Gas masks are some of the most essential pieces of survival gear that nobody likes to talk about.
We’re talking about chemical warfare, nuclear attacks, and the kinds of industrial disasters that can destroy entire communities.
Despite all that, we highly recommend you consider adding gas masks to your preps.
With that in mind, we checked out all the gas masks and respirators we could find to pick out the top ten best for every member of your family.
1. Mira Safety CM-6M Tactical Gas Mask
Mira Safety is one of our favorite makers of PPE for the preparedness and survival market. The CM-6M is another product that shows they really get preppers and their needs. It provides you with a highly effective, easy to wear, and feature-packed CBRN gas mask at a fraction of the price of its closest competitors.
Why we like it: The CM-6M offers just about the perfect combination of visibility, usefulness, and affordable pricing. It has features not found in masks twice its price yet is still comfortable to wear and extremely effective at protecting you from CBRN threats.
Flaws: The only real flaw to the CM-6M is also its biggest upside: The large visor style mask. It’s great for visibility and peripheral vision but does get in the way if you have serious shooting to do.
2. Mestel SGE 400/3 Gas Mask
The Mestel SGE 400/3 is a lightweight and highly comfortable gas mask. It’s designed to offer three different filter positions and accepts all NATO standard 40mm filters. The main visor is constructed out of highly durable and impact resistant polycarbonate rather than a softer material.
Why we like it: The broad visor design and soft butyl rubber construction offer major improvements to comfort. It gives you a much greater field of view and a softer yet more effective seal.
Flaws: Doesn’t come standard with a microphone connection or speaking tube. If you don’t purchase the add-ons you lose most of your ability to speak while wearing the mask.
3. Mira Safety CM-7M Military Gas Mask
The second Mira Safety product on our list, the CM-7M features the same comfortable and highly effective design of the CM-6M with only slight modifications. Instead of that panoramic visor we loved so much it has a pair of optics friendly lenses.
Why we like it: The lenses of the CM-7M are specifically designed to work with modern military optics. If you’ve already got night vision goggles, thermal scopes, or similar high-end optics for your long guns this is a great gas mask to interface with them.
Flaws: The optics friendly lens design cuts down on peripheral vision pretty noticeably. It’s acceptable if you think you’ll need tactical flexibility, but otherwise reduces the mask’s usefulness.
4. Avon C50 CBRN Gas Mask
The Avon C50 gas mask is the civilian version of the currently issued U.S. military M50 Joint Service General Protective Mask (JSGPM). The only modification from that design is the ability to use widely available NATO 40mm filter cartridges rather than the new Avon CBRN filter designed for the military.
Why we like it: If it’s good enough for the entire U.S. military, it’s good enough for us. The modification to accept NATO 40mm filters also makes it much easier and cheaper to supply it.
Flaws: The C50 is expensive, noticeably more expensive than many other masks on this list. Despite its excellent pedigree, we have no evidence that it’s noticeably more effective than those masks.
5. MSA Millennium Gas Mask
The Millennium Gas Mask is the civilian version of the MCU-series masks introduced in the U.S. Navy and Air Force in 2002. It’s a comfortable and adaptable mask system that prioritizes line of sight and ease of use over tactical considerations.
Why we like it: The design of the mask maximizes visibility and line of sight. The lens is made from a flexible synthetic material that makes the mask more comfortable and easier to see out of than many similar masks.
Flaws: The broad visor style design is great for overall vision but does affect tactical capabilities. If you think there’s a chance you’ll need to use a long gun while wearing your mask it isn’t the best possible design.
6. Mira Safety CM-2M Child Gas Mask
In a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack it won’t only be adults who are targeted. The CM-2M child gas mask is available in two sizes designed to fit any child effectively and protect them from harm.
Why we like it: The CM-2M is one of the only full-up gas masks sized for children. It provides children from 1.5 years old up to 15 the same level of protection offered by military issue gas masks.
Flaws: It’s designed after older military masks with a hose and pouch system. This is good from a weight distribution standpoint but does make it much more unwieldy, especially on older kids who need to carry their own gear.
