Whether you’re new to the shooting range or you’re a seasoned pro, protecting your hearing while shooting is vital.
We know that exposing yourself to loud noises can lead to permanent hearing loss. Most gunshots can create a sound of around 150-160 decibels (dB). Repeated exposure to noises of more than 95 dB is harmful. Repeated exposure to noises of more than 120 dB can cause permanent hearing loss immediately. Even if you enjoy shooting or hunting, losing your hearing isn’t worth it.
We’ve found the best types of hearing protection to use when shooting – from ear plugs, to ear muffs and everything in between.
The first, and one of the best, ear protection products comes from Starkey, a very well-known and trusted brand. This electronic headset protects your hearing while still allowing you to communicate with those around you.
These types of hearing protectors actually provide great sound quality and amplification without letting any harmful noise in, or letting in noise that is too loud. So rather than eliminating sounds, the Sordin Supreme Pro X compresses the noises down to a safe level of 82 dB.
With over 600 hours of battery life, you won’t need to change the AAA batteries frequently. It also comes with an AUX input if you need to connect to to external radios, mp3 players or phones.
While these are obviously more expensive than typical earplugs, these electronic earmuffs provide a high quality experiencing when shooting. Not only that, but they have a comfortable fit that lets you wear them for hours.
Just like the Sordin Supreme Pro IV, these shooting earmuffs also cancel out noises that are over 82 dB to protect your hearing. The Honeywell Howard Leight also automatically shuts off when not in use to help conserve your battery life.
The built-in microphone allows you to speak with those nearby without losing the noise cancellation of the earmuffs. It will also amplify low-level noise so you can still experience the world around you. However, these noises will never peak past 82 db. It’s essentially like a hearing aid that amplified necessary sound while being inside of ear defenders.
When needed, you can use the external audio jack and allows you to connect to your own media device and listen to your favourite music. The headband is padded as well so they’re comfortable while still providing a great, secure fit.
These earmuffs are another great choice for outdoor hunting or shooting activities. They come with solid wind resistance features and have a noise reduction rating of 24 dB. By using two high frequency microphones, you’ll experience extremely precise sound directionality.
Like other electronic earmuffs, these utilize hearing enhancement while still protecting your ears and can provide up to 5 times enhancement of ambient sounds. This helps you hear every snapped twig or rustling bushes.
These particular ear muffs are slightly slimmer than most, making them a great choice for smaller users. Like the others, they operate on 2 AAA batteries.
Looking for one of the best NRR available? These earmuffs from ClearArmor boast an incredible NRR of 34 dB. These are fantastic for loud-noise environment, especially at indoor ranges when your hearing protection equipment needs to be highly effective.
The one downside with these is that they’re a bit bulky, so could impede on your shooting, depending on what type of firearm you’re using. However, they can easily fold up for easy storage and are adjustable to get you the best fit.
If you want an earmuff style for ear protection, E Max by Caldwell is a great affordable option.
These lightweight earmuffs come with two microphones and help you understand the direction of the sound you hear – perfect for hunting. These come with a NRR of 23, which is great for this price-point and style. Like the others, E Max also amplifies low-level sound below 85 dB so you can hear range commands and environmental sounds. However, it shuts off noises above 85 dB to protect your hearing.
These also use 2 AAA batteries, although they’re often not included when you buy.
These are light, durable and inexpensive, but also effective. They’re a great option for the causal shooter that needs protection with a few bonuses, but nothing fancy.
We just had to include another Howard Leight pair of earmuffs, these ones being the Impact Sport.
These will also amplify nearby noises to safe levels, but will always protect your hearing. The Impact Sport earmuffs allow you to communicate with those around you, but still block out loud sounds or reduce them to a safe level of 82 dB. There are three stereo microphones in these earmuffs, which greatly improve your ability to know where sound is coming from. These are great when hunting in the woods and you need to hear every twig that breaks.
