Finding the best face masks for running is still important these days, with the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 on the rise in states across the country—and many gyms already open with few, if any, restrictions. And even if they do require proof of vaccination, as will soon be the case at Equinox and Soulcycle locations as of September, it’s essential to remember that the vaccine, while highly effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19, is not 100% foolproof. (No vaccines are—fun fact.) And vaccinated people can still transmit the virus to others.
So even a year and a half into the pandemic, the ideal place to run outdoors is far, far away from the nearest person. But if you don’t have access to a sprawling road or a secluded trail, you’ll need to wear some kind of face covering to protect yourself—and others—before you lace up and head out the door. The same goes for in the gym, where you have no idea who’s sweating on the elliptical next to you. (Not to mention that when inside, you usually don’t get the same ventilation as the great outdoors, which is why the CDC still recommends masking up in enclosed spaces.)
Since many of us are still maintaining a healthy exercise routine by either running outdoors or hitting the weight rack, we asked all kinds of exercisers what they consider the best face masks for running, lifting, and other ways of breaking a sweat. Some said they found success with “mask alternatives,” like bandanas and neck gaiters, which can be easier to pull up and down than masks with adjustable ear loops can. Others steered clear of thicker fabrics, opting instead for breathable, easy-to-wash materials, like cotton.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but as long as you’re wearing a mask that’s secure and covering your mouth and nose, you can make many styles work for your run. Just note that not all face coverings are created equal. A cotton face mask with ear loops, for example, can have a sealed, secure fit that’s more effective than a folded bandana at stopping droplets from escaping through any gaps. And even though neck gaiters or fleeces are go-to for many runners, researchers at Duke University recently discovered this style was the least effective in stopping respiratory droplets from being carried away with air.
Whatever covering you decide to use, it’s still important to remember other factors that could influence transmission—and if you’re worried about catching the virus while passing someone on the fly (mask up or lowered), Atlanta E.R. doctor Darria Long, M.D., says, “Duration of exposure is key, so unless someone were running behind you, whatever you exhale will be widely dispersed and make it unlikely that someone could be exposed to enough virus to be sick.”
No matter how annoying it can be to run with a face mask on, something is better than nothing. Below, find 15 runner-approved face coverings that’ll equip you for miles to come.