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Ranking the Best Solar Generators of 2020

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Solar generators are the most efficient and sustainable way to provide power in a grid-down or off-grid living situation. They’re affordable and let you tap into the free energy provided by the sun.

Our team at Survival At Home did the research so you don’t have to. We checked out all the solar generators we could find to put together this list of the best on the market.

Rankings

1. Renogy Lycan Powerbox – 1075Wh Battery

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The Renogy Lycan is all the things a solar generator should be. It offers a powerful 1200W pure sine wave inverter plus a lot of in-demand extra features. That’s enough power to operate medium appliances and all kinds of essential medical devices.

It’s easy to set up and even easier to operate, with the ability to charge rapidly from up to 300W of solar panels. It’s definitely too large for mobile use but is a great option for stationary prep at your home or off-grid retreat.

Why we like it: The Renogy Lycan is a large and powerful solar generator with a twist: You can swap out the actual power cells, allowing you to charge multiple batteries with the same solar generator. This significantly increases the power available to you.

Flaws: There’s no getting around it, the Lycan is a beast to move around. It weighs 55 lbs and believe us, you’ll feel every ounce of it. The rolling suitcase design helps some, but you definitely won’t be moving on foot with the Lycan.

2. Jackery Explorer 500 – 518Wh Battery

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The Explorer 500 is a rare product that fills the needs of a whole lot of different users. It has a larger capacity than most solar generators on our list yet is still lighter and more portable than the truly massive ones. 

Why we like it: It’s efficient, reasonably priced, easy to use, and offers a good variety of charging options. It also offers some advanced power management features that significantly improve its performance on an ounce for ounce basis. Even better, it fully supports pass-through charging. This allows you to continue charging your devices directly from the incoming solar power even after the batteries are fully charged.

Flaws: The most glaring flaw on the Explorer 500 is its lack of ports. While it offers a good number of USB ports, it only has a single AC port and cigarette style outlet. This significantly limits the number of larger devices you can power at once.

3. Goal Zero Yeti 500X – 428Wh Battery

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Goal Zero was one of the first companies to offer solar generators. Thankfully they chose not to rest on their laurels. The Yeti 500X is a recent release that’s been wowing everyone who gives it a try.

It has a latest-generation lithium-ion battery that is lightweight yet high-capacity. Its pure sine wave inverter is capable of powering even the most delicate of electronics without fear of damage or mishap. 

Why we like it: With a larger battery it’s capable of providing power for everything from smartphones to refrigerators. It offers a comprehensive range of available ports and has intelligently designed manual on/off switches that let you toggle the power on and off to different sections as needed. The included charge controller and power management devices are some of the best on the market. 

Flaws: At 428Wh of capacity and weighing 17 lbs, the Yeti 500X sits in an odd middle area for solar generators. It’s larger and heavier than the 150-300Wh models yet has less capacity than the 1000Wh+ ones. This means it has the inverter rating to power bigger appliances but not the battery capacity to run them for the long term. It’s too much generator for just smartphones and tablets but isn’t really enough for reliably powering larger items.  

4. FlashFish Power Supply Station – 222Wh Battery

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The FlashFish Power Supply Station sits on the lower end of both the capacity and inverter rating. You can fully charge it up in just seven to eight hours using a mere 50W solar panel.

Compared to larger solar generators you can top it off rapidly in just an afternoon with a panel that fits inside a pack. It’s a great option if you have to evacuate or otherwise go mobile during a disaster.

Why we like it: Very low cost per watt among solar generators, paired with low weight and reasonably high inverter rating. It’s hard to beat the value provided for the money spent. 

Flaws: The FlashFish is strictly a charge and use solar generator. It doesn’t support pass-through charging, so you can’t set it up in the sun and charge your devices directly. This pretty significantly reduces its usefulness for charging more than phones, tablets, and other small devices.

5. RockPals 300W Portable Solar Power Station – 280Wh Battery

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Preppers searching for a powerful yet portable solar generator are going to love the RockPals 300W. It charges rapidly, can power a wide range of devices, and has the staying power to see you through multiple days of use. 

Why we like it: The RockPals 300W includes the most in-demand features for a solar generator plus some useful extras. It offers multiple DC ports that are easily accessible and has the power to back them up. By far our favorite thing about it is the comprehensive accessory package. It includes all the adaptors and chargers you need to plug it into any kind of solar panel.

Flaws: It’s not a big thing, but the charge control software included with it is a little sensitive. We noticed it cut off several times when charging only low draw devices such as headlamps or small flashlights.

6. Suaoki S270 Portable Power Station – 150Wh Battery

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For those of you looking for a way to provide a few charges for tablets and smaller computers, the Suaoki may be the solar generator for you. It’s featherlight yet offers the ports and battery capacity to charge essential electronics. You can use it to keep your lights, phones, GPS, and other basic gear powered up for a fraction of the weight and size a larger solar generator requires.

Why we like it: One of the biggest downsides of solar generators is their high weight. The Suaoki Portable Power Station exceeded all our expectations just because of the power it can provide at a low weight. Despite weighing just under three pounds the Suaoki offers a full 150Wh of power. 

Flaws: While the Suaoki is quite powerful for its size it doesn’t have the inverter capacity to power larger devices such as CPAP machines. The same goes for refrigerators, A/C units, and other appliances.

