The 2024 Guide to Choosing the Best Riot Gear & Gas Masks for Personal Protection

The 2024 Guide to Choosing the Best Riot Gear & Gas Masks for Personal Protection

by Kiril Krastanoff

Part of a well-thought-out and all-inclusive CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) disaster preparedness plan is equipping your family members–especially children–with the tools and knowledge to survive. While having respiratory protection for yourself gives you tremendous resilience in multiple disaster situations, children must also have the know-how to make it through a major crisis.

MIRA Safety has prepared a comprehensive guide that examines CBRN threats, why they exist, and how to create an effective response plan.  This breakdown goes deeper than just gas masks. We provide essential tips for crafting a pragmatic CBRN emergency plan, including information on how to select the right gas mask for a child, age-appropriate communication strategies for children, and the steps needed to enhance your family preparedness kit, not just for peace of mind, but also for added resilience. 

Table of Contents

  • 01

    The Top Threats Encountered During Unrest and Riots

  • 02

    Best Gas Mask Against Tear Gas

  • 03

    Armor and Protective Clothing for Riot Control

  • 04

    Can Civilians Own Riot Gear For Self Defence?

  • 05

    Riot Police Gear vs Military Gear

  • 06

    Body Armor Options for Preppers

  • 07

    How to Make it to Safety if Caught in a Mass Protest/Riot

The Top Threats Encountered During Unrest and  Riots

MIRA Safety is committed to providing protective gear and knowledge to those who might encounter unrest and danger in a civil unrest scenario.

The new current world order is rife with uncertainty, volatile realities, and moments of civil unrest and unexpected violence. Around the world, riots and protests are intensifying; they often erupt without warning. Whether your job is to document the events, enforce order from the front lines, or perhaps exercise your right to free speech and stand for a cause you believe in as a civilian, being properly prepared is a matter of life and death. 

Most protests are civilized and calm. Peaceful demonstrations are an integral component of freedom of speech and democratic principles. But violence translates into headlines; anarchy strikes fear in the hearts of law-abiding citizens. 

Protesters with a nefarious agenda who cover their faces, destroy property, and engage the police in urban combat, advocate revolution with fire and rage.  Efforts by law enforcement to contain the chaos often turn violent. Those caught in the cycle of this chaos risk exposure to injury and contact with chemical agents. Not having the proper protection can result in serious–even life-threatening–injuries.  

There are three primary threats to be encountered in a time of civil unrest: physical threats, explosives, and chemical threats. 

1) Physical Threats

Even a seemingly peaceful demonstration can suddenly erupt into a bare-knuckle brawl. Even if a mob does not appear to be armed, they can still inflict serious injuries through punches, kicks, or by utilizing nearby objects as weapons: rocks, bottles, even garbage, and furniture.

Some protesters come with the sole intent of inflicting harm, and they are more likely to be armed to some extent with concealable weapons, such as knives or even handguns.

There are four primary categories of physical threats during riots and civil unrest events:

  • Blunt Force Trauma: Injuries from punches, kicks, thrown objects, and even being trampled by a crowd are common in protests that turn violent. The upper torso and head are particularly vulnerable to blunt force trauma, which can cause serious injuries like broken bones, internal bleeding, and concussions.  The severity of these injuries may not be immediately apparent because of adrenaline, but they can be life-threatening.
  • Projectiles: This includes shrapnel from bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs). While less common, projectiles can also be fired from slingshots or even rudimentary launchers.  Projectiles can cause serious puncture wounds, lacerations, and death.
  • Edged Weapons and Sharp Objects:  Everyday tools (screwdrivers, box cutters, and hammers) and knives are easy to conceal and can be used to inflict slashing or puncture wounds. Bottles and windows can be broken to create glass shards.  Wounds inflicted by these tools-turned-weapons can be severe and life-threatening, especially if they cause significant blood loss.  As with blunt force trauma, the injured person may not immediately feel the pain due to the rush of adrenaline.
  • Firearms: There is always a risk of a firearm being produced during civil unrest situations, even in areas with strict gun control laws, as criminals care little about local ordinances.  In addition to traditional firearms, other dangerous weapons like air-powered rifles or pellet guns may be used.

