The Guide to The Best Ear Protection for Shooting

Last updated: August 10th 2016

What is the best ear protection for shooting? We are all exposed to ever increasing noise in our everyday lives. Traffic, television, radio and even household appliance all contribute to a lot of noise that our ears are taking in. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that approximately 15% of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 (or 26 million Americans) have hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to noise at work or in leisure activities. So if noise from everyday life is having such an impact on people’s hearing, what impact will shooting a gun have on our hearing?

Hearing Protection Comparison Table

Below we compare the best ear protection for shooting options according to NRR score, price and rating. To see any of the options below on Amazon.com, simply click on the device’s image to take you to that device’s product page.

Hearing ProtectionTypeNRRPriceRating
Electronic Earmuffs22$$$5 stars
Electronic Earmuffs25$$5 stars
Sonic Earplugs19$$4 stars
Earplugs25$4 stars
Passive Earmuffs25$$5 stars
Electronic Earmuffs30$$$$5 stars
Passive Earmuffs21$$5 stars
Passive Earmuffs23$$4 stars
Passive Earmuffs31$$$5 stars
Electronic Earmuffs19$$$4 stars

How Shooting Can Impair Your Hearing

Sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). To give you an idea of the noise levels of everyday noise, a normal conversation is measured at approximately 60 decibels and a lawnmower at approximately 90 decibels. However a shot from a 9mm pistol is approximately 160 decibels! That is even louder than a jet taking off, which is measured at approximately 140 decibels. This shows that gunshots are not just loud, but that they are very loud.

So what is the big deal? We can handle it, right? Actually our ears cannot handle such loud noise repeatedly or for extended periods of time. Research has shown that when a person is repeatedly exposed to noise levels of 85 decibels or more, a person can start suffering what is known as noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), while exposed to noise levels of 140 decibels or more can cause immediate nerve damage. So that means if we fire a shot from a gun, which is generally above the 140 decibel level, without any protection then we will inflict immediate damage to our hearing.

Below we show a graph of some common noises and how the noise from gunshots compare. As you can see, gunshots are generally way over the 140 decibel threshold.

Gun Noise Levels

Many folks have the opinion that they will take the chance and fire the occasional shot without worrying about what the effects might be. But an accurate analogy we found is boxing. Boxers take punches to their heads over the course of their careers, and usually they recover from these punches shortly after their fights. However in the long run they can suffer permanent brain damage from all the punches that accumulated over the years. The same can be said of being exposed to the noise of gunshots. You may not notice any damage in the short term, but in the long term you will feel the effects. And by then, it is probably too late to really do anything about it.

Symptoms of Hearing Loss

Many of us probably have already been affected by exposure to excessive loud noises. But how do you know if you your hearing has been affected? There are are some simple symptoms that you can be on the look out for. They include:

  • Hearing muffled sounds.
  • Having difficulty distinguishing words when someone is talking to you.
  • Having difficulty determining from which direction a sound is coming.
  • A ringing or buzzing noise in your ears.

If you think you have some serious damage caused to your hearing, we really recommend that you go see your doctor to make sure the extent of the damage and how to treat it.

Available Hearing Protection Options

There are several options to choose from when it comes to selecting the best ear protection for shooting. Each option has their own specific benefits and disadvantages and may be more suitable for certain preferences over others.

Earplugs

best hearing protection for shooting - earplugsMost shooters simply use ear plugs when shooting. They’re incredibly cheap, disposable, easy to put in and take out, fit easily in a pocket or bag, and they’re commonly seen as the most comfortable option. Earplugs also don’t interfere with prescription and safety glasses. However, some folks don’t think they are the best ear protection for shooting as they can easily fall out, may not fit properly to begin with and allow more noise to come through. However as technology has progressed, earplugs are no longer just pieces of foam that you plug into your ear. High-end earplugs are made from modern materials like medical-grade polymer that is soft, durable, and long-lasting. If you are not a regular or serious shooter, the earplugs will be the best hearing protection for shooting as they are inexpensive and easy to use. Hunters will likely prefer earplugs to earmuffs as they are more convenient to wear out on the hunting grounds, while still providing some protection.

