Dusk masks are typically chosen based on a combination of effectiveness, portability, comfort and ascetics while worn. Determining the right mask usually requires some trial and error, as one works out their personal playa priorities.
Playa dust is fairly alkaline (around Ph 10), and its primary non-organic material is silica, making it both irritating and hazardous to breathe.
Dust Mask Rating
Dust masks manufactured for commercial use will have a rating in the form of N95/N99/N100. (If leading letter is a R or P it’s rated for protection against oil)
N95 - Removes 95% of all particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter
N99 - Removes 99% of particles that are at least 0.3 microns in diameter
N100 - Removes 99.97% of all particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter or larger.
Clothing used for masks, such as bandannas or shemaghs aren’t rated, and because they are ineffective at filtering fine material, if rated, would likely receive a rating at very best of N65, and likely lower. One study of improvised materials would have shown a rating of N6 to N44.
Dust Mask Fitting
Dust masks will only perform at their rated level if they have no leakage around the seams whatsoever. Masks that do not fit properly will leave gaps, and because air will travel the path of least resistance, a substantial amount of unfiltered air can go through any gaps between the mouth and the skin.
Types of Masks
The bandanna, not just for your dog anymore? As other cotton materials, you get about the same projection as pulling a shirt over your face, which is not much. However, they are small, can be worn around your neck when not in use and you probably already own one.
Pros: Cheap, and can be worn around neck while not in use.
Cons: Not very effective, hard to get a good seal around face.
Shemagh (or keffiyeh)
Traditional cotton headscarves are a popular option. As with other cotton, it will filter out large sand and dust but offers reduced protection against smaller particles. A huge plus is that a shemagh will keep your head and neck relatively clean. Tying is fairly simple at home, but requires practice in windy conditions. They are more bulky than other solutions.
Pros: Looks great. Works well to protect head and neck against dust.
Cons: Provides less protection than rated masks. Requires practice to get good seal around nose and mouth. Harder to put on than most rated masks.
Surgical masks are generally rated N95 (if you get a proper one, not an unrated one). Many surgical masks don’t fit well around the nose, rendering them useless. Buying a large-sized mask may help, but regardless of the style, be sure they tightly fit around all edges.
Pros: Small, and can fit in almost any pocket. Can be used under a shemagh for added projection. Easy to put on. Inexpensive.
Cons: Improper fit is very common. It’s a look, but it might not be your look.
Vogsmask is a popular choice for N95 masks on the playa. Unlike N99 or higher masks, the fabric of the mask serves as a filter itself. It can be washed to clean, rather than having paper filters to change. This can be a plus at home, but on the playa, we find it a downside. Comes in many styles.
Pros: Light and made of soft material so fits in pockets well.
Cons: Less protection, for the same cost and (almost) size as N99. Rated for 200 hours use. Fit is sometimes an issue, as not as snug as neoprine style masks.
N99 Dust Mask
Neoprene dusk masks provide substantial protection against dust, typically fit well, and come in a variety of styles. They can be put on quickly, even in wind or dark. We like the RZ masks, which come in many designs for around $30
Pros: Effective at filtering small particles. Easy to use. Come in many styles.
Cons: More expensive than other solutions.
P100 Dust Mask
The P100 mask offers 99.9% filtration. It’s a bit heavy and bulky, but those with respiratory issues may find the P100 mask vital to a happy burn. The look is a look, but I’ve seen some customized ones that looked as good as anything on the playa. Bring filter changes, as they clog in dusty years.
Pros: Good protection for lungs.
Cons: Most bulky options.