7. Jackery Explorer 160 – 167Wh Battery

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If you love the high-quality build of the Explorer 500 but want something a little less weighty, the Explore 160 is the way to go. It includes all the features we loved in the 500 in a smaller and less powerful package.

Why we like it: At 167Wh capacity, the Explorer 160 can charge essential electronics but not much else. It can also charge itself up from a 60W solar panel a lot faster than larger solar generators. Combined with the robust port offerings for a generator of its size the Explorer 160 really shines in its weight class.

Flaws: From a different angle all the biggest benefits of the Explorer 160 are also its flaws. It’s too small and underpowered to operate CPAP machines, appliances of any size, and lacks the capability to really power a full camp. When you combine its lack of pass-through charging it really begins to show strain at charging multiple devices efficiently.

8. Renogy Phoenix – 246.24Wh Battery

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If there’s one thing that can be said about solar generators, it’s that the manufacturers found a design and really stuck with it. Most resemble nothing so much as squat little boxes with reinforced handles. It’s a design that works but isn’t necessarily the optimal one. 

Renogy completely broke from the pack and went with a briefcase-like design for the Phoenix. This makes it more compact and easier to maneuver than other generators, as well as adding an integrated 20W solar panel.

Why we like it: The inclusion of a solar panel, and a solar panel big enough to effectively charge the battery at that, is huge. The Phoenix is a true solar generator. It produces, stores, and distributes its own power simply by folding out the body and exposing the panel to the sun. 

Flaws: There are some definite trade-offs to Phoenix’s design. To start with, there aren’t quite as many ports as you would find on a similarly sized standard solar generator. The folding design also adds a mechanical point of failure that most solar generators just don’t have.

9. Anker Powerhouse 200 – 200Wh Battery

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Anker is a well-known company in the electronics accessory and charging cable field, but they’ve only recently entered the solar generator market. Their Powerhouse 200 shows some great features in a nice design but isn’t quite up to the level of some other generators we reviewed.

Why we like it: There’s no denying that the Powerhouse 200 is a sleek little solar generator. Anker went with a longer and slimmer design for this 200Wh system plus a handle that we found very comfortable to use. It has a simplified display and includes a USB-C type connector, rare among current-gen solar generators.

Flaws: The sleek design used for the Powerhouse 200 is a lot more startup inspired than most survival gear. Anker clearly prioritized form over function with this one. The ports it has are capable and extremely well made, but there just aren’t that many of them. Even worse, the advanced charging protections in place prevent you from charging low draw devices such as dedicated GPS systems and some headlamps.

10. Westinghouse iGen160s – 155Wh Battery

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Westinghouse is better known for its large scale turbines than small scale generators, but they’ve produced something really nice in the iGen160s. It’s tied for the smallest capacity generator on our list but still made it in due to its rock-solid build quality.

Why we like it: Sometimes all you need is a way to keep your communication and illumination going. The iGen160s is just about perfect for this. It has a full range of ports, including a hard to find USB-C port, and is one of the lightest and most portable solar generators on the market. When you consider the built-in flashlight and floodlight you end up with one of the best entry-level solar generators available.

Flaws: With an inverter rated at just 100 watts the iGen160s is unable to power anything but very small electronics. If you need higher capacity you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Who should buy a solar generator?

The world today has more gadgets, gizmos, and tools than ever before. One thing they all have in common is their need for a constant source of power.

Preppers – In a disaster or full grid-down situation, that source of power could get cut off at a moment’s notice. A solar generator offers a silent, fuelless, and highly reliable backup power source. It allows you to keep everything from smartphones to medical devices running like normal with nothing but the power of the sun.

We know, we know, a smartphone is hardly essential. It’s important to remember though that it can be a seriously useful tool and a great way to keep yourself entertained. Even an older smartphone can be loaded down with books, movies, and other media. Keeping morale high is nearly as important as keeping bellies full in a long term collapse.

Sleep Apnea/Oxygen Dependent – Those medical devices we mentioned? That can include everything from a CPAP machine to a home oxygen concentrator. This ensures that your essential medical needs are met even during an extended blackout.

Diabetics – You’re going to need a reliable way to keep your insulin supply at the proper temperatures.

Disaster prep – Then there’s everything else. Think about all the things in your house that rely on electrical power. A lot of it definitely falls under the category of comfort items, but there are other things that will no doubt be considered essential.

LED lighting is a great example of this. It draws very limited power yet provides a massive quality of life improvement, as anyone who’s tried to live by candlelight can tell you.

RV enthusiasts – RV’s are great options as a bug-out vehicle and a recreation option. Solar generators for RV enthusiasts fit into a middle category as far as size and portability go. They should be large enough to power your appliances without getting in the way.

Those types of solar generators can provide power for phones and other devices without being too bulky to fit well in a vehicle. In a pinch, you can even move them on foot. 

Off-Grid Living/Ranching – One important thing to keep in mind before making a purchase is how and where you intend to use a solar generator. For your home or retreat, a larger and more powerful solar generator is probably the way to go. 

The added weight isn’t an issue for a stationary unit and they provide a lot more capability than their smaller cousins. Large capacity generators with 1,000+Wh batteries and comparable inverters can power full-size appliances like refrigerators and even A/C units.

