R-PUR facemask

Hands-on review: R-Pur Nano Light facemask

Image credit: R-PUR

A high-end mask originally designed to help runners and cyclists cope with pollution is a sophisticated solution to tackling Covid-19.

We have facemask fatigue. Internet adverts are constantly offering us masks, sometimes very ill-fitting masks, often in cute fabrics. Mask-wearing is compulsory in some places because of Covid-19, but which one to choose? Will any face covering do or should we ‘follow the science’ as much as possible?

R-Pur launched in 2016, designing and making its masks in France. It was around before Covid-19 and before PPE became a household term. Its highly breathable masks – aimed at runners, cyclists and motorcyclists – are designed to remove the dangerous particulates from traffic fumes as well as filter out microbes.

The Nano Light is its lighter-weight mask for pedestrians, runners and cyclists. The Nano One offers the same filtration, but more protection against the elements, for motorcyclists. Five layers of filtration remove particles and microbes, including viruses, as small as 50 nanometres, while active carbon cuts odours and traffic fumes.

An app tracks how much pollution you’ve encountered, alerting you when it’s time to change the filter (€29 every 5-15 weeks). It also boasts memory foam for comfort and a hot-air extraction valve so glasses won’t steam up, even if you’re running or cycling.

Boxed R-PUR facemask

Image credit: R-PUR

We tested the Nano Light Black Ceramic mask. Setup is part learning how to fit the mask correctly, part downloading the companion app. The app was disappointingly simplistic. It wants to know how many minutes on each day of the week you anticipate using the mask for each activity: walking, running, cycling, motorcycling and on a mobility scooter.

You then scan the QR code that comes with the mask, so it knows you have a brand new filter. The app uses Big Data to display the AQI (Air Quality Index) for your location plus figures for PM10 (dust), NO2 (a pollutant) and PM2.5 (microparticles). This is the data available, even though the mask filters as small as PM0.05 (nanoparticles).

The data is robust, but the mask isn’t as smart as you might like it to be. The app doesn’t actually know how much you’ve worn it and how much it’s been in your bag. It can’t tell whether you’ve worn it amid traffic fumes or in the park alongside the road. It relies on your usage prediction to know when the filter needs replacing. There were also a few little bits of the app where they hadn’t translated the French to English.

Fitting is the other side of setup. Forget the way fabric facemasks look because this has an inner memory-foam seal that moulds around your mouth and nose. The fabric and straps are just to keep that in the right place. From the outside it might look gappy, but inside the fit is really superb.

It takes a few attempts to get the fit right, moulding it to your face. Then the upper strap goes high, as if to a topknot. The lower strap just goes on loosely. If you wear glasses, these go on after the mask and, with a bit of practice, fit fine.

Glasses-wearers will rejoice at the hot-air extraction valve, which claims to let your exhalation out 60 times faster than a conventional valve. Read: your glasses won’t steam up if you’re wearing this mask correctly - and it really works. We cycled full-pelt and it just wouldn’t steam up. Breathing fast whilst waiting at traffic lights (yes, we wait at traffic lights) they didn’t steam up either, which is more of a challenge as there’s no oncoming breeze.

Cyclist wearing R-PUR facemask

Image credit: R-PUR

However, the look of the R-Pur mask is extreme (think gas mask or fetish club) and the feel is much more claustrophobic than a simple fabric mask. Which makes sense because it’s filtering much, much more. Fabric masks are really just there to stop you sneezing on people; any filtration is a bonus. It was reminiscent of scuba diving: it’s easy to feel like your breath is restricted, even though it isn’t. It’s fine, it just takes a bit of getting used to.

We felt there were two reasons you might want to use the R-Pur. The first is the purpose it was designed for, back in 2016. It’s a superb way to filter out pollutants for city cycle commuters and others who have no choice but to live with terrible air quality. Our collective approach to this invisible killer is changing; we must take measures to improve air quality, but also protect our health in the face of it.

The second is, of course, Covid-19. If your commute involves a train or tube journey where the notion of distancing feels like a sick joke, a slightly claustrophobic mask sounds like a wise choice. It offers protection and peace of mind.

From €129 r-pur.com  


Respro Techno

No app and less of a precise fit than the R-Pur, but this affordable neoprene mask filters out pollutants and is popular with cyclists and motorcyclists alike.

£32.99 respro.com 

Buff Filter Mask

The classic Buff sits around your neck like a snood: pull it up when you need it. Buff now also offers a fabric face mask, with a three-layer filter that meets surgical mask standards. It comes with five spare filters and refills are very affordable at £13.97 for 30.

£23.68 buff.com 

Respro StreetSmart

This lightweight mask meets European FFP3 standards and fits well, making it a good choice if you’re walking or commuting, but it’s not designed for the fast breathing of running or cycling.

£64.95 for five respro.com 

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