If you have fired a gun before, you know that they can be very loud. Even a small rimfire rifle can damage your hearing permanently if you are shooting without some form of hearing protection. Not only is the loud report of a gunshot uncomfortable, but it can also cause irreversible damage to your hearing. I can speak from experience when I tell you that the proper hearing protection is paramount any time you are going to be firing a gun. Fortunately, high-quality ear protection can be found to suit any and every need, at a price point ranging from just a few cents, to several hundred dollars. The different types of hearing protection are almost infinite, but I will attempt to discuss some of the most popular kinds for shooting, hunting, and even general use.
There are many options to consider when purchasing your hearing protection, such as price, NRR rating, material, in-ear vs. over-ear, and passive vs. active noise canceling. Wading through the plethora of options for quality hearing protection may seem like a daunting task, but if you want to find out more about the best hearing protection on the market in 2021, then you came to the right place!
Short On Time? Here Is The Bullet List
- Custom Molded Earplugs: Decibullz Custom Molded Percussive Filters
- Silicone Earplugs: Foxnovo 10-pack Soft Silicone Ear Plugs
- Wax Earplugs: Ohropax Reusable Wax/Cotton Ear Plugs
- Noise Canceling Headphones: Cowin E-7 Active Noise Canceling Headphones
- Earplugs with Headband: Howard Leight Banded Earplugs
- Earplugs With Cord: Howard Leight Corded Disposable Earplugs
- Passive Noise Canceling Earplugs: Surefire Sonic Defenders
- Foam Earplugs for Shooting: 3M 1100 Foam Earplugs
- Electronic Earplugs for Shooting: Gunsportpro Electronic Earplugs
- Earmuffs for Shooting: Winchester Low Pro Passive Folding Earmuff
- Earmuffs with Radio/Music (General Use): 3M WorkTunes Wireless Hearing Protector
- Electronic Earmuffs for Shooting: Howard Leight Impact Sport Electronic Earmuffs
**Below are our more detailed reviews. Click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.
Related Buyers Guides:
How Loud is a Gunshot?
The amount of noise generated by a gunshot, or anything else for that matter, is measured in decibels, or dB for short. For reference, a typical face to face conversation with somebody is going to be somewhere in the range of 60 dB. Blenders and garbage disposals both typically operate in the 80 dB range, and Lawnmowers operate in the 100 dB range. The decibels generated by a firearm are going to vary widely and depends on caliber, barrel length, and muzzle devices. For example, a rifle with a 16-inch barrel and a muzzle break is going to be much louder than the same rifle with a 22-inch barrel and no brake. Generally speaking, however, the average gunshot is going to range anywhere from 140 to 170 decibels.
Hearing Damage (Shooting Without Earplugs)
Permanent hearing damage can occur at any level above 85 dB. According to the national institute for occupational safety and health (NIOSH), the permissible exposure limit decreases by half for every 3 dB increase over 85. For example, you can be in an 85 dB environment for up to 8 hours without suffering from permanent hearing loss. If you bump the noise level up to 88 dB, however, you can only go for 4 hours. By the time you get to 140 dB, the permissible exposure time is down to a measly 1/10th of a second. At this point, the hearing loss is both instant and permanent.
The hearing damage you can receive from shooting is not limited to hearing loss either. Tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears, is a very common side effect of shooting without hearing protection. Almost everybody has experienced their ears ringing after hearing a loud noise, but with tinnitus, that ringing becomes permanent. This is undesirable, uncomfortable, and just plain downright annoying. This is enough reason in and of itself to be diligent about wearing your hearing protection.
What is the NRR Rating?
The NRR, or noise reduction rating, is a scale developed by ANSI and OSHA in order to measure the effectiveness of different types of hearing protection. From the NRR, you are able to calculate the actual amount of decibels you are exposed to when wearing the hearing protection. To do this, simply take the NRR number, subtract 7, and divide by 2. For example, say you are shooting a gun with a 150 dB report, and you are wearing earplugs with an NRR of 30. You will first take 30-7, which is 23. Divide that number by 2, and you get 11 ½. This is a number of decibels that the gunshot will be reduced by. This would reduce the number of decibels you experience to 138 ½. While this may not seem like much, it is enough to protect your hearing from permanent damage.
If you are a high volume shooter or often shoot at indoor ranges, you may want to consider doubling up on hearing protection. If you elect to use both earplugs and earmuffs at the same time, you do not add both NRR numbers together. In this case, you will simply add 5 to the highest NRR number. For example, if you were to add a pair of earmuffs with an NRR of 20 on top of the earplugs mentioned in the previous example, you would get a combined NRR of 35.
