The Definitive Gas Mask Buyers Guide [2022 Update]
Full-face gas masks provide unparalleled protection from a wide range of debilitating and even deadly threats.
These intricate devices can save lives in dangerous situations, but which gas mask is right for you?
When you’ve finished this guide, you’ll know everything you need to know about how gas masks work, how key features and details differ between masks, and how to select the right mask for a variety of applications.
We do our best to break down complicated terminology into layman’s terms. As a manufacturer of gas masks, respirators and other personal protective equipment, we have performed extensive, hands-on testing for every mask and filter listed below.
Here at MIRA Safety, we appreciate just how much goes into designing, developing, and manufacturing a gas mask to withstand the very worst conditions.
Make no mistake, these devices can and will save your life if used correctly and in combination with the right gear.
Different gas masks protect against different dangers. For example, your team may need state-of-the-art biohazard gas masks, chemical gas masks, nuclear gas masks, or masks that protect against all of the above. Military users may want a gas mask that offers a good tactical advantage.
Let’s start with a brief history of the gas mask.
The History of the Gas Mask
The Benefits of a Modern Gas Mask
Basic Types of Respirators
Types of Filters
Recommended Gas Masks & Respirators
Obsolete Gas Masks
How to Make Sure Your Gas Mask Fits
Must-Have Mask Mods and Upgrades
Going Beyond the Gas Mask
Gas Mask FAQs
The History of the Gas Mask
The earliest known gas mask was created in Iraq in the ninth century to protect people working in polluted wells. In the seventeenth century, plague doctors wore the now-iconic bird-shaped mask filled with herbs to avoid getting sick.
The genesis of the respirator as we know it today comes from Lawrence P. Haslett. In 1849, Haslett patented the first basic respirator design to incorporate both a filter and an exhalation port. In 1914, Garrett Morgan improved on that design and made a full-face respirator/smoke hood with visor slots and hoses that hung to the floor to protect against smoke inhalation. For filtration, Morgan’s mask used the same basic wet sponges the ancient Greeks trusted centuries before.
With the escalation of chemical warfare in the First World War, gas masks had a whole new protective role on the battlefield.
At first, these new gas masks incorporated a self-contained air supply. Soon after, in 1915, Nikolay Zelinsky invented the first gas mask to use activated charcoal to filter toxic gases. Combining this new portable filter with a full-face respirator and practical fighting features, Zelinsky’s Kummant mask began a whole new era.
In 1943, the British Army developed a more modern gas mask. This mask was lighter, less bulky, and fitted the face better than those used in World War I. It allowed the use of a separate, replaceable filter canister. It also protected against new biological warfare threats. This became the standard during World War II.
By the end of World War II, gas mask use had skyrocketed among both military and civilians. Instantly recognizable by almost anyone on Earth, they were cold comfort in the event of an unexpected attack.
Indeed, the British government had issued gas masks to every citizen, urging them to carry their masks daily. “Hitler will send no warning,” admonished the posters, “so always carry your gas mask.”
The Benefits of a Modern Gas Mask
Today’s gas masks and respirators are radically more advanced than their predecessors from just a century ago …
With lightweight, standardized filtration cartridges and a massive variety of mask and visor options to choose from, you can create a custom configuration that fits your exact preferences.
If you’re a busy professional, in law enforcement or the military, or working as a first responder, you probably already know what types of masks and filters you’re looking for.
If, on the other hand, you’re an individual looking to enhance your family’s disaster readiness, you need to carefully consider the threats you want to prepare for …
Is your biggest concern a pandemic—for which you only need P100 filtration—or are you looking to prep for chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) threats, which requires something more advanced? Does your family live in an area that’s prone to forest fires or an urban center that might be targeted for attack?
Those with a knack for civil defense take into consideration all possible worst case scenarios, which is why they tend to gear up for the possibility of a dirty bomb. A dirty bomb is not a true nuclear weapon. It uses conventional explosives to disperse a payload of radioactive material over the target area. This spreads dense concentrations of radioactive particles throughout the immediate area, contaminating the air. When it comes to a dirty bomb, civilians, law enforcement, first responders, and the military will all benefit from having CBRN-rated personal protective equipment (PPE).
