Being prepared to face down the unexpected is paramount if you want to ensure that you and your family will persevere in the face of hard times.
Disasters both natural and man-made can turn your life upside down, rob you of every possession and even kill you if you aren’t ready to face them, head-on, prepared with the right plans and gear.
Most people are ready to cope with a house fire, take shelter from a tornado and react to the seemingly sudden emergence of civil unrest but precious few people, even the most ardent preppers, are ready to deal with one of the most dangerous, subtle and unpredictable threats in the modern world: the threat posed by hazardous chemicals, biological agents and even radioactive material.
All these persistent hazards can kill you with ease or make you gravely sick if you are not outfitted with the correct protective gear. The only thing that can afford you any degree of defense against these hazards is a properly rated and properly worn hazmat suit.
This is one sector of a prepper’s education that is often sorely lacking, but we are here to correct that with our guide to understanding and selecting hazmat suits. Check your seals and let’s get started!
What Defines a Hazmat Suit?
Before we go any further, it will be useful to define what a hazmat suit is precisely, and just as importantly what it is not.
There is a tremendous amount of highly specialized personal protective equipment, or PPE, that is commercially available to civilians today and attempting to choose a one-size-fits-all solution from this mountain of gear is not a recipe for success when you’re in a high-stakes situation.
At its most basic, a hazmat suit is a garment that is designed to cover the wearer’s body, and prevent contact or ingestion of hazardous materials of various kinds.
Hazardous materials are grouped into various categories that a given suit may or may not protect against with varying degrees of efficacy. More on that in a minute.
A hazmat suit could be a gas- and vapor-tight fully enclosed and sealed coverall with a self-contained breathing apparatus air supply, or something as simple as a zip-up, vinyl coverall with a separate face shield.
Both are hazmat suits, and can offer complete protection so long as they are rated against the hazardous material you are dealing with.
The lesson that you should learn now is that your hazmat suit should be carefully chosen to protect you against the most likely threat while still affording you maximum mobility and ease of use.
In the next section we will examine the various categories of hazardous material, how they can hurt us and how their characteristics influence suit design and selection.
What Will a Hazmat Suit Protect Against?
Your chosen hazmat suit will provide protection against several material threats, typically.
A proper hazmat suit will also furnish protection against continuous exposure for a certain interval of time, with this interval varying depending upon the quality of the suit and the nature of the hazardous material involved.
It is crucial that you understand not all hazmat suits will provide total protection against all threats in all environments, and many hazmat suits are quite specialized for use in industrial settings to protect against incidental contact with a few specific chemical or biological hazards.
High-Temperature / Fire
Hazmat suits that are resistant to open flames and other sources of extreme heat might not be thought of as stereotypical hazmat gear, but they nonetheless fit into the broader category of hazmat PPE.
Suits, coveralls, masks and hoods designed to protect the wearer against extreme temperatures employ layers of insulation sheathed in reflective materials that will keep a person safe, or at least safer, in extremely hot environments for a time.
Note that suits of this nature typically offer no or little protection against other hazards.
There are all kinds of biological agents, microorganisms and toxins both man-made and natural that can severely sicken or even kill a person if they are ingested or inhaled.
Many biohazards are especially challenging to deal with because they typically take time to manifest symptoms in an afflicted person.
Be it a biohazard from a naturally occurring source or a man-made bioweapon, your only defense against these hazards is an appropriately fitted and worn hazmat suit complete with a respirator or SCBA.
The most virulent or dangerous biohazards mandate the use of a fully encapsulated, pressurized hazmat suit.
One of the most pervasive, persistent and likely hazards we will face in our modern era is that posed by dangerous chemicals.
The amount of chemical agents in the world that can cause severe injury or death is countless, and there are a great many that are positively lethal.
It doesn’t matter if these chemicals get into the greater environment or the open air by way of an industrial accident or the terrorist deployment of a legit chemical weapon, you must be ready to act instantly and don both protective apparel and mask if you want to stand any chance of getting through such an exposure unharmed.
Radioactive Material / Substances
One of the most terrifying hazardous material threats is that posed by substances and matter that is either inherently radioactive or has become irradiated by some nuclear event.
Citizens could be exposed to mass amounts of radioactive material by way of a nuclear power plant accident, a nuclear fuel spill, the detonation of a dirty bomb (a weapon designed to scatter irradiated particles far and wide) or even, terror of terrors, the mammoth explosion of a nuclear warhead.
A quality hazmat suit will protect or at least help protect the wearer from the deleterious effects of radiation by preventing the ingestion or inhalation of the material in question, as well as keeping it off the wearers skin.
Now that we know what we are trying to protect ourselves and our loved ones from, we can dig in to all of the many varieties, types and classifications of commercially available hazmat suits.
Varieties of Hazmat Suit
Hazmat suits come in two broad categories: those that are splash protective, and those that are gas and vapor protective.