Like other electronic earmuffs, these also have an AUX input jack that allows you to connect your own music, external radios, etc. They also have a “patented Air Flow Control” technology that ensures your ears won’t get too hot and become uncomfortable. This is necessary when you’re out for long periods of time.
The NRR of these earmuffs is a standard 22 dB. Not as high as some other options, but these earmuffs are a lot more affordable.
These are also easily foldable for storage and have fairly slim ear cups so they don’t get in the way of shooting. Like other earmuffs, they require 2 AAA batteries but also have an automatic shut off option after four hours to help conserve your battery.
Overall, a great inexpensive choice for the occasional shooter.
All of the above earmuff options have been electronic, meaning they require batteries (or charging) but provide additional options like amplified low-level noise. For some of us, this is unnecessary and just an added expense.
Other earmuff options are called “passive” in that they are not electronic. These are simply ear protection, like a classic earmuff.
A good option for passive earmuffs would be the Pro For Sho Shooting Ear Protection. It’s not fancy, it’s not electronic, but it definitely does the job.
These earmuffs come with a NRR of 34 dB. This is extremely high for earmuffs without the added cost of them being electric. These have slim cups and are easily foldable for storage and portability. They’re lightweight and fairly comfortable, even after long use.
Of course, the main disadvantage of passive earmuffs is that you won’t be able to hear much. Isn’t that the point, you ask? Well, if you’re in a group, you won’t be able to hear any conversations without first taking the earmuffs off. If you’re hunting outdoors, you won’t be able to hear any external environmental noises, like branches breaking, rushing water or bird calls.
However, you make up these disadvantages in cost.
These type of inexpensive earmuffs are great for young shooters who perhaps are new to the sport, children or casual shooters. They’re not flashy, but they’re solid and durable. And they will protect your hearing, if nothing else.
So far we’ve dived into some quality electronic earmuffs, but earplugs also have their place on the shooting range.
Ear Pro by Surefire are a great option if you’re looking for something a little less substantial, but also a lot cheaper.
These earplugs have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 24 dB with filter caps inserted. With the caps filter caps inserted, you’ll hear much less lower-level noise like ambient sounds or conversations. If you are in situations where you need to hear more, you can remove the filter caps and hear the lower-level sounds better.
Sounds are able to pass through the earplugs, as long as it’s below 85 dB.
These type of earplugs aren’t what you might be picturing. They aren’t squishy cones that you insert into your ear and expand. These types of earplugs are made with medical-grade polymer that’s hypoallergenic, soft and reusable. Ear Pro is also a lot more hygenic because they’re easy to clean and disinfect between uses. They’re especially helpful at an indoor range, where you may need to take them in and out frequently. You wouldn’t want to have to roll a traditional earplug repeated with dirty hands.
These soft and adjustable earplugs utilize the patented “EarLock” which locks the earplugs in place with seven contact points and provide a snug fit in the ear canals.
The great things about earplugs over earmuffs is that you can easily and comfortably wear a helmet or mask overtop of the earplugs. You won’t need to worry about them falling off, getting in the way or coming loose.
3M is another common name in hearing protecting and these earplugs are a great option.
Their noise reduction rating is a solid 23 dB, and are often used in the military, so you know it’s a solid choice.
These earplugs are water resistant and come with a rechargeable battery, so you don’t have to keep buying batteries. One charge usually gets you about 16 hours of use. It even comes with a portable charging station if you’re going to be out for a long time.
Like the Ear Pro earplugs, these tactical earplugs can also be attached with a cord for additional security. These earplugs are compact, durable and effective. They’re great in environments where there may suddenly be loud noises, like on the shooting range or on a hunting trip. Because they’re so small, they’re compatible with most headwear, goggles or other personal protective equipment.
Finally, we have another great earplug model on the market for shooting. Like the other earplugs, they offer great protection from shooting in both hunting or shooting sport activities. These earplugs also allow for communication between each other and environmental sounds heard around you. They use a patented ceramic sound filters to both protect your hearing and allow certain sounds in. It seems that many new earplug products are moving towards ceramic filters as a new design for earplugs.