Those in the medical field typically prefer P3 protection, as we learned in 2020. Another thing we learned in that same year is how rapidly stockpiles of P3 protection can be depleted, especially in the event of a global health crisis or pandemic.
Gas mask users can get practical protection from the aforementioned forest fires using specialized CO2 filters.
Suffice it to say that modern gas masks can protect you from a myriad of threats. For general preparedness, you should look for masks that protect against CBRN contaminants:
Toxic chemicals, gases, and nerve agents
All microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi
Radioactive particles dispersed by a dirty bomb
Radioactive fallout from a nuclear device, weapon, or reactor
Remember, when it comes to protecting you from these contaminants, it’s not the mask itself that protects you, but rather the combination of the mask and filter you use. Let’s break down both of these components and see what options are available … .
Respirator masks fit over your face and are used to ensure you have clean air to breathe. There are two main categories of respirators:
Air-purifying respirators (APR)
These respirators use portable filters to clean contaminants from the air. These filters have limitations, so it’s important to be aware of the potential contaminants the wearer might face. It’s also important to consider whether the oxygen level will be sufficient (19.5%). This is the most common type of respirator by far, comprising the vast majority of those you’ll see in civilian and professional use.
- Escape respirators – Designed for short-term use to escape a dangerous area, this respirator lasts only 15 minutes to an hour. These also take the form of smoke hoods. They are often issued to civilians in emergency situations or purchased in preparation for a potential disaster.
- Particulate respirators – This is the most inexpensive respirator you can buy. It’s a simple mask (like a surgical mask) designed to protect against airborne particles ONLY. This includes infectious agents, which require a P-100 rating. It does not protect against chemicals, vapors, or gases.
- Full-face gas mask respirator – This respirator combines a filter cartridge with a sealed mask and visor to clean particulates and chemical gases and vapors from the air. The mask covers the entire face and has a cartridge that filters the air as the wearer inhales. This type of gas mask respirator is the focus of this guide.
- Half-face tactical respirators – Designed to meet the needs of military and law enforcement, these compact respirators are compatible with tactical gear like helmets and goggles, while protecting the user from particulate threats and riot control agents.
- Powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) – This respirator is essentially a regular gas mask that uses a battery-powered fan to blow air through the filter. This substantially reduces the breathing resistance experienced while wearing a gas mask. At the same time, the powered air flow creates a positive pressure environment inside the mask, providing a secondary layer of protection from environmental threats.
The MSA M7 FIREHAWK SCBA System
These respirators supply uncontaminated air from a separate source. Dealing with unknown or especially deadly threats or insufficient oxygen levels requires one of these respirators. They are rarely deployed and only by highly trained professionals.
- Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) – This respirator comes with its own supply of compressed clean air. This eliminates the need for filters. This device is similar to a scuba tank and is typically used by professionals where the type of contaminant and its concentration is unknown to the wearer.
- Air-supplied – This uses an air hose to provide air from a clean source. This is typically used in situations where workers need to be in a dangerous area for an extended period of time.
Before we move on, another important factor is how your respirator should fit and function.
Modern gas masks use a rubber barrier to create an airtight seal with the face and neck. This seal must be intact for the mask and filter to function as intended, which can make for a tight fit. Loose-fitting respirators, like the escape hoods and SCBA suits mentioned above, work by creating a positive pressure environment inside of the mask/hood itself.
For the vast majority of adults, a tight-fitting gas mask is more practical and far more affordable. Anyone with the lung power to inflate a birthday balloon has enough lung power to operate a gas mask with a standard filter. For younger family members, a looser-fitting escape hood may be a better option.
Note that either system can be combined with a PAPR for enhanced breathing ease, especially during long hours of use. A PAPR can vastly improve the user experience for almost anyone, but for some people, it’s a necessity.