7. Avon FM53 Multi Role Respiratory Protective Equipment
The Avon FM53 is one of the most advanced and capable gas masks in the world. It was developed as an offshoot of the M50 Joint Service General Protective Mask (JSGPM) currently in use by the U.S. military. It offers comprehensive protection from a huge variety of threats.
Why we like it: The FM53 offers unparalleled flexibility in use, role, and protective posture. It can be used as either a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) or a standard gas mask respirator.
Flaws: The FM53 is pound for pound possibly the most expensive respirator mask available. It offers a ton of great features but is honestly too much mask at too high a price for the needs of all but the most at risk preppers.
8. Avon NH15 CBRN Emergency Escape Hood
The Avon NH15 is a unique product among gas masks. It’s a NIOSH certified CBRN mask yet small enough to fit comfortably just about anywhere. The design was created for law enforcement and first responders to have on hand as an emergency protective mask.
Why we like it: It’s the perfect mask to keep in a get home bag or similar EDC setup. It’s much lighter and more compact than a traditional gas mask yet offers full CBRN protection.
Flaws: The NH15 is purely a temporary solution. It’s designed to be disposed of after a single use and doesn’t allow for filter changes. The plastic bag style mask design is also far less durable than a full-up gas mask would be.
9. Mira Safety KZD-6 Protective Enclosure/Infant Gas Mask
The KZD-6 is honestly a very grim device. It looks like a reinforced carry-all and is designed to provide a protected and filtered space for infants. It’s based on an old Soviet design and was originally intended to protect the infants of high ranking officials in the event of a chemical or nuclear attack.
Why we like it: As frightening as it is to think about there’s no denying the importance of an infant gas mask. The Mira enclosure is easier to use and carry than similar products. They even took feeding and comfort into account and included a sealed mitten that allows you to interact with your baby.
Flaws: The design doesn’t provide any pumps or other active air filtration methods. Your child can’t stay inside for more than six hours at a time.
10. PET SHIELD Enclosure
The Pet Shield Enclosure is a novel product that actually provides full NBC protection for your family pets. It uses standard NATO 40mm filters that screw into place on a small air pump. When active it creates a positive pressure enclosure that you can protect your dog or cat from any dangerous contaminants.
Why we like it: For many people, their pets are a part of the family. We love the thought that went into creating a protective NBC enclosure for your beloved pets.
Flaws: It’s basically a plastic bag with an air pump attached to it. That makes it less than portable, and difficult if you’re trying to deal with your frightened family and moving your pet inside a sealed enclosure.
What’s new with Gas Masks
Who should buy a Gas Mask?
The question isn’t who should buy a gas mask, but rather who shouldn’t. For what they cost, a gas mask offers protection from some truly terrifying threats. With advances in gas mask design, it’s never been a better move to pick one up than now.
Every serious prepper – The most dangerous threats to the life and safety of your family aren’t the ones you’d expect. Nuclear, chemical, and biological attacks are terrifying and incredibly difficult to protect against. The only way to truly save your family from one of these dangers is to flee with the proper protective equipment.
It isn’t just state actors we worry about either. Terrorist groups and other extremists have used chemical weapons before and some of the biggest dangers out there involve a rogue group with nerve gas, a biological weapon, or basic radiological materials (1).
Nuclear weapons are incredibly well protected but radiological materials don’t have nearly the same safeguards. It’s within the capability of most serious terrorist groups to assemble a ‘dirty bomb’ using the resources found within most hospitals.
These are just regular explosives that have been filled with radioactive materials. When they’re detonated they create a cloud of radioactive particles that can contaminate a large area (2).
Modern gas masks and other Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) protective gear gives your family a fighting chance. It provides you with clean air to breathe for long enough to escape a hot zone and reach safety.
People who live near a chemical plant or similar industrial facility – The American industrial infrastructure is massive and widely spread. Millions of Americans live within a few miles of chemical plants, petroleum refineries, or power plants and are totally unaware of the dangers they can pose. There have been dozens and dozens of major industrial disasters over the last century, with the worst of them resulting in numerous civilian fatalities (3).
