I began carrying an N95 respirator in my bag every day around 2007. The masks can be easily added to any first aid kit without much of a weight or size penalty, and offer respiratory protection far superior to that of a bandanna or a surgical mask. While useful during an influenza pandemic, my motivation for carrying the mask was centered more around urban disaster. Any time there are buildings coming down, I assume there will be asbestos, concrete dust, and similar contaminants in the air that I don’t in my lungs.
Most discussion of the extended use and reuse of respirators centers around contagions and the influenza use-case. While it seems safe enough to assume that the masks have an unlimited functional shelf life if stored properly, I’ve not found any information related to visual inspection of the masks for proper use. My own respirators get cycled every two or three years, but there is still a lot of room for abrasion in the pack, which I assume diminishes the protection the masks offer.
I had not thought much about this until last year. The respirator was something I carried but didn’t use. After a decade of carry, my first time actually needing to take the respirator out of my pack was this past October during the Napa and Sonoma fires.
After using the masks I had on hand during the fires (and unsuccessfully attempting to barter my surplus for chocolate), I began to better store the replacement batch for next time.
By keeping the respirator in a 5” x 4” aLOKSAK I’m ensured that no damage is done to during storage. The airtight seal offered by the bag means that the inside of the mask stays clean, at least until the first time I take it out in a contaminated setting. By added a pair of nitrile gloves to the bag, I create a compact, wallet-sized PPE kit. The same thing can be purchased, but all the prebuilt kits I’ve seen are too bulky for me to want to carry. My PPE kits can easily be slid in with the medical supplies in various my first aid and disaster kits. Pair that with EDC eye protection and you have a decently comprehensive solution.
The only appreciable thickness comes from the vent on the respirator, but I’ve found that vented respirators are key. A properly fitted respirator without a vent hampers my ability to perform physically, which isn’t a great trade-off in any situation where I find myself needing to wear a respirator.