Types of Filters
But if the need arises, you want to be absolutely certain you can count on your gear—which is why we’re going to take a moment to cover storage, shelf life and logistics in general.A gas mask is only as effective as the filter it’s used with. Different filters provide different types and levels of protection. And there’s a system that’s relatively easy to understand …
Many modern filters (especially those designed to be compatible with the NATO standard 40 mm x 1/7” threading) are color-coded and tagged, so it’s easy to find the type of filter you want. Here is the basic color coding scheme:
|Color||Mask type||Application||Class||Gas Concentration||Standard|
|A||Organic gases & Vapours-boiling point > 65°C||1
|A||Organic gases & Vapours-boiling point > 65°C||1
|B||Inorganic gases and Vapours (not CO), i.e chlorine, H2S, HCN,…||1
|K||Ammonia and organic derivatives||1
|AX||Certain organic compounds with boiling point <65°C - of low boiling substances groups 1&2||gr.1: 100ml/m3 max 40'
gr.1: 100ml/m3 max 20'
gr.2: 1000ml/m3 max 60'
gr.2 5000 ml/m3 max 20'
|NO (+P3)||Nitrogen oxides e.g NO, NO2, Nox||Maximum allowed time of use: 20min||EN141|
|Hg (+P3)||Mercury vapours||Maximum allowed time of use: 50 hrs||EN141|
|CO*C||Carbon monoxide||Local guidelines||DIN 3181*|
|Reactor P3||Radioactive iodine||Local guidelines||DIN 3181*|
Other filters will not have these colors, but will instead be a solid color, such as olive, indicating they are “multigas” filters.
Keep in mind that along with the stated respirator and filter types, there are rating requirements that gas mask manufacturers must meet for their gas mask/filter combos to be approved for certain dangerous situations.
Gas Mask Rating System
Ratings systems are set up by government agencies to ensure that manufacturers maintain appropriate standards for their gas masks and other respirators. The primary ratings you should be aware of are the following:
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – NIOSH sets the standards for gas masks used by professionals in the U.S. NIOSH standards are for protection against CBRN agents, along with other contaminants you may encounter in the field. The NIOSH approval rating applies to the mask and filter combination.
There are many jobs for which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires NIOSH approved equipment. If you don’t wear your NIOSH-approved PPE, insurance coverage may not apply if you are injured or become ill as a result of exposure.
All products sold in the European Economic Area (EEA), including PPE and respirators, must be marked with the CE symbol, which stands for Conformité Européenne or European Conformity. A manufacturer uses this mark to show that its product meets all the health, safety, and environmental protection requirements set out by the EEA Council.
Originally developed under the Soviet Union, GOST standards include GOST 8762-75, which is a 40mm threading with a 4mm pitch. This standard was used throughout Warsaw Pact Countries for many years, and is still used by the Russian Federation.
When it comes to PPE, the European Standard (EN) for full-face gas masks is EN 136:1998. If a mask has this mark, it meets the requirements to be used as part of a respiratory protective device in negative pressure systems.
Keep in mind, there are other standards set by governments around the world for certifying full-face respirators. Having or not having a certain certification doesn’t determine the quality or usefulness of a respirator; it only shows that it has been proven to meet certain standards through independent testing by a trusted third party.
There are controls on shipping US-made respirators to other countries. Specifically, the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) apply to the export of certain gas masks.
EAR controls the export of products with commercial and other potential applications (dual-use items).
The U.S. government has established safeguards to prevent gas masks from being shipped to destinations where they could be used to counter the efforts of the U.S. military.
ITAR regulates defense products and operates under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). If a specific gas mask is listed in the ITAR United States Munitions List (USML), you must have a license to send it out of the country.
At this time, the only masks listed under the USML are those made by Avon Protection (including the M50 and C50), but that could change.
The point is this: if you plan to send your family or friends gas masks overseas, make sure you can do so legally. The penalties for not complying with these laws can be severe.
If a foreign-made gas mask enters the U.S. temporarily for re-export, it is not controlled by ITAR. The export of PPE is, however, regulated by EAR, and falls under classification code 1A004.
To make sure you’re in compliance, contact the U.S. State Department (administrator for ITAR) and the U.S. Department of Commerce (administrator for EAR) to let them know what you’re planning on shipping and where.
That way, if you’re ever investigated, you’ll have a paper trail showing you made an effort to contact those in charge about how to proceed.
Logistics and long-term storage are another important factor for any CBRN protocol or preparedness plan.
Sure, you might just start with one mask and a few filters. But as time goes on, you might get additional masks for other family members or additional filters for added protection against different threats. So, it’s important to think ahead and plan to the best of your ability to make the most of your investment.
