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As the temperature drops and we start entering “going home for the holidays” mode, for all the travel essentials you need to pack in your bag when you’re jet-setting, there’s one you should still consider having on hand — a good face mask.
While it’s true that it’s no longer mandatory to wear masks on public transport in most major cities, and as of April 2022, most major airlines have dropped mask mandates (at least for domestic flights), there’s nothing wrong with taking extra precautions for your health. Even while you’re indoors (like at for a layover at an airport, or at a bus terminal), the CDC has updated their guidance, saying that to maximize protection from Omicron, and prevent possibly spreading it to others, you should be wearing a mask indoors in public if you’re in an area of substantial or high transmission (yes, even if you’re all boosted up).
Got a long-haul flight, hours-long bus ride, or train to another state ahead of you this holiday season? You don’t want a mask that will be uncomfortably sweaty while you’re in a tight space, or one that won’t protect you and others sitting near you (even if the risk of transmission is lowered on airplane cabins that circulate fresh air through HEPA filters).
What Kind of Face Mask is Best for Airplanes and Travel?
The best face masks for travel should keep you safe and secure, while being comfortable enough to wear for every leg of your journey, from check-in to baggage claim. They should be breathable too, so you won’t feel like you’re suffocated by the middle of your flight.
Even if you’ve already landed and are playing tourist, you’ll still need to keep a good travel mask on hand. Here are a few important things to look for when shopping for the best travel mask for you.
Reusable vs. Disposable: Throughout your journey, your face mask is going to build up with sweat, dirt, and other particles you’ve been breathing in. Consider what’s going to be more convenient—if you’re going for disposable face masks, make sure you buy them in bulk a few weeks before your flight or train, and swap them out once you disembark. Reusable masks should be changed out daily, and washed after a particularly long leg of your journey.
Breathability: We’ve chosen masks made from ultra-breathable materials for this list, so you won’t feel suffocated, even on your longest cross-country flight. That being said, you should still always look for masks with a tight seal over the nose and mouth, especially if you’re buying disposable ones.
Material: The most protective masks will have two or more layers of good-quality fabric like 100% cotton, or have professional-grade filtration. At the end of the day, though, the best mask to wear on a long flight is one you’ll leave on for the entire flight.
What Are the Best Face Masks for Travel?
Before you book your next trip, make sure you pick up one of these top-rated travel face masks, to keep you and others safe—even if you’re all vaxxed and boosted.
Keep in mind: the companies on this list say their face masks will help protect you from Covid-19, as well as the Omicron variant, though any type of travel will put you at risk, whether you’re masked-up or not. If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s best to put your travel plans on hold and consult your doctor for instructions.
1. Protective Health Gear N95 Mask
This disposable N95 face mask respirator from PHG was made with both breathability and comfort in mind. The Protective Health Gear N95 mask is lightweight, and made of NIOSH-certified materials, but with a comfortable fit so you won’t feel stuffy in even the stalest plane cabin air. You’ll breathe a little easier too, knowing their 95% particle filtration efficiency. Our first pick doesn’t sacrifice comfort for security either, and its secure straps and adjustable nose bridge will sit firmly until you get to your next destination.
2. VIDA KN95 Masks
VIDA’s KN95 Masks are FDA-listed and filter up to 95 percent of airborne particles 0.3 microns or larger. While there are masks with superior filtration on this list, if you’re making a short trip, and care about environmental impact, then these KN95 masks are the way to go.
Every time you order masks from VIDA, you’ll receive a prepaid return label so you can send back your used masks for recycling sustainability. These are also protective masks that don’t look so industrial, and come in a variety of colors. Right now, you can also get 30% off their selection of masks before your next trip with the promo code ROLLINGSTONE30.
3. Under Armour UA Sportsmask
We’ve tested this mask before, and it’s one of our favorite reusable face masks for travel, thanks to the silky-smooth, lightweight inner texture you won’t feel like ripping off. The mask also remains breathable with an open-cell foam design, although should be double-masking with this one for extra protection. We like that you can keep it on for long stretches of time, since the UA Iso-Chill fabric on the lining and ear loops feels cool to the touch for as long as you wear it. If sweating is your biggest concern while navigating airport crowds and packed-in buses, the mask’s outer shell also wicks excess moisture away.
4. KN95 Face Mask Protective Respirator
Standard N95 masks can get pricey fast, but these CDC-tested KN95 face masks are a great alternative if you’re going to be traveling amongst large crowds and want a similar level of protection. These five-layer KN95 face masks capture at least 95 perfect of airborne particles, and come with a secure nose wire you can adjust for a more accurate fit. The disposable masks come in a 25-pack, so you’ll never be caught without one in your bag.
5. Cremöly Face Mask
Don’t have time to wash your reusable mask in between every layover? Cremöly’s masks can be reused up to 60 times, and feature a skin-friendly cotton layer that makes it feel super light and breathable even after hours of wear. The adjustable straps also create a nice seal without feeling too suffocating. Coming in a variety of colorful prints and designs, you can customize these durable masks to fit your personal style.
6. 3M Aura N95 Respirator
Looking for something more heavy-duty, knowing you’re going to be stuck waiting in a terminal for a while? 3M offers a ton of medical-grade N95 respirator face mask options on their online shop and Amazon. Along with head straps and nose clip for security, this N95 mask has a strong filter, but a more comfortable fit than some of the other non-reusable, hard-shell N95s on the market. The curved, low-profile design also makes them one of the best face masks for glasses-wearers.
7. Powecom KN95 Face Mask
We like this protective Powecom KN95 respirator face mask available at Public Goods because they stay breathable while being well-fitted (especially if you’re a glasses-wearer). With their 10-pack, you’ll get enough masks to switch out on each leg of your journey, with each mask offering 95 percent filtration along with five layers of defense. Don’t spend your entire flight adjusting your mask and touching your face—these masks have a clip to make sure there’s no slipping and sliding down your nose.
8. Brave New Look Protective Face Mask (with PM2.5 Filter)
Sometimes you don’t want to root through your bag for another disposable mask, only to find that you’re all out—Brave New Look has you covered. Their CDC-approved non-medical masks, are not only reusable, but also come with a set of four PM2.5 filters, which can filter out particles and airborne contaminants. The mask itself is made of a lightweight cotton and spandex blend, which feels natural to breathe through, even with a filter slipped in to the pouch. You can also use the filter for up to one week, and the mask itself has enough comfort and stretch that you’ll want to wear it every day.
9. The Better Mask
Whether you’re just commuting, or traveling a long distance, the Better Mask was made for daily wear. The mask itself has three layers, including a built-in nanofiber filter that blocks airborne contaminants, and moisture wicking fabric that will keep you comfortable and protected when you travel. It’s secure without being restrictive when you’re on the go, with adjustable toggles that you can use to adjust how tight the mask fits over your ears and face. It also comes in various sizes, from kids to large, so anyone on your trip can wear them.
10. Kimberly-Clark N95 Pouch Respirator
Even though these masks seem pretty industrial, doesn’t mean they’re just made for hospitals or construction sites—anyone who has ever booked it to catch a flight will appreciate these pouch-styled, breathable face masks with adjustable nose wire, so you’ll never have to worry about a flimsy fit.
It has the superior filtration of an N95, but is still up to 75 percent more breathable than the NIOSH minimum requirement. Not only are they comfortable thanks to the “duckbill” design that sits away from the mouth and nose, but they can hold up to a lot of sweat in general. This comes in a fifty-pack — enough to last you through a year of travel with minimal need to restock.