How we ranked 

Our ranking system for solar generators included charging speed/capability, battery size, inverter type and rating, number and type of ports, and portability. Of these factors battery size, charging speed, and inverter capability are the most important.

These three metrics are the true nuts and bolts of solar generators. They determine how and how quickly you can charge your generator, how much power you can store, and what types of devices you can actually power.

Just about every solar generator offers multiple charging options. These include standard AC wall charging, DC car/RV charging, and of course charging from solar panels. How quickly a solar generator can fully charge from each source significantly impacts how it can be used.

From a preparedness standpoint, AC charging is only useful for standby power and battery maintenance. DC charging is a whole other kettle of fish. If you find yourself going out in your vehicle for any reason you can top off the battery in your solar generator.

The real bread and butter of a solar generator is charging time from solar panels. This comes down to how much solar panel wattage a solar generator can process and how large its internal battery is. 

The most accurate measure of battery capacity used today is the watt-hour (Wh). You’ll sometimes see figures reported in amp-hours or even milliamp hours, but using these units makes it a lot more confusing. A watt-hour is the same for all devices at all voltages. It allows you to accurately measure and compare different battery systems even when they have different voltages or currents (1).

Having all that power stored away is only part of the battle. The type and rating of your inverter plays a huge role in what you can actually power. There are two types of inverters: modified sine wave and pure sine wave. 

Modified sine wave inverters are cheaper but less capable. The power they produce is choppier and suffers from significant distortion. Appliances with an AC motor like refrigerators or A/C units won’t run as well on a modified sine wave inverter. Even worse, sensitive electronics like smartphones, laptops, and tablets can actually be damaged (2).

Pure sine wave inverters provide a smoother and more efficient AC power. If you want to power medical devices or anything else with delicate electronics pure sine wave inverters are the only way to go.

The rating of your inverter determines how much power you can access at once. That’s not the whole story though, you also need to take surge power into account. It takes more power to start up an electrical device than it does to run one. The surge capacity of an inverter allows it to handle that inrush surge before settling into working current (3).

Solar generators are marketed by their inverter rating rather than battery capacity. A 500W solar generator offers up to 500W of power production at a time. Size your solar generator to the power demands you have.

The amount of charging ports and the type offered are pretty self-explanatory. More powerful generators generally have more charging ports, with the ability to use more of them at once. We prefer to see at least two AC and two DC ports, whether they be cigarette lighter style or USB ports for charging electronics.

Portability really comes down to weight, size, and carrying options. Solar generators are heavy. They have to be to offer the power storage and inverter capabilities you need. The trick is finding ones that offer greater capability for their weight and physical size. For the largest, we love to see a wheeled option.

Jackery, Renogy, and Goal Zero all displayed an understanding of how to properly balance these factors. They don’t sacrifice usability and portability simply to get the biggest and most powerful generator out there.

Other companies we chose not to include on our list were Wagan and KYNG. They were both packed with features and provided large capacity batteries, but included some additions that felt gimmicky when actually used. The biggest one for us was the included fold-out solar panels in the Wagan system that seriously increased bulk without noticeably improving performance.

We graded each solar generator on these factors then ranked them according to importance. We firmly believe that the solar generators in our list are the best on the market for survival purposes.

Benefits

Solar generators are the cheapest and most sustainable long term off-grid power option. A lot of people question why solar generators have the name they do. After all, they don’t actually generate any power, they just store power from solar panels. Many preppers prefer the constant power production of a fuel-powered generator instead.

The downside to this is cost and risk. Fuel is pricey, and only getting more so. Storing a large supply can also be dangerous if you don’t follow proper safety procedures. Even worse from a survival standpoint, a lot of fuel sources break down rapidly in storage. 

Unstabilized gasoline begins to degrade in just three to six months. Diesel is a little better, but will also start to break down in just six months to a year. 

That makes it expensive and difficult to store any significant amount of fuel for a generator. 

Solar generators suffer from none of these restrictions. Their power source is literally the sun. As long as it keeps shining you can continue charging your generator. The batteries within them are also far longer lasting. A quality lithium-ion battery can provide reliable power storage for over a decade with proper charging cycles and use (4). 

When you combine all these factors it’s easy to see both the cost and sustainability benefits of a solar generator.

Solar generators simplify off-grid solar power. One of the biggest barriers to home solar power is how complicated it can be. To build a system yourself you have to purchase panels, hook them into a charge controller, connect that to a battery bank of the correct size, then wire that to an inverter. All of this needs to be properly fused and grounded of course.

Unless you’re a trained electrician it can be really confusing and potentially dangerous.

Solar generators take all the guesswork out of building a solar system. They contain a prewired charge controller, battery, and inverter in a compact and durable shell. All you have to do is plug your solar panels into the labeled port and you’ve got a fully functional solar power system.

Solar generators act as instant backup power. A great thing about solar generators is their ability to double as a backup battery. All the generators on our list offer the option to charge from either a home AC or a car/RV DC connection. 

This allows you to keep the battery fully charged for when disaster strikes.

If you’re dealing with a fuel-powered generator you have both a lot more upkeep and a lot more potential for mishap. The last thing you need is a small part giving out on you right when you’re trying to power something critical during a sudden blackout.

