Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Running Face Masks Test Round Up

Article by RoadTrailRun Team



Masks are an essential reality during these times. While they are not always necessary or required while running outside, I always carry one and when inside any public space always wear one. The masks reviewed here are all designed for sport and as such can be more comfortable and practical when used in other places. 


None of these masks claim to be medical grade and make no claims to provide the level of protection from pathogens found in a medical mask such as a fitted N95 masks. None are OSHA approved.


Many do have the option of inserting a “9X” optional filter or as I also found out a “blue” mask.  


Recent studies have indicated neck gaiters or any fabric you can see through in bright light do not provide much protection to you or those around you. 


Our team tested 7 masks in all kinds of warmer summer conditions from moderate high humidity to very warm and dry conditions and bring you their evaluation.


Outdoor Research Essential Mask Kit ($20, includes 3 filters)

Sam: The Outdoor Research Essential Face Mask Kit is a one layer mask and features a slot for inserting its optional filters (3 included) has full coverage over the face, a nose clip and adjustable ear loop rubber sliders.


It has a Swiss anti viral fabric treatment and is washable up to 30 times with the viral treatment remaining in effect. 


When used with its filter insert it is described as filtering greater than 95% of virus, bacteria, and particles. Read Outdoor Research’s article comparing the essential to other types of masks here


The OR mask proved the most versatile and practical of the masks I tested. It fits softly and well (securely without binding or pressing) over the face with some room ahead of the mouth so no stick. No light comes through the soft but dense fabric.

I tested with and without the optional filter on a 2500 foot climb in less than 2.5 miles in humid and fairly warm conditions at a moderate 125-130 bpm effort. The first half I used the filter, the second I went without, Both approaches were comfortable, fog free, nicely breathable if a bit warm.

The filter slot design leaves much to be desired with the optional filter just not staying in as all that holds it are 2 short wings of fabric. I ended up losing the filter. 


Since then I found for that extra level of protection that a “blue mask” inserted into the slots works just fine and is more secure as it is thicker, generally has a stiffer rim bendable to fit in the nosepiece of the mask  and the cords tuck into the slots,







Jeff B: Sam absolutely nailed it. The Outdoor Research mask is the best I’ve used. The filter slot isn’t great, but it is comfortable, breathable, and doesn’t fog up my glasses. My neighborhood runs give me plenty of room to give the rare other runner/walker plenty of room (sidewalk and dirt paths almost everywhere) so I rarely have to mask up on a run, but for grocery store/office use, the Outdoor Research is the best I’ve tried.

Available from Outdoor Research here and REI here


ASICS Runner’s Face Cover ($40)

Sam: This mask was designed specifically for running at the famous ASICS Institute for Sports Science and it is clearly the most “runable” of the masks I tested.

It has a thin antimicrobial treated fabric over a 3d somewhat open inner center mesh for no stick, no moisture build up, saliva ejected. This mesh also provides the structure of the mask to keep it away from the mouth, provide some nose hold (but not quite as good as the OR's wire clip). 

The bottom center of this mesh over the sides of your chin allows breath to easily escape downwards away from others.

The Face Cover has an elaborate set of adjustable elastic cords including ear loops and a behind the head hold. I found that the ear loops did not work well with my glasses so only use the behind the head cords which worked well but could in the mix use a nose clip. It can be “dropped” below your face but given its more structured construction this is not ideal. Given how well it breathes when I tested I just left it on for my entire run even when social distancing was possible,


I do question its level of protection for indoor use given some light does show through the structure of fabric and mesh (we are getting clarification from ASICS on this aspect), and 

unlike the OR or Boco Gear, and there is no filter option provided or work around obvious as with the Boco and OR. 


Update: I recently traveled 1.5 hours by bus to the airport, 1 hour plus in the airport then a close to 6 hour flight. I started with the OR mask with "blue mask" as a filter. I found that the filter got very damp and quickly. The original stock OR filter clearly made a difference previously during my hike but I had none left. I shifted to the Totobobo Mask reviewed below for a while and it was fine but Delta does not allow flying with masks with "vents". The Toto does not have a vent what is seen is the filter but... so be it.


I shifted to the ASICS mask with a blue mask inside and was comfortable and dry for 5 plus hours. Clearly its shaping and more rigid structure and internal 3D mesh, off the face makes a big difference in comfort and breathing through a blue mask on the inside. 


Michael: When it comes to a face covering that feels as if you’re protected (and protecting others) and is a sure-proof bet when running, the ASICS mask is - by far - my favorite option. It’s more voluminous than alternatives, because it comes sort of “pre-formed” (though it folds over itself laterally). I appreciate the lack of floppiness here, and as someone with a relatively small face, I had no issues with fit. 

Once you’ve got it securely on your face, the mask is structured enough to not slip around (up or down!), and it provides enough pressure on your face that you feel as if you’re getting a benefit without any uncomfortable pressure. I noticed it for maybe a mile or two before it (like most things in running!) just becomes part of the background.