Of the two, the former is far more common but will not do much to keep you safe from the worst of the worst airborne biological, chemical and radioactive hazards.
The latter variety is far more expensive, intricate and involved but affords the wearer the very best protection in the most dangerous environments.
Gas and Vapor Protective
Gas and vapor protective suits are the giant, fully enclosed “moon suits” that most people think of when they imagine what a hazmat suit looks like.
Generally, suits in this category are what is known as “completely encapsulated”, leaving no gaps outside of accidental tears or holes for airborne hazards or dangerous gases to reach the wearer.
As a rule, they are almost always employed with a tethered air supply or more commonly a portable SCBA and are pressurized to maintain protection for the wearer even if the suit is breached.
Splash protective hazmat suits are the more common variety, and though they provide less protection overall compared to their gas and vapor protective brethren, they may nonetheless be entirely adequate for your needs so long as you do not need total protection from airborne gases or vapors.
Garments in this category are intended to protect the wearer by keeping splashed chemicals or other hazardous material off of the wearer’s body.
These suits might be fully encapsulated or they might not, but as a rule are paired with a worn respirator or externally carried breathing apparatus with the wearer’s head protected by a hood.
It is easy to fall into the way of thinking that a fully encapsulated gas or vapor protective suit is the only option for “covering all your bases”, but consider that in many scenarios a suit of this nature could be overkill so long as an appropriate respirator, gas mask or breathing apparatus is worn with a splash protective suit.
The greater cost, bulk and lowered endurance that is inherent to the gas and vapor type suits means they might not be the best solution to your particular problem.
Good Hazmat Suit Options for Preppers
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Best for Heat and Flame Protection: Baoheng Anti-Thermal Radiation Suit
For users who don’t anticipate exposure to any truly hazardous chemicals or biological agents and instead just want a suit that can help them manage firefighting or exposure to other sources of extreme heat, this anti-thermal radiation suit from Baoheng is just the ticket.
Composed of melt-resistant and flame retardant thread, insulating cotton batting liner and skinned with an aluminum alloy coating to reflect infrared radiation, this is one suit that can hold up to the heat.
You might look like a baked potato, but you won’t feel like one, as the suit is capable of protecting wearers from harm in temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Again, this suit is not sealed or encapsulated in any way, and makes no provision for the wearing of any respirator or self-contained breathing apparatus as sold. If smoke inhalation or other airborne hazards are a significant threat, you’ll have other problems to worry about.
Note that this suit is sold as a set, and includes the coverall, matching gloves and shoe covers and headgear with a panoramic view integrated face shield. Get it here.
Runner-Up for Heat and Flame Protection: Chicago Protective Apparel 602-ACK Protective Coat
Although it does not quite offer the same level of resistance to extreme temperatures that the Baoheng suit does, Chicago Protective Apparel’s 602-ACK aluminized protective coat still affords protection and resistance to extreme heat and associated threats, and even has the ability to safely shed molten droplets of material like iron or aluminum without being compromised.
The secret is the composite construction which utilizes Carbon X and Kevlar blended fabric that is then sheathed in a heavy duty aluminum coating. Lightweight and strong, these coats are available in multiple lengths to suit any environment or requirement.
These coats provide excellent insulation against heat along with a surprising amount of durability for their flexibility, ensuring that wearers retain their agility and dexterity even in a hazardous environment.
Note that, like other heat resistant suits, this coat even when worn as a complete suit with matching hood, gloves and boot covers does nothing to protect the wearer from the infiltration of hazardous airborne chemicals or biological threats, though it can protect somewhat from incidental splash contact with less hazardous materials.
Best Budget Option for Common Threats: DuPont ProShield 60 Coverall
For preppers who need typical protection from hazardous materials that might be incidentally contacted as a result of widespread destruction, DuPont’s ProShield 60 Coverall with included booties is a great option.
This is a Level C suit, and you’ll need to pair it with your own chemically resistant gloves and sturdy boots that will protect your feet, and the booties, from being punctured while you work.
This suit is constructed from a proprietary polypropylene blend with a permanently bonded microporous film coat. Contact with splashed chemicals or biological agents, aerosols and other non-hazardous particles will not affect the user so long as the suit is intact.
Remember, unless you are dealing with some pretty mild stuff you must wear a respirator, gas mask or self-contained breathing apparatus to have full protection, but this is one suit that won’t fight you if it comes down to that because the integrated hood is designed for a generous fit around such equipment.
A full length front zipper, storm flap zipper coverings and snug elastic openings on the arms and legs make this suit easy to secure against a variety of liquid and solid threats.
Runner-Up for Common Threats: 3M Disposable Protective Coverall 4540 Series
Even if you aren’t facing a severe chemical or biological hazard, much of the time it will pay to keep airborne pollutants off of your skin and clothing in a survival situation.
