Is Your Fishing Neck Gaiter a Good Face Mask?

On April 3, 2020, the CDC released a statement that recommended “…wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

Like many other fishermen, I immediately thought of the handful of neck gaiters/face masks (what most fishermen call “buffs,” a term that comes from the BUFF® Headwear company that popularized them)  that I wear for sun protection while fishing.

Could I wear a neck gaiter as a face mask to protect myself and others from the coronavirus?

I checked the BUFF® Headwear website and found their statement on COVID-19 posted prominently:

“BUFF® head and neckwear protects against many of nature’s elements. However, while our multifunctional headwear products cover the entire front of the face (nose, mouth, chin, and neck), they are not scientifically proven by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent you from: (1) contracting a virus/disease/illness or (2) passing a virus/disease/illness to someone else. If / When BUFF® products are worn, in response to the April 3, 2020 Center for Disease Control (CDC) statement…we encourage users not to circumvent the proper safety protocols of social distancing, quarantining, etc. suggested by the CDC.”

Obviously, BUFF® Headwear is being very careful not to suggest that their product can prevent disease, illness, or the spread of viruses. They are also recommending that whatever you use to cover your face, you should still practice social distancing. I’ll echo that recommendation. According to the CDC, there is nothing more effective at stopping transmission of the coronavirus than simply avoiding contact with other people.

However, if you must be in a situation where there is the potential that you will be unable to maintain social distance, wearing a cloth face covering is the responsible thing to do. According to the CDC, the use of simple cloth face coverings can slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.

The CDC recommends that cloth face masks “fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction, be able to be laundered and machine dried.” They provide instructions to make both sewn and no-sew DIY face masks from “tightly woven cotton, such as quilting fabric or cotton sheets.” They also have instructions for layering a coffee filter inside a cotton bandana.

According to an article in the New York Times on the best material for a homemade mask,  a simple face covering can reduce the spread of coronavirus by blocking outgoing germs from an infected person, but there is more variation in how much homemade masks might protect the wearer from incoming germs, depending on the fit and material. The balance is in choosing a fabric that is dense enough to capture viral particles, but breathable enough that it can actually be worn. The article quotes Dr. Scott Segal, chairman of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health, who recently studied homemade masks and says a good test of a material is to hold it up to a bright light. “If light passes really easily through the fibers and you can almost see the fibers, it’s not a good fabric. If it’s a denser weave of thicker material and light doesn’t pass through it as much, that’s the material you want to use.”

That brings us back to fishing face masks and neck gaiters designed for sun protection. Most are made from a single layer of lightweight, stretchy polyester and designed for comfort and breathability. Some have small holes or slits around the nose and mouth for better ventilation. I tested several different neck gaiters and face masks from several different manufacturers by holding them up to bright light, and all of them allowed significant light to pass through.

That said, and with the caveat that I have not performed any scientific tests on face masks and am only working with knowledge I’ve found on the internet, any cloth face covering is better than nothing. And the benefits of a neck gaiter or fishing face mask are that it fits snugly, covers the mouth and nose securely, can be washed in a washing machine, and does not require any sewing to construct. To potentially improve its effectiveness, follow the CDC recommendation of adding layers. You could double it over, and/or use it to hold an additional layer or two of tightly-woven cotton over your mouth and nose. I added a layer of tightly-woven cotton cut from a pillowcase inside one of mine, doubling it over to hold the cotton layer in place. It fits snug and feels like it should provide some protection for myself and others.

Again, according to the CDC, wearing any cloth face covering may help to slow the spread of the virus. If you wear a “buff” as a face mask, take care when removing it by putting your (clean) fingers under the neckline and lifting up from the bottom to top over your head. And do not let a cloth mask give you a false sense of protection. Continue to follow the guidelines on social distancing previously set forth by the CDC.

Related Content: Can I go fishing during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis?  

60 on “Is Your Fishing Neck Gaiter a Good Face Mask?

  1. Bill Hackbarth

    Good article, I was just discusing thus with my wife yesterday and figured that you would at least have to double the material,good idea to sandwich a denser fabric inside.