Tip: The risk of panic and stampede is omnipresent in large, volatile crowds. People can be crushed to death in a sudden and uncontrolled surge of humanity, resulting in horrific and life-threatening injuries. Large crowds can be especially dangerous for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

2) Explosives and Fire:

Image courtesy of Envato

Explosives and the fires they can create are ever-present dangers of demonstrations, riots, and civil unrest. They can cause widespread panic, injuries, and property damage. Some of the most common incendiary and combustible devices that are found

  • Fireworks, Firecrackers, and Flares:  While often seen as celebratory items, these can be used as projectiles during unrest. Fireworks can explode unexpectedly, causing burns, shrapnel injuries, and even starting fires. Firecrackers can also cause burns and hearing damage. Flares can ignite flammable materials and cause respiratory problems due to the acrid smoke they produce.
  • Molotov Cocktails: One of the most ubiquitous of all improvised incendiary devices. The Molotov cocktail is typically made from a glass bottle filled with flammable liquid (gasoline, kerosene) and a rag or other wicking material. When thrown, the bottle breaks, spreading the ignited accelerant.  The effects of the simple-to-produce Molotov cocktails are truly destructive. They can cause severe burns and property damage and start fires that spread quickly.  Be aware of the following dangers:
  • Firestorm Potential: Multiple Molotov cocktails can create a firestorm, a rapidly spreading and intense fire that's difficult to extinguish.
  • Inhalation Risks: The fumes from burning materials and the accelerant itself can be toxic and cause respiratory injuries. 

Note: The Molotov cocktail earned its moniker during the Winter War (1939) between Finland and the Soviet Union. The Finns, vastly outnumbered by Soviet tanks, perfected the petrol bomb's design and use. They filled the bottles with a sticky mixture for better adhesion and easier ignition. The flammable contents would seep into the engine compartment of Soviet tanks, causing them to break down or catch fire.

Image courtesy of Envato

The name given to the device was a jab at Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister. Molotov and his German counterpart Joachim von Ribbentrop signed an insidious pact that divided Eastern Europe between the two powers and gave the Soviets a free hand to attack Finland.

  • Other Makeshift Explosives (Less Common):  In extreme situations, rioters may resort to using more sophisticated homemade explosives and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).  These can be incredibly dangerous and unpredictable, causing significant casualties and property damage.  Examples include pipe bombs or pressure cooker bombs, such as the ones used during the Boston Marathon bombing.

Tip: Avoid using clothing or jackets made from synthetic polymer fibers. When they catch on fire, they melt and cause deeper burns than clothing made from fire-resistant or natural materials.

3) Chemical Threats:

Chemical threats are a serious concern during riots and civil unrest and can result in a variety of unpleasant and potentially harmful symptoms. Some  of the most common chemical threats you might encounter include:

  • Tear Gas: This lachrymatory agent (meaning it irritates the eyes, causing tearing, burning, and blurred vision) can also irritate the respiratory system, leading to coughing, difficulty breathing, and a burning sensation in the throat and nose. Symptoms typically subside within 30 minutes to an hour after exposure.
  • Pepper Spray: This inflammatory agent irritates the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. Symptoms of exposure to pepper spray include intense burning pain in the eyes, tearing, coughing, difficulty breathing, and temporary blindness.  The effects typically wear off within 15-30 minutes but can linger for longer depending on the concentration and exposure time.

Beyond the Sting: Unregulated Canisters and Health Risks

Riot in a city environment (Image courtesy of Envato)

Although tear gas and pepper spray are classified as non-lethal crowd control agents,  there are concerns regarding their long-term health effects.

Unregulated Canisters:  Tear gas canisters can vary depending on the manufacturer and country of origin.  Some unregulated canisters may contain additional chemicals besides the primary lachrymatory agent (CS gas), including irritants, toxins, or even carcinogens.  These chemicals can exacerbate the typical symptoms and pose a potential long-term health risk to those who are on the receiving end of these agents. 

Respiratory Issues:  Exposure to tear gas, especially in high concentrations or for extended periods, can irritate the lungs and exacerbate pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The “Best” Gas Mask Against Tear Gas

It is impossible to classify one gas mask as being the best, as individual choices depend on personal preference, missions, and threats encountered. 

MIRA Safety offers a wide range of gas masks and filters that meet diverse needs and provide our customers with the expertise and options to help them select the right equipment for specific mission situations.

Key factors to consider when choosing a gas mask:

  • Coverage:  Full-face masks offer the wearer complete eye and respiratory protection. Some full-face masks can be bulky and limit visibility. Half-face respirators with proper filters offer good protection for the respiratory system but leave the eyes exposed to the effects of chemical agents; they may be suitable if the wearer is afforded eye protection from goggles or a face shield. However, in riot scenarios, the professional consensus is that full face masks are preferred due to the effects of tear gas and vision-impairing substances.


The MIRA Safety CM-6M Full-Face Respirator is the best option for high-stakes civil unrest scenarios, as it offers a panoramic view for unobstructed situational awareness.