Consider, for example, that most gas masks have a shelf life of up to 20 years, whereas the majority of filters are only designed to last 5–7 years in storage. However, some premium filters, like our NBC-77 SOF, have a longer 20-year shelf life. That makes things simpler, since the filter lasts as long as the mask, and you won’t need to rebuy protection nearly as often.
Beyond the mask and filters, you should consider the accessories, spare parts, and replacements you might need. “Two is one, and one is none,” as the old saying goes. So, it’s good to keep a backup gas mask around if possible. Accessories like canteens, microphones, and even replacement parts like filter covers should be in your kit. You should keep this kind of support gear around for every mask you’ve got. To keep things simple, MIRA Safety CM-series gas masks all use the same parts.
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to building your own CBRN stash. The best protection is ultimately going to be the protection you have on hand, so any plan is better than no plan. In a perfect world, we recommend a mask for every member of your family (plus one or two backups), a few CBRN filters like the NBC-77 SOF, and at least one or two specialized filters like the VK-450 (which protects the wearer from smoke inhalation).
Storage is relatively straightforward with most gas masks and filters. Filters sometimes come in a vacuum-sealed bag and almost always with a cap over the filter intake (leave this cap in place until you need to use the filter). Pay close attention to storage parameters, especially when it comes to duty use, and store your gear in a cool, dry, and safe place.
Now that you know about gas masks, let’s look at the types of masks that are available. This will help you decide what’s right for you and your family.
Recommended Gas Masks and Respirators
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, you can probably see why it’s crucial to make sure you get the right mask for your needs.
Full-face gas masks provide unmatched protection from some of the deadliest threats known to man. But to guarantee that protection, you need the right fit, the right filter, a perfect seal, and a handful of other key features.
After all, you’ve seen how gas masks are not simple respirators only designed to protect from particulates in the air. A gas mask is a full-face mask that, with the proper filter, protects against vapors, gases, and particles.
Gas masks are rated based on the threat they are designed to protect the wearer from. The ratings are as follows:
Chemical Blowing and Riot Control Agents
Specialty Ratings – designed to protect the wearer from specific HAZMAT or CBRN threats
For civil preparedness purposes, you should choose a CBRN mask. When researching, check the following features:
Presence of a speech diaphragm
Hydration system compatibility
Compatibility with optics
Whether the rubber is resistant to chemical warfare agents
Whether government and/or law enforcement agencies currently use the mask—an extra indicator of quality
With this in mind, there are many popular masks to choose from. Your choice will depend on personal comfort, the fit of the mask, your budget, and the considerations listed above.
Now, we know full well which gas masks we think are the best—ours! Our MIRA Safety gas masks stand up against the competition every single time (shameless plug).
Having said that, we want to make sure that you make an informed decision. So, here’s a list of the most popular masks:
The MIRA Safety CM-6M gas mask protects the wearer’s airways, eyes, and face from toxic chemicals, gases, vapors, and radioactive dust. The oral-nasal cup is hypoallergenic, and the visor is wide for panoramic viewing. It also prevents fogging, even in the toughest conditions. The mask fits 40mm 1/7” NATO filter cartridges and is manufactured according to the EN 136:1998 standard, class III. The mask is backed by MIRA Safety’s 5-year manufacturer warranty.
EN 136:1998 standard, class III
Inner mask prevents fogging even under harsh conditions
Takes two standard filter cartridges, making breathing easier and increasing the time between filter changes
Compatible with a variety of filters for various levels of protection
Can be used by industry, agriculture, law enforcement, fire departments, military, or for civil defense
Ideal for use as a riot control or tear gas mask, considering the full face seal and level of impact resistance
Hydration system and canteen included
Compatible with CamelBak bladders
Speech diaphragm included
20-year shelf life
This mask is used professionally across the globe by law enforcement, HAZMAT crews, and is made of CWA-resistant rubber. The CM-6M is feature-rich and comes in at a much lower price than competitive offerings.
The MIRA Safety CM-7M gas mask is similar to the CM-6M, but is designed for military use. It protects the wearer’s airways, eyes, and face from toxic chemicals, gases, vapors, and radioactive dust, while allowing for good optics when in combat to provide a tactical advantage. The mask is used by the Czech military.
