Masks are left, like it or not, while for travelers they never went away. All flights, and most places any public transportation, require it, and so do many destinations both at home and abroad, especially indoors. Even where they are not required, they are a very good idea, even for those who have been vaccinated, with an increasing number of so-called “breakthrough” infections along with the social responsibility to protect young and immunocompromised. For those who are unvaccinated and expose themselves and others to high risk, masking in all public places should be a moral requirement where it is not legal.
The conclusion is that the use of masks does not seem to end anytime soon, at least to varying degrees and especially for travel. So if you have to wear a mask, it might as well be the best in terms of performing the intended job, which means both comfort and protection. This is a topic I wrote a lot about early in the pandemic when everyone needed to buy masks, often for the first time ever, and since then I have done a lot of travel and lots of masking and have some critical observations and tips to offer.
To begin with, I prefer recyclable fabric masks over paper masks, mainly because it’s still hard to know what you’ll really get with paper masks. The cheap rectangular hospital styles are easy to get, mainly because they do not provide as much protection as the higher filtration in N95 and KN 95 masks. As a result, many people have doubled, and even medical authorities have recommended this strategy with one mask over another. But you can get the same benefit from a single multi-layer recyclable mask without waste and extra cost. The earmuffs on paper masks are also typically the least comfortable out there, which is a concern on long trips.
As for the N95 and KN95 masks, they are good when they are genuine, but with so much deception you have no idea, and a fake mask that gives you peace of mind to do more things and travel more can put you off additional risk. Just yesterday, it Washington Post reported that Homeland Security Investigations agents intercepted a shipment of more than 400,000 counterfeit N95 masks. This was not the first time.
Choosing the right mask for travel is more important than going to the grocery store or other daily tasks, simply because the time you need to spend it is much longer. Flying to Europe non-stop typically means two hours at the airport in advance, seven to twelve on the plane and maybe another hour to clear customs and get your luggage, all while masked. All flights, domestic or international, with airport connections make this masked period significantly longer. So comfort becomes much more of an issue, and a single tip I learned in the hard ways is that masks that run around the ears (vertically) become much more annoying than those that go around the back of the head (horizontally). as the hours draw on. The skin behind the ears is the first to get irritatingly irritated, so I would mostly avoid masks to fly over the ear, although they can be good for exploring the destination when you arrive.
I have also been disappointed with most cloth masks with removable filters, something I initially fought for because the choice of filters contains many more reliable HEPA-certified and often domestic or European manufacturers than in disposable masks. But even though the theory is great, many in practice fall short with physical design flaws where the filter does not stay in place, fold up on itself or slide down. When the filter insert slides under your nose, the result is similar to all the people you see frantically wearing a mask that does not cover their nose, which defeats the purpose. Worse, the filters are often expensive and difficult to put in the mask in the first place. But multilayer with high filtration is the best way to go as long as it all stays together.
Dr. Ruth L. Bush, associate professor of medical education and professor at the University of Houston College of Medicine, told TODAY.com. “Research has shown that some loosely woven meshes block only 10-20% of the particles, but by adding one or more layers of filter material, higher percentages of particles can be blocked.”
So here are my personal favorites, carried by experience and protective features.
Kitsbow Wake ProTech: This is my overall favorite and most used mask and I have several of them. This model is recyclable and washable with a permanent filter built into it and was developed as a partnership between North Carolina-based cycling specialist Kitsbow and physicians at nearby Wake Forest University. In general, double or triple layer masks are more effective than a single layer, but this has a four-layer construction, including two internal permanent filtration layers. As a result, it is significant and heavier than many other models, and after repeated washing it still looks new, while others I have tried have crooked, wrinkled or have wires stuck through. I still use the first one I got over a year ago all the time. It is available in several sizes and is an oversized rectangle, larger than most, so you get complete coverage that does not slip, there is a malleable strip in the nose area that can be adjusted to fit, and it works well with glasses. Two easily adjustable horizontals around the main straps with switches keep the ProTech comfortable on even the longest rides ($ 30). This is my flying choice. A few months after it was released, Kitsbow released a merino wool version that is lighter and more breathable with the same features for the same price.
are Nanofilter Masks: This is an exception that solves the problems that many other masks with replaceable paper filters have. Based in Prague, the user uses a disposable EU-made three-layer nanofilter insert that blocks up to 99.8% of particles. In addition, the mask is externally treated with Swedish-made ViralOff, an antimicrobial treatment that reduces 99% of viruses on the surface within two hours. This is important because you often touch the outside of your own mask with hands that may not have been cleaned recently. The front is also treated with Eco Aqua Zero, which makes the exterior water-repellent and makes water pearl up and roll off, and while many mask buyers do not consider what it’s like to wear one in the rain, you may need to at some point. The masks are light and comfortable, but can be worn around the ear loops, although they have the nice addition of a lock button on each for a better fit.
My favorite thing that distinguishes the sleeve masks from similar high-filtration models is that the filter is a single-mounted piece made in sizes and shapes to mirror the mask itself, which is attached to the inner panel via three hooks and loop strips, rather than a pocket. It fits perfectly, stays in place, is super easy to insert, remove and replace and does not jerk or bend. In addition, the filter itself has an embedded aluminum strip in the nose piece that matches the perfect seal of the mask, and the disposable filters are reusable rather than disposable – each can be used for up to two weeks. The only caveat is that the fit is more precise and unforgiving, and it is important to get the right size for your face. They are available in three sizes ($ 30, but are currently selling for $ 15). It is important to note that är makes two versions, with and without an external exhalation valve, a feature most airlines prohibit.
Inex Better Mask: This is the most comfortable premium model I have found, and definitely the most comfortable style with ear studs. Los Angeles-based Inex Gear designed The Better Mask in collaboration with Oscar-nominated costume designer Luis Sequeira (The form of water), and it has a deep, peeled nose bridge so you can more easily see the user’s expression. The shaped hook cup provides a tight seal, and it has a built-in nanofiber permanent filter layer that spans the entire mask and is washable and reusable for daily use – without having to remove or replace the filter. The nanofiber comes from Europe from a manufacturer that says it is 98% effective and the mask has been treated with Swiss HeiQ V-Block antimicrobial technology. It has locking buttons on each ear loop for a very adjustable, secure and comfortable fit and is available in three sizes (suitable for children from 5 years and older) and four colors. ($ 33). But the biggest difference is that it is very light, comfortable and breathable.