We tried a R1,500 face mask for a hike up Table Mountain – and found it still has one big flaw
- Masks have gotten a lot easier to wear over the course of the pandemic, with smarter ergonomically-friendly designs.
- One of them is the AirPop Active Mask that does an impressive job, but for one flaw.
- We still haven't found the perfect glasses-friendly mask.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Just over a year ago, South African's were emerging from their homes after weeks of hard Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, and things were a little different.
While some people in countries such as Japan and China have been wearing masks for years, for many South Africans it was an entirely new experience. It felt like every second day there was a new mask on the market which claimed that it was comfortable and safe to wear.
From disposable masks to the more fashion-forward ones you can buy online, there is a variety of options across prices, and that can work for rigorous activities like hiking and running.
Fortunately, masks in general have also got a lot smarter with much more ergonomically smart designs over the course of the pandemic.
One new label is the China-based AirPop, which approached Business Insider South Africa with a promise of a high-end mask designed for day-to-day life and with exercise in mind.
Even among high-end masks, it is pricey, currently selling for R1,499 on Takealot. So, we wanted to know if it was worth the bang for its buck.
Here’s what we found when we tried out a R1,500 next-generation face mask.
What’s in the box?
The AirPop Active Mask comes with an AirPop Active face mask as well as four individually packed replacement filters. The filters can be attached easily inside the mask before activities.
The inner filters are replaceable and supposed to last for approximately 40 hours of use, but with care most people will only need one every few weeks.
AirPop claims its masks are certified by accredited labs to filter more than 99% of particles and droplets two-ways – inside and outside. They have a 4-layer filter barrier that blocks air-based droplets, bacteria, pollen, dust particles over 0.3 microns.*
By comparison, SA government cloth mask making guidelines suggest masks should act as a barrier to droplets generally upwards of 5 microns in size.
A replacement filter 4 pack box costs R349 on Takealot.
*Note AirPop masks do not have an N95 certification. They have a KN95 certification. The N95 is approved for use in a medical setting. Another difference: N95 is the US standard, while KN95s are a Chinese standard for these close-fitting filtration devices. Both are rated to filter out 95 percent of particles.
We took the Active Mask to some interesting places
From hikes up Table Mountain to humid Cape Town beaches, to the shops.
In terms of comfort, it was outstanding
The mask fits snugly with a seal grip. Typically, tight-fitting masks give a smothered feeling, but the AirPop mask has a gigantic bulbous 3D air dome which creates a canopy of air that keeps the mask off the face for breathability.
Because of this it was much easier to breath through when using it for sport activities than other masks I've worn.
The 3D silicon seal is a winner
What really makes the design stand out is the soft silicon mould lining called a TPE seal. Found on the inner filters the silicon fits the bridge of your nose. Because it is soft and rubbery it is more likely to grip better preventing the mask from sliding once positioned.
It took me some time to get used to it, but once I'd figured out how to position the mask accurately on my nose it was especially good at reducing annoying nose rashes that come because of wearing fibrous cloth masks that rub against your skin.
The running and spit build-up test
One thing I look for in sports masks is to that the materials have good moisture-wicking.
This means the material used needs to quickly soak up moisture and dry rapidly so that your sweat, and in this case spit and condensate moisture from exhaled air, doesn't over-saturate the fabric, which then makes it challenging to breathe through.
After running with the AirPop mask you'll find there was some build-up of droplets. This is a good sign because it means your mask is working and preventing your droplets from infecting those around you.
On longer missions, like a three-hour-hike up Table Mountain the mask performed extremely well. I was surprised by how easy it was to wear and the filter dried out relatively fast post-workout.
Aesthetically, it looked bulky in profile. But in my book the comfort outweighed that
While the comfort is great. It does err on the bulky side, especially when you are looking at the mask from the side. But for the sake of comfort it's worth it.
It failed the anti-fog test, like most masks
The bulbous design and rubber seals are supposed to help you not fog up your glasses. My experience was a disappointment. I have yet to find a mask that can perform this duty beyond my expectations, so while it may not be completely effective at preventing fogging it certainly does a better job than other masks on the market.
Overall impressions 8/10
You'll be hard pressed to beat the quality of this mask when it comes to comfort. It is worth the price.
It is a serious contender that matches the demands of an active lifestyle – including ones that go well into the three-to-four-hour range.
But if you’re looking for a mask that can beat the curse of foggy glasses, this isn't it.
Still, AirPop is a brand you'll want to keep an eye on
Their next generation of masks, claim to be one of the "world’s first smart air wearables".
Their AirPop Active+ Halo mask, which has yet to arrive in South Africa, but is sold in the United Kingdom and US, has a built-in sensor to capture data on your breathing and the air pollution around you. The data is linked to an app so you can monitor anything from breathing patterns to air quality.
Whether it is a gimmick or the next level of internet-of-things tool remains to be seen. But if it does work imagine how it could help quantify data on South Africa's poor air quality, especially in coal areas like Mpumalanga and Gauteng.
The brand is certainly shaking up the consumer mask making industry.
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