EN 136:1998 standard, class III
Comfortable and wearable for long periods
Low breathing resistance
Compatible with a wide variety of military optical instruments
Eyepieces resistant to scratches and impact
Includes hydration system
Comes with speech diaphragm
Recessed visor options for use with rifles
Effective within a temperature range from -30°C to 70°C
If you’re looking for a CBRN gas mask that’s compatible with a variety of optics, go with the CM-7M. Most masks on the market will not allow you to get close enough to the stock to sight in on your target, or get close enough to a magnified scope to make it usable.
The MD-1 Children’s Gas Mask is the only dedicated, reusable children’s gas mask on the market today. It features a lightweight design with natural rubber construction, optimized for comfort and practical use by children 2–12 years old. It’s compatible with all 40 mm NATO-standard filters and features the same basic form and operation as a standard adult gas mask.
Streamlined, lightweight design optimized for children’s comfort
Nontoxic natural-rubber construction
Articulating 5-point mesh head harness
Features a panoramic polycarbonate visor for situational awareness
Comes with detachable breathing hose
Comes in 2 sizes for children 2–12 years old
Weighs just 1 lb. without a filter
Single 40-mm NATO filter port
The MD-1 is based on a proven design and uses standardized equipment to provide reliable CBRN protection for children. It’s not as easy for small children to use as the CM-3M mask (below), but it’s more affordable and flexible.
Developed by CBRN experts at the Israeli Defense Force, the CM-3M Children’s Gas Mask combines a hooded design with an integrated PAPR to create a positive pressure mask that’s practical and comfortable for small children. It’s an innovative design that’s reusable and reliable thanks to its use of 40-mm filter cartridges and the battery-powered blower.
Complete system with respirator mask, filter cartridge, integrated hydration system, blower unit and tubing included
Suitable for use by children as young as 2 years old
Uses 4 standard CR123A batteries to power the blower with a runtime of 15–22 hours of continuous use
Hood constructed from 4-layer PVC/nylon/nylon/PVC for maximum tear-resistance (tested according to standard ASTM D882)
Tested to provide up to 240 minutes of effective protection from mustard gas (CWA) according to MIL-STD-282 (method 204.1.1.)
The blower unit can alternatively be attached to a standard 40-mm NATO gas mask port, combining superior protection with easier breathing and longer use
Made in Israel
The CM-3M’s unique design makes it an outstanding choice for protecting younger children, especially those under 7 years old. It’s substantially more expensive than the MD-1 gas mask, but a large portion of that expense is the detachable PAPR, which can be used separately with other 40-mm port gas masks.
Originally designed for use by the Czech Special Forces, the TAPR is a half-face respirator that uses 40-mm filter cartridges and features optional accessories to integrate with ARC Rail Adapters and MSA Gallet systems. The TAPR is a dedicated tactical respirator with enough versatility to suit a wide variety of military, law enforcement, and civilian uses.
Complete kit with hardshell case, ripstop nylon storage bag, and two filter cartridges
Compact form optimized for use with weapons and popular helmet systems
Uses 40-mm NATO-standard filters
Optional adapters for connecting with ARC Rail Adapters or MSA Gallet systems
Compatible with popular optics, night vision, and combat goggles
The TAPR is an outstanding and flexible solution, but it’s not designed to protect against CBRN contaminants.
Obsolete Gas Masks / Respirators to Avoid
Because of the sensitive nature of gas masks and CBRN gear, it’s crucial to stick with tested and proven respirators from manufacturers you can trust.
Military surplus masks are widely available, due in no small part to the popularity of gas masks as a costume item. That makes for a number of highly affordable masks on the market that provide no viable protection. Surplus masks are very likely expired gas masks that can’t be trusted for protection.
Here’s a quick list of masks you should avoid:
How to Make Sure Your Gas Mask Fits
The proper functioning of your gas mask relies entirely on a snug and airtight fit. The gas mask must make a vacuum seal, meaning it must be the proper size and a good fit for the shape of your face.