What Are Earplugs Made Of?
Most commonly, earplugs are made of 3 different materials, each with different uses and levels of effectiveness. Most common are disposable foam earplugs. These are most often designed to be used once and thrown away, as they are usually ruined by washing them. Foam earplugs work by first being rolled into a compressed state and inserted into the ear canal, where they expand and block noise. This type of hearing protection is cheap, effective, and easy to use.
Another common type of earplug is the silicone or plastic plugs. Since these are made from a waterproof material, they can be easily washed and reused. They are also much more durable and are often used by swimmers to keep water out of their ears. But beware, these often have a slightly reduced NRR. The final most common type of earplug is the wax plug. These are disposable plugs typically made from a combination of wax and cotton. They are quite comfortable due to the fact that the wax softens and molds to your ear, but they usually have a much lower NRR. Because of this, they are popular with people who like to have earplugs in while they sleep.
Custom Molded Earplugs
Custom molded earplugs are a good option to consider if you are having trouble finding a regular off-the-shelf earplug that fit you properly, or you simply want a better pair of earplugs. Custom molded earplugs are more comfortable, more durable, and typically have a slightly higher NRR than most other kinds of earplugs. When considering custom earplugs, there are 2 main options to look at, depending on your budget. Professionally made custom molded earplugs are made of high-quality materials and are very durable and well made. These are good to consider if you have money to burn and don’t mind waiting a few weeks to get your earplugs. Professionally made earplugs are not very common because they are significantly more expensive than other options, and are not much more effective. However, a good pair of professionally made earplugs can last for years with the proper care.
The other option for custom molded earplugs are the do-it-yourself kits. These are significantly cheaper than the professionally made versions and are ready for use in minutes instead of weeks. These are the most popular form of custom earplugs, but they are made with slightly lower quality materials. Despite this, they can still last for a long time if they are taken care of properly, and are also much cheaper to replace when they get lost or worn out.
Proper Earplug Use
You can spend all the money you want on the best pair of earplugs available, but they won’t do you any good unless you wear them properly. In order to get the best noise reduction out of a pair of foam earplugs, first, make sure your hands are clean. Dirt and grime can transfer easily from your hands to your earplugs, and an earplug that is coated with powder and lead residue is the last thing you want to be sticking in your ears. After your hands are good and clean, roll the earplug between your fingers in order to compress it into a tight roll that can fit into your ear canal. Now, with your free hand, reach around your head and gently tug rearward and slightly up on your ear. This motion will better align your ear canal and allow you to easily insert the plug straight into your ear. After inserting the plug, be sure and hold in place for several seconds as it expands to fill the ear canal and block out harmful noise. Once this is done, simply repeat the process with the other ear.
Inserting reusable silicone earplugs is very similar to inserting disposable foam ones. You will pull up and rearward on the ear in the same motion as before. Since silicone or rubber earplugs are not able to be compressed, you will have to more forcefully push them into your ear in a rocking motion. You may have to try several different sizes before you find a good pair that fits correctly. If you decide to use wax earplugs, the first thing you will need to do is soften the wax by holding it in your fist for up to a minute. Most of the time, your body heat will be enough to sufficiently soften the wax. Next, you will insert the plug into your ear (not in the ear canal) until it seals off the entrance to the canal. Wax plugs are not designed to be inserted as deep in the canal as foam or silicone plugs.
Proper Earmuff Use
Earmuffs are much easier to use properly than earplugs. Simply place the earmuffs over the outsides of your ears to block out unwanted sound. You will want to make sure that the earmuffs make a good seal around the entire circumference of your ear. This may be problematic when shooting due to the frames of your safety glasses interfering with seal. If you are having trouble getting your earmuffs to seal around the frame of your safety glasses, you may want to read my review on shooting glasses, where I recommend several products that will be much more compatible with earmuffs.
Earplugs vs Earmuffs
There are many factors that will influence whether you decide to wear earplugs or earmuffs when you are shooting. More often than not, you will end up using both. Doubling up and wearing both earplugs and earmuffs is a good option for people with sensitive hearing, but most people will only wear one at a time. I utilize both earmuffs and earplugs, depending on both the type and location of my shooting. When I am shooting my rifle off the bench at the range, I most often go with earplugs. These allow me to wear a more comfortable pair of shooting glasses, and I do not have to worry about the earmuffs interfering with my cheek weld to the stock. Additionally, the earplugs provide a little better protection when I am shooting large caliber rifles with muzzle breaks.
