The Cyberpunk Survival Guide: Gas Masks


In the sprawl, or whatever currently passes for the sprawl, there are any number of airborne dangers; from thick clouds of smog to tear gas grenades.  In order to protect against them, the modern day cyberpunk has to rely on their trusty gas mask.  Gas masks are increasingly becoming standard urban gear, especially in China, where pollution is at dangerous levels.  Last year, in protest of rising smog levels, Students at Peking University in Beijing put face masks on the statues.


So what gas mask should you use?  Well, that depends on what you need.

The most effective form of gas mask is the “Self Contained Breathing Apparatus,” or SCBA. This is what firefighters use, it protects the user by only breathing air from an external tank. So no matter what toxic chemical gets in the air, you won’t have to breathe it. Of course, there is a downside to the SCBA gas mask, and that is that the mask has a limited endurance and requires you to lug a heavy oxygen tank around in order to use it. Once your tank is empty, you’re unprotected.


A cheaper option than the SCBA is the particulate filter, or dust mask. These masks remove airborne particles from the air. They are rated by their effectiveness at removing particles smaller than 2.5 microns. These particles are some of the most harmful to breathing in polluted areas which is why you often see them being worn in cities in China.

Something to keep in mind is that the filtration rating is only half of the effectiveness of the mask. Masks are rated by the percent of particles they remove, but this doesn’t necessarily tell you how effective the mask is on someone’s face. If the mask fits poorly it may perform worse than a mask which fits well but has a lower rating, as air leaks around the edges. Look for manufacturers who display data from a “fit test,” and still maintain 95% of particles removed even in the fit test.

The downside of these masks is that while they are effective at protecting the wearer from particulates, they do nothing against smog or other gases, also common in the air of polluted cities (they are also fairly ineffective against tear gas, even though you often see them worn by protesters). However, they are still popular in polluted cities because they are cheap and the most severe health risks come from the particulates.


Perhaps the most iconic gas mask is the cartridge, or cannister type, which consists of a mask part that fits on your face, and an external filter canister. These masks are superior to the dust masks in that they can filter out either particulates or chemicals, or even both, depending on the cannister. While they can prove equally effective as the SCBA masks, they require the proper filter for whatever particular hazards are in the current environment. You can acquire cartridges for working in all sorts of industrial environments, as well as cartridges effective against tear gas.

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Deus Ex Omar

A member of the Omar Technosect from Deus Ex: Invisible War

[/block_grid_item][block_grid_item]Because of the wide range of capabilities of these masks, it’s not easy to point to a single good mask.  Unless you know what you’re doing, you don’t want to purchase a military surplus mask, as they often don’t have any filters to purchase other than expired ones, and may even be retired due to deficiencies.  Realistically, your best bet is probably to start looking at an industrial supplier of protective gear, as they should have sufficient options no matter what protection you require.  You can usually get a single mask and multiple filters to protect against various dangers.

Whether you’re trying to protect yourself from pollution or tear gas, gas masks are an indispensable protection in our present-day cyberpunk future.  That you’ll look a little like the Omar is purely a bonus.[/block_grid_item][/block_grid]


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1 Comment
  1. Where you’ve talked about dust masks, you’ve used a picture of a surgical mask, which is a different thing designed for a very different purpose and will be ineffective at removing particulates from the air you inhale.


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