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Getting vaccinated is the best form of protection against COVID-19, but the CDC has advised all Americans, including those who are fully vaccinated, to wear a mask indoors in public places again to combat the rapid spread of the Delta variant. That means if you’re exercising at an indoor gym, it’s smart to mask up.
It’s especially smart considering exercise causes us to breathe more heavily, leading to a higher risk of spreading airborne virus particles.
This shouldn’t affect your run: Megan Ranney, MD, an emergency-medicine physician at Brown University, previously told Insider’s Anna Medaris Miller that studies show “face masks don’t actually inhibit breathing or [oxygen levels]” for anyone working out. They are instead a reliable method for not only protecting yourself while you exercise but those around you, as well.
But not all options are the best face masks for working out. We tested an assortment of active-intended options, including, Oura, HaloLife, and Athleta masks, for which can hold up against sweat and heavy breathing. At the end of this guide, we’ve also included some insight into how to shop for an active face mask, as well as the testing methodology we used in figuring out which to include.
Here are the best face masks for working out and running:
- Best face mask overall: HaloLife nanofilter mask
- Best budget face mask: Athleta Made to Move 3-Pack
- Best stylish face mask: Primal Mask 2.0 with X-Frame
- Best protective neck gaiter: Perspective Fitwear Got You Covered Tech Mask
- Best for use with N95 filter: Oura Active Mask
- Best face mask for sun protection: Hide-a-Mask
- Best face mask for water sports: Vast FM Face Mask
How we test active face masks
Each face mask featured in this guide went through several rounds of active testing in order to judge its effectiveness in five different categories:
- Comfort: We viewed comfort as to how well the mask felt over the course of a workout. Did it start to feel heavy or constricting the longer we ran or biked? Did it irritate our skin or develop any hot spots where it would rub uncomfortably?
- Fit: An ill-fitting mask is annoying any time, but during a workout, it’s much more of an annoyance as you jump up and down, move around, and have sweat making things slippery. You don’t want to be constantly adjusting the nose flap or ear loops, or pulling the mask back up onto your face if it slides down. How a mask fits also lends itself to how comfortable it ultimately is, especially if you run or bike long distances, or spend hours lifting weights.
- Performance: This was judged by how well a mask was able to wick sweat away from our face so you don’t feel like you’re wearing a wet washcloth (which, actually, may hinder how well you’re able to breathe, especially during a more grueling workout).
- Easy-to-clean: As is the case with normal cloth face masks, throwing them into the washing machine or hand washing them yourself is typically an easy process. However, we wanted to see how quickly they were able to dry and whether they needed to be cleaned after each time we were active, or if they were able to go multiple workouts before a wash.
- Value: This comes down to not just its actual sticker price, but how durable it is and how well it performs relative to its cost. A shoddy budget mask might be attractive because it costs less, but if you’re buying the same budget mask at two or three times the rate you’d buy a more expensive, premium option, you could be spending the same amount of money in the long run. To that end, we also wanted to make sure that our budget pick wasn’t something that’d only last for one or two workouts.
The best face mask for working out overall
The HaloLife nanofilter mask looks good, creates a tight seal on your face, and comes with a proprietary nanofilter that blocks over 98% of particles.
Pros: Adjustable ear straps, soft material, extra chin piece for more coverage, adjustable nose clip for better fit and to help prevent fogging of glasses, a latex nose pad to facilitate better breathability, nanofilter technology to block the majority of particles
Cons: Embedded nose clip makes mask bulky in your pocket, have to buy replaceable filters
This is the best mask I’ve worn, period, let alone worked out in. It’s made from a very breathable poly-blend outer and lined on the inside with soft, moisture-wicking bamboo. The design has an added strip of fabric at the bottom to wrap over your chin and provide an even tighter seal (my bearded boyfriend loved this feature). It also has adjustable ear straps to keep it tight to smaller faces.
In terms of fit, the HaloLife mask stands out with its pinchable embedded nose clip for a tighter fit, but also a replaceable latex nose pad that sits between the mask and the bridge of your nose. This is not only quite comfortable against the skin, particularly when sweating, but it helps push the main pocket of the mask out slightly so the fabric isn’t right up against your lips.
