Neck gaiters are meant to protect your face and neck from the elements, and they’re designed to be breathable, which is just one reason runners and hikers swear by them. Their main selling point may also be their biggest drawback, though, in the coronavirus era: The more breathable a face covering is, the more likely it is to be made from loosely woven fabrics — which are less effective at containing droplets and therefore at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
That said, gaiters aren’t “worse than no mask at all,” despite the bad press they got following a recent Duke University study. (The study, contrary to headlines, was not even designed to evaluate face coverings but rather to establish criteria for doing so.) The TL;DR is that we still don’t know if gaiters are inherently any more or less effective than masks.
“Anything that is two-ply, like a simple cotton mask with two layers, is effective at filtering out the majority of viral particles,” says Dr. Monica Gandhi, the associate division chief of the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at UCSF/ San Francisco General Hospital. “There is no way to know at this moment how well every material works. Anytime you put on a cloth face covering, the country is doing better. Anything that protects you is good, but we don’t know the exact level of protection with every type of fabric.”
That means that if you must wear a gaiter instead of a cloth face mask, you should look for the same qualities that you would look for in a mask: According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it should be made of densely woven, ideally non-stretchy cotton fabric, have two or more layers of fabric, and have as little gapping as possible (gaiters at least have the latter going for them). To look at the tightness of the weave, hold the fabric up to the light; if you can see the individual fabric fibers, it’s not a dense weave.
We parsed through the many gaiters on the market to find the ones that most closely meet the criteria: Most are made of cotton, and where cotton wasn’t an option, we recommend either two-ply gaiters, or layering two gaiters together for better protection.
This gaiter, which comes in several colors, is 90 percent cotton and 10 percent spandex. Which means you get the protection that tightly woven cotton provides, coupled with the stretch that makes it comfortable to wear.
Most of us are stuck at home. So pretend you're actually going somewhere by wearing this gaiter, which features a National Park map and is made from a soft, stretchy microfiber fabric that wicks away moisture.
This two-layer gaiter is a great choice because you get double the protection. The front of the gaiter is made from cotton, and there's an inside breathable mesh layer. The back of the neck gaiter is made of polyester breathable material to keep your neck from getting sweaty.
This gaiter is a polyester/spandex blend, which isn't ideal, so we'd recommend doubling up and wearing one on top of the other to minimize the spread of droplets.
If you prefer a gaiter with a bit more personality, this one features graffiti art on the back. Like the basic white version, this one is cotton in the front, with an inside breathable mesh layer for extra protection.
A simple, functional gaiter, this one is made from cotton. You'll probably want to layer these, as well.
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