“Just breathing can be such a luxury sometimes.” – Walter Kirn (Up in the Air)
It is such a clique to talk about how important AIR is – that BREATHING is important, and FRESH AIR is one of the purest luxuries in life, however, I have given this a great deal of thought lately, since moving to London (which happens to be rather smoggy) from Ottawa (a rather pristine city in terms of air pollution).
As someone with an assortment of environmental allergies and sensitivities, I think I am more aware of the air I breathe, because my body is so picky and generally revels in rejecting the air/food that I put in it! Previously, it was indoor air quality that caused me the most grief – until I lived in a house where everything was HEPA filtered, or I invested in an air purifier to constantly suck dust, mold, and pollen out of my apartment.
It was only in the height of rag weed season that I would really notice outdoor air. I am not sure I ever truly appreciated the wide open spaces and the pristine fresh air in small town Canada where I lived for most of my life.
Upon arriving in London, it was immediately apparent to me that the air was “thicker” here – that after running or cycling for 15 minutes, it sticks in the back of your throat and stings the tops of your lungs.
At the sage advice of one of my London-savy cycling mentors (and after reading some alarming articles like this – showing that nearly 9,500 people die each year due to London’s air pollution.) that I ordered my first anti-pollution mask. I figured I would write a quick review of my foray into anti-pollution masks for any of you who might have noticed the air where they live has become thick with gunk.
Bandit in the streets: Option 1
I decided the Respro Bandit Scarf was the place to start, because it seemed a little bit less Darth Vader / terrifying, as it looks like a bandana. While I noticed a big difference in how my lungs felt at the end of my commute, I struggled so hard with this product! I realized that it is because I seem to have an unusually squishy nose! It will not stand its ground agains the (rather minimal) pressure exerted by the scarf. No matter how I tied it, my nose would flatten and I would have to uncomfortably mouth-breath my way around town. There is something so ingrained about breathing in through my nose, particularly during exertion that I just could not adjust! The other drawback was the wet scarf effect. Particularly as the weather has gotten colder, I noticed that the scarf would get damp from my breath and soon have that uncomfortable sensation that will transport you to your childhood and the very specific sensation of having a wet scarf tied around your face.
Attractiveness: 9 (probably one of the least visually offensive option I have seen)
Ease of use: 6 (it is a little bit fiddly to get the knot the correct tightness)
Fit: 4 (I don’t think I ever got a really good “seal” and noticed that a lot of air would get in the sides)
Recommendation: Would recommend to those who are looking for an aesthetically-appealing option, however, don’t feel like a good seal was ever achieved, so I would estimate the real-life effectiveness of this product to be rather low. Also, you might need a strong (or normal?) nose for this product to work for you.
Pandemic prepper (lite): Option 2
I decided the Bandit life was just not working for me, so I decided to order a new option – the totobobo mask. Despite having the most ridiculous name, it is a well-designed, super lightweight mask that allows me to freely breathe as I wheel around town.
The initial setup is a little bit fiddly – to heat-mold the mask and then to figure out what the proper tension is for the little elastic earloops, but once you have it set up, on and off is a breeze. I particularly like the earloop design, because that means you can take it on and off without having to remove your helmet and/or hat.
One minor drawback is that I have noticed that I generate a great deal of condensation inside the mask, so there is still a sweet relief to take off the mask once I get to my destination, akin to that indescribable feeling taking off your shoes after a night out.
Attractiveness: 4 (unless you are particularly into smog couture/ surgical chic looks)
Ease of use: 9 (once set for your face, it is a breeze)
Fit: 8 (I might need to make a few more adjustments to get a perfect seal, but I think it is possible)
Recommendation: If you can get over the jarring physical appearance, I think this is an excellent product. Easy to use, relatively comfortable to wear, and seems to be quite effective at giving me sweet sweet air to breathe.
UPDATE: I wore this mask for a few months and then ordered filters, which were quite expensive and NEVER ARRIVED. I followed up with the company a few times and they did not resolve the issue, so I have since retired the mask. Really lack-luster customer service.