This keeps the fabric from suctioning to your mouth when you’re breathing heavily in-and-out during your workout. And, combined with the extremely breathable fabric, this mask doesn’t create that breath-pocket of pure humidity like other masks do, making catching your breath that much harder.
HaloLife has incorporated a proprietary, removable nanofilter that lab tests have shown capture over 98% of airborne pathogens in both directions for 30 days.
For what it’s worth, our most stylish face mask, Primal’s Mask 2.0, came in a very close second for overall best. It was narrowly edged out by the comfort of HaloLife’s liner and nose pad, and the added chin strap, but is definitely worth considering. — Rachael Schultz
The best face mask for working out on a budget
The Made to Move Athleta mask comes in a 3-pack for $25, or roughly $8.50 per mask. If you consistently exercise, having multiple masks on-hand is highly recommended (and handy).
Pros: Inexpensive, elastic binding that prevents snagged hair, head strap alleviates pressure on ears, insert space for a removable filter
Cons: Fabric tends to stick to your mouth when breathing deeply, runs small
The design of this Athleta mask is pretty straightforward with a few bonus surprises. The exterior is constructed from a lightweight polyester/spandex material and the interior lining is a polyester/mesh. The fabric promotes improved airflow and helps wick away moisture so that you’re not bogged down by a sweat-soaked mask.
The ear straps are adjustable and feature a soft, elastic binding that prevents you from tangling or snagging hair. There’s also an innovative head strap (which you can remove or leave) that alleviates pressure from the back of your ears. Finally, the mask has an interior pocket for removable filters (not included), and the bundles come in a variety of print options.
The most stylish face mask for working out
Primal’s Mask 2.0 has an innovative design with extra attention spent to ensure you’re comfortable even during the most intense sweat fest.
Pros: Lightweight, breathable fabric, X-Frame design keeps fabric away from mouth, metal nose guard, adjustable ear straps, has a pocket for an additional filter for added protection
Cons: Have to buy replaceable filters
Perhaps one of the chief complaints of face masks, especially when exercising, is that the fabric clings to the front of your face. Primal solved that problem with the X-Frame, a lightweight plastic insert that fits perfectly inside the mask and pushes the fabric out and away from your mouth. This not only makes it easier to breathe, but it also keeps sweat-soaked fabrics from rubbing against the sensitive skin on your face.
The mask itself is made from carbon fabric (an exceptionally lightweight polymer) and features an adjustable ear strap and a metal nose support. In addition to having a space for the X-frame, there’s also a pocket that allows you to insert a filter. Primal’s NT3D Nanotek filter has a 97+ percent efficacy rating and can be washed 10 times and still retain filtration properties.
These features together made Primal’s Mask 2.0 a very, very close second for best mask overall.
Plus, the brand makes the Mask 2.0 in simple, solid colors, or with fun prints like pineapples and mustaches — so there’s a mask for every kind of person.
The best neck gaiter for working out
If you prefer a neck gaiter to a strap mask, Perspective Fitwear’s Got You Covered Tech Mask is made of buttery-soft, moisture-wicking fabric and can double to keep you warm during winter runs.
Pros: Fun and colorful prints, SPF 50+ protection, lightweight and soft, free of harmful substances
Cons: Has the potential to slip down, material sits very close to the mouth which can make it harder to breathe deeply
Prospective Fitwear’s Got You Covered Tech Mask sits around your neck until you need to use it, which gives it less of a “we’re living through a pandemic” feel and more of a stylish, athletic scarf vibe. This also makes it a great mask for cold-weather workouts since it will provide extra warmth around your neck.
The material is soft and lightweight, moisture-wicking, boasts an SPF 50+ protection, and is OEKO-TEX certified (free of known harmful substances, which is a bonus since it sits so close to your mouth).
This gaiter comes in a variety of prints and solid colors. It does a modest job of staying put but because there are no nose guards, straps, or anti-slip rubber around the top, there’s potential for slippage. For that reason, it might serve you better for low-impact workouts or in situations when you’re outdoors and need to quickly cover if you run into someone else.
The best N95 mask for working out
The Oura Active Mask is compatible with an N95 filter and uses lab-tested antimicrobial fabric to help kill germs as it filters them — delivering an added layer of protection.