These come with a NRR of 29.5 dB, so you know you’re getting great protection. The highest NRR for earplugs is 33.
A great aspect about these earplugs are that they are hypoallergenic and silicone-free. They’re comfortable, easy to use and will fit nicely for most ears. Worried about losing them? New Generation earplugs come with an aluminum tube for you to keep them with you.
Even though they are earplugs, they are reusable. But of course, they will require general maintenance to keep them clean.
These are also great to wear under earmuffs when extra protection is needed, such as at an indoor firing range. However in that case, you do not add the NRR of the earplugs to the NRR of the earmuffs. When combined, both can offer a NRR protection level of 36 at the most.
Nonoise Shoot may be a bit awkward to take out, because they are inserted far into the ear. But once you get the hang of it (and perhaps use some tweezers) it shouldn’t be a problem. A great product all the way from the Netherlands!
If cost is keeping you back for getting proper ear protection, there’s no excuses anymore. Mack’s Shooters Ear Seals are one of the most inexpensive ear protection options on the market. Even still, they offer a NRR of 26 dB, higher than some other more expensive options.
Mack’s is a great well-known name in ear protection, and their range of earplugs for shooting is a fantastic option for someone without much of a budget.
These silicone earplugs use soft seal rings along a stiff core so they do their job properly, but are still comfortable. They have four ridges that provide solid hearing protection, especially when around loud noises like shooting. They also come with a cord that you can use to hang the earplugs around your neck when needed. Otherwise, the cord can be removed.
As with any reusable earplugs, Mack’s Shooters will need to be properly cared for and cleaned regularly so they can remain effective.
Unfortunately, these are not electronic or offer amplification of low-level noise. So while they do a great job of protecting your hearing, you won’t be able to hear other external noises. While this may be annoying for seasoned shooters or hunters, they’re a great option for those new to the sport.
Best ear protection for shooting: earmuffs versus earplugs
There’s a few differences between earmuffs or earplugs when looking for hearing protection around guns. It really depends on what your budget is and what you want from your ear protection.
Best noise reduction ratings
Padded headband for comfort
Electronic earmuffs can amplify low-level noise
AUX jack allows you to connect to music players, phones, etc
Able to still hear conversations and noises around you without having to take them off
Big and bulky
Usually require batteries for electronic versions
Can get in the way of helmets, safety glasses, hats, etc
Can interfere with certain guns if too bulky
Small and effective
Easy to wear under helmets, goggles or other articles of clothing
Less noise reduction ratings
Not as effective as earmuffs
Usually not as many options as electronic earmuffs
Electronic earplugs may run out of charge while shooting and don’t use batteries
So what ear protection should I use for shooting?
The main thing when being around firearms is having appropriate ear protection. This may be electronic earmuffs or earplugs. Whatever it is, it needs to be good quality and have a solid noise reduction rating (NRR). Although all the extra add-ons can be exciting, like amplifying low-level noise, the NRR is the most important aspect.
Buying ear protection can also depend on what type of firearms you’re typically around. Usually, shooters will need protection of about NRR 20 when around small caliber weapons. Normal handguns require NRR of 25 while larger weapons and indoor shooting require a NRR of 28-33.
Because indoor shooting is within an inclosed space, your ear protection will need to be high enough to withstand the sounds. Some shooters recommend wearing earplugs underneath earmuffs in these types of environments.
If you’re going to be in a group while out hunting, using an electronic-type of ear protection might be more beneficial. These allow you to still hear each other by amplifying low-level noise such as conversation, while still protecting your hearing against loud noises. You also won’t need to repeated take them off when speaking to those around you, and put them back on. Simply keep them on and stay protected the whole time.
While some of these ear defenders can be costly, they should last you a long time and protect you against hearing loss. It’s important to follow all of the manufacturers directions and instructions on proper use, maintenance and storage.
HearStoppers is a blog dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of hearing protection. Many people don’t realise how easily it can be to lose your hearing. Keep your hearing alive with proper protection.