Solar generators are highly portable. One of the biggest benefits of solar generators is how portable they can be. When paired with folding or flexible solar panels you can fit your entire emergency power system on a closet shelf. 

This gives you a lot more flexibility than a gas generator or other off-grid power source. If you have no choice but to evacuate you can bring your own source of power with you. Best of all, solar generators have no moving parts and can handle moving around.

You can put a fully functional solar power system in the bed of your truck and drive it wherever you’re going. Five minutes after you arrive you can be charging up your battery bank again.

Solar generators are quiet and emissions-free. One of the biggest downsides of a gas-powered generator is the noise. The average home generator runs at between 50 and 60 decibels (5). That can be anywhere from a quiet conversation up to music in a restaurant (6). 

Not only is it hard to sleep with an engine running by your bedroom window, but it also alerts any potential bad actors that your home is one with power and resources. OPSEC is critical to survival in a grid-down scenario.

Solar panels and a solar generator are totally silent. That’s silence while charging and being used. If you position your panels well and practice good light discipline no one ever needs to know you still have power when their lights have gone out.

Solar generators are quiet, reliable, and allow you to harness an inexhaustible source of free power. They have the capability to power every kind of device you could need, including both comfort-enhancing and medically necessary tools. Even better, they’re more capable and less expensive than they were even just a few years ago.

Modern solar generators hold their charge for months at a time and are incredibly easy to maintain. With just basic upkeep every few months you’ll always have a fully charged battery backup on hand if the lights go out.

FAQ

Q: What is a solar generator?

A: Solar generators are a streamlined charging, power storage, and inversion system designed to work with solar panels. They combine all the equipment needed to take raw power from solar panels and turn it into stable power that can be used to charge your devices. 

For the dedicated prepper, a solar generator offers a nearly inexhaustible supply of power that requires no fuel and very little upkeep. 

Q: How do solar generators work?

A: Solar generators work by taking the power produced by solar panels and storing it in internal batteries. They include a charge controller, battery, inverter, and the various ports and plugs needed to connect your devices.

The charge controller modulates the flow of power from the solar panels in order to protect the battery. The inverter then takes the stored DC power in the battery and gives you stable, usable power.

Q: How portable are solar generators?

A: Solar generator portability varies widely depending on the size, weight, and design of the generator. The smallest ones weigh just a few pounds and are easy to move around in a vehicle. In a pinch, you could even carry them, though this will seriously increase the weight of your pack.

Larger models can be significantly heavier, with the largest weighing in at over 50 pounds. These bad boys offer an incredible amount of power but are only portable in the sense that you can move them around in your home. Some large solar generators are built in a similar design to wheeled suitcases. It makes them a lot easier to move around when needed.

Q: How do you charge solar generators?

A: Despite their name, most solar generators can charge several ways. These include AC wall outlets, DC car/RV outlets, and of course solar panels. For effective battery maintenance, we recommend you keep them plugged into a wall outlet when not in use. This has the added bonus of keeping it fully charged if the power should cut out unexpectedly. 

For solar charging you need to either find solar panels that have the plug used by a specific solar generator or purchase a universal adaptor for the popular MC4 solar interface.

Q: What can you power with a solar generator?

A: Short answer: Just about anything. The beauty of solar generators is that they can provide full strength 110/220V AC power just about anywhere. So long as you’ve got the inverter strength and battery capacity you can plug almost any appliance or device into a solar generator.

There are some restrictions of course. Some items with especially high power draw such as electric heaters, hairdryers, and larger A/C units are off the table. Otherwise, if the inverter can handle it you can power almost any electronic device with a solar generator.

Q: How long does it take to charge a solar generator?

A: The charge time for solar generators depends heavily on the capacity of the battery and the wattage of the solar panels. As an example, a 500Wh battery being charged by a 100W solar panel would take 5 hours of perfect sun to charge.

That’s definitely oversimplifying things though. It’s extremely rare to get a full day of perfect sun. Most of the time you’re dealing with substantially less than perfect conditions, and that doesn’t even take into account inefficiencies in the transfer of the power (7). 

A good rule of thumb is to double the actual charge time based on the battery and panel. So for a 500Wh solar battery, it would take about 10 hours of good sunlight to charge it with a 100W solar panel.

Q: What’s the best solar generator for RVing?

A: The best solar generator for an RV is one that’s powerful enough to operate all your essential equipment. It should have the inverter rating and battery capacity to power everything but your A/C unit.

For us that’s the Renogy Lycan.

Q: What’s the best solar generator for camping?

A: Hiking and camping are some of the best ways to test your preps in the real world. For campers looking to bring their own power supply with them, you need to consider weight and portability more than capacity and inverter rating.

If you’re mostly a car camper we recommend the Jackery Explorer 500.

If you plan to pack your gear into a base camp, the Suaoki S270 is the way to go.

Recap

If you’re looking to add reliable and affordable off-grid power to your preps there are few better options than a solar generator. They’re simple to set up, intuitive to use, and offer years of power from your initial purchase.

Solar generators are capable of powering all the most important and medically necessary devices out there. Everything from smartphones to CPAP machines will keep on ticking even in a full grid-down scenario.

So long as you properly size your solar generator to the load it needs to handle you can effectively power all your essential electronics for years.