  2. Sue

    Sorry but On the Water shouldn’t be sharing an option or speculating about this at all. You don’t know and there’s nothing in this about cross contamination. You’re great on fishing-stay there

    1. Catherine

      As if the CDC or any other “authority” on the matter have been much help on this to begin with… Thank you “On The Water” for this article! I found it while trying to research whether my cycling “snood” could be used as a makeshift mask. In addition to coffee filters and vacuum bags, I also read that those blue shop towels (disposable) could be used as disposable filters inside of our makeshift masks. Stay safe everyone!

      1. Cookie

        A Hepa vacuum filter cut to fit inside any face covering is supposed to be quite effective.

      2. Karen

        Make sure hepa filter does not contain glass fibers.

    2. James

      Yeah I disagree sue. It was a well written article with good factual information. Are you sure your name isn’t Karen?

    3. Ty

      I agree w/ James. Sue seems like the type of person who pours milk into the bowl first and then cereal. I unsubscribe from Sue. Great article.

    4. scott

      I have found that my jock strap is very effective… and shaped perfectly.

      1. Ann

        Thanks for that info. On the fiberglass
        Funny bout the jockstrap

      2. Not Karen

        Yes, especially if Karen (Sue) is wearing it.

    5. Kim

      Like the CDC can do any better. They knew this virus was here in October and didn’t tell us. So I would trust OTW over CDC. So whatever your job is Sue stay there.

    6. hort

      i love the article and passed it on to friends and family who also love Buffs.

    7. trish t

      That was rude Sue. It is very important that this is shared on a fishing website as that is mostly where fishermen go for their information and it looks like he researched it thoroughly first.

    8. CB

      Shut up Sue. This is a great article and good to think about this type of thing. It does have to do with fishing as the mask being discussed is highly used by fisherman. Fisherman may wear this mask and come off the water thinking they are protected and protecting others by wearing a “buff” and any further insight into this topic is a good conversation to have. The author identified his self as a non expert. Should you be expressing your opinion on the internet? If your answer is yes, then go be a Suzy downer somewhere else and think of more intelligent comments to make!

    9. Don

      Sue, The article states that light passes through which is reason enough to wonder if the virus can pass through the material, as well. This a nice article that reminds us all to do our own research before buying anything.

  3. Fairpoint

    I disagree Sue. Kudos to OTW for addressing a question many of us have. I was literally just putting a gaiter on and wondering about it for this purpose. None of us rely on any one source as an expert. This is a useful article to combine with other info. Be safe and well all.

  4. Tammy Hinrichs

    Glad I came across this article because it was exactly what I was wondering. I find a neck gaiter much more comfortable then mask with strings around my ears. I plan on making some neck gaiters and sewing in mouth guards of non woven material.

  5. Walter

    A few thoughts from non-expert, talented amateur:
    – Based on N95 and surgical masks I have worn for chemical and toxic cleanup work, if it is easy to breathe through it’s not as good for protection. Wearing PPE for extended periods is not comfortable.
    – Every layer you can add can help, even if imperfect. Keep adding till it is not entirely comfortable (sorry!). Gators over other masks, for example.
    – Treat the face coverings like toxic waste while you are wearing it (don’t touch it), and when you take it off. It actually is toxic waste if it did help stop any infection vectors. Sanitize/sterilize (wash) after use and frequently.
    – Good luck to us all!

  6. John Skinner

    Very timely. I’m stuck in Florida during this and wear buffs every fishing trip. Will wear two on my next grocery store trip. Thanks for the article.

  7. Russell Mills

    Had this exact question come in from a listener – fantastic article! Thank you!

    1. Ashley Bunting

      I have so many gaiters I use for snow removal (Iowa winters are cold!). I have found that a coffee filter in a doubled over gaiter works great. Thanks for the article!

    2. Franco

      Any mask is effective than no masks at all (at different rates of course). The idea of a gaiter is good in that it would contain a majority of your droplets generated while speaking, sneezing, etc. It is no N95 mask. The idea behind homemade masks or face coverings is to protect other people from you, not the other way around. Here is a demo (New England Journal of Medicine) of a damp cloth when speaking:

  8. Kathi Shea

    You can’t beat the comfort or convenience of a gaiter. A friend recommended vacuum bags as a filter. I ordered some w 97% filtration and cut out pieces and tuck them into a double fold over nose and mouth. Food for thought as we’re all figuring this out together.

