A strong part of urban exploration culture is being responsible. We remind one another to be respectful of locations and history as well as setting a good example for future urban explorers, but if you’re going to be involved in urbex, you also have to take responsibility for yourself and your health.
Immediate dangers and hazards can be mitigated with clothing, footwear, and gloves. However, one of the most important health factors isn’t immediate recognizable, and that is your lungs.
Our favorite urban discoveries have been abandoned for some time and that means there can be a build up of hazardous contaminates, many of which are airborne or will become airborne as we make entry into the site and stir up the settled particles. For anything more than an external peek into the broken window, a good and responsible urban explorer will be equipped with the best respirator possible.
Below is a table with our recommendations for the best respirator for urban exploration. Further down we explain the importance of having respirators in many instances when urbexing. We also dive deeper into the recommended options, to assist in providing the information necessary to make an informed decision.
[TABLE UNDER CONSTRUCTION WHILE WE WAIT FOR RESPIRATORS TO BE BACK IN STOCK]
The Importance of Respirators
As the entire planet persevered through the latest pandemic with COVID-19, we all got a taste of what many places go through with previous outbreaks such as SARS and MERS. We all learned a little about breathing masks, face shields, and respirators.
We know that a breathing mask or a face shield will do nothing to protect you from inhaling airborne particulates. We also know that a good respirator with proper filtration is the only way to keep yourself healthy when in a dangerously contaminated atmosphere.
As with the virus-laden world we are making our way through, all urban exploration sites should be considered contaminated and hazardous to your lungs. As such, any responsible urban explorer should be wearing a respirator.
Reasons To Wear The Best Respirator While Exploring Abandoned Locations
The air may appear clear to you, maybe a little dusty and dirty, which is enough of a reason to wear a respirator. But, if you’re in an abandoned location, odds are you aren’t as alone as you think you are. Animals and rodents have been making this their new home. Their accumulation of urine and feces will release toxic bioaerosols.
Aside from general filth, in some regions there are extra dangers as disturbing rodent droppings can stir up invisible infectious diseases such as Hantavirus. With the incursion of animals you also get the weakening of the structure leading to leaks. Water intrusion leads to mold which can really mess up your lungs.
In addition to these nearly constant threats, as urban explorers we face the additional hazard of exploring older buildings that are more likely to have asbestos and lead contamination due to the age of the structures we infiltrate. All of this adds up to a very simple lesson; bring and wear the best respirator you can get your hands on.
Finding The Best Respirator For Your Needs
As urbex hobbyists, we have the luxury of deciding which respirator we’re most comfortable with. We’re not being issues personal protective equipment from our place of employment or ordered to wear anything due to a public health decree, this is our lungs we are protecting and we get to shop around and make our own decision.
There are two distinct styles of respirators, the half face and the full face. The description is obvious enough.
About Half-Face Respirators
The half face only covers your mouth and nose while the full face covers your mouth, nose and eyes. The most common respirators you’ll see are the partial, or half-face masks. These strap on and we breathe into the mask while keeping everything else exposed.
This is satisfactory and sufficient for most of your urbex locations. But, for those venturing into more toxic spots, or more prone to allergic reactions may opt to go with a full face mask.
About Full-Face Respirators
The full face respirator comes with the obvious advantage of protecting your eyes but you need to evaluate if this is the type of respirator you want because there are other aspects that may be a drawback. If you wear a hard hat to protect yourself from falling debris or overhead environments, the full face mask may interfere with the helmet’s fit.
Your visibility can be decreased while wearing a full face mask, especially your peripheral vision. Extra caution must be taken when walking in unfamiliar or unstable terrain. The full mask will also keep you from touching your face which is a bonus to keep you safer from contaminates, but on those warm days, it will also keep you from rubbing the sweat from your face.
A little sweat is a small price to pay for additional safety, but this is a consideration one should make before deciding which kind of respirator mask you’d like.
Ensuring Your Respirator Fits Properly
If you’ve ever been subjected to, or seen footage of the respirator fit tests, you’ll know that a proper fit and good seal makes all the difference when wearing a breathing apparatus. Often a military exercise, they put you in a room with an irritant such as capsaicin (pepper spray), and you breathe through the respirator just fine if you have a proper seal. If not, you’ll know right away. You see people emerging the testing facility with tears, coughing and worse.
And though you will most likely not be exposed to a room full of obvious gasses, you will be exposed to contaminants and particulates that won’t be as obvious. The fact that you won’t see them and won’t be alerted to their presence could make it more dangerous. If you could see the danger, you’d wear the respirator every time. But, since we won’t always see the airborne hazards, some of us may be tempted to go without the respirator “just this once…”
Make sure your respirator fits your head and face. Adjust the straps well in advance of using the mask so you’re not on site spending time getting a good fit. The proper seal may require the trimming or elimination of facial hair and that’s something you’ll need to know ahead of time.
Even a mild gap renders your respirator useless. The entire point is to make sure every bit of air you breathe in comes through the filter. If you’re getting some unfiltered air into your mask, you may as well not even be wearing the respirator.
Ensuring You Use The Right Respirator Type
Dust masks won’t protect you from the harsher elements found in some urbex environments. This is why we wear respirators. The key factor difference is the filtration of the air. Dust masks can’t provide that tight seal and aren’t rated to protect us against vapors and chemical intrusions.