For Survival At Home’s #1 solar generator recommendation, click here.

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Ranking the Best N95 Masks of 2020

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N95 masks are some of the smallest and most effective personal respirators money can buy. They weigh practically nothing yet are able to protect you and your family from some of the most dangerous respiratory threats out there.

We compared the most popular masks on the market to find the top ten N95 masks available. Keep reading to find our picks for the best masks to survive a whole range of different threats.

Rankings 

1. 3M 1860 N95 Respirator

3M 1860 N95 Respirator

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3M is THE brand in the PPE market. The 1860 respirator is their premier medical N95 mask. It’s fully certified by NIOSH and offers excellent protection from every type of .3 micron particle.

Why we like it: These are specially designed for use in healthcare settings, with added protection against fluid particles. If your aim is to protect against a pandemic this is the N95 mask you should be wearing.

Flaws: The bright blue color, while good for easy identification, does cause them to draw more attention than a standard white mask. If your goal is to go full gray man you won’t blend in nearly as well with this respirator.

2. 3M 8511 N95 Pro Paint Vented Respirators

3M 8511 N95 Pro Paint Vented Respirators

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The 8511 is one of 3M’s most popular N95 respirator products. It was designed for use by painters, contractors, and others working in potentially hazardous conditions. It includes some of the best comfort-enhancing and protective features available.

Why we like it: The included Cool Flow Valve helps keep the interior of the mask up to 10 degrees cooler than similar N95 masks. It also makes it 30% easier to breathe.

Flaws: That same Cool Flow Valve means your exhales aren’t being filtered. If you’re wearing an N95 to prevent yourself from spreading an infection this isn’t the mask to go with.

3. Pneumatic Plus N95 Disposable Dust Mask

Pneumatic Plus N95 Disposable Dust Mask

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The Pneumatic plus incorporates many of the most in-demand features for an N95 mask with a few twists of its own. The exhalation valve on the side, combined with the sturdy repositionable nose clip, allows for a better seal and prevents exhaled breath from fogging up your glasses. 

Why we like it: A robust strap system involving a plastic clip helps spread the attachment point more evenly across your face. This helps create a stronger seal and improves overall comfort for longer-term wear.

Flaws: The padded nose clip, while great from a pressure standpoint, causes a rubbing action discomfort for some users. Overall it’s still a good feature, but the inclusion of something to help keep it from moving slightly would be an improvement.

4. 3M 8110S N95 Particulate Respirator

3M 8110S N95 Particulate Respirator

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The 8110S is a smaller than usual version of 3M’s classic disposable N95 respirator. It offers comfort-enhancing features combined with the quality 3M is famous for in a size better suited for women and older children.

Why we like it: Its small size and ergonomic design make it a much better fit for women and children than standard N95 masks. It’s still not sized for children below about 10 but does offer a significant improvement over other masks.

Flaws: Many men, especially men with wider faces, will find themselves completely unable to wear this mask. Make sure you stock multiple sizes for your whole family.

5. HEFUTE 95% Kids Multi Layer Respirator Mask

HEFUTE 95% Kids Multi Layer Respirator Mask

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The HEFUTE 95% respirator mask uses three layers of filtration material sized for your growing preppers. They’re highly protective and have a mix of kid-friendly colors and patterns that make kids want to wear them. 

Why we like it: Finding an N95 mask that will fit your kids is seriously difficult. The HEFUTE masks are sized for the faces of young children, giving them the same protections the rest of your family enjoys.

Flaws: Because it’s designed to fit such a large age range it can be difficult to get a perfect seal. The elastic used in the ear strap often needed to be adjusted in length to ensure effectiveness.

6. Dreams Box N95 Disposable Respirator Mask

Dreams Box N95 Disposable Respirator Mask

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This respirator mask provides N95 protection in a soft and foldable product. They can be flat-packed for storage and even disinfected for reuse so long as pollution or other non-biological particles are what you’re protecting against.

Why we like it: The design of this N95 mask creates a secure seal without resting the bulk of the mask on your face. This improves comfort and gives it added strength without the rigid structure found on most other N95 masks.

Flaws: Lacks an exhalation valve or nose padding. This improves protection from exhaled particles for others but decreases your comfort while wearing it.

7. Moldex 2300 N95 Particulate Respirator

Moldex 2300 N95 Particulate Respirator

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The Moldex 2300 takes a novel approach to the N95 mask. Instead of using a rigid internal clip system Moldex went with an outer shell that provides structure for the mask without impacting comfort.

Why we like it: Its unique dura-mesh shell allows the Moldex to have all the structure and seal strength of other masks with a much more comfortable feel and fit. This eliminates the need for an adjustable nose clip and helps prevent the mask from collapsing in on you in hot or humid weather.

Flaws: The centrally located exhalation valve has a tendency to blow warm air back up at your face. If you wear prescription or safety glasses while using this mask you’ll often find them fogging up if you don’t treat them against it. If you aren’t careful the stapled rubber bands will also break free relatively easily.

8. Solid Work N95 Foldable Respirator Mask

Solid Work N95 Foldable Respirator Mask

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This N95 mask has some pretty interesting comfort and fit enhancements that really seem to work. The small wing-like flaps help take the pressure of the straps off the mask itself and contribute to an overall better fit.