  • Unparalleled Protection:  The CM-6M boasts CBRN-compliant bromobutyl rubber construction, offering superior defense against a wide range of threats, including tear gas and pepper spray, industrial chemicals, and even some biological and radiological hazards.
  • Exceptional Comfort:  The ruggedized CM-6M prioritizes comfort with a hypoallergenic inner mask that minimizes fogging and reduces CO2 buildup, ensuring breathability and long-term wearability.
  • Rigorously Tested and Certified:  The CM-6M meets the highest European standards (EN 136: Class 3) for full-face respirators, ensuring its effectiveness and reliability. It is the go-to mask for police and government agencies worldwide.
  • Enhanced Communication:  The integrated speech diaphragm allows for clear and effective communication, which is crucial for coordinating with others during chaos or civil unrest.

Note to police professionals: Always consult with your law enforcement agency to ensure that the full-face respirator is in line with your department's filter standard.

Selecting the right filter is critical. And, much like when selecting a respirator, several factors need to be considered in the decision-making process, such as mobility needs, threading standards, protection levels offered, and effective duration.

The Best Filter for Riot Control and Civil Unrest

The most important factor to consider when selecting a filter is the threat level and type of substance a user is likely to encounter.

  • For basic protection against tear gas,  a mask with a CS gas filter (often labeled "CN" or "CS") should be sufficient. Our P-CAN Police Gas Mask Filter is specifically designed for and trusted by law enforcement officers for riot control environments.

Best Lightweight CBRN Protection Filter

If the situation calls for the highest threat level protection possible, it is best to opt for a filter that offers full CBRN protection (chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear).  

When prioritizing mobility and versatility, the lightweight NBC-17 SOF Gas Mask Filter offers the highest level of CBRN  protection. The NBC-17 SOF Gas Mask Filter is  easy to carry and transport and is the ideal filter for situations where airborne particles pose  the greatest  threat.

  • This filter is certified to protect against numerous chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. It meets the EN 14387+A1 standard and carries the "CE" symbol for European compliance.
  • The NBC-17 SOF is used by military personnel, CBRN specialists, and special operations forces around the globe–a testament to its reliability and effectiveness. 
  • The NBC-17 SOF's exceptional 10-year shelf life makes it a valuable addition to an emergency kit, offering long-term peace of mind and the assurance of reliable protection in case of a CBRN event.

Note: If you are anticipating the possibility of prolonged exposure to harmful aerosolized chemicals, you should consider a larger CBRN filter, such as our NBC-77 SOF filter. By sacrificing some mobility, you more than makeup for it with a much higher breakthrough time compared to smaller filters.

Armor and Protective Clothing for Riot Control

Law enforcement officers face many threats when responding to a riot or a violent demonstration. These include flying objects, altercations resulting in blunt force trauma wounds, incendiary devices, and even bladed weapons and handguns.  The proper protective gear is crucial for minimizing serious injury. 

  • Ballistic Protection:  Riots can escalate quickly into violent–even deadly–incidents. Ballistic vests offering protection against pistol and rifle rounds can be lifesaving in these extreme situations. The level of protection will depend on the specific threat assessment. 
  • Impact Protection:  Projectiles, such as rocks, bricks, and bottles, frequently become weapons used in riots. Helmets with visors offer vital protection for the head and face.  Additionally, padded arm and leg guards, along with shin guards, can significantly reduce injuries from blunt force trauma.
  • Mobility and Breathability:  Effective crowd control requires agility and maneuverability.  Heavy, cumbersome gear can hinder movement.  Lightweight and breathable fabrics allow for the greatest mobility.
  • Flame Resistance:  Molotov cocktails and other improvised incendiary devices pose a serious threat.  Consider flame-resistant clothing that can self-extinguish or minimize burns.

Online resources and tools, such as the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), compile data on compliant ballistic-resistant body armor.

Note: Reference the latest NIJ standard, offering the most comprehensive certification and testing for approved body armor equipment. Consult departmental safety guidelines and requirements when choosing riot control gear.

Can Civilians Own Riot Gear For Self Defense?

The legality of civilians owning riot gear for self-defense is a complex issue with variations depending on location. Here's a breakdown of key points to consider:

  • Body Armor Restrictions:  Some jurisdictions have minimal restrictions on body armor, allowing civilians to purchase ballistically protective gear, while others have stricter regulations, requiring permits or limiting ownership to specific professions (security guards, bail bondsmen).
  • Riot Gear Restrictions:  Many jurisdictions restrict the ownership or public display of certain riot gear items such as ballistic shields, helmets, or flak jackets. 
  • Gas Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Almost all PPE equipment, such as respiratory protection, is legal for civilians to purchase and own. 

Note: While some argue that riot gear could be used for self-defense in extreme circumstances, legal ramifications exist. Never assume anything: due diligence is always prudent.

Riot Police Gear vs  Military Gear

Here are some key differences in purpose, protection level, and features:

  • Riot Police:  Their primary focus is crowd control and minimizing injuries to both officers and civilians in protests, riots, and large gatherings that have the potential to get out of control. Their gear prioritizes protection from blunt force trauma, projectiles, and chemical irritants.
  • Military:  Their primary focus is combat and engagement with hostile forces. Their gear prioritizes ballistic protection against gunfire, explosives, and shrapnel.