Surgical masks and N95 rated masks do a good job but your properly fitted respirator can provide infinitely better protection as long as you wear it correctly and keep your filters clean.
The filtration system is rated according to the United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Masks and respirator filters are given a rating depending on how well they perform to cleanse the air that gets past them. You will often see ratings such as N95 or P100, the rating classification is broken into two parts.
The letter grade is an indicator of how the filter withstands degradation when oil-based aerosols are present. “N” indicates the filter is not resistant and will stop working properly when oil-based contaminates are in the air. “R” means the filter is resistant for the single use and should be disposed of after use. “P” means it is oil-proof and can be used more than once.
The number following the letter grade is an indicator of what percentage of particles as small as 3 microns are kept out of your breathing air. 95 and 99 ratings keep out 95 and 99% of the contaminates. Filters rated at 100 are tested to keep at least 99.97% 3 micrometer contaminates out and 100% of larger contaminates.
As hazards such as asbestos are 5 microns in size, a P100 filter is recommended for urbex use as it will be reusable and keep out those invisible dangers.
Filters do have a shelf life and a usability limitation. Once you begin breathing in dust and dangers, you filter becomes less efficient with every breath. Be sure to change out your filter cartridge as you use it more often. By the time you find it difficult to draw an easy breath through the respirator, your filter is overdue to be changed out.
Our Picks For The 6 Best Respirators for Urban Exploration
There are plenty of respirators on the market today. However, due to the rise and explosion of COVID-19 cases around the world, much of the respirator supply has been depleted. As a result, all of the recommended respirators are currently out of stock as of mid-April 2020.
You will notice that 3M has a virtual monopoly on some of the best respirator selections. This is not a mistake, or a play on 3M. They make great products, and are one of the most essential businesses in the United States economy. Without any further ado, let’s dive a little deeper into six of the best respirators for urbex.
GVS SPR473 Elipse OV/AG-P100 (Half Mask Respirator)
This small mask protects you against everything you’ll come across in the urbex environment and then some. Manufactured by an industry leader in workplace safety, the GVS Elipse SPR473 is one of the most common masks you will find worn among your fellow urban explorers.
The comfortable strap and face piece are made from hospital grade polymers so it is hypoallergenic and won’t cause discomfort in those with latex of silicone sensitivities. The GVS masks are available in different grades, the OV/AG-P100 will keep you safe from dusts, mold, gases, vapors and solvents. It is a juggernaut of an option, and one of the best respirator options on the market today.
3M 7503 (Half Facepiece Respirator)
If you don’t have any skin conditions or an aversion to silicone, the 3M 7503 is another half face respirator that you will commonly find among urban explorers. This brand is ubiquitous among many fields of PPE wearers and you can find the filter in most popular brick and mortar stores.
The filters ride low and off to the sides so they won’t obstruct your vision. The adjustable strap is also connected in such a way that you can lower the mask around your neck when you take a break so you won’t have to take it off your head and accidentally leave it behind.
3M 6800 (Full Facepiece Respirator)
Supplementing your respirator equipment with a full face respirator along the same lines as the 7503 class is the 3M 6800. This shielded mask keeps your entire face protected from the elements and protects your eyes from becoming irritated as well.
The dual strap method slings over your head and tightens ion the rear making for a fully adjustable and comfortable grip on your head. The silicone face seal is easily checked for both positive and negative pressure and once you verify a good seal you can rest assured that your entire face is protected against the elements.
This full face mask is a great alternative to the 7503 half face respirator as it uses the same model P100 filters.
3M FF-402 Ultimate FX (Full Facepiece Respirator)
Once you decide you want to use a full face respirator every time instead of a half face mask, you’ll want a durable and higher end model. The 3M FF-402 is the respirator of choice for hazardous area workers and avid urbex adventurers.
Advantages over the lesser models include a tougher frame that holds up to more knocks and bangs, and a more durable and comfortable six-point harness that ensures a secure non-slip grip on your head and keeps you breathing safe in even the most demanding urbex environment.
This mask uses P100 cartridges, available in multiple classes, be sure to get the 60926 which will protect you from nearly everything.
North 770030 (Half Facepiece Respirator)
North Safety Products is a subdivision of the Honeywell conglomerate that has a solid reputation of quality products and performance driven gear. The North 7700 series half face mask is a great fit that lets you set it and forget it as there is no irritation during wear.
The filters are not included with the mask as you will need to order according to your environment; urbex should be P100. The straps are heavy duty and will hold this mask in place under extreme situations ensuring that the air you breathe is being filtered properly and you are keeping your lungs safe during your exploration.
North 760008A (Full Facepiece Respirator)
The 7600 series full face respirator mask by North/Honeywell is an improvement over the 7700 series half mask in that it keeps your face and eyes protected from the contaminated air. When exploring areas that have questionable or hazardous air qualities, keeping your face covered is a wise choice as it keeps your hands off your face and the air particulates out of your eyes.
This mask is a close and tight fit which can be a problem for those of us who wear prescription eye wear but is a bonus as opposed to other leading full face masks as the closer fit gives you a better and less obstructed view.
Final Thoughts on the Best Respirator Options For Urbex
Having a respirator is one thing, having the best respirator is another animal altogether. Ensuring you have the best respirator possible will do wonders in preventing breathing and lung issues in both the short term and long term.