Medium-size masks are a good choice for many people, but a good fit is not guaranteed. You can find the measurements for all MIRA Safety masks in the product listings on our website. You must try the mask on ahead of time to be sure it will work when you need it. Here’s how you do that:
NOTEYou absolutely MUST shave any facial hair before using a mask. Beards and sideburns can potentially prevent
forming a proper seal and compromise function
1 Make sure the straps are completely loosened and pulled to the front of the mask, where they won’t get in your way.
2Place your chin in the chin cup and roll the mask onto your face from the chin up. Make sure your nose is in the nose cup. You may need to seat the mask a few times to get the right fit.
3Holding the mask in place, pull the straps into place on the back of your head.
4Tighten each strap securely, in the following order: middle strap, top straps, and then bottom straps.
5Cover the filters with your hands and inhale deeply and quickly to test the seal. This is a negative pressure test. You should feel the mask tighten around your face and no air should enter the mask. If this doesn’t happen, repeat steps 1–4.
Must-have Mask Mods and Upgrades
As you now know, the right gas mask and filter combination can protect you from a wide range of threats.
The next crucial step is to make sure you can take advantage of that protection.
Something we like to say at MIRA Safety is that “your best protection is what you have with you.” That means, to do its job, your gas mask absolutely must be available to you. You need to be familiar with how to use it. And you may need a few other things to make sure it’s perfect for your needs …
First and foremost, as mentioned in the last section, you should absolutely practice donning and doffing your gas mask. In an emergency, you’ll be at least somewhat stressed when you’re putting it on, so it’s important to get familiar with the process beforehand. Ideally, you want to be able to do this with your eyes closed or at least in extreme low-light environments.
The next step is just … wearing the mask.
Spend some time with it, especially if you’ve never trained with protective gear. Breathing through a gas mask filter is different, and your field of view will also be different. So train with it if you can, or at least wear it on the couch for a few minutes if you can’t.
Once you’ve worn a gas mask for any appreciable amount of time, you may start to notice some other limitations.
The most common issue? Gas masks aren’t compatible with eyeglasses. That means over 70% of Americans need to consider specialized spectacle inserts to see properly while wearing a gas mask.
It’s important to note that gas mask spectacles are not like typical eyeglasses. They require special considerations for eye relief and lens shape to minimize distortion. Our MIRAVISION spectacle inserts are specially manufactured and tested to provide easy vision correction with MIRA Safety gas masks:
Remember, the protection you get from a gas mask could save your life, but you’ll still need to see where you’re going.
Another limiting factor of most gas masks is the ability to communicate with those around you. Once again, you might be deploying your mask in an emergency, in which case communication will be crucial. The practical solution is a microphone, like those used by armed forces, that integrates into existing communication systems.
Our MIRA Safety Gas Mask Microphone clips directly over your mask’s exhalation valve without any tools, and it integrates seamlessly with your 2-pin communications gear (including Peltor and OpSec).
But what happens if your gas mask gets messy?
What if you’ve got the right corrective lenses, good communication, but you slip and fall, fouling your visor with mud?
It might not sound like much of an issue, but you can’t always just wipe your visor clean. And if you’ve been exposed to hazards or threats—taking the mask off isn’t always an option.
To solve this problem, MIRA Safety looked to the world of dirt biking. Specifically, their tear-off visor covers:
MIRA Safety PROFILM visor protectors are an easy way to clean your mask in seconds with just one hand. They’re stackable and completely transparent (also available in tinted), and they provide crucial protection that can keep you in the fight.
Next up, are the crucial considerations of airflow and fatigue.
With a basic gas mask and filter, your lung power keeps the circuit going. Thanks to low-resistance filter media this usually isn’t too much of an issue, but it can gradually sap your energy—especially with any exertion.
Next up, are the crucial considerations of airflow and fatigue.
You can prevent that by combining your mask and filter with a Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR). The PAPR is a sealed, battery-powered blower (or fan) that automatically draws air in through the filter media, then pumps it directly into your mask. This practically eliminates any breathing resistance while creating a positive pressure environment inside your mask that offers an added layer of safety.
Instead of plugging the filter directly into the mask, you plug one or two filters into the PAPR, then connect the integrated hose to your mask’s filter port:
An added bonus (as you can see from the PAPR’s construction) is that it moves the weight and bulk of the filters off your face, allowing for easier maneuvering in tight areas.
A PAPR is necessary for anyone who doesn’t have sufficient lung power to use a traditional mask (that’s partially why a PAPR is included with the CM-3M mask). But it’s also an outstanding upgrade for anyone who expects to use their mask for extended periods.
