“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. This anecdotal experience is reinforced by the periodic publication of alarming statistics like this – showing that nearly 9,500 people die each year due to London’s air pollution.)
I have now been living (and cycling) in London for over 3 years, and I have settled into the life of regularly using an anti-pollution mask on my commute. I have found one that works well for me, and also have a brief review of second option.
Pandemic prepper chic: Option 1
This was not my first choice, for purely stylistic considerations, but after not having success with my first anti-pollution mask, I ordered a 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). I have started pairing the totobobo with a buff, which covers the surgical style mask and replicates the effortless bandit cool of the bandana style masks. This is particularly useful in colder weather, as it protects your face from the wind and rain.
Ease of use: 9 (once set for your face, it is a breeze)
Fit: 8 (most days I can get a good seal, sometimes it doesn’t sit right for no apparent reason)
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 (28/11/2018): A rep from Totobobo had noted the issues I had with customer service, and went far above and beyond to provide me with an updated mask and filters. The Tototbobo is now my go-to mask, and I get a certain amount of perverse satisfaction from changing the filters and seeing how much gunk I have prevented from entering my lungs.
Bandit in the streets: Option 2
The Respro Bandit Scarf was my first foray into the anti-pollution mask scene. It is basically a bandana with a filter inside and a string to cinch under your chin. While I think this did filter the air, I struggled so much with this product, because, apparently, I have a rather squishy nose. It will not stand its ground against 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. 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. This has been passed on to a friend.