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The Best Technical Face Masks We're Testing Right Now

Check out the pros and cons of a bunch of interesting approaches from outdoors- and fitness-oriented brands.

performance face masks
Steve Mazzucchi

When COVID-19 began its reign of terror just a few months ago, the scramble was on for a face maskany face mask — to get safer and enter businesses without drama. Now things have changed, as the market has identified a need that isn't going away anytime soon and jumped to satisfy it. The result is a glut of face masks from all sorts of brands, making it easy to get overwhelmed by the options.

To help you sort through them, we've called in a bunch of samples and begun trying them out. We are not scientists or virus experts, but we do have strong opinions about masks with any sort of technical bent. Is it realistic to be reasonably active wearing such products, or do you find yourself fighting the urge to tear them off at any moment? That was the main question pondered while biking around the city wearing the following seven offerings. Read up, mask up and stay safe out there.

Editor's Note: The understanding of what makes a good face mask continues to evolve, as evidenced by a recent Duke study that raised questions about the effectiveness of traditional neck gaiters for combatting the spread of COVID-19 — and a follow-up New York Times article that raised questions about that study (which in fairness wasn't intended to be conclusive about face mask effectiveness in the first place): "Over all, tests of fabric masks have shown that two layers are better than one, and that a snug fitting mask with no gaps is best." Before purchasing any mask, make sure to assess what it actually claims to do and its materials. Follow our coverage of masks here.

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686 Polygiene ViralOff Archetype Face Mask

  • Adjustable elastic straps and a hypoallergenic merino wool blend inner surface make for the most comfortable mask we've tried.
  • Polygiene ViralOff finish and four layers of fabric ramp up the protection levels.

  • There's a pocket for a PM 2.5 filter for added filtration, but you have to purchase separately.
  • Lacks internal wiring at the nose (minor but notable gripe).
La Sportiva Stratos Mask
La Sportiva

  • Comes with 30 filters for 99 percent filtration of bacteria and viruses emitted by the mouth, as required for surgical masks.
  • Adjustable elastic straps and 3D-Mesh fabric up the comfort.

  • Filter must be fitted into a plastic frame and then inserted into mask, which takes some practice.
  • Pricy, and kinda makes you feel like a Storm Trooper (which could be a pro, depending how Imperial you lean).
Kitsbow Face Mask (HEPA Type)

  • Cut and sewn in the shape of an actual face for optimal comfort, with an internal bridge-of-nose wire for secure fit.
  • Two layers of cotton protection for high exertion, low threat situations. Drop a filter in the pocket for increased protection.

  • Comes with just two filters, and a replacement three-pack costs $10.
  • Filter is a bit tricky to insert.
Majola Printed Mask

  • Super soft and comfortable polyester with internal wiring to secure tightly over bridge of nose.
  • Three layers of protection, the middle one being a fleece droplet filter.

  • While you shouldn't have to wash often, the Polygiene ViralOff antimicrobial treatment wears off after 20 washes.
  • Neck straps are elastic but not adjustable.
Shock Doctor Play Safe Face Mask
Shock Doctor

  • Quick-Flip design makes it easy to hydrate without removing the mask.
  • Super comfortable fit and come on, there's a skeleton-face style.

  • This polyester/spandex blend provides two layers of protection... as long as you keep the Quick-Flip flap pulled down over your lips.
  • No internal nose wire; straps are elastic but not adjustable.
Voormi Everyday Gaiter

  • This gaiter is made of thick merino wool, unlike the thin polyester and spandex mask used in the admittedly not-conclusive Duke study.
  • Ear loops keep it neatly in place, and it's easily one of the comfiest, beard-friendliest options we've tried.

  • It'll shine come fall, but the wool definitely gets a bit hot and sticky on muggy summer days.
  • While it's a thick layer of protection, it's still just one layer.
SMRTFT Sports Mask

  • Super comfortable, with wiring at the nose for a secure fit.
  • Microknit filter fabric blocks 99 percent of ultra fine dust particles.

  • This mask comes in one size and slips over your head like a sleeve (with holes for your ears), meaning it's not particularly adjustable.
  • The single-layer nylon/poly blend may not provide as much as protection as masks with more layers.
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