If you were on the fence about acquiring gas masks and other PPE, you need look no farther than the Union Carbide plant disaster in Bhopal, India for motivation to buy. A major pesticide plant released 40 tons of deadly Methyl Isocyanate gas.
Over the course of several hours, more than half a million people were exposed. All told more than ten thousand people died within a few weeks, and many tens of thousands more suffered permanent and debilitating injuries (4).
Chernobyl and the disaster at Fukushima show how easily even a routine power plant operation can spiral out of control. Dozens died at Chernobyl and hundreds of thousands were forced to evacuate at Fukushima (5)(6).
Knowing your local threat environment and creating a sensible disaster plan is the first step to safety. The second is procuring the necessary PPE, including high-quality gas masks, to protect your family.
Preppers concerned about the possibility of a major nuclear or chemical attack – Since the end of the Cold War, some threats have grown while others have receded. The threat of total nuclear annihilation has decreased certainly, but it hasn’t gone away, and the threat of a terrorist or state-sponsored attack with chemical or biological weapons has grown.
Nations like Russia and China have ample nuclear and chemical weapons stocks that could be put to use (7). Even more concerning is the rapid growth of the North Korean nuclear threat. Recent reports have shown that they already have warheads and are rapidly developing ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. (8).
If you’re caught in a direct nuclear attack then that’s all she wrote. If you’re merely adjacent to one you may have to deal with the quieter yet still deadly threat of nuclear fallout (9). A quality CBRN gas mask can protect you and your family from the radioactive particles created by a blast
A chemical weapons attack is even more likely than a nuclear one. Chemical weapons stockpiles are slowly declining around the world, but there are still tens of thousands of tons of them in storage.
Russia alone has vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons left over from the Soviet days and a less than stellar security record. These include nearly 40,000 tons of sarin, VX, mustard, soman, lewisite, and phosgene gases (10).
How we ranked
Ranking gas masks wasn’t easy. There are a lot of high-quality products on the market from some great companies. In the end, we considered fit and comfort, availability of filters, field of view, usability, and affordability in making our list.
Fit and comfort – By far the most important factor in choosing a gas mask is how well it fits. You need an airtight seal against every part of your face for the filters to be any good at all. Part of that fit involves the design of the mask itself, the materials used for against the face, and the adjustability through straps.
Comfort is also extremely important, as you may be forced to wear a gas mask for extended periods. An uncomfortable fit can affect morale and discourage people from wearing a mask as tightly as they need to. It can also push you to take risks with your mask you otherwise might not take.
Some important comfort features we looked at were the type of material used and the actual size of the mask. We also considered the adjustability and natural fit of all the gas masks on our list while ranking them.
Availability of filters – Filters are just as important as the mask itself to the effectiveness of a gas mask. What we looked for when picking the best gas masks was the ability to use NATO standard 40mm filters.
These are widely available in a variety of different effectiveness levels. You can purchase everything from brand new filters designed for workers in chemically sensitive conditions to full up military issue CBRN filters. These are rated using a system of color-coded alphanumeric bands that show exactly what type of threat they can protect against.
There are a few masks that use proprietary filters, but they needed to be truly exceptional to make it on our list.
Field of view – One of the biggest complaints users have about gas masks is how much they restrict vision. In the past wearing a gas mask was a lot like wearing a pair of swimmer’s goggles. You could see directly in front of you but lost a lot of your peripheral vision.
There were other problems too. The glass used in the lens would frequently fog up from the heat of your body. Since it was inside your gas mask it was impossible to clear until you reached a safe zone.
When comparing modern gas masks we looked at the type of visor or goggle design. Many masks offer a broad field of view or are designed specifically to interface with military optics and other devices. This allows soldiers to function as close to normal capacity as possible.
We also looked for treatments and coatings meant to improve visibility as a whole. Some of the best gas masks on our list offer effective anti-fogging protections that keep your vision clear no matter how warm or humid the inside of your mask gets.
