Do Preppers Need Gas Masks?

If you see a picture of a prepper online or on TV, there’s a good chance that they’re wearing a gas mask. Because of this, many people ask, “Why would preppers even need a gas mask in the first place?”.

Preppers and other members of the general public may need a gas mask under the following circumstances:

  • Fires
  • Social Unrest
  • Chemical or Biological Warfare
  • Chemical Accidents
  • Pandemics

This article will discuss in greater detail why “normal” people may want to have a gas mask. I’ll also go over a couple of good options if you decide that you want to pick one up.

What Does a Gas Mask Do?

A gas mask, or air-purifying respirator, is a rubber mask with special filters that protect the user from different types of airborne contaminants. Many common gas masks are capable of protecting its user from nuclear, biological, and chemical contaminants. 

The filters use special media, usually consisting of activated charcoal, that bind contaminants so that they cannot pass through. This cleanses the air of contaminants, making it safe to breathe. However, gas masks are not capable of creating oxygen. 

What Kind of Gas Mask Do You Need?

A gas mask rated as CBRN will protect you from a wide range of contaminants. The acronym CBRN stands for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear. There are many surplus gas masks on the market today, however, I prefer to buy new for something so important.

The CM-6M is a CBRN gas mask that will protect you from a wide range of threats. It can accommodate up to two 40mm NATO threaded filters but can be used with only one as well. The CM-6M has a full-face visor to give you the widest field of view possible and can be purchased with a built-in drinking system.

I have worn the CM-6M, and it is fairly comfortable for what it is. The straps do a good job holding it in place and distributing the weight of the mask. It’s also designed so that the mask will not fog up during use. 

If you think you may need to use a rifle or shotgun while wearing your mask, then you’ll want the CM-7M gas mask. It comes with many of the same features as the CM-6M but it allows you to easily shoulder a firearm. The CM-6M offers a better field of view, but the visor is so large that using optics is very difficult. 

When purchasing a gas mask, you also need to get the right kind of filter. These NBC-77 SOF filters are designed to remove all known CBRN agents. Having a good mask and good filters will give you the best protection possible.


One reason that preppers may need a gas mask is protection from fires. There are hundreds of thousands of household and commercial fires every year, making them common enough that every prepper should take the possibility of one occurring seriously.

And contrary to what some people may think, most fire-related deaths aren’t caused by burns. Instead, they are caused by the inhalation of smoke and toxic substances. Because of this, you should do everything you can to limit the contaminated air that you breathe.

A gas mask fitted with a VK-450 filter will offer you protection from smoke and carbon monoxide. However, you must understand that it can’t create oxygen. It isn’t like a fireman’s breathing apparatus but it can protect you from many of the contaminants that are present during a fire while you escape

Having one would be especially useful if you lived in a high-rise apartment building and would need to cover a longer distance while evacuating. 

A gas mask would also be useful if you lived in an area prone to wildfires such as the Western United States. Although you should avoid it at all costs, there may be a situation where areas near your evacuation route are already burning. Having a mask that can protect you from smoke would give you a better chance of making it out.

Along that same vein, they can also protect you from volcanic ash, which is some really nasty stuff. Volcanic ash can cause lung scarring and in large enough amounts can cause suffocation, which is the most common cause of death from a volcano.

Social Unrest

car on fire

Another reason that preppers may need a gas mask is social unrest. Protests and riots seem to become more common and more violent every year. While you should avoid areas where these are occurring, sometimes you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A worst-case scenario would be if your home or business was nearby.

Social unrest is most common in large cities, however, protests, riots, and looting can happen anywhere. Even small towns, like Ferguson, can become epicenters under the wrong circumstances. 

Some of the main threats that you would face during periods of social unrest are tear gas, pepper spray, and smoke. Since a gas mask protects your entire face, your eyes and lungs would be protected from tear gas and pepper spray. Fitting your gas mask with a VK-450 filter will also provide you with some protection from smoke.

Related: Prepper Home Security

Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Warfare

Another reason that preppers may need a gas mask is chemical, biological, or nuclear warfare. While each one of these is different, the possibility of inhaling deadly substances is present in all of them. 

In general, the main danger to most people from chemical and biological warfare is terrorist organizations. However, there is reason to believe that Russia used them in Ukraine. Nuclear warfare could come from terrorists in the form of a dirty bomb or an all-out exchange between world powers.

The most likely targets of these kinds of attacks would be major cities or military targets. Striking population centers or military forces would have the biggest impact and would have the greatest payoff for those using them. 

A good-quality gas mask will prevent you from breathing in contaminants such as anthrax, mustard gas, and radioactive fallout. A CBRN gas mask, such as this one, along with the correct filter, will give you the widest range of protection possible.

Although a gas mask can prevent you from breathing in these kinds of contaminants, you will need to protect other parts of your body as well. Some things like radiation and mustard gas can harm your skin. Because of this, it’s a good idea to invest in a protective suit. It will give you full-body coverage, protecting you from chemicals and reducing your radiation exposure.

*A Note About Radiation: Radiation is the emission of high-energy particles that can pass through clothing and even gas masks and protective suits. Gas masks prevent you from breathing in radioactive particles while protective suits will prevent radioactive particles from resting directly on your skin. The only real way to save yourself from radiation is to get as far away from it as you can.

Chemical and Nuclear Accidents

Many people worry about the possibility of chemical or nuclear warfare. However, you are far more likely to be exposed to harmful contaminants because of an accident. Chemical and nuclear accidents are a possibility if you live near an industrial area, power plant, train tracks, or major highways. 

Accidents can result in any number of contaminants being released into the air. This happened near where I live a few years ago when an industrial plant experienced an ammonia leak. The plant was close to apartments, homes, and even a park. One of the worst happened in Bhopal, India in 1984. It is estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 people were killed and up to half a million suffered long-term health problems.

Although they are rare, nuclear incidents are a concern as well. If you live near a nuclear power plant a gas mask could prevent you from breathing in radioactive particles. It would also help protect you from breathing fallout in the event of a nuclear explosion. 

It’s worth repeating that while a gas mask can prevent radioactive debris from entering your body, it will not protect you from exposure to gamma radiation. The only real way to protect yourself from that is to get as far away from it as possible or put a lot of sense material between you and it, such as soil or concrete. That’s why fallout shelters are underground. 


Pandemic pathogens

Since many gas masks are capable of removing biological contaminants, they would be useful during a pandemic. Pandemics are widespread diseases caused by different types of bacteria and viruses. The most serious ones are usually spread by respiratory droplets. 

Although N95 masks have been used widely during COVID, I would want something more substantial if dealing with something with a higher fatality rate. One advantage that gas masks have is that they offer full-face protection. This means that they’ll protect you from microorganisms entering your body from your mouth, nose, and eyes. Mira Safety even makes viral filters just for this use. 

While you probably wouldn’t be able to store enough filters to wear one constantly, a good gas mask and filter could help you get through high-contamination areas. You would be able to move through or escape an affected area with much less risk of exposure.

Related: Prepper Lessons Learned from the Movie Contagion

A Word of Caution

It’s important to know that even though a good-quality gas mask can protect you from a wide range of contaminants, they are not a license to put yourself in unnecessary danger. 

The primary purpose of owning a gas mask is to protect yourself while you get out of a contaminated area as quickly as possible. In order to be effective, masks and filters must be used properly and in the correct circumstances. 

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