How Safe Is It To Wear A Face Mask While Trekking?

The advent of the highly infectious disease COVID-19 back in 2020 took a heavy toll worldwide. More than 4 million ( and still counting) lost their lives to this virus that left a big toll on the economy, society, and everything that we took for granted.

Thankfully, before the development of effective vaccines against COVID-19 preventive measures such as social distancing, lockdown, and use of face masks became the general norm in combating the virus.

And to date, the latter one continues to be the most effective whereas restrictions like lockdown are being lifted. Although some countries have failed to vaccinate their population, many countries ( especially Europe) have even lifted the mask mandate with countries like Thailand opening for Tourism soon.

And this brings us to the hodophiles and travel enthusiasts whose urge to explore and wind down after such an unpredictable year has never been high.

But, the pandemic is far from over, and still, there are precautions needed to be taken before you head on to activities like trekking, be it within or outside your nation.

So, before we give the obvious answer to whether it is safe to wear a face mask while trekking, let’s look at the myth that gave rise to this question.

Face Mask Won’t Deprive You Of Oxygen

Yes, there are many people who aren’t comfortable wearing masks every time they get out of the house since we aren’t used to it.. Face masks were never a compulsion back then but desperate times bought on drastic measures.

Right when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging worldwide, a bogus conspiracy theory started surfacing in social media. Huge anti-masker protests in the US and Spain demanding the mask mandate and lockdown be removed.

A protestor holding anti-mask sign in a rally outside Pennsylvania Capitol Building in 2020 ( Source: CNN )

Most of these protests arose from a false theory that suggests that wearing face masks reduces oxygen supply and exposes the human body to dangerous levels of carbon dioxide.

On the surface, this claim sounds reasonable since we are well aware of the basic fact that humans inhale fresh oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide for survival. After all, face masks cover the main necessary part of our respiratory organs (nose and mouth). 

For someone with little knowledge, it is easy to assume that masks obstruct the flow of carbon dioxide due to their cotton or fabric material resulting in harming our body.

But here’s the catch, wearing a face mask won’t cause carbon dioxide intoxication, and actually, these masks are made to be breathable. 

Also, if masks really caused carbon dioxide intoxication, doctors and nurses who work wearing them every day would have a high mortality rate, wouldn’t they?

In fact, several institutions such as McMaster University even conducted a study to debunk the face mask myth. As expected, there was no proof that face masks cause low oxygen levels.

The proof that face masks are effective ( Source: YouTube )

Just take a look at the video above and you’ll find that portable pulse oximeters show no reduced blood oxygen level with and without a mask.

To put it simply, the molecules of carbon dioxide and oxygen are far smaller than the particles a face mask is able to block. 

Now that we know that face masks pose no risk whatsoever in our respiratory health, it begs the question: how safe and effective are face masks while we are in outdoor activities like trekking?

Face Masks Are Safe While Trekking But..

Wearing a mask is really important and safe especially if you are engaging in a social activity like trekking. Being on a journey by foot means you are definitely going to come across a person one way or another. There are other travelers, passersby, local men you’ll meet throughout the trek route who might pose a health risk to you or vice versa.

Some simple steps to follow while trekking

Till 2019, this scenario wouldn’t be an issue at all but as we are well aware, times have changed. Still,  not all people are vaccinated, and to make the matter worse some refuse to.

So, even if you and your colleagues are vaccinated or tested negative, precautions have to be taken. And this is where face masks come since it helps to prevent our body from being exposed to harmful particles in the air. As per WHO’s official statement,

Make wearing a mask a normal part of being around other people. The appropriate use, storage and cleaning or disposal of masks are essential to make them as effective as possible. The use of a mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against COVID-19.

However, as evident from the statement at the end, wearing a mask alone won’t suffice to keep you safe while trekking. Even vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective in preventing covid19 transmission. As per a report from Wall Street Journal, several factors come into play on the effectiveness of vaccines.

First, vaccines aren’t 100% effective. Not everyone who is inoculated will respond in the same way. Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective but some people will still be vulnerable to the virus even after receiving their shots.

Basically, coronavirus is transmitted from other forms as well aside from air particles. So, this brings us to other safety measures to take while trekking.

Preventive Measures While Trekking

Another way COVID-19 gets transmitted is if a person touches an infected surface and then touches the face, also known as fomite transmission. And for someone traveling, it’s really impossible to just solely soak the view instead of touching the things they come across.

So, it’s important to distance yourself from both unusual items or any sort of physical contact with people around you.

CDC recommends to maintain distance and wear masks as per their guide on recreational facilities ( Source: CDC.GOV )

Another important part is keeping your hand sanitized and clean. Never forget to carry a sanitizer, soap and keep your hands clean at all times.

In short, ‘ keep your distance, wash your hands and wear masks’.

 Interestingly, renowned scientist and TV personality Bill Nye recommends people hang the mask around the neck at all times and wear it especially while coming across other travelers when trekking.

Above all, try to follow the guidelines recommended by the authorities of the route you are trekking at since it can differ from place to place.

As always, safety should be the utmost priority when going on a trek. So, we strongly recommend you consult a medical professional before venturing on an activity like trekking. The best consultation can’t simply be limited to tips and tricks we come across on the internet, so consult an expert first.

In conclusion, trekkers should wear masks not just for their own safety but for the overall safety of everyone around them.

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Atif Abidi
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