In the fall of 2020, after flip-flopping between quarantining with my family in Florida and alone in my small apartment in Brooklyn, as with many others, I was craving open space, nature, more demanding physical activity (aside from my somewhat-sad attempts to work out from home), and adventure. It had been a hell of a year for everyone, and I had gotten through a pretty gnarly breakup at the start of it all — and the aftermath had me rebuilding my confidence and independence, and wanting to do something that made me feel strong and brave.
I decided to take an 8-day hiking trip through Arizona and Utah all by myself since I had never traveled solo, but was always in the company of sisters, friends, or partners. I wanted to enjoy time outdoors, disconnect from social media and the world, and prove to myself that I could hack it alone. I'd be making all the big itinerary decisions (which hikes I would take, what hotels I would book, and would I need to rent gear?) and be navigating directions — not to mention deciphering old-school paper maps, since there would be zero cell reception in the long stretches of desert between the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. It was a lot — and I was stoked. (Related: How to Travel Alone (Safely) Right Now)
The first week of November, I checked the weather at my destinations — it'd be a mix of sweltering heat in Arizona and cold snow in Utah — and stuffed my bags with all the essentials for my excursion: tank tops, fleeces, base layers, leggings, packable puffers, merino wool socks, hiking shoes, hats to protect me from the elements, a daypack with a water reservoir, a first-aid kit, a headlamp, protein bars — you name it, I had it. And while I knew exactly what boots would make the cut for my trip, deciding which face mask I would bring proved a bit more challenging.
How heavily-trafficked the trails were would dictate if I would need to wear my mask for the entirety of a hike (some being 4+ hours long). But to be on the safe side, I decided I'd need one that was comfortable enough to wear all day and that would allow me to breathe without feeling like I was going to pass out since I also needed to take into consideration the change in elevation I'd experience at some destinations. Disposable masks have never fit my face properly (plus, I couldn't count on them to hold up to the elements), and my everyday Caraa Adult Masks (Buy It, $25 for 5, caraasport.com) were certainly cute, but the faux-leather material was not made for strenuous activity or the trail. (Related: How to Find the Best Face Mask for Workouts)
That said, I had been researching breathable face masks online and eyeing Cotopaxi's color-blocked face masks (Buy It, $13, amazon.com) on Instagram. After further consideration, I decided something from the outdoor company was a dependable choice, so I snapped up a few coverings from Cotopaxi for my trip.
The Cotopaxi face masks were a total game-changer on my trip. They made their debut as I took to the Rim Trail at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on my first day. While it was cool and breezy in the morning, by the time I was deep into the hike, the afternoon sun had peaked and 90-something degree temps were beating down on my bare shoulders. Needless to say, it was hot and if I had been wearing any other face mask, I might have felt stifled as I pushed through the eight-mile hike, but the Cotopaxi covering felt lightweight, breathable, and comfortable to the point that I finished much quicker than I thought. Not only did I get tons of compliments on my cheerful pink mask along the way, but it also added some personality to the selfies I sent to friends and family — it wasn't a total eyesore in the photos I'll one day look back on, like the standard blue disposable masks.
After a few days taking in the views at the Grand Canyon, I made my way to Zion National Park in Utah, where I was determined to check off one of my bucket list items: hike The Narrows bottom-up. ICYDK, for this hike, you spend at least 60 percent of your time walking, wading, and even swimming in the Virgin River. I grabbed my rental equipment (neoprene socks, waterproof boots, dry pants, and a wooden walking stick) and my trusty Cotopaxi face mask, and made my way to the trailhead. I spent the next four hours walking through the fast-flowing river — stumbling, sometimes quite unsuccessfully, over slippery rocks — taking in the gorgeous surroundings, while getting in quite a core workout. There were times my mask got splashed with water from the river (okay, okay, I fell in), but it dried super quickly, and never got stuck to my mouth from the moisture.
Another trip highlight was tackling Angel's Landing, a strenuous 5.4 mile hike in which you gain 1,488 feet after what feels like endless switchbacks. Reaching the very top of Angel's Landing is not for the faint of heart, considering you have to ascend by climbing up a narrow trail (mostly large rocks) with nothing but a heavy chain to hold on to (but it's soooo worth it). This trail was the busiest one I encountered on my trip, and I had to wear my Cotopaxi mask the entire 3+ hour trek. I'm not going to lie — I was huffing and puffing up those switchbacks, but I never got annoyed with my face covering or felt like it was hindering my breathing. Rather, my face stayed dry and cool, thanks to the lightweight cotton design, and I felt protected and safe wearing my mask, as I passed large crowds.
What exactly makes my Cotopaxi mask so great? Designed of soft 100 percent woven cotton, Cotopaxi's face masks follow CDC guidelines and feature two layers of fabric to protect users from COVID-19. But what makes these different than other face masks is that they are created to be extra lightweight and breathable, so they can be worn for long periods of time. And if you want additional protection — or if you're now double-masking to satisfy new CDC guidelines — the Cotopaxi masks fit over both disposable and most medical grade masks.
Also nice? If sustainability is important to you, the non-medical grade masks are made by repurposing surplus fabric that otherwise would have ended up as environmental waste within the company's factories. Not to mention, Cotopaxi has donated more than 100,000 masks to refugee populations in the Americas during the course of the pandemic. (Related: How Your Favorite Workout Brands Are Helping the Fitness Industry Survive the Coronavirus Pandemic)
They also come with a wire nose and adjustable earloops for a personalized fit and have accordion pleats that expand to accommodate your unique face shape. I love the bright colors, cute, colorful designs, inspiring mantra ("Do Good"), and that they're reversible — so for $13 you actually get two masks for the price of one. Even better? Unlike other masks, this one is actually machine-washable, and I attest that it won't fall apart after multiple washes.
If you've been on the hunt for a breathable face mask that'll stand up to your outdoor adventures — or that you simply won't want to rip off your face after 10 minutes of of wear — check out my favorite covering from Cotopaxi. While it began as a mask I thought I'd solely use for hikes, it's quickly become my go-to for errands, workouts, and everything in between, and has been my best quarantine purchase to date. (Related: This Face Mask Is So Breathable During Workouts, My BF Keeps Stealing Mine to Go Running)