The Best Ear Protection for Shooting
In this article we will be listing our top hearing protection products for shooting. Assuming you aren't entirely new to the world of firearms, you likely already know about the importance of hearing protection. Hearing protection when shooting is always required, as even small caliber firearms are capable of reaching 140 decibels (dB) or more when fired, which can destroy the follicles in the inner ear and thus cause permanent hearing damage. We live in a time where, thanks to modern medical technology, remarkable treatments are available to help those who are visually impaired or whose other senses are failing them. However, even today, no revolutionary treatment for hearing damage has become available.
So be careful! The hearing you have now is likely as good as it’s ever going to be, and if you are a shooter, your choice of hearing protection is extremely important.
We have broken down the best picks for hearing protection into 3 different categories, click the following links to jump to a section of our best ear protection guide: standard earmuffs (passive), electronic earmuffs, and in-ear earplugs. While some of the more high-end products listed here certainly have their advantages, all of the products listed below will effectively protect your ears from damage—even at an affordable price.
What to Look for in Shooting Ear Protection
While there are literally thousands of options for ear protection on the market these days, there are nevertheless some overarching factors to consider when making your choice:
- Noise Reduction Rating (NRR)
- Special Features
Noise Reduction Rating or NRR refers to the overall decibel level reduced when worn. As mentioned above, most firearms get up to 140 dB or more when fired. When choosing earplugs, you want to find something that is going to reduce noise between 23-33 dB. This shouldn’t be hard to find, as even cheap budget earplugs typically can reduce noise by 27dB.
As the below chart from Dakota Silencer shows, nearly all unsuppressed pistols and rifles can reach noise levels that can damage your ears. For maximum hearing protection, we'd recommend a combination of foam earplugs and earmuffs.
It might come as a surprise to learn that earplugs are generally more effective at reducing overall noise than high-end earmuffs. A solid pair of earplugs can reduce noise up to 33db, whereas earmuffs' NRR typically ranges somewhere between 22 dB up to 30 dB.
However, there is a tradeoff in this case. Electronic earmuffs typically offer the added advantage for the wearer to choose the overall level of noise reduction, while at the same time allowing lower-volume ambient sounds to remain audible. Whereas with earplugs, you are pretty much stuck with the maximum amount of noise reduction at all times.
Comfort is of course another key factor to consider. For anyone with a big head and ears like me who has had to borrow a crappy pair of earmuffs at the range, you likely know how obnoxious it is to use hearing protection that doesn't fit comfortably on your head during a long shooting session. Other comfort factors to consider here are the materials with which the ear protection is made, as they may potentially contain allergens, which can cause irritation or breakouts.
Look not only means finding ear protection with an aesthetic that appeals to you, but also something that has a design that is practical. For example, if hunting is something you're into, it would be wise not to choose ear protection that will draw the attention of the game you’re after. We’re talking bright and luminous color earmuffs and earplugs that do a poor job blending into your surroundings. For target shooters, this is not as important, but hunters should bear this in mind (pun intended).
In today’s market there are some pretty nifty ear protection products with special features available that you should be aware of. As mentioned above, electronic earmuffs typically have the ability to adjust the level of overall noise reduction—reducing dangerous levels of noise produced from firearms while at the same time allowing inoffensive sounds like the human voice to still be heard. Electronic earmuffs also come with rechargeable battery variations and sometimes even auxiliary cable connections for your phone or MP3 player. Pretty cool.
Meanwhile, higher quality earplugs can be waterproof or water-resistant for those shooting under extreme conditions.
Finally, Price is something that needs be considered. Something worth noting in this regard is that just because a set of earplugs or earmuffs is more expensive, this doesn’t always translate to better performance. This is particularly true when you account for the special features that might bump up a product’s price, without adding anything extra in terms of overall performance. With this in mind, don’t be surprised if you find a set of earmuffs with a better NRR costing only a fraction of the price of a top shelf product with a lower NRR.
With these considerations addressed, let’s now get into our list beginning with passive earmuffs.
A great bang for your buck product, the Mpow earmuffs have an NRR of 36 dB. As mentioned above, that’s more than even most earplugs are capable of. These claims are backed up by lab testing (ANSI S3.19 & CE EN352-1) in both the US and Europe. And at under 20 dollars, it's a pretty remarkable deal all things considered.
These earmuffs have a slightly sleeker look when compared to the Peltor Optime (below) and only weigh 8 ounces. As with all of the products listed, the headband is adjustable, which helps with comfort. The interior is double layered with noise dampening foam and features a high sealing double up and double-shell. The Mpows are foldable, fitting easily into a small carrying bag that comes with them. Again a great bargain buy.
3M Peltor Optime
Costing right around $20 and with a NRR of 30 dB, you can’t go wrong with the simple but effective Peltor Optime earmuffs by 3M.
There are no bells and whistles on these earmuffs, but they are comfortable, durable, and will get the job done.
The frame is is made of plastic with comfortable foam material padding on the inside, and they weigh just under 13 ounces.
You have no doubt seen these earmuffs around if you have spent time at the range, as they are very common and have been popular for quite a long time.