    1. Lori

      Be careful, I heard that some vacuum bags contain micro particles of fiberglass. Suggest to research on the type you’re using. Stay healthy.

  9. Bernard Fox

    The use of any non-N95 face mask is better than nothing because it helps prevent you from touching your face. The virus can transmit from your hand to your eyes, nose, and mouth.

    Thank you OTW for posting this discussion. I wear a buff.

  10. Chuck Rossiter

    The major deficiency with homemade masks is fit. You may have noticed that your sunglasses fog up while wearing a Buff. Same with a bandana. If that happens, your breath is passing through the channel created by your nose and cheeks. Hardest place for me to seal is around my nose and why most commercial fiber masks have a soft metal strip to press the mask to face over the nose. I’m messing around with a variety of homemade designs and will continue to modify them until I solve this issue. Something is better than nothing but maintain physical distance. And wash your hands.

  11. Martina Rogan

    These are great if you wear hearing aids and glasses. There is only so much you can put behind your ears

  12. Bill Thorn

    I double up my Buff and wear it over the N95 to help preserve my remaining masks

  13. Judith

    A running mate said to loop a shoe lace around the back of your neck, then pass the two ends through your buff and then tie them around the back of the head. This way you can fold in extra layers and your ears don’t get sore from any bands. I tried it with just the buff folded in on itself so it becomes 4 layers. This way the material is thick enough that I have to put in extra effort to breathe. It also fills up the space next to my nose. And my glasses don’t mist up. The wider and flatter the shoe lace, the better it sits and the longer you can wear it without discomfort. Obviously I have no idea how much this protects me from virus particles coming in, but it should protect others from my breath. And because it doesn’t become itchy or sore, I don’t feel any need to touch my face. You can just hold the buff by one point when you untie the lace, then put it and the lace straight into the washing machine. Stay safe everyone!

    1. David

      I recently bought a wind proof Buff which is thicker than the normal and I double it over

  14. Ed

    Until the ideal mask is available to the general public without starving HCP’s supply of that item anything is better than nothing. I do agree if your glasses fog up due to leakage that is not a good fit. That is why you see HCP’s all marked up from the mask it must fit tightly.

  15. MJG

    I have been using neck gaiters over my masks and even order ones that have a filter sewn in. I like this for many reason but the most important thing is that it keeps it in place on my face. The sides regular masks are open so this closes around them, and it adds another layer. Plus it looks better than that ugly face mask. This will need to be our new style for a while LOL

  16. Tamara Krebs

    My kiddo is 10 and finding masks that fit right are hard. Kids size too small/adult size too large. So I started researching gaiters! You article is great info! Thank you soooo much!

  17. Jeff

    The main reason for wearing these types of masks is to reduce potential spread of the virus. Numerous studies have been done over the past month showing that while these types of materials only slightly reduce the chance of getting the virus, they certainly help prevent spreading if the wearer has the virus (which you could have right now and not know it.

    The keys to effective usage of a gaiter or buff is:
    1. double layer – Gaiters/buffs are fairly think and porous, so double it over. There is plenty of material to double it and still cover nose and mouth.
    2. insert an additional material between the layers. A strip of high quality cotton with 180 thread count or more. is show to be quite effective. But before you start cutting up your 400 thread count sheets, remember that you have to be able to breath through it – too high a thread count defeats the purpose. Other options are a strip of flannel (basically high quality cotton), a kleenex, or coffee filter.

    I personally use either:
    – a layer single coffee filter – I take a cone filter, cut it open at the seam, and flatten it. Single layer filters well and can breath through
    – a Kleenex Anti-Viral tissue – seems to work well too and the “anti-viral” makes me think it is working better 😉

    But most important – don’t touch your face to remove it until you wash you hands! AND Wash it after wearing it!

    And yes, my glasses fog up sometimes.

    So to Sue and others who are being negative I have to ask – if you can’t get any N95’s, what do you suggest? Read the articles, plenty of testing has been done to show that these types of solutions can be effective if done properly.

