Monday, July 27, 2020

Outdoor Research Essential Face Mask Kit Review

Outdoor Research Essential Face Mask Kit (Mask & 3 Filters, $20)

With masks now de rigueur, required in many places, and are an essential tool in fighting the pandemic and protecting ourselves and others. 

Early in March my wife sewed 4 layer cloth masks and with advice from RoadTrailRun contributor Derek Li, a physician in Singapore I ordered the Totobobo Mask (RTR Review) with replaceable 95 filters. They have long experience there with bad air from forest fires in neighboring countries and the Totobobo proved an excellent early if very pricey option with a 95 rating and even higher 99 with their Pro filter.

Fast forward just a few month to today and many companies are innovating in the mask space. Outdoor Research is a long time pioneer in innovative outdoor protective solutions since 1981.

Outdoor Research sent us their Essential Face Maskand we put it the “ultimate test” if you will, wearing it for a less than 2 mile/ 3 km, 2000 / 610 meter foot steep, airless, quite warm climb up Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire. We concluded the Essential Mask provides an efficient, comfortable, protective and practical option for everyday use and as we found out also for exercise.

First the details from OR on this much more than a cloth mask made of an outer adjustable cloth mask with the option to insert a filter fabric for added protection. We tested both options. As with all such masks, OR doesn’t claim the mask will prevent pathogens from reaching you but they should keep about 95% out.

Details From Outdoor Research: 


  • Fully customizable fit. Adjustable ear loops and nose wire for a comfortable fit and tight seal. and snug fit.
  • Built to last. Durable polyester fabric outperforms cotton in a 10,000+ cycle abrasion test, and is faster to dry and wick moisture.
  • Microbe and Germ Resistant. Water & stain repellent, the mask can be laundered up to 30 times while maintaining 100% of the HEIQ V-BLOCK® NPJ03 performance.  After 30 washes, the HEIQ V-BLOCK® will slowly diminish.

What is HEIQ V-BLOCK® NPJ03?

A Swiss product from HEIQ the V-Block is an antimicrobial fabric treatment applied to the mask fabric. Silver and vesicle based, it is hypoallergenic and provides a self sanitizing and germ resistant surface.


  • Filters greater than 95% of virus, bacteria, and particles in accordance with ASTM test standards.
  • Reduces the risk of contaminant transmission .
  • Made in the USA.
  • Breathable & Non-Irritating.

The filters are designed to be disposable, replace them based on your amount of use and judgment. If you live in a hot climate or wear a mask 8+ hours a day to work, you may want to replace your filter more frequently. Average wear should give you approximately 5-7 days.

Test and Performance

I hiked the very steep KInsman Ridge Trail to the summit of Cannon Mountain wearing the Essential Face Mask the whole way. Temperatures and other data below from Strava

The first half of the climb I wore the mask plus filter. While having a somewhat warmer than maskless feeling over the face, the mask and filter easily handled breathing during the effort and did not seem to elevate my heart rate much above what I normally would  see for such an effort up very steep terrain. 

My climb heart rate was in the mid to high 120’s, so equivalent to an easier run but faster than a jog pace for me. I could very easily breathe through the mask. Having worn the mask and filter at stores and such, it seemed the heavier breathing during the climb actually reduced or at a minimum kept the perceived temperature over the face the same. For sure, I could sense I was breathing out easily through the mask with no real impediment with as a very welcome sign my glasses didn’t fog much if all but for when stopped and leaning over. I was breathing surprisingly easily through mask and filter while the stout bendable nose clip, and adjustable ear cords kept the mask in place with a good seal. 

Compared to the Totobobo with its silicone mask with side filters, the OR mask is sensed being closer to the face whereas the Toto has not as soft or effective a seal at the nose (although it can be heat formed which I did not do) with more fogging of the glasses as it is clammier where sweat meets the silicone near the nose with the OR providing a broader surface for breathing and sweat.

For the second half of the climb I removed the filter. I was very surprised when I took the filter out  to see that neither filter nor mask had absorbed much moisture at all despite the effort in moderate heat and humidity. 

Without the filter, breathing through the mask was very slightly easier yet and the sensation of warmth over the face reduced but both less than I expected, demonstrating the filter’s efficiency. 

At the summit I again checked the mask and it was almost completely dry.  Far superior in performance with effort and heat than using a cloth mask. As I hiked up in summer heat and noticed how little moisture was absorbed and how easy it was to breathe through the mask, it occurred to me that the Essential might also be a great option for very cold windy winter running to protect from frostbite and warm incoming air. As of yet I do not know how the mask fabric will perform in cold but suspect given how little moisture it absorbs very well.


Masks are now truly “essential”. Outdoor Research has delivered a simple but effective solution in the Essential Mask for everyday wear and also for at minimum for moderate exertion such as hiking, running at moderate paces, or at the gym. It is in no way to be mistaken for a simple cloth mask or even a blue surgical type mask in its breathe through performance, low moisture absorption, microbial treatment, and 30 washes. Adding the filter (3 for $5 when you need more) gets the mask to filtering greater than 95% of bacteria, virus, and particles so not only for virus use but for some protection from air pollution and smoke particles. While not an "N" graded medical mask it has many of the technologies and materials of such a mask.

While I will not wear it hiking a while trail again it will be with me when social distancing is not possible on our narrow rocky trails. And that brings me to the only suggestion to potentially improve the Essential, an elastic connecting the two ear loops to easily carry the mask around the neck to quickly put it on. I plan to cobble my own.

The Essential Mask Kit is available at Outdoor Research HERE

New inventory available August 9th

The Essential Mask Kit is available at REI HERE

New inventory available soon

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was a provided at no charge. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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Andy said...

Hi Sam,

Thanks for the informative review. Wondering if this would work with moderate to hard paced cycling?

Thank you so much.

Sam Winebaum said...

I think it would work very well. I was at 125-130 bpm and breathing very easy but a bit warm in air less woods. With motion should be cooler.

Unknown said...

Hello! I'm the Director of Purchasing for Bellevue Healthcare. We're a local PNW medical equipment supplier. We come up 3rd as the provider of the OR masks on google and would love to be referenced as well in your article. Our goal is to be able to provide these to all who are in need of a great mask and want to be sure people know they can buy them from us if REI or OR run out of stock. We work closely with OR and have been a part of the success of their mask.

IF you have questions please feel free to reach out to me.

Our OR link on our Website:

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