Usability – Even under the best circumstances gas masks are going to inhibit your ability to function to a certain degree. Just figuring out how to properly put on and seal a gas mask could be an article unto itself. How effectively you can work, run, fight, and generally operate in your mask long-term was a major consideration.
Important usability features we looked for were a hydration port, low breathing resistance, sweat drainage, and effective speech. The hydration port was the most obvious one. When you put on your mask for real you have no idea how long you’ll need to wear it. Being able to hydrate without compromising protection is essential.
Sweat drainage and effective speech are two other physical design aspects. Sweat drainage is important because of how hot you’re likely to get. If it has nowhere to go it can just pool up inside the mask until it’s seriously annoying.
For speech, we looked for masks with internal diaphragms. These allow for fully intelligible speech and allow you to use communication devices without issue.
Affordability – There’s no getting around it, gas masks can be expensive. They’re precision pieces of gear that have to be made to exacting standards. The materials used in their construction aren’t expensive, but they have to stand up to rigorous testing in order to guarantee their effectiveness.
We only considered newly manufactured gas masks for our list. This raised the price, but overall we think it was the right move to make from a safety and reliability standpoint.
Brands we trust – Mira Safety is well known for the quality of their protective and tactical gear. Not only do they use the highest quality materials, but they also offer a range of gas masks capable of protecting every member of your family. You can choose from different mask versions suited for tactical or basic tasks.
Another brand you can rely on is Mestel. They’re an Italian company that primarily makes diving masks, but also produces some really nice PPE. Their masks are comfortable, easy to use, and offer some of the best visibility and features available.
Lastly, we want to mention Avon Protection. They’re an absolute giant in the respirator world and are the current supplier to every branch of the U.S. military. Their advanced M50 Joint Service General Protective Mask (JSGPM) is now standard issue for every branch of service. Their current line of civilian products is based on the same designs with a few tweaks but all the quality.
Things to avoid – With gas masks, it can be tempting to save a few bucks and buy one of the numerous Czech, Polish, or other Eastern Bloc surplus masks available.
Do not do this.
Most of these masks were manufactured before the Berlin Wall fell. They’ve likely been sitting in a non-climate controlled depot or warehouse for decades. Best case scenario the rubber is stiff and weakened to the point where it won’t form a seal. Worst case it breaks as you pull it out of the pouch.
Almost worse is the condition of the filters they’re likely to come with. Some old school Soviet-era filters were known to contain asbestos as part of the filter elements. They also aren’t sized to NATO standard, so good luck finding replacements.
If you’re considering purchasing gas masks, spend the extra money to get newly manufactured models that will work when you need them to.
We took all these factors into account and weighted them in order of importance. From that, we got the gas masks in the list above, any of which will serve you well when it counts.
Gas masks provide the most basic human need: Clean air to breathe – Most preppers are familiar with the survival hierarchy of needs. For those who aren’t, it breaks down just how long you can survive a certain threat into periods of minutes, hours, days, and months.
You can go up to hours in extreme temps, two to three days without water, and several weeks without food.
Oxygen though, is right at the top, with most people able to survive less than ten minutes without clean air. While we always recommend you keep a sensible stock of food and water, adding a gas mask to your preps should definitely be high on your list.
If you need a gas mask and don’t have one you only have minutes to live.
If you’re preparing your family for the worst life can throw at you it only makes sense to include protections against the most urgent and deadly threats.
Gas masks aren’t just for chemical or nuclear warfare – A lot of people, even serious preppers, scoff at purchasing gas masks for their family. There won’t ever be a major chemical or nuclear attack, they say, and if there was it wouldn’t be in my small town.
What they don’t realize is that gas masks protect against far more than just chemical warfare or nuclear fallout. A modern gas mask offers comprehensive CBRN protection against a broad spectrum of threats. Depending on the filter elements you purchase alongside your mask you can protect yourself and your family from almost any chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threat.
Gas masks offer protection against some of the most deadly threats out there – Modern CBRN gas masks are designed with a deep threat environment in mind. Military-grade filters protect against a vast array of threats that include some really nasty stuff.