  18. anthony mauceri


  19. Mike

    I was Google searching for this topic and found this article. If you aren’t using a sterile, certified N95 mask that is properly sealed (for example, no facial hair blocking the seal) it’s all security theater anyway. In some cases it’s worse, as people wearing the masks get complacent and don’t feel there’s a need to social distance any more. I wear the mask in public so other people feel safe, not because it keeps me safe. I’ll be wearing my buffs and continue to social distance.

    I was looking for articles to justify buying more so I don’t have to wash the two I have so often. Unfortunately it looks like the gougers caught on to this trick as well with prices shooting up 2-3x.

  20. Sky

    Thanks for the research, this is one of the better articles covering Buff and face masks out there, no hype, just facts.

  21. Heather

    Masks (except properly fitted n95s) are mostly to help prevent you from unwittingly spreading coronavirus, not to prevent you from breathing it in. Even a thin buff alone helps slow down the rapid air coming out of you if you cough or sneeze, talk, exercise heavily, etc. For this reason if everyone just wore a single layer buff while taking moderate social distancing measures, the spread of the virus would reduce to almost nothing overnight. I wish everyone would wear one!

  22. Gary Walters

    Forget the virus. Regardless of the UPF 50+ they love to tout on sun gaiters, don’t you realize that when you stretch a gaiter around your face that all the sun blocking qualities are negated?

    1. Michael

      That’s a good point, Gary! I was thinking the same — I gues gaiters are safer against covid 19 than the people think. Iguess protecting agains ultraviolet rays is more challenging than protecting against a virus. I amthink ultraviolet raysare” thinner than the virus. Am Iright?

  23. Dan

    Buffs are all I use. Face coverings are primarily recommended to stop an asymptotic wearer from spreading the virus. In my opinion, lacking scientific data, this works as well as anything else. Like it or not, it’s the new social norm in public places.

  24. Rcky

    I am glad my wife found this and sent it to me. I see people out shopping with nothing on their face, surely even a buff is better than that. Stopping the expulsion of droplets from our breath with a buff must at least mess up the travel path of the droplets enough to send them to the floor sooner. Fold the buff over once at your nose and mouth and it seems just as thick to me as a cheap face mask. I’m really glad to see all of us ordinary non medical types are thinking like this, it’s encouraging,

    1. Michelle

      Yes. Face covering stops droplets from being expelled towards another person. And when those droplets hit the counter, it’s WHY everyone must wash your hands, wash your hands, WASH. YOUR. HANDS.

  25. Cassie

    Im a nurse and thought I’d throw my 2 cents in. Unless it is a tight seal, filtered N95 mask or higher they all test poorly. Surgical masks, cloth masks, cotton masks, homemade, they all have a 2-12% efficiency rating. N95 is nearly 100%. So, wear the buffs all you want, they work the same as the rest of them. Also, Karen you should stay in your lane because you equally have no clue what you’re talking about

  26. Robzilla

    It’s ok to have an opinion and to share that opinion Sue. You as the reader have a responsibility to form your own conclusions. It does seal in your nose and mouth better than most homemade masks that’s a fact. Although it’s thin you can use it as is or as a base layer. I respect your opinion also, and have a different one than you.

  27. Sdyoko

    If having something comfortable like a neck gaiter is the difference between wearing a mask and not wearing a mask, then it is a good compromise. If you are also trying to increase filtration for self protection, recent tests have found that the blue paper towels used in shops are actually more effective than many of the other ad hoc filters being used. Doubling up your favorite gaiter and using a layer of the blue paper towel in between might be worth trying out.

  28. Adam

    Well-sourced and great article Kevin. Sue’s comment could power a trolling motor. While OTW may not be the authority on Coronavirus information, Kevin tackled a tough issue which occurred to all of us (or we wouldn’t have arrived to this article). Thanks for the info!

  29. Bill

    It just came out that the Whitehouse was warned about this in September.

  30. Bill

    Thanks for the excellent information – I was about to purchase a bath as a facemask but will hold off for now.

  31. Susan M. Moon

    Thanks for sharing the tips. I am using this to make others understand.

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