- Buyer's Guide
Best Cloth Face Masks, Tested 2021
Masks have become a ubiquitous part of everyday life, and as such, they’ve started to pop up all over the place, even from brands you might not expect. All masks are not created equally though, and we’ve come a long way from seeing them as the disposable accessories we first considered them to be at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here at Carryology, we’ve covered and tested so many now, they’ve been featured in multiple articles, including our best new gear roundups, buying guides, and even full feature pieces like this mask guide that we curated at the beginning of the pandemic. But the below are the best cloth face masks we tested, all grouped together, so you can make an informed decision if you’re still looking to find that perfect mask.
What to look for when choosing the best cloth face masks – safest, reusable, most comfortable, and breathable.
When looking for a new mask, it can be overwhelming as you see a vast page of search results in front of you. Buying a mask is not very different to any other purchase you make. You should buy it with your specific use case and preferences in mind.
That said, there are three key deciding elements that we believe are non-negotiable when choosing the best cloth face masks: comfort, breathability, and protection.
A comfortable face mask is king
If you are having to wear a mask for long periods of time, it shouldn’t cause you pain or discomfort. Ear fatigue, mask mouth, overheating, and nose rub are all legitimate concerns. You should choose your mask looking to avoid those issues. Pay attention to the size guides on manufacturers’ websites. I have found most to be accurate, even though they all have slightly different variations. So do not assume it is OSFA.
Things to look out for include customization options such as a malleable nose bridge, adjustable ear loops, a behind-the-head strap, and a neck lanyard amongst others. If comfort is your ultimate priority, be sure to look for materials that are soft against the skin such as cotton, cotton flannel, or merino wool.
A breathable mask is a breeze
Sometimes makers and brands can push too hard towards ‘protection’ while forgetting that most times we’re wearing our masks for long stints. The best cloth face masks should keep moisture particles out and still let that all-important oxygen in and provide a good pocket inside the mask for breathing in and out without restriction.
Get A-grade protection
When it comes to protection, consider your use cases. If you are commuting via public transport (for example) you may want to choose a mask that can insert an extra filter, or has more filtration built into the layering system. The mandate from the CDC recommends that face masks have the following features: A snug fit that sits comfortably against the face and doesn’t gap on the sides, two or more layers of fabric that allow for breathing without restriction, and the ability to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.
For our second in-depth look at the best cloth face masks, with the benefit of time, there have been some truly interesting additions to the market. We have spent the last eight weeks testing an array of masks in different arenas. The nine that we have chosen cover most aspects of life, and stand on their individual merit, as opposed to being compared side-by-side. Some masks have been chosen for their comfort, some for their material choices, and others for their innovation. Here are some of the best cloth face masks on the market.
Best Cloth Face Masks, Tested
Best All-Rounder – Pacsafe Silver iON Face Mask
What it’s good for: Everyday, Exercise, Travel
Why you want it: Super protective five-layer construction, germ-killing silver ion and Graphene materials, comfortable, versatile
Why you might not: When in really hot climates (five layers!)
Field Testing: Pacsafe have made their name by being useful for every adventure there is, particularly when it comes to travel. It should be no surprise, then, that their silver ion face mask is one of the most useful and versatile in our selection. Billed as a 3-in-1 (Antimicrobial, Barrier, Filter) system, the five-layer construction makes this mask more protective (also tested by a famous industry-leading laboratory!) than the infamous N95 masks which seemingly became the gold standard of protection early in the pandemic. The five layers vary in their roles. The layers closer to your face focus around comfort, protection, and odor neutralization (which is great news for those of you who enjoy smelly lunches!). The outer layers focus on moisture control, filters, and disinfection.
The addition of Graphene (one of the world’s most advanced compounds and sure to be the future of many industries) and silver takes this mask from a comfortable mask in your collection to the steadfast warrior of choice. The antimicrobial properties of both effectively eliminate the ability for any microbials to fester or reproduce at a harmful rate. It is hard to understate the confidence that these extra protective elements provide when venturing out in the world. While nothing can be 100% safe and secure, it is nice to know that you’re as close as you can be.
Science aside, this is a very comfortable mask to wear. The fabric is fluid and moves with you, while it is easily small enough to fit into any pocket, and the flexible frame keeps the mask away from your mouth too. This worked well when exercising too. I think Pacsafe have nailed the everyday mask with their interpretation, and I wouldn’t hesitate in taking it anywhere.
The Best Value Mask – Tom Bihn V3/V4 Mask
What it’s good for: Everyday
Why you want it: Comfortable as they come, innovative drawstring, mask patterns are downloadable so that you can make your own version!
Why you might not: Extra strap might be redundant for some. Three layers on V3 can get a little toasty.
Field Testing: My wife and I have been using variations of TB masks since the beginning of the pandemic. In true Tom Bihn style, these masks are functional, comfortable, and great to use. They also represent excellent value for money. Three layers of cotton twill (the outer layer is a poly/cotton blend) provide ample protection. The comfortable ear loops and adjustable neck lanyard make this a great everyday mask that is easy to take on and off, adjust, and wash. As someone with a beard and big mouth, this mask is excellent as it allows you to really talk, guffaw, and exclaim without losing coverage or the mask slipping from your face! The V4 is an identical design, but made with luxurious, soft, and warm cotton flannel!