Fnova 34dB Ear Muffs
Another bargain set of passive ear protection, the Fnova 34dB "Highest NRR Safety Ear Muffs" reduce noise by 34 dB. In addition to being slightly cheaper than our other picks, the Fnova’s also come with a 60 day money back guarantee.
These earmuffs come with similar features to the Mpow and 3M, but with the added option for 7 different colors. The highly flexible headband can be adjusted even to fit children, which is a nice bonus. Plus, at 5.6 ounces, these are the lightest earmuffs on our list.
Howard Leight by Honeywell Impact Sport
Moving on to electronic earmuffs, the Howard Leight by Honeywell Impact Sport features built-in directional mircrophones, allowing you to hear human voices and ambient sounds in between firing rounds. Noise reduction begins when sounds reach 82 dB, and the overall NRR rating is 22 dB.
The Impact Sport also comes with an AUX input and 3.5mm cord for your cellphone or MP3 player for listening to music. It uses two AAA batteries, providing around 350 hours of battery life. It has an automatic shut-off feature after 4 hours.
These earmuffs are quite comfortable and, unlike the passive earmuffs listed above, they have a low-profile design and are much less boxy. They come in 7 different colors, with the price of the earmuffs varying based on color choice—ranging from $35 to $60.
Howard Leight is a trusted brand in the space, and this is a great entry level product for electronic earmuffs. As a final note, these earmuffs only weigh 16 ounces.
Howard Leight Impact Pro
Sticking with the Howard Leights, let’s turn our attention to the Honeywell Impact Pro. These electronic earmuffs have similar features to the Impact Sport, including an AUX insert and cord, along with a 350-hour battery life using AAA batteries powering the dual built-in directional microphones.
The added benefit of the Impact Pros is that they reduce noise by 30 dB. This is at the cost of a bulkier build, but the overall weight of the Impact Pros are about the same as the Impact Sport. At around the same price, choosing between the Impact Pro and Impact Sport largely comes down to personal preference.
MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X-Premium Edition
We’re going to round out our electronic earmuffs by taking a look at an elite level product: the MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X. These military grade earmuffs are a favorite among competitive shooters and are considered one of the top electronic earmuffs on the market today. This comes at a price, however, as the premium edition headphones cost more than 4 times as much as the other options we've covered.
In addition to top level sound reduction beginning at 82 dB, the Supreme Pro X’s also provides balanced 4x amplification of quiet ambient sounds, providing a an accurate and balanced sound profile of the surrounding environment. These earmuffs use two AAA batteries, providing over 600 hours of battery life.
The 22dB NRR doesn’t make the Pro X’s the best in terms of basic noise reduction, though this generally should be sufficient.
Where these electronic earmuffs really shine is their level of comfort. They feature gel padding ear covers and mesh lining covering the foam padding on the interior. Without question the most comfortable earmuffs on our list.
Disposable Foam Earplugs
As mentioned in the introduction, earplugs are generally the best option for overall noise reduction, and even simple disposable foam earplugs are capable of providing sufficient protection at an affordable price. In addition to being cheap, disposable earplugs are compact, lightweight, and don’t run the risk of snagging in tight spaces like bulky earmuffs.
There are countless variations of these types of ear plugs on the market, choosing the right option for you likely will come down to personal preference, as the comfort and feel does vary based on brand.
Even when using earmuffs it can be wise to have a box of cheap earplugs handy in the event you want to double down and provide added protection by wearing both. Foam earplugs' NRR is usually around 30 dB. The earplugs we've listed here are made by AMAZKER and have an NRR of 32 dB.
Surefire EP7 Sonic Defenders
The Surefire EP7s are a nice upgrade for those wanting to purchase longer term earplugs, while still keeping within a budget. Depending on the size of your ears, these earplugs cost at most $20 and feature a 24 dB NRR.
The EP7s come with the added advantage of having a filtration system that allows you to hear normal sound while cutting down loud blasts.
The inserts are softly padded with memory foam and don’t pose much risk for accidental damage to your ear canals when wearing.
Users report being able to comfortably wear these low profile earplugs all day with no discomfort, with typical life expectancy before replacement averaging about 6 months. These earplugs work great on their own, but also compliment earmuffs nicely. They are designed to be compatible with earmuff radio comm systems as well. Pretty cool.
Decibullz Custom Molded Ear Plugs
Finally, we have the Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs. These earplugs are reasonably priced under $30 and have an impressive 31 dB NRR. As the name suggests these earplugs are designed to be molded to perfectly fit the shape of your ear. Simply put them in boiling water, wait, take them out, allow them to cool, and finally mold them to your ear. You can even repeat this process if you want to refit them.
Decibullz come in 5 different colors and come with three sets of triple flange tips in sizes small, medium, and large, plus a set of medium foam tips, and a carrying pouch.
I use Decibullz myself both for shooting and when going to see live concerts, and find them extremely comfortable and effective.
This wraps up our list. As stated in the introduction, ear protection is extremely important and finding the right set of earmuffs and/or earplugs can go a long way in protecting your hearing health, while also providing a more pleasant overall experience when working with firearms. Hopefully our list points you in the right direction in finding the best ear protection for you, but keep in mind there are thousands of other options beyond what we have listed here.
Thanks for reading and we will see you next time. Until then have fun and stay safe!
Now, find the best pair of shooting glasses to go along ears.