Protection Level of Riot Police Gear vs  Military Gear:

Some civil unrest incidents can escalate into situations where firearms are used, warring the need for bullet-resistant vests along with helmets, padded armor for limbs, and shin guards. 

Soldiers and tactical law enforcement specialists wear body armor, offering protection against a range of threats, from pistol rounds to fragmentation from explosions.  Helmets are also often heavier and designed for ballistic protection.

Body Armor Options for Preppers

In an SHTF moment, body armor can significantly increase your odds of reaching safety when navigating through large crowds and situations fraught with peril. Preppers should consider the following factors when planning how to emerge safe during a SHTF civil unrest incident: 

  • During an escape, quick thinking and mobility are crucial. Bulky, heavy armor might hinder your ability to navigate crowds or rough terrain–especially for long periods. Consider lightweight, concealable options like soft body armor vests.
  • The level of protection depends on the anticipated threats. Ballistic vests offering protection against pistol rounds are a good starting point for most scenarios involving paramilitary gangs or armed looters.
  • In some situations, remaining inconspicuous, or what’s known in the business as a “gray man,” might be advantageous. Consider civilian-looking vests that don't scream "military."

The current situation in Haiti is a bleak peek into how civil and social unrest can rapidly deteriorate into gang warfare and gun battles in the streets. The political instability created a vacuum of authority, allowing these gangs to expand their territories and influence. This resulted in clashes involving gunfire, putting civilians in the crossfire between warring factions of criminals who have little regard for the lives of law-abiding men, women, and children. 

Soft vs Hard Body Armor?

Preppers who need the highest level of protection do not have the luxury of assuming they will only encounter small-arm ammunition. To prepare for surviving much higher-velocity rifle rounds, the obvious choice is to opt for hard plates. 

Standard body armor options often fall short against high-powered rifle rounds, typically maxing out at Level IIIA, Level III, or Level III+ protection. 

MIRA Safety’s tactical product line includes lightweight Level IV body armor designed to stop multiple impacts, even from armor-piercing rounds. MIRA Safety Level IV plates offer a significant leap in protection levels. They integrate seamlessly with standard plate carriers or can even be discreetly slipped into your everyday backpack, all without the burden of excessive weight.

An overview of MIRA Safety’s body armor:

  • Lightweight Design: At 5.9 pounds, these plates are significantly lighter than traditional Level IV options, minimizing strain and fatigue.
  • Encompassing Protection: Our plates offer uncompromising protection against common 5.56, .308, .30-06, and 7.62x39 loads.
  • Anti-spall protection: The use of ballistic ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) ensures that bullet fragments are absorbed by the plate rather than expanding outwards, causing injury to the wearer’s face or limbs.

How to Get to Safety if Caught in a Violent  Protest/Riot

Law enforcement units deploy as part of larger commands entrusted with public safety. But what about civilians who unexpectedly find themselves in the middle of such a potentially violent event? Flash protests are a real thing, and on the more terrifying end of the spectrum, a partial or full-blown deterioration of order can leave you trapped.  Here are some guidelines to avoid this very situation: 

Situational Awareness is Key! Stay informed and monitor news and social media for updates on protests and areas to avoid.

  • Trust Your Gut: If you see a crowd forming or tensions rising, it's best to steer clear.

If Caught Unaware:

  • Don't Engage: Avoid eye contact or arguments with protestors or rioters. Your goal is to leave quietly and blend in.
  • Follow the Flow: If you're unable to escape the crowd, move with the flow of people to avoid getting trampled or caught in a surge.
  • Seek Shelter: Look for shelter in a sturdy building, store, or even a doorway to get off the street.

Planning for Escape:

  • Have a Meeting Spot: Establish a predetermined meeting location with your family in case you get separated.
  • Identify Escape Routes: Plan alternative routes in case main roads become blocked.
  • Communication Plan: Have a communication plan with your family, whether it's a designated phone call time or a pre-arranged text message to signal safety.

Emergency Preparedness:

Consider having a well-stocked "bug-out bag" with essential supplies like water, food, a first-aid kit, and a portable charger in case you need to leave quickly and stay out for a while. 

Do not forget to pack a gas mask and a few spare filters, as large fires and mass deployment of teargas are typical hallmarks of more serious riots.


This overview was designed to help civilians and security professionals protect themselves during a riot, violent protest, or societal breakdown of law and order. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I Need a Gas Mask For Protests?
Can Gas Masks Stop Tear Gas?
Can Civilians Own Body Armor and Riot Gear?
What are the Best Gas Masks to Protect Against Pepper Spray?