And last, but certainly not least, you need spare parts.
We’ve all heard the adage, “Two is one, and one is none,” but few of us have ever had to face a CBRN threat while missing one of our gas mask’s crucial components. Suffice it to say, the feeling is far worse than just losing your car keys.
Fortunately, ALL adult MIRA Safety gas masks share the same interchangeable replacement parts kit. And while we must stress the fact that users CANNOT service their own masks, this kit still provides some crucial spare parts you’ll want to keep around just in case.
Going Beyond the Gas Mask
From history and basic details to the specifics of certifications and the best (and worst) gas masks available, we hope this guide is a reference you’ll return to as you learn more and more about protecting yourself and your family or group from a wide range of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats.
Now more than ever, this kind of protection is both extremely accessible and easily customizable, allowing you to build a PPE stockpile that’s customized for your needs and situation. While these optional accessories add to the overall cost of your kit, they also add invaluable utility that can help ensure you get the results you want (or need) from your gear.
Another key consideration before you move on is what happens beyond the mask?
Because although the right gas mask and filter will protect your face, eyes, and airways, it can’t do anything for your exposed skin. That’s why we always recommend some form of full-body CBRN protection. The most thorough solution is our MIRA Safety HAZ-SUIT, available in a variety of adult and children’s sizes as a total-body protective garment:
The HAZ-SUIT is ultra-thick, tear-resistant, and (unlike many of the alternatives) reusable in the event of exposure.
You may note that the wearer’s hands and feet are not covered by the HAZ-SUIT. We also recommend some form of butyl gloves and boots to provide flexible protection for your hands and feet. Our MIRA Safety HAZ-Gloves feature ultra-thick 32-mil construction for up to 150 minutes of protection and an inner glove liner for comfort and handling:
If a full-body HAZ-SUIT isn’t practical or is too conspicuous, then the MIRA Safety M4 CBRN Poncho is a viable alternative. Weighing in at just 23 ounces and compact enough to fit into a backpack pocket, the M4 CBRN Poncho provides inconspicuous protection from potential exposure, and it’s available in both black and Serbian Digital camo:
Finally, in the event that you are potentially exposed to hazardous threats or contaminants, it’s important to have a plan for rapid decontamination if at all possible.
The MIRA Safety MDG-1 Decontamination Glove is designed to do just that. It provides instant, on-demand decontamination in a matter of seconds:
Designed to provide up to 90% decontamination from caustic threats like mustard gas in a matter of minutes, this powerful tool weighs just 5.3 ounces and tucks into almost any pocket as easily as a smartphone.
Gas Mask FAQs
These FAQs might be helpful when choosing a gas mask:
NIOSH-approved CBRN filters are olive green with a NIOSH label. In addition, the part number will match the number on the NIOSH label. In Europe, canisters that conform to European standards should be marked with EN 14387:2004 and color-coded with a letter/number combination to indicate which contaminants the filter protects the user from.
The CE mark in Europe is placed on the product by the manufacturer to show that the product is CE certified.
ISO certification requires the manufacturer to go to a third party for product certification. The manufacturer will include a label on the product that says “ISO 9001:2015 certified.”
EN 136:1998 will be marked on the gas mask, along with the appropriate class: CL1 for light-duty, CL2 for general use, and CL3 for special use.
Cap is short for capacity, and all NIOSH CBRN-approved canisters will have a Cap rating. The Cap rating represents the amount of time a cartridge will effectively keep out chemical gases or vapors. The ratings are as follows:
- Cap 1 – 15 minutes
- Cap 2 – 30 minutes
- Cap 3 – 45 minutes
- Cap 4 – 60 minutes
Some gas masks have specialized glasses inserts. These inserts hold specialized lenses provided by the manufacturer. The goal is to ensure that the mask’s seal isn’t broken, as it would be with standard glasses. Contact lenses are an alternative, but they’re impossible to service without removing the mask.
You CANNOT trust surplus gas masks. Most of them are expired or worse—defective—equipment that’s been rebranded to be sold at a discount. When you find a site with gas masks for sale, verify that it’s a reputable supplier before doing business with it.