The Most Comfortable Mask – Bilio Koala Mask
What it’s good for: Everyday
Why you want it: The knit finish, germ-killing SilverKiss technology, great style, MiUSA, recycled materials.
Why you might not: Sits away from your face more than others.
Field Testing: With Koalas, Kangaroos, and Joey’s, Bilio has everybody in the family covered with their wonderfully unique masks. The Koala, their flagship mask is different for a few reasons. The knit pattern stands out (quite literally) and is constructed to size from a recycled polyester yarn, which means it is a zero-waste process! The copper nose bridge is far more malleable and far less noticeable than the metal bridge used on other masks. This means you can truly get a comfortable, personalized fit, whatever shape your nose might be. Pair this with the elasticated ear loops and this mask can stay on all day without causing issues.
If you find yourself wanting a little more relief from ear fatigue, you can add the super stretchy Boomerang ($12). This converts the mask to a behind-the-head design. I found this great when I was going to be wearing the mask for a longer period of time. It also didn’t interfere with my glasses! This allows the mask to hang from your neck too, although it does remain quite close to your chin when hanging.
Machine washable and finished with antimicrobial SilverKiss technology, you can continue to use this knowing that hygiene isn’t an issue. The Koala also comes in a sealed pouch that can be reused for storage and travel. My favorite thing about the Koala, by far, is that the main “body” of the mask sits away from your nose and mouth. Thanks to knitted construction, the small “hump” in the mask allows you to talk, chew, and breathe comfortably. The sizing is spot on, with a L/XL fitting my larger bearded face, while the S/M fit my wife perfectly. They are also coming out with a filtered mask called the Kangaroo soon!
Best Backup Mask – Matador Keychain Mask
What it’s good for: Emergencies, Travel
Why you want it: When you leave the other one at home!
Why you might not: Not for everyday.
Field Testing: We’ve all been there at least once during this pandemic; you arrive at your destination and realize that you’ve forgotten the vital piece: your mask! As always, the packable wizards at Matador have come up with a solution to put your mind at ease. Housed in a keyring attachable silicone case, the Keychain Mask is a lightweight, packable, and stretchy backup mask. Constructed from a poly/spandex mix, with a great four-way stretch, this mask has you covered. With no logos, baffled construction, and simple elasticated earloops, this is a useful mask that can come with you anywhere. I found it to be comfortable, lightweight, and quick-drying after use. While it wouldn’t become my everyday mask, it is an excellent insurance policy and continues to live on my keychain. It packs away to a minuscule size and at $15 it really is a no-brainer to add to your kit.
Best Additional Filter (Insertable) Masks
Best Tough Mask – Triple Aught Design Shadow RS
What it’s good for: Everyday, Travel
Why you want it: The Shadow RS was built with customer feedback, it is made for people like YOU. Great materials, multiple wearing options, and understated design.
Why you might not: This mask is rather angular; if you are looking for smoother shapes and rounded edges, look elsewhere. It takes a little while to “break in”.
Field Testing: Triple Aught Design are over-engineers by nature, and I mean that in the best way. Their products are always thoroughly thought through and show a genuine understanding of the problem they are solving, or what they are trying to achieve by bringing product X to market. The same ethos is apparent in the Shadow RS. It is built to an incredibly high standard. Unlike some other masks that I have used, I could see this lasting until the next pandemic, which is hopefully another century away!
While this is most certainly robust, with a NYCO ripstop, there are touches that make this about you, the wearer, rather than the mask itself. For starters, a microfleece nose bridge keeps you comfortable for long periods of time without a second thought. Then there are the multiple wear/carry options. The adjustable retention system allows you to make the mask fit you for optimum comfort through a simple drawstring adjustment. But in the same breath (no pun intended), it allows the mask to hang away from your face when not in use.
The four-way stretch panel just under the chin allows for comfort when talking. It also stops the rest of the mask from moving up and down your face as you talk. This is a feature I found to be exceptionally useful and one I hadn’t encountered before. Not only that, if you are someone who really dislikes wearing a mask around your ears, you can purchase the high retention strap which allows you to wear the mask by securing it around your head instead. Ultimately, this mask is designed to work for you, and you alone in whatever fashion fits best.
Tacticool – RINO Ready GRD-01
What it’s good for: Everyday, Travel
Why you want it: The GRD-01 is made from the materials you want to see in a backpack! Cordura®, X-PAC, and Organic Bamboo Cotton. Excellent adjustment system. Includes its own pouch. Great face coverage.
Why you might not: If you prefer softer materials, this might not be the best fit for you.