There are quirks here, of course (all of these are roughly first-generation products). For one, when running in heat and humidity, as I’m sure many of us have been doing, the mask does get hot. It’s not nearly as bad as something like an N95 (which I was wearing at the beginning of the pandemic), and I think that’s largely due to the holes at the bottom. Moreover, the fabric does a terrific job wicking heat and moisture away. But, it’s a fact of life - something on your face is going to be hotter than nothing. It’s a sacrifice we’re making. 


My only other minor complaint is the cord system around the back… it’s just too long. When I am running with a shirt, I tend to tuck the cords into the shirt, but when shirtless, they just flop around. I don’t think it’s possible that anyone has a head so large they’d need to max out these bungies, so cutting 6” off them (and leaving less to dangle around!) would be much appreciated. While I am a glasses-wearer, I don’t wear it while running and resultantly had no issues with the ear loops!


I’ll say this - I’ve ripped several workouts (not just easy runs, but legitimate workouts!) in the ASICS mask, and it’s the only mask that I genuinely set it, forget about, and have a great run. When you’re finished, you may realize you have a somewhat gross piece of fabric strapped to your face but hey - it’s machine washable! Seriously, there are other strong options, but I think the ASICS mask is the definitive best option at the moment, and I’ll be buying more when they’re formally released.


Canice: The Asics Runners Face Cover is by far my favorite mask to exercise in and in truth it’s very comfortable for daily wear. My hesitation for daily use is the open mesh at the bottom but this mask stays off your face, allows you to breathe and doesn’t fog your glasses.


I really like the way the mask locks over your ears and combined with the cord lock in the back, is why the mask is so stable. It works incredibly well.


Michael calls out the long cord bouncing on the back of your neck and he’s correct. I too tucked this in my shirt but ultimately I cut the end of the cords, removed the cord lock, tied a knot and cut the excess cord and now no longer have to deal with it. Once you do this the problem is solved.


If you're headed to the gym or out for a run the Asics Runners Face Cover is the best option I have found. Definitely give it a try.


$40. Expected in stock Mid September including at ASICS here



Boco Gear X Performance Mask  ($14)

Sam: Easily the softest and lightest with no light showing through the layers: an outer layer and an inner layer designed to hold Boco’s optional filter (not tested). Smaller in coverage than some of the others it is sleek with a beautiful subtle topo map design







I cut some width off a blue mask and it fit perfectly in between the two layers for more protection indoors, less air leak to fog my glasses and a more secure if warmer and slightly less breathable fit. 

The elastic ear loops do not have a rubber adjustment as the OR has but as John below suggests a small knot will cinch them up just fine. I found while the fit was adequate I had more fogging of my glasses than with others indicating air was escaping around the nose before tying knots. I recommend getting the version with the nose clip if you wear glasses.


The Boco looks great, folds up very small, provides light free protection and has the filter option and as such is a great option for everyday wear or as needed on a run or hike


Jeff B: Very soft and comfortable, and the ear loops fit me fine without any modification. While it is breathable, I do have problems with glasses fogging up constantly and would definitely opt for a version with a nose bridge.


Michael: What the Boco has going for it, undoubtedly, is comfort. It’s light, soft, stretchy, and just a genuinely comfortable mask to wear around. I also quite like the patterning imprinted on the mask - it’s a subtle but fun design that makes it appropriate for running, or just casual use. 


I had some issues with the fit, though. Wearing it around casually, it was just a little floppy, and perhaps too large (though a run through the washer and dryer helped on that front). But, while running, I had trouble keeping the Boco to stay put on my face. It was constantly sliding down off my nose, largely due to the lack of structure around the nose bridge. Many masks have added metal or at least rigid elements to the top “rim” of the mask to prevent slippage, and I wish Boco had some of the same here, because the soft fabric tends to slide around, especially when sweaty. It’s a frustration, to be sure, and something that inhibited me from wearing the Boco consistently while running.

Renee: I agree with what the other reviewers wrote. The Boco mask is soft and comfortable. The green, map-like design looks pleasing. For me, the mask works well for “casual” non-running use, and I’ve used non-Boco filters as inserts. For running, the mask is a bit too large for me, and it starts to slide down especially once sweat accumulates on the fabric. That said, I still prefer wearing the Boco while running as compared to cotton masks of similar design or neck gaiters. The fabric of the Boco is more breathable and softer than those options for running. The fit and security are not ideal for running, but the mask itself is comfortable otherwise. 







Jeff V:  As my co-reviewers have stated above, the Boco is very light, comfortable and easy to use.  As a glasses wearer however, I do find that I get quite a bit of fogging, so either use sparingly (a quick raise as I pass by somebody) or take my glasses off.  Fit is excellent and I find the over the ear design to be secure and perfect for me, though anyone smaller or larger may prefer it to be adjustable.


I find breathability to be somewhere in the middle between an N-95 and a thin neck gaiter.  I have a tendency to feel a bit suffocated when anything is over my mouth/nose while running, so I use any face covering very momentarily while on a run, given my less crowded route choices and physical distancing.