Passive Ear Muffs

best hearing protection for shooting - passive earmuffsPassive ear muffs provide shooters with comfortable ear protection that provide excellent comfort as they have soft padding that fits over the ear. They also provide better protection from higher decibel levels than ear plugs do, but are of course generally more expensive than earplugs. If you are a regular shooter that wants better protection than what earplugs can provide, but do not necessarily want to invest in expensive electronic earmuffs, then passive earmuffs will the best hearing protection for shooting.

Electronic Ear Muffs

best hearing protection for shooting - electronic earmuffsThis is the most expensive option by far with prices ranging from $60 to over $300, and they are viewed by many as the best hearing protection for shooting. One of the biggest benefits of these ear muffs is that the technology in the earmuffs regulate sound. This allows you to able to hear regularly while you use them. You can hear warnings, conversation and more very clearly, When a noise above a certain decibel level is detected, the earmuffs will automatically reduce the noise. They typically provide the best protection from loud noises, have volume adjustment, and some can be used as regular headphones with an audio jack. In the event that the batteries run dry, they can also function as regular passive ear muffs.

The one main drawback to electronic ear muffs is the high price. However, those who shoot on a very regular basis may find the investment well worth the money.

Suppressors

best hearing protection for shooting - SuppressorOn average, suppressors reduce the noise of a gunshot by 20 to 35 decibels (dB). The Hearing Protection Act (HPA) was introduced to remove suppressors from the purview of the National Firearms Act (If you want to read more about what the HPA entails, you can have a look at ASA article about it here). The HPA will make it easier for hunters and sportsmen to protect their hearing in the 41 states where private suppressor ownership is currently legal, and the 37 states where hunting with a suppressor is legal.

The great benefit of using a suppressor is that not only does it protect your hearing, but it also reduces the noise that the folks around you are being exposed to when you fire your gun. So if you have some neighbours, they will probably tell you that a suppressor is the best hearing protection for shooting :)

What Do We Think Is The Best Ear Protection For Shooting?

Overall, the best ear protection for shooting is to combine the options available to you by wearing earplugs and earmuffs together. By doing this, you actually combine the protection of the earplugs and earmuffs. As an example, if your earplugs reduces noise by 26 decibels and your earmuffs reduces noise by 34 decibels, together they will reduce noise by approximately 41 decibels. To decrease the noise that you are exposed to even further, you can fit a suppressor to your gun for the maximum hearing protection.

Tips for Selecting the Best Ear Protection For Shooting

Now that you know of the benefits and drawbacks of each type of ear protection, you should follow these key factors when selecting the best ear protection for shooting in terms of your own practices and preferences.

Noise Reduction Rating

The most important aspect to look for when searching for the best ear protection for shooting is a good noise reduction rating or NRR. The NRR is the official rating system for ear protection with ratings ranging from 0 to 33 decibels. The rating system may seem a little confusing, but it’s actually quite simple. The NRR rating in decibels is the amount of decibels that is canceled out by the item. You merely subtract the rating from the decibel level of the firearm. For example, a .45 Colt produces around 155 decibels of noise. If you had ear protection with a rating of 30, you would actually only be exposed to 125 decibels of sound. Prolonged exposure to these levels may still cause some damage, but one exposure to the noise levels without ear protection can immediately cause permanent damage. The higher the rating, the better.

Price

Is the best hearing protection for shooting also the most expensive option? If you don’t shoot very regularly, ear plugs can be a great option as they’re quite cheap. You can get a pack of ear plugs for a couple of Dollars. However if you shoot more regularly, you’d find more benefit in putting up the extra money for some passive ear muffs. These run around $20 to $30, and they can last for many years if you take care of them well.

Very serious shooters may benefit most from investing in electronic ear muffs as they provide many benefits that would be great for sport shooters and avid hunters. These can be a great option to anyone if you can afford it, but they’d be most useful for people who shoot on a very regular basis.

Comfort

Ear protection is typically worn for fairly long periods of time. The best ear protection for shooting should be very comfortable to ensure that they won’t become irritating or even painful over time. Choose very soft and moldable ear plugs, ensure that ear muffs have sufficient padding, and choose ear muffs that fit well and can be adjusted easily.

Color

Choosing a color for your ear protection is more than just personal preference. Camouflage can be beneficial in keeping hunters hidden from prey while bright colors can allow other shooters to spot you from far away, creating a safer shooting environment. Finding a color that creates additional benefits to your hunting or shooting is vital in finding the best ear protection for shooting.