Why we like it: The pair of straps allow you to individually adjust the position of the upper and lower strap. This both improves the strength of the seal and increases your comfort for long term wear.

Flaws: The large side-mounted exhalation valve kept the interior cool, but stuck out noticeably farther than on other masks. We caught it on other masks several times while pulling them out of the box, potentially causing a strap to break.

9. Litthing N95 Folding Adult Respirator

Litthing N95 Folding Adult Respirator

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The Litthing N95 is a highly portable and ergonomic respirator mask. Its design incorporates some interesting comfort enhancements and strengthened attachment points at the nose point and ear straps.

Why we like it: The design of the Litthing respirator allows it to be folded in half without any damage. This makes it a lot easier to store multiple masks long term and to add one into a sealed part of your bug out bag or another emergency kit.

Flaws: Exhalation valve makes them unsuitable for use during a pandemic, especially where you’re worried about spreading the illness. It allows unfiltered breaths to exit where an unvalved N95 mask would stop the particles from leaving.

10. 3M 8210 Plus N95 Particulate Respirator

3M 8210 Plus N95 Particulate Respirator

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The 3M 8210 is the mask your dad was wearing way back in the day. It’s well built, easy to work with, and provides the same level of excellent protection it has for decades. It isn’t quite as robust or comfortable as some other masks but is still a viable option.

Why we like it: It’s a tried and tested design. The 8210 has been one of the most popular N95 respirators on the market for decades. It offers no nonsense protection without the bells and whistles other masks advertise.

Flaws: While the design has certainly stood the test of time, it doesn’t incorporate many of the newer comfort enhancing innovations. It’s serviceable, but isn’t the most comfortable N95 mask to wear all day long by far.

What’s new with N95 Masks

3D Printed N95 masks may not meet proper protective standards…

Duke University pioneers process to decontaminate N95 masks for reuse…

39 million N95 masks found by healthcare worker’s union…

Who should buy N95 Masks?

N95 masks are one of those rare products with a wide net of usability. They’re great in a situation where disease spread is an issue, but they can also provide a lot of benefits in other situations. 

Here are some of the people who can most benefit from an N95 mask.

Medical Workers – Medical workers are without a doubt the group who most need the protections provided by N95 masks. They’re capable of stopping 95% of small particles, including bacteria and viruses. This is essential at preventing healthcare workers themselves from falling victim to the very diseases they’re fighting against.

If you or a loved one is part of the medical community you should always stock up on masks. As the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak has shown, relying on an employer to provide effective PPE is a serious gamble. Make sure you and your family have the protection needed at work through your preps (1).

People with compromised immune systems – There are more immunocompromised American’s today than ever before (2). People going through chemotherapy, those with HIV, diabetes, malnutrition, and genetic conditions are just a few examples. Infections that would be a minor annoyance to a healthy person can seriously sicken or even kill them.

We as preppers always try to account for the needs of our family in our preps. One of the best ways you can protect close family members with compromised immune systems is through stocking up on N95 masks. They block out all those viruses, bacteria, and other tiny threats that also put medical workers at risk.

Contractors – N95 masks don’t only protect against biological threats. They’re also excellent at blocking dust, fibers, harmful chemicals, and other dangerous substances often encountered on active job sites. Anyone who’s ever laid insulation, done interior painting, or worked with the chemicals needed for some types of flooring can tell you how essential they are. (3)

Some of these chemicals can be really nasty stuff, with corrosive effects and the potential for long term health impacts. Even worse, anytime a shortage hits jobs still have to go on. The last thing you want is to be forced to continue working without the PPE you need to stay healthy.

Environmental cleanup crews – If you’re cleaning up abandoned buildings or other neglected properties you’re likely to encounter all kinds of nasty stuff. This is especially true where mold comes in. Inhaling mold can lead to serious consequences for those even a little bit sensitive to it (4)

Preppers living in wildfire-prone areas – The Western US, and California in particular, has seen some of the worst wildfires in its history over the past few years (5). One of the biggest dangers of a wildfire is the thick, noxious smoke they produce. 

N95 masks are one of the best ways to protect you and your family from these threats. The filter elements they contain can remove 95% of the harmful particulate contained in the smoke (6).

People with allergies/asthma – Pollen season is one of the worst times of the year for those with allergies or other respiratory issues. Unfortunately, things are only getting worse as time goes on. Some parts of the country are actually seeing visible clouds of pollen that qualify as a weather condition (7).

An N95 mask is a perfect tool to filter out tree, grass, and other types of pollen to protect those sensitive to them. It’s comfortable enough to wear every day yet powerful enough to filter out the vast majority of problematic particles.

People in high-pollution cities – Many cities in America and around the world have a serious problem with air quality, one that’s only getting worse (8). For those sensitive to airborne pollution this can be a significant problem. 

PM10 particles can irritate your sinuses and eyes, but it’s the PM2.5 particles you really need to worry about. These are small enough to move through your nose and mouth undetected. They nestle down in the deepest parts of your lungs and cause serious consequences as they build up. N95 masks marked with a PM2.5 rating are perfect for blocking out both types of dangerous particles (9).

How we ranked 

We used several key factors when ranking N95 masks. These were performance, certification comfort, breathability, and storage.

