, I expect that most do, but look around. Most vendors should be able to answer your questions.
My mask is a commercial grade made for the chemical industry and it accepts eye glasses, I’m sure the military style does as well since there are some soldiers that wear glasses.
In my EDC kit is a couple of N100 (oil resistant) (UK FFP3) masks. Purely to protect from smoke or dust particles. Anything above that grade and you either won’t see, smell, or taste it.
Also to carry a half or full mask is a bulky thing to do.
It can also attract a lot of attention at venues and when in transit. So unless you like being questioned or frisked (which I don’t), I would suggest keeping things covert and low key.
Thus my Full face mask lives in the car together with a full MOPP.
prescription eye glass inserts are NOT universal between brands.If you have gained or lost weight,you will need to be [re]fit tested for proper seal.If you have a beard,it will prevent a proper seal;filter cartridges are NOT universal between brands.Fogging of the face plates is common. Hearing/conversation,sight,drinking are difficult when wearing a respirator. To be -really secure-, spend the money and get fit tested FIRST, select what fits you BEST,get a supply of -appropriate- filter cartridges at time of sale.
Personally, I have no expectation that I will ever find myself in a chemical environment. The chance of finding myself in a nuclear or biological environment seems to be slightly greater.
During fires in Southern California in1994, I tried to get to a friend’s home in Malibu. I went home and dressed in combat boots and a set of BDUs. As an afterthought, I grabbed a paint respirator before I headed off to my friend’s house.
When I got as close to my friend’s house as a sheriff’s deputy would allow, I set off on foot. As the smoke increased, I put on the paint respirator. As the smoke began to bother my eyes, it was then brought to my attention just how foolish I had been not to consider the effect of smoke on my eyes.
In the last round of Southern California fires in November, as the fire was headed straight toward my house, I stood with firemen watching the spectacle. I was wearing a Czech military surplus mask that I believe I had purchased from Keepshooting.com for about $15.00 on sale. I was breathing clean air and I was quite comfortable. Just how long I could have used that mask before the filters were clogged I have no idea. All I know is that on this night, while I was waiting for my house to burn–the firemen having told me that they wouldn’t be able to stop the fire because there was too much wind–I was quite comfortable. Fortunately for me, the fire turned and, instead of burning up the hill to my house, as would have been typical, it burned down the canyon at a 90 degree angle to its previous approach.
About wearing gas masks in hot weather, when I was in the National Guard, we had to wear a gas mask for an hour once a year. This exercise always seemed to occur on a hot and humid day. At some point relatively quickly, that mask became insufferable, and it felt as if insects were running around inside it and on my face.
Lord help those who might need to wear a gas mask all day.
In the army we had gs mask drills and I agree with everyone else: They are miserable and uncomfortable. I think one of the major reasons is your humid breath condensing when you exhale.
I have spent hours SCUBA diving with no discomfort. I have always wondered why they dont make masks with a mouthpiece option and intake and exhale valves. That might solve much of the problem.
Gas masks for the family was on the top of ,y list when I began prepping 10 years ago. Have purchased the IDF Civilian Versions new that use the 40mm filters. Also found NATO sealed extra filters from Europe. Masks are good quality and filters have to be in sealed containers. Good bet are the NATO marked surplus. Get your CD Nuclear Monitoring Kit as well. Get one certified and also containing Dosimeters, They allow you to keep track of INDIVIDUAL exposure. You will have to convert REMS to the modern equivalent of exposure.
If buying a military grade gas mask is not in the budget. The alternative to buying a gas mask is making one on your own, using materials you probably already have lying around your house, and which are pretty affordable in case you don’t. On the flipside, a DIY gas mask can protect you to some extent against fire or dust particles, tear gas from riots but it’s not that effective as a standard or a military gas mask when it comes to biological or chemical attacks.
The filters, fibers, vents and valves used by topnotch military gas masks can filter out even the most dangerous chemicals from the air, but a homemade one is just a last resort which will never have the same quality.
However, a homemade gas mask can be a fun project and it can help you in some circumstances when you need protection.
How to Make a Gas Mask