The Best Ear Protection For Shooting Options

Keeping the NRR score, comfort and overall effectiveness in mind, we look at the best ear protection options in terms of earplugs, passive earmuffs and electronic earmuffs.

Earplugs

We briefly eluded to the fact that earplugs are not just foamy things you put into your ear anymore. The technology has evolved so that earplugs are not only comfortable, but effective too. Let’s look at some of the best earplugs for shooting options.

Hearos Ear Plugs – Xtreme Protection Series

If you want the traditional foam earplugs, these earplugs from Hearos are a good option. The earplugs are listed to have a NRR of 33 dB, which is pretty much the highest NRR that you will get from earplugs. You get a packet of 14 pairs, so you can keep it in your kit bag when you go hunting or to the range so you will always have some ear protection on hand.

These earplugs are slightly larger than other earplugs though to ensure a tighter fit in your ear. So don’t be too worried if they feel a bit big in your ear when you put them in for the first time.

Howard Leight by Honeywell R-01538 Quiet Band Hearing Protector with Reusable Pods

These earplugs are ideal for shooters who need to be able to put their earplugs in and take then out on a regular basis. With its patented band design, you can take the earplugs out and let them hang around your neck when you don’t need them. If you don’t want to use earmuffs when you are out hunting, but still want some form of ear protection then these earplugs are possibly the best ear protection for shooting for you. With a NRR of 25 dB they are not as effective as some of the other options out there, but offers a unique convenience that regular earplugs do not.

The foam pods offer good comfort and are also replaceable. Just make sure you wear them the correct way, as some users have complained about their effectiveness. However it is likely these users wore the earplugs the wrong way.

Passive Earmuffs

Passive earmuffs are generally more expensive than earplugs, but usually offers more protection.

3M Peltor X-Series Over-the-Head Earmuffs

These earmuffs are for serious ear protection. The cups used are deeper and heavier than some other earmuffs’ cups, but this results in a NRR of 31 dB! Unfortunately the deep cups do mean that some folks might struggle to use them when trying to shoot with certain rifles (but this will typically depend on which rifle you are shooting with, the stock of the rifle, etc.).

Something that we really like about these earmuffs is the twin headband design, which helps reduce heat build-up. So if you are looking for a passive earmuff that provides maximum protection and that you can wear for extended periods of time, then these earmuffs are perhaps the best ear protection for shooting for you.

Howard Leight Leightning L0F Super Slimline Earmuff

If you do not like the bulkiness of the 3M Peltor earmuffs, then these super slim earmuffs from Howard Leight might just be the best ear protection for shooting for you. They weigh considerably less than the 3M Peltor earmuffs and have an overall slim design. Of course the cost of that is that they have a lower NRR than the 3M Peltor, with an NRR of 23 dB.

Similar to the 3M Peltor earmuffs, these earmuffs from Howard Leight offer excellent comfort so you can wear them for extended periods of time.

Electronic Earmuffs

If you are a serious shooter and want the best ear protection for shooting out there, then you need to invest in a solid pair of electronic earmuffs. They definitely cost more than earplugs and passive earmuffs, but offer so much more in the form of the noise management technology that comes with it.

Howard Leight Impact Sport OD Electric Earmuff

If you are a hunter that need to be able to hear your game, or a shooter at the range that need to be able to hear the range safety officer, and are serious about protecting your hearing then these are the earmuffs that will probably be the best ear protection for shooting for you.

Why do we say that? It has a NRR of 22 dB and provides 4 x amplification, which means it protects you against noises above 82 dB while amplifying lower noise levels (such as the sounds from game or the voice of a person trying to talk to you). Combine this with its sleek  design, these earmuffs are perfect to use with rifle stocks when out hunting.

It also comes with an auxiliary jack so that you can plug it into a MP3 player if you want to. If we were buying electronic earmuffs, these are what we would buy.

What Do You Think – What Is The Best Ear Protection for Shooting?

There will be different opinions on what the best ear protection for shooting is, however from the research conducted by leading medical institutions it is clear that when you go shooting, even for just a little bit, you need to consider what the best hearing protection for you will be. If you have some thoughts on the topics, we would love to hear it! Please leave a comment in the comments section on what you think the best ear protection for shooting is.

One Response

  1. Oliver Briggs April 7, 2016

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