Pros: Comfortable fit, nose flap guides breath down instead of up into your face, made of hypoallergenic and antimicrobial fabric, easy to hand wash and dries quickly, features a pocket for use with an N95 filter
Cons: Expensive, unless you get the correct size, you may have some fit issues
We love the Active Mask from Oura for its ability to use an N95 filter for added protection, how easy it is to fold up and pack along in its companion bag, and the fact it uses antimicrobial fabric to ward off germs (and allow us to wash it less frequently). At $65, it’s certainly not the cheapest of this bunch but with all it offers, it’s well worth the investment.
The mask’s design makes it easy to put on or take off, as it has just two elastic loops on either side that slip over your ears. We tested both the medium and large sizes and found that getting the correct size is highly important for comfortable ear loops and a nose flap that stays put.
The nose flap, however, is great, as it allows the mask to be more comfortable especially while running or biking. Its included nose clip contours to your face to keep the mask in place.
Its antimicrobial fabric is reassuring when you’re sweating into the fabric (though we’d still advise washing it regularly). Oura includes a handy pouch for the mask to fold up and store in, making it a nice portable option, as well.
Our favorite feature is its compatibility with an N95 filter. By slipping one into a small built-in pouch inside the mask, it grants an added layer of quality protection (and peace of mind). The mask is also made of hypoallergenic fabric, offers sweat-wicking capabilities, and is said to break down odor as it’s being used — even after our most grueling (i.e. sweatiest) workouts, we never encountered any foul smells.
It’s expensive but if you’re in the market for a mask with added protection, that fits well, and is easy to clean, the Oura Active Mask is what you seek. — Rick Stella
The best face mask for working out in the sun
Hide-A-Mask is an innovative mask that solves two issues in one easy-to-wear design, as it’s essentially a baseball cap and face mask in one package.
Pros: Sun protection, hideable mask, nose guard, easy to remove the mask for washing
Cons: The mask sags very slightly under the brim but not enough to impact your line of sight
As the name implies, the mask is concealed under the brim of the hat, where it stays put with the help of strong magnets until you’re ready to use it. This six-second video shows you exactly how it works. Though Hide-a-Mask started out as a Kickstarter campaign, the brand officially launched in August of 2020 and now makes its products available to anyone.
In addition to the traditional baseball-cap style, it also comes as a trucker hat (aka a mesh back for better airflow to your head) and a visor option. Numerous colors and designs are available to choose from, as well. The mask itself is made from 92% double-knit polyester and 8% spandex blend, features a robust nose guard, and can easily be removed from the hat for washing.
The best face mask for working out in water
As a surf brand, VAST knows how to make water-approved apparel and accessories and its new FM Face Mask is no exception.
Pros: Fabric repels water, non-clingy and moisture-wicking interior lining, one-piece construction, cool aesthetic
Cons: Ear straps instead of loops (might be a pro depending on your preferences)
The FM Face Mask‘s material — which is manufactured by Swiss textile company Scholler — is a blend of 80% polyamide, 13% polyester, and 7% elastane, and is given a water-repelling treatment. The interior lining is Aquaterra, VAST’s surf tee non-cling fabric that helps wick moisture, zap bacteria, and prevent rashes.
In addition, the mask design features a one-piece construction which translates to less stitching and less points of entry for pathogens. That also makes it easier to clean. There are straps instead of ear loops, which might be preferred if you tend to experience irritation and skin discomfort from the standard loops.
Finally, the design was inspired by the look and feel of fighter pilot face masks, which gives it a rather cool aesthetic.
How to shop for an active face mask
The main issue with wearing a face mask when exercising is that it’s uncomfortable. If the material is extremely thick it can make it harder to catch your breath. Plus, many fabrics aren’t conducive to wicking sweat or keeping you cool, and certain fabrics cause high-friction that can lead to chafing and breakouts.
“The best fabric to look for when you’re going to sweat a lot is either nylon or polyester, both of which absorb moisture and help keep the skin as dry as possible,” Elizabeth Mullans, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, told Insider. “Cotton face masks are best for a breathable fabric. However, note that cotton absorbs sweat and will stay wet if you sweat a lot during your workout.”
Another feature to look for is ear loops instead of ties since the latter can come undone during intense movements. To help reduce breakouts, wear a mineral sunscreen underneath your mask and to wash the mask between every use with hypoallergenic detergent.