A gas mask must fit well enough to make a tight seal around your face. The fit should feel tight but not uncomfortable. No leakage should be detected when performing a negative pressure test (see How to Make Sure Your Gas Mask Fits above). Facial hair can get in the way of making a tight seal.
It’s harder to breathe through a gas mask than it is to breathe regularly. Anyone with asthma or another lung disease, elderly people, children, and others may have a hard time using a gas mask. The standard rule of thumb is that if the person can blow up a balloon, they’ll be able to comfortably use a gas mask. If not, there are solutions (like a PAPR).
Modern gas masks are designed for military use by adults. So, in addition to being too large, they’re also too heavy and uncomfortable for most children. Thus, gas masks and respirators for children need a specialized design for children. The MIRA Safety CM-3M respirator hood is a lightweight alternative that fits over a child’s head with a powered respirator attached. The MD-1 gas mask features a more conventional design with ultra-light, natural-rubber construction.
MIRA Safety adult and children’s gas masks are offered in a variety of sizes and configurations. Technical details are available on each product page, with optimum, maximum, and minimum sizing guidelines for each mask. Every child grows differently, so it’s impossible to say exactly whether your child or teen is ready for an adult mask. As always, it’s important to test fit the mask or respirator when you get it and before emergency use.
A gas mask filter combo protects your eyes, face, and breathing passages from contaminants. However, many contaminants can enter your body through the skin, so other PPE for head-to-toe protection is also recommended. That includes a full-body hazmat suit, like the HAZ-SUIT, along with butyl rubber boots and gloves to avoid exposure.
Filter cartridges and gas masks have a certain shelf life. If they’re outdated or have been exposed to the elements, their protective abilities may diminish. Masks also break down over time, so you must always be sure that your mask is in good working order and not expired. When you purchase a gas mask and filters, make sure to read the instructions for storage and maintenance information.
Filter cartridges do not last indefinitely. How long one lasts depends on its capacity, the concentration of contaminants in the air, the environmental conditions, and other factors. All cartridges eventually need to be replaced. Typically, when breathing through a filter becomes difficult, it’s time to replace the filter.
No. Gas masks do not provide oxygen unless you’re using a SCBA system. If there is not enough oxygen in the air, you may suffocate. Filters are usually engineered to work in a standard environment with at least 19.5% oxygen.
You’ll only be protected in a fire if your filter is specifically designed to protect against smoke and carbon monoxide. In addition, unless the gas mask is designed to withstand high temperatures, it could melt. The VK-450 filter is specifically designed to protect the user from smoke inhalation.
In addition to proper storage, many gas masks need to be renewed every 2–5 years with the wear parts replaced and the mask retested. MIRA Safety provides spare parts kits that trained professionals can use to perform renewals at 5 year intervals. Wear parts may also wear out through extensive use. These parts may need to be replaced between renewals, depending on your PPE protocol.
With a tight seal around your face, gas masks often inhibit communication when you need to communicate the most. There are a variety of solutions for this issue. At MIRA Safety, our masks use a passive, integrated speech diaphragm to provide maximum intelligibility of speech, with an optional microphone that can be attached to most common tactical radio systems.
Some gas masks interfere with your ability to shoulder and sight a rifle. Others, like the CM-7M are optimized for use with firearms. The CM-7M is likewise optimized for use with popular night vision systems, with special contouring for optimum cheek weld. Most gas masks can be used with handguns, especially with laser sighting systems.
At a few points in this article, we’ve mentioned a powered air-purifying respirator. These lightweight, belt-mounted units are effectively just a powered blower fan, connected by a standard 40 mm adapter. That means you plug the filter into your PAPR instead of your mask. Then, you use a hose to connect the PAPR and your mask. Flip the power switch and the system powers up, providing automated airflow (instead of using your lung power). This makes it far easier to breathe and use the mask, while also creating a positive pressure environment inside the mask that provides an added layer of protection. It’s a valuable upgrade to any gas mask system.
Remember, the best gas mask is the one that keeps you and your team alive.
Choosing the right mask for your needs is not to be taken lightly. Take the time to do your homework, determine what you need protection from, and then order the right gas mask and multiple filters. Always keep your gas mask in good repair and practice using it. You never know when your life may depend on it!
Have we missed anything? If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please let us know in the comments section below.