Field Testing: If you’ve ever wanted to look and feel like Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, this is your chance! Roleplay aside, the team at RINO Ready (the one-stop shop for great grab-and-go survival options!) have created a really well-performing mask here that represents an evolution in the mask game. The materials alone are chosen to complement one another, with an excellent marriage of weatherproofing, performance, comfort, and durability. The included pouch is perfect for storing your mask when not in use. Plus it’s a safe haven for your replacement nose bridge and foam nose pads. Talking of the foam nose pads, if you find yourself getting “mask fatigue,” I found the nose pad to all but eliminate that.
The shock cord allows you multiple options: to hang the mask freely around your neck, to adjust the seal around your face, or to relieve tension on your ears quickly. This is a great mask for those wanting a more tactical aesthetic, and a mask that’ll take whatever your day throws at it. Plus, you can slip a filter in for the situations that require a little extra protection.
Wool Warrior – Western Rise StrongCore Merino Face Mask
What it’s good for: Everyday, Colder Climates
Why you want it: Soft to the touch, double layered, filter-ready.
Why you might not: A tad small for larger faces. Not as customizable as others.
Field Testing: Western Rise are known for their problem-solving products. The same can be said for their interpretation of the humble mask. Building on the success of their StrongCore Merino line, the team at Western Rise have created a comfortable mask that takes advantage of everything merino wool has to offer. Made from New Zealand’s finest merino, it is breathable, stretchy, odor neutralizing, and temperature regulating. It’s hard to get uncomfortable using this mask. Easy to clean and easy to store, this is a mask that you can rely on. You can also add a filter to this mask for extra protection.
Best All-Round Masks
Soft and Sporty – 686 Polygiene ViralOff Mask
What it’s good for: Everyday, Exercise, Travel
Why you want it: A perfect blend of industry-leading outdoor technologies, this mask truly can do it all. Antimicrobial, breathable, UPF resistant, and comfortable in a wide variety of situations.
Why you might not: This mask is a little larger and covers a lot of your face.
Field Testing: The folks at 686 are masters of performance products and it shows with their best-selling Polygiene ViralOff mask. A 3-layered construction provides ample protection and performance in equal measure. A stretch polyester Spandex outer provides excellent flexibility and the ViralOff coating reduces both microbe and weather retention. This is followed by a middle layer of nylon for extra filtration, while the mask is finished with a comfortable merino/poly blend (also coated in ViralOff).
The construction of this mask makes it very versatile. I’ve used this for EDC, but also in high output hiking and running. I’ve found it to be comfortable and unrestrictive, which has its obvious benefits when exercising. Once you start to highlight the other tech usually reserved for expensive outdoor apparel (UPF50, moisture-wicking, breathable, anti-odor, anti-microbial, etc.), this mask clearly rises to the top as an excellent choice. The 686 mask adjusts easily with two elasticated cords that give you four points of adjustment near your face. Along with the metal nose bridge, this gives the mask the best customization I have found. This is the perfect crossover mask that can come with you from town to trail with ease.
Lightweight Genius – KILLSPENCER SST FACE MASK
What it’s good for?: Everyday, Exercise
Why you want it: Astonishingly lightweight, four-layer construction, leather detailing, MiUSA.
Why you might not: A tad small for larger faces.
Field Testing: You’d be forgiven for thinking that they forgot to send the mask when your package from KILLSPENCER arrives! This four-layer masterpiece is the definition of featherweight, and is a pleasure to use. Before getting into the excellent performance details, it is worth admiring the experience that comes with the SST mask. As with all KILLSPENCER products, every part of the SST mask has been thought through, and that includes the packaging. The mask arrives in a sleek waterproof bag which doubles as storage for your mask, phone, wallet, keys, or any other EDC you might have with you. Once in that bag, they can be submerged to 200ft, so don’t chuck it out!
The mask itself is a very understated, stylish piece with simple perforation patterns that blend with any aesthetic, and tasteful leather accents by the ear loops. As for the construction, it is hard to believe that such a lightweight mask is such a heavyweight when it comes to technology and performance. The SST is certainly wonderful to look at. But the four-layer construction makes sure that it backs up that charm with excellent filtration and protection. KILLSPENCER’s proprietary Meltblown and Spunbond polypropylene material gives exceptional protection. And the four-layer design allows air to circulate easily for your comfort, but also keeps moisture and unwanted particles out!
This isn’t just a marketing bluff either. KILLSPENCER have had their masks independently tested by a famous industry-leading laboratory who reported that the SST successfully filtered 98.9% – 99.19% of particles, and were consistently breathable. Not only that, but they also passed a Cytotoxicity test, which means they are biocompatible with the human body. That might sound like a lot to take in, but the long and short of it is, all of this will enhance your safety, comfort, and enjoyment when using the SST. If it wasn’t impressive enough, it’s also UV resistant, water repellent, washable, and mold/mildew resistant. The SST is an advancement in mask technology, and to have such a high level of customization, comfort, and protection in a lightweight package is truly impressive.
Unfortunately, it seems we will all be behind masks for a little while longer, and we know the mask industry will continue to evolve, bringing us new variations and technologies. As carry enthusiasts, we’re excited to see what comes next and if this level of progression in nine months is anything to go by, we’ll see more solid options.