Performance – Without a doubt performance is the number one consideration for any survival gear, and N95 masks are no exception. In order to even be considered for our list, every mask had to provide a minimum of 95% protection against .3 micron particles. This covers all the most dangerous pollutants, fibers, chemicals, insulation/drywall debris, and viral or bacterial threats. 

Certification – Every country certifies their masks a little bit differently, with different certification names as well. In the US N95 is the certification standard. Other countries’ standards matter only in that you may find yourself purchasing orders of masks from those places.

The most important are China, Japan, South Korea, Australia/New Zealand, and Europe. These are:

  • KN95
  • DS
  • Korea 1st Class
  • P2
  • FFP2

So long as your respirator mask has one of these certifications you’ll know that it’s roughly the same in performance as an N95 mask (10).

Comfort – Comfort is right up there with performance in our measurement. It doesn’t matter how effectively a mask works if it’s too uncomfortable to wear over the long term. For N95 masks comfort comes down to fit, padding/nose clips, straps, and ergonomic design. The fit and straps of a mask affect how securely it seals to your face and whether or not it rubs against your skin while you wear it.

You’ll find straps in both closed ear loop and top/bottom configurations. Closed ear loops are way more common but we find top/bottom loops create a more comfortable and secure fit. The ergonomics of a mask really determine how it rests on your nose, chin, and against your cheeks. Many masks go with a semi-rigid design that holds the mask above your face. These types of masks don’t touch near as many points as softer, less structured masks, but they also don’t store as well. 

Padding and nose clips are one of the key features of a mask’s overall comfort. They impact how it sits on your nose, how strong the seal is, and whether or not the mask or padding itself is rubbing against the bridge of your nose. 

Exhalation valves make it easier to breathe in your mask and prevent moisture and heat from building up inside. N95 masks with exhalation valves are generally cooler and easier to use, but present their own performance issues if biological agents are what you’re protecting against. More on that later.

Breathability – How easily you can inhale and exhale is an important part of any respirator mask’s capability. With N95 masks this mainly becomes a question of exhalation valve or no exhalation valve. 

Exhalation valves are found on a lot of different N95 masks and serve to release your exhaled breath without pushing it back through the filter medium. It makes it a lot easier to breath and serves to reduce both temperature and moisture buildup inside your mask. It does have some implications for overall performance though.

The theory is most of the time you’re worried about what’s outside getting in, not what’s inside getting out. For most situations this is true, but there is one scenario where an exhalation valve can be a liability. If you’re sick and trying to prevent the spread of your illness an exhalation valve defeats the entire purpose of the mask. 

Storage – Like any other prep, N95 masks need to be as packable and long-lasting as possible. You want a product that doesn’t take up too much space and is shelf-stable for a minimum of several years. Some N95 mask makers use an abundance of rubber and other elastics in their masks. These are the first components that will break down and cause mask failure. If you’re concerned about the longevity of your mask stockpile, go for ones with less rubber and longer-lasting forms of elastic in the bands.

Brands we trust…….And brands we don’t – 3M is undeniably the king in the N95 mask market. They make some of the best PPE on the market and have a wide range of different N95 mask products fit to suit the needs of every prepper. 

Moldex is another company with a well-earned reputation for excellence in the PPE field. Their masks incorporate innovative features and some really nice comfort-enhancing add-ons. 

We don’t have any brands we would specifically recommend you stay away from, but rather a general “use your head” admonition. N95 masks are high demand products that can be life or death in the right (or wrong) situation. There are an unfortunate number of fly by night operators, copycats, and outright counterfeits out there. Make sure any N95 mask you purchase comes from a reputable source and brand.

We considered each of these factors and ranked them in order of importance. We can say with good authority that all of the masks on our list will serve you well when it counts.

Benefits

N95 masks block at least 95% of particles in the .3 micron range (11). When comparing filtration systems and masks you’ll see that .3 micron figure come up a lot. The reason for this is directly related to how particles move at very small sizes. 

Anything at .3 microns or larger moves in a relatively straight line while in transit. So long as your filter is small enough to block these particles it can stop anything above that level. Particles smaller than .3 microns could slip through if they moved in a straight line.

It’s hard to explain just how small particles below .3 microns really are. One comparison is to the thickness of a human hair, about 50 microns. Think about how thin your hair looks, then imagine something 150X smaller.

Below that size particles begin to be affected by the individual molecules that are in the air. They move around in a zig-zagging pattern that greatly increases their apparent path. Any filter capable of capturing .3 micron particles is also capable of capturing the bulk of smaller particles just because of this zig-zagging movement (12).

An N95 mask is so named specifically because of how effective it is. They’re certified to block a minimum of 95% of small particles that can damage the lungs or cause infections. 

An N95 mask is the best protection you can get from pollution and pollen. Short of entirely staying indoors, an N95 mask is the best protection available for pollen and pollution. They’re designed to capture extremely small particles. The most dangerous pollutants are those at PM2.5, or 2.5 microns in size. These can penetrate deeply into your lungs and cause long term damage. As we covered above, N95 masks are more than capable of stopping any particle bigger than .3 microns.