All sorts of disasters can release various nasty chemicals and other substances from confinement that you otherwise wouldn’t come into contact with, and many of them can degrade your health or make you sick.
For a simple level of protection against such common hazards, the 3M Disposable Protective Coverall fits the bill and does so for an excellent price.
Consisting of an SMS laminate material, the coverall features a two-way zipper, anti-static design, three panel hood (or collar with the hoodless variety), elastic closures at the waist and ankles and a gusseted crotch for maximum mobility even when squatting or kneeling.
The wearer is advised to combine the suit with an appropriate respirator, gas mask or SCBA for appropriate protection in contaminated atmospheres.
These suits are available in bulk and all adult sizes ranging from petite to XXXL, so you can be sure to outfit adult members of your group with one of these on the cheap. Unfortunately there are no options for young adult or children sizes.
Best All-Purpose Suit for Families: Mira Safety Haz-Suit
A popular and common choice for durable, long-lasting, all-around protection, Mira Safety’s Haz-Suit is flexible and available in a tremendous variety of sizes, including children’s sizes, and so is a great choice for preppers with families.
This suit is capable of being worn as Level C or B protection depending on how the wearer accessorizes it, and the suit has been proven time and time again as worthy protection against a variety of biological, chemical and radioactive threats.
This suit is made from composite fabric that is puncture resistant and compatible with an extremely large selection of gas masks, SCBA and full- or half- face respirators to serve any purpose.
All varieties of the Haz-Suit provide total barrier protection against more than 100 known and laboratory tested hazards, and will even protect the wearer against deadly chemical weaponry.
Perhaps most important to preppers, this suit is notable for its extreme durability and extremely long shelf life. Kept cool, dry and away from sources of heat (including direct sunlight) the Haz-Suit will maintain its protective classification and capability for 10 years or more in storage. Get it here.
Runner-Up All-Purpose Suit: DuPont TyChem 2000 Chemical Protection
This is another great suit for all purpose Level C or Level B protection and affordable as part of most prepper’s acquisition plans.
DuPont definitely knows a thing or two about chemicals and about fabrics, and here they utilize their excellent Tyvek fabric and a permanently bonded polyethylene coating to produce a well-rounded suit that affords its wearer dependable protection.
This hazmat suit has been exhaustively tested against dozens of chemical threats and provides reliable splash protection against typical residential and industrial hazards, including those found and the petroleum and chemical processing settings. The suit features an integrated hood and booties and all attachment points are sown with multiple interlocking threads for strength and certainty.
The TyChem 2000 suit comes in any color you want so long as it is yellow, as this color has been found more than any other to increase the safety of those wearing the suit by making them highly visible against the greatest possible number of backgrounds. Get it here.
Best Level A Suit for Deadly Hazards: Lakeland Interceptor Plus Level A Protective Suit
When maximum protection is a life-or-death requirement, look no further than Lakeland’s Interceptor Plus Level A Protective Suit.
This is a fully encapsulating gas- and vapor-tight suit that, when worn with SCBA, will keep the wearer completely safe from an astonishing 4,000 different known hazardous agents, including direct splash from liquids or contact with solids, gases, vapors, aerosols and the finest airborne particulates.
The Interceptor Plus Level A suit is constructed from a sandwich polyester fabric that is sheathed on both sides with a nonwoven, permanently bonded film capable of withstanding the most hostile and hazardous of corrosive gases and liquids.
Lakeland has spared no expense in design or construction, and the integrated wide-view visor is permanently joined to the hood of the suit in such a way that there is no chance of liquid or gas penetrating the edge of the visor so long as it is undamaged.
As befitting protection of this level, it is expensive, and users are advised to acquire appropriate training, education and required secondary equipment to make the most of a suit like this.
Runner-Up Level A Suit: DuPont TyChem TK Commander EX
Another fully encapsulating Level A suit, DuPont’s TyChem TK Commander EX is a premier option for working safely in environments contaminated or otherwise exposed to the most hazardous chemical and biological threats.
This is another suit that spares no expense or thought when it comes to design and construction and is considered mandatory equipment for workers and agents going into harm’s way in hot zones.
This suit consists of a proprietary composite fabric permanently bonded between two layers of PVC to afford maximum protection.
Gloves and sock style booties are integrated and consist of rubber over an inner barrier material. All seams are thermally bonded to ensure a total closure that doesn’t leave the tiniest opening for hazards to sneak in through.
All zipper closures are gas tight, feature double storm flaps and the rear entrance is oversized to contain an SCBA tank within the confines of the suit.
Though not quite as impressive as Lakeland’s Interceptor Plus above, the TK Commander EX has been relentlessly lab tested against more than 250 hazardous chemical agents, including military grade chemical weaponry. It is cold comfort to know that this suit can protect you even from such infamous and lethal threats as VX and Sarin gas.
