Rising COVID numbers, ever-emerging variants, and classrooms remaining open have made it more important than ever for teachers to find face masks they can trust. Unfortunately, with so many options on the market, it can be hard to tell the real deal from big fat phonies. Plus, there’s an important factor that a lot of us forget about when adding masks to our cart: how well they fit.
A mask can have the highest filtration available, but it won’t do much good if it’s loose enough to let particles slip through. Of course, it’s impossible to tell how well they fit before buying them. Instead of playing a costly game of Goldilocks with various brands, Austin-based manufacturer Armbrust American is releasing a budget-friendly sample pack. This way, you can try several sizes and types of masks to find the safest and most comfortable fit.
The Armbrust Sampler Pack, which you can pre-order for $29.95, comes with a variety of American-made masks, including N95 and KN95 respirators, surgical masks, and kids masks. The styles range from standard 3-ply surgical to duckbill shapes, based on what they have in stock. Although the latter might sound like something your students will immediately make fun of you for, they are some of the more breathable options.
We sent the pack to members of our teacher team to see how helpful it is to try multiple masks and learn which ones worked out the best in real classroom settings. Keep reading for their thoughts and photos of how the different masks fit.
Keri Brown, Kindergarten Teacher
Winner: “The Armbrust Surgical was comfortable enough to wear all day at school with very little fogging of my glasses—even when I tried hard to fog them up! I wore it from 6:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. without taking it off.”
Runner up: “The Armbrust KN95 seal was good at preventing glasses from fogging. The cone design is also smart.”
Other notes: “I have big hair, so headband masks were really hard to get over my head and sit nicely. I couldn’t keep the Gerson N95 mask on longer than a few minutes, and it was hard to get it off. However, my boyfriend wore the Shawmut N95 cup all day while cutting grass and loved it.”
Stephanie Sanders, Second Grade Teacher
Winner: “The mask that I liked best was the Armbrust Surgical mask. It was by far the most comfortable and breathable. The ear loops do not push on your ears, and the nosepiece is light. This is exactly what I expected to be my number one pick, as it is similar to the style I have adopted for daily use.”
Runner up: “The second place mask was the Armbrust KN95. It was uncomfortable around the ears at first, but giving them a little stretch helped. My glasses did fog a bit more than expected and were a little in the way, but it was breathable with the mask shape a bit raised over the nose and mouth.”
Other notes: “Most of the headband style masks were unbearable. They were impossible to properly wear with my glasses, way too much pressure from the nose piece on some, and some I could not even keep on for more than a minute. I have a lot of hair, so the headbands were not great, plus some of the headband straps were way too tight and gave me a headache!”
Allyson Caudill, Third Grade Teacher
Winner: “My overall personal favorite was the Armbrust KN95 mask in size regular. It was a perfect fit for my face. I was surprised this one ended up being my go-to because it has ear loops, and I’ve had trouble in the past with ear pain from masks that hang on my ears. These didn’t bother me at all throughout the day.”
Runner up: “The Armbrust Surgical Mask felt like it covered my face more thoroughly than other similar products, which made me feel more protected.”
Other notes: “To be honest, I had a hard time getting past the aesthetics of the duckbill masks. They have an odd look, but the Gerson N95 duckbill was my favorite of the duckbill types. One positive is that they sit much further away from the face than the surgical-type, allowing for easy breathing.”
Yonina Lermer, Fourth Grade Teacher
Winner: “My favorite mask was the Indiana Face Mask N95 Respirator Fold. It fit my face well, was VERY comfortable, very easy to breathe in. I wore it for an entire school day, but I think I would have enjoyed it better with just one strap around the head.”
Runner up: “I also really liked the Armbrust KN95 Respirator mask mainly because it fit well and didn’t have the strap around the head. I wore it an entire school day, and while it did get a bit hot, I found it very comfortable to wear.”
Other notes: “My daughter, who is 7 years old, tried on the Armbrust Kids KN95 mask and didn’t like the way it fit her—she felt it was tight (probably because she is used to wearing more of a surgical mask which isn’t as fitted). She liked the small size surgical mask and wore hers for an entire school day. It fit her face perfectly (she likes to double the strings on her masks).”
Sean Hogen, Upper Grade English and Language Arts Teacher
Winner: “Most of them were too small for my head, which wasn’t surprising; I usually need to order larger hats than most people. The Armbrust KN95 ended up fitting me perfectly. It was breathable, felt very secure once I made sure I had it on correctly and was able to stay on during entire classes of moving around and talking.”
Runner up: “I plan on using the Armbrust Surgical Mask inside a cloth mask sometimes, to give myself a break from the tighter strings of the KN95. Students who tried the surgical masks said that breathing was easier than the standard-issue masks we have at school and that they were much softer and more comfortable.”
Other notes: “I really wanted the duckbill ones to fit because they did breathe very well, but they were too tight. All the headband masks were also difficult to move around for a quick sip of coffee or water.”
Erika Brunnmeier, Upper Grade Math Teacher
Winner: “I was surprised by the one that I liked the best—I assumed it would be the surgical mask. Instead, it was the PHG N95 Fold. I didn’t necessarily love the way it looked, but it wasn’t nearly as duck-like as other options. I have a pretty small face, and it fit perfectly.”
Runner up: “The small surgical mask fit my face better than the regular size. The Armbrust KN95 was also comfy but stuck out a bit too far.”
Other notes: “All in all, I don’t think people are inclined to wear the duckbill designs, even if it happens to be the safest.”