Compared to pollutants, pollen is massive. The smallest particles of pollen are about 15 microns, while the largest can be 200 microns (13). N95 masks offer the best mix of comfort, wearability, and protection from pollen and pollution.

N95 masks offer the best mix of protection and comfort against airborne pathogens than other masks. While there are masks available that offer greater particle filtration than N95 masks, they’re significantly less comfortable to wear. N99 masks filter out 99% rather than 95% of particles but reduce airflow noticeably. 

You’ve no doubt heard that the best tool to have is the one you actually carry. For most average people going about their lives and N95 mask is going to be the mask you actually wear. N99 masks are technically more protective, but most people won’t be able to wear them continuously.

N95 masks go through a stringent approval and certification process. There are several regulatory bodies around the world that certify safety equipment and PPE. In the US the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) certifies all PPE, including N95 masks (14).

They perform rigorous testing to ensure that masks labeled as N95 actually block 95% of particles at the .3 micron size.

FAQ

Q: Do N95 masks work on Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

A: While the individual virions of the coronavirus are smaller than the particles filtered out by N95 masks, all indications show that they can protect you when properly worn. This comes down to how COVID-19 spreads. Sneezes, coughs, and other sprays of respiratory fluid are the most common vehicle. N95 masks are capable of stopping these tiny droplets before they reach your nose or mouth (15).

Q: What are the best N95 masks for children?

A: Unfortunately, the vast majority of N95 masks will not fit on children. They’re made as adult PPE for healthcare workers and others who require chemical and medical particulate filtering. Because they require a tight seal to function, the larger masks just won’t fit on a child’s face. 

One mask we identified that does fit on many children is the 3M 8110S N95 mask. It has a smaller size that makes it more able to fit on children’s small faces.

Q: How do you use an N95 mask?

A: N95 masks should be worn snugly against the skin of the face with the elastic straps over your ears. You should make sure it covers both the nose and the mouth fully. So long as the seal is secure you’re properly wearing an N95 mask.

Q:  Do N95 masks work on viruses?

A: N95 masks work on particles as small as .3 microns or 300 nanometers. The majority of viruses are between 20 nanometers and 500 nanometers (16). Just looking at that you can see that some viruses will be stopped and others won’t, but it doesn’t take into account how viruses actually spread. 

A mask isn’t stopping the virus itself, but the particles of fluid that they ride along on. N95 masks are more than capable of blocking those particles from getting to your face.

Q: Do I need an N95 mask with a filter?

A: The entirety of the N95 mask itself is a filter. What most people refer to as a filter is actually an exhalation valve. This allows air to flow out of your mask without having to pass back through the filtering material. It can improve comfort, but may also reduce the overall effectiveness of the respirator. During a major pandemic, an exhalation valve is a liability as it can allow your exhalation to exit the mask in an unfiltered manner. 

Q: How should N95 masks fit?

A: N95 masks work by forming an airtight seal around your face. At least once a year you should do a full fit-test, where you try your mask on then have someone blow smoke or another compound with a noticeable smell at you (17). If you can smell whatever you’re using then the respirator isn’t sealing properly. Whenever you put one on you should also do a seal check in a mirror to see if the mask is seated smoothly against your skin without gaps.

Q: Do N95 Masks expire?

A: N95 masks have an expiration date, but it doesn’t apply to the actual filter elements of the mask. The elastic bands that hold them in place can lose strength over time, causing an imperfect fit. Even so, expired N95 masks still offer substantially more protection than other types of masks (18).

Q: Can I wear an N95 mask with a beard?

A: Unfortunately for those of us with beards and other facial hair they do impact the effectiveness of N95 masks. Any type of respirator requires a good seal to your face to work properly. Beards prevent this seal from forming and can allow contaminated air particles to flow in. If you’re concerned about air quality and still want to maintain facial hair you’ll have to stick with an impressive handlebar mustache instead (19).

Q: Are N95 masks washable? 

A: Yes and no. For well equipped and highly trained medical laboratories? Yes. A new process was discovered by Duke University Scientists that uses a hydrogen peroxide vapor under laboratory conditions to fully sanitize them (20). This is great for healthcare personnel, but not really relevant for your average person. As far as your ability to effectively wash N95 masks, the answer is no.

Q: What’s the difference between an N95 mask and a surgical mask?

A: N95 masks are actual filtering respirators designed to block small particles. Surgical masks are nothing more than fabric or paper designed to catch splashed droplets of potentially infected fluids. An N95 mask can filter out individual bacterial, chemical, and other contaminant particles. A surgical mask cannot. You should always choose to stockpile N95 masks over surgical masks.

Q: Do N95 masks protect from wildfire smoke?A: Yes. N95 masks are designed to filter out small particles from the air. This includes the ash and other air pollution caused by wildfires. N95 masks are superior to everything short of a full-up gas mask with up to date filter elements.

Recap

An N95 mask is just about the cheapest and most widely available protective respirator you can find. They’re available in every hardware store, paint shop, or home improvement supercenter and cost next to nothing compared to other options.

They offer the best mix of protection and wearability of current mask systems plus they’re small and packable enough to fit into any size bug out bag. So long as you fit test your chosen mask and find one that forms a good seal, they can protect you against pollutants, pollen, smoke, and even bacteria or viruses.

For Survival At Home’s #1 N95 Mask recommendation, click here.

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