Avoid inhaling smog while running with these masks

running mask
The best running masks

The devastating effects of pollution on human health are becoming more and more obvious – recent data from The Lancet estimates that nine million premature deaths a year (that's an astonishing one in six deaths worldwide) are the result of pollutants. Between 2017 and 2019 alone, air pollution contributed to more than 1,700 London hospital admissions for asthma and serious lung conditions. Public Health England says 'poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK', and that prolonged exposure to pollutants can lead to cardiovascular and respiratory disease and lung cancer.

So even if you've never considered wearing a mask before, at least while running, if you live in a big city – and yes, London, we are looking mainly at you – pollution levels can be dangerously high in certain areas.

City pollution comes in many forms. Particles or particulate matter (PM) can include vehicle carbon emissions, dust from building sites or of course pollen (the seeds from plane trees can be particularly problematic for many runners). Particles that are smaller than 2.5 micrometres can be inhaled and settle in the lungs, causing health problems and can even lead to premature death. You might see some masks labelled 'N95' – this means that they filter up to 95 percent of 3-micrometre pollutants from the air. And if you want to check the safety levels before heading out, London Air monitors air pollution across London, updating readings hourly on an interactive map so you can see which areas to avoid.

And then there are of course also runners who wish to protect themselves and others from the spread of airborne bacteria and viruses, such as Covid – and for those runners, most of the running masks below offer layers that filter out virus and bacteria particles.

This Pro mask uses advanced filtration technology to sift out ‘nearly 100 percent of viruses, bacteria, gas pollution and particulates’. The masks are made using activated carbon cloth, a technology that was developed by the British Military for chemical, biological and nuclear warfare protection, so you know that these have been rigorously tested and are designed to filter out pollution, dust and pollen as well as viruses. It filters down to PM0.3, which is about as small as it gets.

Sustainably made, the Urban Air Mask 2.0 protects wearers against smog particles to PM2.5 and pollen, as well as offering more than 99 percent protection against viruses. The mask is made with five layers of filters, is fully washable and uses memory foam to ensure a tight fit around your nose. The filtration levels of 99.9% surpass those of industrial-grade protection, say the manufacturers.

Respro’s masks are built for sports including running and cycling. Those who find ear-loops uncomfortable will really appreciate the design – instead of looping over the ears, it straps around the back of the neck. This top-end model uses a Techno filter, providing protection from microns smaller than PM2.5. The valves have been upgraded specifically for those doing exercise, with the aim of expelling more water vapour from breathing as well as helping to control humidity levels.

An internal nanofibre layer is claimed to filter 99 percent of particles measuring 0.3 microns, and in total comprises four layers to also protect from viruses including Sars-Cov-2. The pack contains two masks, so you can wear one while the other dries.

The see-through design might not appeal to all runners, but Totobobo claims this mask reduces pollution 135-fold. One unique aspect to this mask is the fact that it can be trimmed to fit your face exactly for a superior fit, although the straps do not make it the most robust mask for running. It offers N95 levels of pollution protection.

A lightweight, minimalist fabric facemask with a five-layer filtration system to PM2.5, including an antimicrobial outer layer, this filters 98 percent of germs, bacteria and pollutants.

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