Hazmat Suit Protection Levels
Now we are getting down to the nitty gritty. When shopping for a hazmat suit, it is essential that you understand what level of protection and what other capabilities that suit will provide you before you pull the trigger on a purchase.
Hazmat suits are generally rated and categorized by protection level, with levels ranging from ‘A’, the highest level of protection, to ‘D’ the lowest level of protection.
Only by understanding your specific threat, both as an event and its physical properties, can you make an informed purchasing decision.
A hazmat suit that is categorized Level A indicates that it is possessed of the best protective qualities possible, though what chemical, biological or radiological hazards it is proof against may vary depending on its specific construction.
Suits that rate this level of protection are almost always fully encapsulated with an integrated face covering or shield and capable of carrying a self-contained breathing apparatus. Level A suits protect against vapors, gases, mists and the finest airborne particulates.
These suits must include chemically resistant gloves, integrated booties or socks and be worn with crush proof safety toe boots and shanks outside of the suit. Suits of this nature are complicated and expensive, but your only option for survival against the most dangerous hazards.
Suits in the Level B category are similar to Level A but are not necessarily gas and vapor tight. These suits are also designed to be worn with a self-contained breathing apparatus, but the SCBA may be worn outside the suit.
Wrist and foot openings, if present, are designed to be taped or sealed to prevent the ingress of hazardous material.
Once again, appropriate gloves must be worn and boots must be crush resistant with steel shanks to guarantee the integrity and protection level of the suit.
Level C suits are as you might expect a downgrade of Level B, designed to protect the wearer from direct splashes or contact with hazardous materials. An SCBA is optional, and respiratory protection in the form of a gas mask or respirator can be utilized instead.
Gloves and boots are chemically resistant and specific to the threat substance one is dealing with. It should be noted that this level of protection can only be relied upon if the specific nature of the threat is understood and actions can be taken to minimize danger.
Chemical or biological threats that can cause harm through incidental contact with skin or defeat the protective equipment being worn may compromise the suit’s protection.
Level D protection is interesting and unique among the other classifications in that garments in this category are not really hazmat suits at all.
In fact, Level D protection does not protect the wearer from any particular chemical or biological exposure, and instead denotes typical, hard-use workwear like coveralls, jumpsuits or even bunker gear that may or may not have other special qualities, such as heat resistance.
A firefighter’s call-out gear is one such well known example that is considered Level D, even though it offers no particular protection from direct contact with dangerous agents.
Now that we have learned what’s what when it comes to protection levels it is time to start shopping for the right suit for our purposes. The list above will get you started with several excellent recommendations capable of serving almost any requirement and any budget.
Choosing and Using Your Hazmat Suit
If you’re going to be wearing your hazmat suit for any duty more dangerous than cleaning up some rubble or changing the oil in your car, you must carefully think through your specific requirements and the conditions in which the suit will be worn.
First and most pressing on most people’s list of considerations is going to be cost.
Level C and even many Level B suits are entirely affordable on almost any budget, but stepping up to a proper Level A suit is a jump in cost that most will balk at.
Everyone understandably wants the very best protection available, but it pays to learn what you are talking about and what you’ll be dealing with before committing financially to a suit that might be “overmatched” to protect you.
Also consider the cost of necessary additional equipment such as gloves, footwear, sealing tape and any respirators or SCBA’s as needed.
Also consider your group or family situation. These suits are not one-size-fits-all, and an ill-fitting suit will either not work or prove to be too vulnerable to damage to rely on for protection.
In particular, children and adults of extremely slight stature have a hard time finding suits that will fit them properly, with very few manufacturers making child sized hazmat suits.
Other factors that should be considered regarding fit include compatibility with respirators, gas masks and regulators, and fitting a hood, if included, around a face shield if not built in.
There are secondary challenges attendant in donning and doffing hazmat suits, as well as actually getting things done while wearing them.
First, consider that while a suit might completely protect you from whatever it is that could kill you were you not wearing it, when the time comes to remove the suit and get out of it the dangerous agent will still be present on the exterior of the suit and any exterior equipment.
Have you practiced decontamination protocols with anyone who might be with you? Also consider how you are going to communicate and how long you can expect to move around while wearing the bulky, claustrophobic suit and associated equipment.
With just a little bit of forethought and common sense along with the correct education you can be confident that you will choose a suit that is right for your purposes.
Will You Get One?
A hazmat suit is just about the only thing that can reliably protect a human being from exposure to dangerous chemicals, biohazards and even radioactive material.
But not all of these suits are created equal, and choosing a suit that is properly rated for a specific threat along with wearing it and the required secondary equipment correctly is vital if you want to survive being exposed to all these varied threats endemic to our modern era.
Use the information and recommendations presented above and soon you will have a hazmat suit that you can rely on.