I also think this is one of the better looking masks.


John: As someone who lives in a COVID strict home, I wear a mask when I’m outside the house and for all of my runs. 

The Boco mask with a 95 filter is my family’s go-to mask in rotation. All of their masks have fun and cool designs! The Boco Gear X Performance mask, specifically, is my preference for running, because it is soft on the skin, fits my face from nose to chin well, and with a slight adjustment by tying knots on each of the ear loops it fits over my face comfortably too. The problems about fit security described by my reviewing buddies above are indeed real, but I found that my quick hack of knots on the ear loops is the best remedy. Unfortunately, though, if you’re wearing the mask for longer durations, those knots will dig into your skin and cause discomfort and irritation. I haven’t figured out a solution to that problem yet. 


The Boco Gear Performance X Mask is available from from Boco Gear here in many colors and styles.


Totobobo Mask ($35.50 to $48) 

Sam: The “OG” I am calling it!  Early in March, RTR Contributor Derek Li, a physician, recommended the Totobobo Mask. A silicone highly adjustable, even heat moldable mask with 2 side replaceable filters,  it has been used in Singapore for years to filter pollutants including from nearby forest fires. 


Several types of replaceable filters are available ranging from 95 to 99-the high surface area, sport oriented and very goofy looking Pro. Shown above with the standard 95 filter.


Breathability through the mask is excellent but the area just below the top can get a bit clammy and damp although no moisture is absorbed or noticed as the mask except for the edges stays off most of the mouth and face and glasses stay quite fog free as the seal is tight as it should be.

See our Totobobo Mask review here

Totobobo Masks are available from Totoboto here in different sizes and with different filter kits.


Cozy Noze Face Mask ($10)

Jeff V:  The Cozy Nose face mask is unique, with a patent pending design to keep glasses from fogging in cold temperatures by utilizing a flexible internal metal wire than can be molded over the nose for custom fit, while the top front edge that lies over the nose and under your eyes has an internal fuzzy strip to diffuse exhalation.  

This design has thus far proven effective, though the review period has been through the summer, where most days have been in the 90’s, so I will for sure use the Cozy Noze more as the temperature dips as it is a bit warm for running or even wearing in summer.  


Beyond the clever design, the masks are made of 2-layer, 100% cotton with 4 fabric ties that make them easy to fit.  The quality is amazing (especially for only $10) and they offer a zillion colors and patterns, as well as an oversize option for those with lumberjack beards.


Breathability is good, better than an N-95, though not quite as breathable as a thin neck gaiter, which is good considering the added protection. 


Cozy Noze Neck Warmer ($25)

Jeff V:  Same patent pending design as described above with the mask, but in the form of a thick fleece neck gaiter.  Needless to say, I have not been wearing this much in the summer, but is going to be very nice for the colder winter months, most likely for more casual outings than high output running.  I did however get to test on an early (Sept. 8th!) dose of winter weather where it was snowing and temps around freezing.  The neck warmer was even a bit warm for the low 30’s and just walking, I had to lower it off of my face after about 10 minutes of easy walking, so could not imagine running in it, but I think would be a great choice for very casual wear if the temperatures are very cold.  Fogging was minimal with some adjusting of the inner nose wire.  Quality and construction are top notch.



Cozy Noze Neck Warmer and Face Mask are available from Cozy Nose here


Sunday Afternoons UVSHIELD Cool Gaiter ($24.00)

Jeff V:  While not technically a mask and it does not provide all that much virus protection, I find the Cool Gaiter to be a perfect option for uncrowded trail running.  Utilizing chemical free Coolcore technology and a 4 way stretch fabric, the Cool gaiter (also available in kids sizes and a mask) is amazingly cool, comfortable and versatile, doubling as a headscarf, hood, face mask, bandana, or balaclava helmet liner..  Because it is thin, it is much more easy to breathe through and is always available around the neck to quickly pull up if you pass another running on the trail.  The material is light and cool, comfortable, quick drying, comes in a variety of colors and is UPF 50+ coverage.  I have pretty much become accustomed to wearing this on every outdoor outing to keep the sun off my neck when sunny and hot, pull up as a courtesy mask on the trail, or keep warm in the winter.


The Cool Gaiter is available from Sunday Afternoons here


Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. 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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2 comments:

Jon said...

I bought the OR mask when it was first available. Really like it and found it to be very comfortable..even in the heat and humidity of the Mid Atlantic summer. I like the look, feel and coverage it provides. I've always had good experiences with OR products and this is no different.

I will agree that the design for the optional filter is a bit odd and I've struggled to have it stay in place, as well. The "blue mask" hack for the filter is really a good one. I'm going to have to try that! I just hate having to use a "single use" filter if I don't have to and contributing to our waste problem. It's a tough one because the OR filters are a proprietary design and have to be re-ordered thru them...but they can be used for an extended period of time.

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