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Tested: The best face masks, according to hard-working retailers

These six protective face shields were tested and vetted by outdoor specialty store employees across the country.


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Face masks are part of our everyday gear kits nowadays and having only one will not suffice. Tons of brands have jumped into the mask-making business and more are getting into it by the day. Most recently, Helly Hansen launched one made of their moisture-wicking LIFA fabric and Sunday Afternoons started selling UPF 50+ styles in artistic prints. Early results on both of these are promising.

Back in September, we asked our readers to weigh in on who is doing it best. And then we put the standouts to the test among our team of five who are working in outdoor specialty stores from the West to the East. Here’s what they had to say.

Best mission: Cotopaxi Teca Cotton Face Mask, $13

Four colorful face masks lined up and folded on white surface. DO GOOD lettering on each mask
Testers found the Cotopaxi masks to be very comfortable and breathable with good coverage.Courtesy

This brightly-colored mask is fully reversible and is made from two layers of soft, repurposed cotton fabric. Our testers appreciated the accordion pleats and cinchable ear straps that helped dial the fit on various face sizes. The wire nose adjustment even prevents fogging—a must for people who wear glasses. “Plus, I like the DO GOOD slogan on the mask,” says Bill Bernhard, of Roam’n Around in Rapid City, South Dakota. Cotopaxi continues to live up to its slogan. For every mask purchased, The brand provides one to communities in need in South America. To this day, it has donated 100,000 units.

Best filter mask: Outdoor Research Face Mask Kit, $20 for kit, $5 for 3 replacement filters

Hand holding army green colored face mask with black lettering: Outdoor Research
Outdoor Research masks come with removable paper filters for extra protection.Courtesy

The Seattle-based brand was one of the first to the PPE-making game, and theirs is a favorite among retailers. “It’s just simple and comfortable,” says Mark Boles, of Intrinsic Provisions in Hingham, Massachusetts. The kit comes with one microbe- and germ-resistant mask plus three filters that tuck into the mask’s pocket. It has become one of our testers’ essentials for working long shifts in the store. “I’ll keep the Outdoor Research Face Mask on for eight to 10 hours a day while working with customers and staff,” says Wes Lawson, of Jesse Brown’s Outdoors in Charlotte, North Carolina. It now comes in kid sizes. The only downsides: The filter can be a little fiddly and the HEIQ V-BLOCK treatment, an antimicrobial technology, degrades after 30 washes.

Softest on the skin/Best bargain: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Face Mask, 5 for $20

Woman with long brown hair wearing white face mask; black wall behind her
You can score five of these soft Hyperlitemasks for just 20 bucks.Courtesy

More like hyper soft. The best feature of this mask is its gentle touch, thanks to the interlock micro polyester fabric with a skin-friendly DWR coating. It also checks the breathability, holding up in the wash, and all-day wearability boxes. A wire nose piece coupled with an elastic chin seam ensures it molds perfectly for anyone. “I kept running up and down the stairs to get products and move boxes and barely noticed this mask when I was breathing heavy,” says Serena Calder, of Grizzly Outfitters in Big Sky, Montana. One ding: The ear straps tend to rub over time.

Most stylish: prAna Reversible Face Mask, 3 for $20

Colorful prAna face masks fanned out on gray table
prAna’s cotton masks are colorful and reversible.Courtesy

Protect yourself in style with prAna’s cloth face masks in pretty patterns. Each mask is made by the brand’s Fair Trade Certified factory partners who use organic cotton, recycled polyester, and TENCEL Lyocell. Masks come in two sizes: small/medium or large/x-large. Our tester at REI’s Atlanta location said she wore one during an 8-hour stocking shift. “It gets very hot in the back room and I typically start sweating,” she says. “My mask usually makes it worse but this mask made it tolerable.” While she didn’t have any problems with washing it, another tester said it shrunk in the dryer.

Best for outdoor activities: BUFF Filter Tube, $29

Man staring into camera wearing black face mask tube and red shirt; furniture and wall hangings behind him.
Bill Bernhard, of Roam’n Around in South Dakota, suits up in BUFF’s Filter Tube.Courtesy

Testers agreed that this mask was especially easy to use because it’s a familiar form. Like many of us, they already have at least one BUFF tube that they used before the pandemic for skiing or running. What’s different about this one though is the pocket in the front for a replaceable filter (each tube comes with five). It fits “securely over the bridge of your nose and stays close to your cheeks,” says Bernhard. The tube is made almost entirely of recycled REPREVE with UPF 50+ and is also treated with the HEIQ V-BLOCK antimicrobial technology.