Blister agents, choking agents, nerve agents, biological weapons, dangerous pathogens, and all kinds of deadly radiological threats are just the start. Weapons aren’t all either, a good gas mask can protect you from some of the most common and deadly industrial chemicals. These are chemicals that are stored in large quantities all over the country, chemicals that you may be sharing highway space with and never know it (11).
A good gas mask gives you and your family a fighting chance against some of the deadliest and most horrifying threats out there, including acts of terror or major industrial accidents.
Gas masks are lightweight and can extend your survival time almost indefinitely – One of the greatest things about gas masks is how light and portable they are. A full-scale CBRN gas mask weighs just over a pound and is designed to be easy to wear and carry.
Even better, their replaceable filter elements grant you significant survival time. So long as you follow proper changing protocols you can keep swapping out filters as long as you need.
Q: How do gas masks work?
A: Gas masks act as both a physical barrier and an air filtration system. The mask itself protects your eyes, mouth, and nose while the removable filters remove dangerous chemical, biological, and nuclear contaminants.
Q: Do gas masks contain asbestos?
A: During the Cold War asbestos was a commonly used component of Warsaw Pact gas masks. Many Soviet-era surplus gas masks that you find online and in military surplus stores still have these filters with them. Modern gas mask filters categorically do not contain asbestos and are safe for the whole family to use.
Q: Are gas masks illegal?
A: In the United States anyone can own and use a gas mask legally. You can’t use one to cover your face or in the commission of a crime of course but otherwise, they’re totally legal. Some other countries restrict ownership of gas masks and other military-grade protective gear. Check your local laws if you’re unsure.
Q: Can gas masks filter viruses?
A: Modern gas masks are designed to provide protection from CBRN threats. This includes a physical barrier that’s capable of protecting against bacterial, viral, and other biological threats. So long as your mask is CBRN it will protect against viruses.
Q: How long do gas masks work for?
A: Gas masks themselves don’t ‘run out’ or lose their effectiveness. The filter elements are a different story. How long a filter lasts depends on what kind of threat you’re protecting against and what the concentrations are. For most situations, you’ll get between eight and 24 hours of use out of one filter.
Q: Are gas masks reusable?
A: So long as they’re properly decontaminated after use gas masks are reusable indefinitely. They will eventually wear out or break down, but as long as you have filters for your mask you can keep using it as long as needed.
Q: Can I wear a gas mask with a beard?
A: Definitely not. Gas masks require an airtight seal against your face and neck. A beard prevents this from happening. There is, unfortunately, plenty of real-world proof of this. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, thousands of Iranian troops were killed in chemical attacks because their beards prevented an airtight seal (12).
Q: Do gas masks expire?
A: Most gas masks are made using a lot of rubber components. Even under perfect conditions rubber breaks down. Thankfully the rubber used is extremely durable and designed with storage in mind. Most modern gas masks can tough it out in storage for around 20 years. The filters though are much more finicky. Most have a shelf life of just 5 years.
Q: Are there gas masks for children?
A: Yes. Gas masks have been made to fit children and even infants since WWII. Since the end of the Cold War they aren’t nearly as available as they once were, but you can still find quality gas masks for kids.
Q: What gas mask does the Army use?
A: The current U.S. military standard-issue gas mask is the M50/M51 Joint Service General Purpose Mask (13). It’s the first mask in U.S. history to be used by all branches of the military and has served as the inspiration for several great civilian gas masks.
Gas masks provide your whole family with comprehensive protection against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. When used properly they offer a lifeline that lets you get your family out of a hot zone and to a safe haven.
You can choose from a variety of different styles and fits depending on your needs. With advances in modern technology, gas masks have never been more effective, comfortable, and affordable.
For Survival At Home’s #1 Gas Mask recommendation, click here.
Ranking the Best Fire Starters of 2020
Ranking the Best Home Security Systems of 2020
Ranking the Best Backpacking Water Filters of 2020
Ranking the Best Pocket Knives of 2020
Ranking the Best Home Security Cameras of 2020
Survival At Home has an affiliate relationship with some offers on this page & is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.