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Face Masks Required – But How to Choose the Best One For Adventure Travel?

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Wearing face masks is now mandated in many public spaces. So, too, is it required for travel, including Bio Bio Expeditions adventures.

After much conflict and controversy this past year, it was finally expressed conclusively from health officials over the course of the summer that wearing a face mask is, in fact, integral to helping to slow the spread of COVID-19. Of course, that’s in conjunction with other vital CDC guidelines – frequent hand washing and sanitizing and maintaining at least six feet of social distance between you and others outside your protective bubble.

As you’ve navigated the evolving regulations, you’ve also probably stocked up on a variety of face masks for just about every occasion. And, while you may have found the right face mask fit for your everyday activities – grocery shopping and doctor’s visits, for example – will it be right for your upcoming rafting excursion?

Of course, you want to be comfortable. You want to know that you won’t be suffering for hours in your protective face covering. But, you also don’t want to compromise the effectiveness of your mask – essential to ensuring your safety and that of those around you.

While Bio Bio doesn’t require you to wear a mask while on the water (though, if you want to, please do!) we do require you to wear a face mask or covering when:

  • At our pre-trip meeting
  • During travel in one of our vehicles or an aircraft
  • When indoors – any public facilities
  • Whenever you meet staff, partners, or another travel participant for the first time, or in the event we approach another group on the trail or river
  •  In the food line for meals

Given the many instances face coverings will be necessary, we recommend our guests come equipped with no fewer than two reusable and washable face masks – ideally cloth masks, but a neck gaiter or bandana is acceptable, too. We’d like you to have a fresh, clean mask or other face-covering for each day you’re travelling with Bio Bio.

Face mask options best for adventure travel

Good protection, breathability, and comfort even in the heat of tropical climates will all be of utmost importance as you choose the perfect face mask for your travels. Here are a few helpful tips as you consider the best option for your next trip:

Thick or double-layer cotton mask with ties in the back

There are several advantages to a cotton mask that ties in the back. The primary pro is that the wearer can tighten the mask to their optimum fit and comfort. Unlike face masks with ear loops, ties don’t result in painful pressure points, so it allows for longer wear in greater comfort.

Masks with ties are also highly customizable – separate tension adjustments between upper and lower ties. Depending on the size and shape of your head and face, you can increase or decrease the tightness of the nose and chin and mouth areas separately to get the best fit for you in all the most important places.

A popular choice of many of our guides, they find a mask with ties to offer exceptional comfort and breathability and, with such an exact fit, it allows them to work without frequent adjustments. The exact fit is vital to the comfort and effectiveness of the mask. A cloth face mask with ties is often one of the safest and most comfortable options available.

Tip: Ensure that the top tie rests above your ears. The mask can then stay positioned without having to be tied too tightly which can become uncomfortable with long use.

Thick or multi-layer cotton face mask with ear loops

One of the big advantages of a face mask with ear loops is it can be put on and adjusted to fit quickly – no tying or knotting behind your head.

These masks also often provide an opening that allows for the use of a filter. Ear looped masks are recommended by the CDC and are widely available and, depending on the quality, quite breathable. They’re also relatively easy to make yourself. They also provide a reasonable layer of protection against the spread of COVID-19, particularly compared to bandanas or neck gaiters.

There are a couple of downsides. The fit can be inexact and they can cause discomfort when worn for long periods of time. The loops do put pressure on the ears and can be quite painful, even causing skin irritation and even lesions during prolonged use.

When traveling, keep in mind that the ear loops can be problematic if you wear glasses or sunglasses as the loops can get in the way of the proper fit of your glasses, and vice verse.

It’s important to understand that a mask that is ill-fitting is almost as bad as wearing no mask at all. Frequent or constant adjustments – touching the mask including the nose and mouth area –reduce effectiveness and painful discomfort can make for crankiness and even discourage mask-wearing compliance.

TIP: Innovative makers have come up with 3d printed adaptors to help relieve the ear pressure of masks with ear loops. Remember, your ears are quite delicate and not constructed to bear such direct pressure for extended periods of time.

Neck gaiter as a face mask

Comfortable and stylish and very popular among people active outdoors, neck gaiters can provide an alternative to conventional face masks to cover your face throughout this pandemic. But don’t take for granted that all neck gaiters all created equal.

Depending on what they’re made of, neck gaiters can, in fact, be quite ineffective against the spread of COVID-19.

In a recent study from North Carolina’s Duke University, researchers found that those gaiters made specifically from a polyester-spandex blend to create fleece are not effective in blocking coronavirus droplets – transmitted when we talk, sing, yawn, cough, or sneeze.

When choosing a neck gaiter, look closely at the materials from which its made. It should not be polyester, but made of cotton and be sure to wear it triple-layered to ensure its effectiveness.

Super comfortable and also a popular option for Bio Bio staff and guides, neck gaiters are very versatile and probably the most comfortable of all the face coverings. Easy on and off, and stay put, if you consider your choice of gaiter wisely, it’s a great face mask for adventure travel.

Disposable face masks

Disposable, or surgical, masks tend to be highly breathable and rather loose-fitting to cover your nose, mouth, and chin. They’re typically effective at preventing transmission of COVID-19.

Varying in design, disposable masks are most often rectangular in shape and flat, with folds or pleats, with a metal band across the nose for optimum adjustability and fit. Typically, disposable masks are of the ear looped variety, but you can also find tied versions.

As a matter of principle, we avoid disposable as much as we can. And while disposable face masks are proven to be highly effective at preventing the spread of potentially harmful respiratory droplets, as they’re mostly made of paper material, they can be less than ideal around water.

They are, however, ideal, if you prefer a fresh, clean mask every day. Just be sure that you have a cloth backup or two in case your disposable masks are exposed to water which can render them ineffective.

Bandana face covering

Often a staple amongst travel necessities, even during non-pandemic times, the bandana is a comfortable alternative – versatile, highly breathable, easily stays put, and is easy to take on and off.

But, as with neck gaiters, choose wisely. Bandanas are probably the least effective choice of face-covering you can make. The Duke University study identified that your traditional square bandana, when worn over the mouth and nose, actually does very little to block respiratory droplets. To protect from dust and dirt while on a hike, for example, a bandana is quite effective, but to protect from illness, they’ve proven much less so.

If you like the appearance of a bandana style, there are plenty of proper face mask options made in that style. Probably a better choice than an actual bandana.

Certainly, bring your bandana along as you’ll find many uses for it on your travels. Just not as an effective face-covering.

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