When I am shooting indoors, I usually like to double up on my hearing protection. Instead of the sound dispersing out across the field like it does outdoors, it bounces off the walls and ceiling and is perceived to be much louder when shooting indoors. Because of this, often times just a pair of earplugs or earmuffs is not enough. I don’t double up on hearing protection very often, but I almost always do when shooting at the indoor range.
When I am shooting competition, handguns, or just general plinking at the range, I like to stick with my electronic earmuffs. This is my favorite form of hearing protection, as it electronically filters the sound and amplifies normal speech while shutting out the gunshots. These allow me to carry on a normal conversation with those I am shooting with, as well as clearly hear range commands, starting timers and hits in competition. While they don’t provide the best protection that there is to offer, they are certainly adequate in protecting my hearing.
There is one other type of hearing protection that is not quite an earplug but not quite an earmuff. Sound bands are an excellent option to consider for your hearing protection needs, especially if the thought of sticking an earplug into your ear canal bothers you. A sound band consists of two foam ends connected by a piece of semi-rigid plastic. They work by sealing against the outside of the ear canal with the pressure supplied by the plastic band. As such, they do not require compression to fit inside of your ear, and they have a much lower profile than full-size earmuffs.
I regularly used sound bands when I worked in a loud facility, as they are easy to take on and off as needed. I also liked to keep a pair in my vehicle. They hang very nicely from the rearview mirror, and they were always accessible whenever I needed them. It was very easy to quickly throw them on whenever I needed to discharge my firearm. Sound bands are a great option to consider if you are needing a form of hearing protection that comes on and off easily, but you don’t want to deal with bulky earmuffs. Sound bands are not for everybody, however. Due to the pressure supplied by the plastic band, some people have found that they get headaches when they wear them. Additionally, they can be rather uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. This type of hearing protection is best suited for the occasional wearer, and not somebody who wants something that they can wear all day long.
How Electronic Hearing Protection Works
Electronic hearing protection uses microphones, amplifiers, and speakers in order to control the volume that you are exposed to. Most models have an adjustable volume that, when turned up, actually amplifies softer sounds. This is ideal for hunters or sportsmen who want some sort of hearing protection but also want to be able to hear the softer sounds of a deer approaching or a bird flying by. Once the earmuffs detect that sound has reached a dangerous level, however, it stops amplifying the sound and leaves you with the same protection you would get from an identical pair of regular earmuffs.
There are multiple different ways that this can be accomplished, but the general rule of thumb is, the more you pay for your electronic hearing protection, the higher quality the components will be. Some of the upper-end models have multiple microphones and speakers, which will allow the wearer to still retain their sense of which direction the sound is coming from. If you want to go a step further and really spend some money, you can purchase a pair of electronic earplugs. These are quite expensive, but allow you to retain most of the benefits of earplugs while still keeping the electronic protection that allows you to clearly hear normal conversation. This option is great for serious competition shooters who absolutely need the best that there is to offer.
Benefits of Electronic Protection
The benefits of electronic hearing protection are excellent. It is perfect for sportsmen who require protection from the sounds of their gunshots but still need to hear the game they pursue. In many cases, you are able to turn up the sensitivity of your electronic hearing protection to the point where it significantly enhances your hearing, allowing you to hear approaching game much more clearly. It allows competition shooters to be safe and compliant with safety restrictions while still being able to clearly hear information during the course of fire. And it allows shooters at the range to be able to hear range commands and carry on a normal conversation while still protecting them from hearing damage.
Most importantly, you are much more likely to wear hearing protection that doesn’t leave you numb and unable to hear other important noises. For far too many years I neglected hearing protection in favor of being able to carry on a conversation when I was shooting, but that changed when I got my first pair of electronic earmuffs. They truly are the best of both worlds, and, in my opinion, are one of the best things to happen to shooting sports. If you often find yourself not wanting to wear the proper hearing protection, I would highly suggest you get a pair of electronic earmuffs.
What to Look for When Purchasing Hearing Protection
There are many options to consider when choosing your hearing protection. Budget, type of shooting, volume of shooting, personal comfort, and level of protection are all things to consider. Fortunately, most forms of hearing protection are relatively cheap, so you don’t have to limit yourself to just one set. I have found that the best thing to do is to try multiple different kinds, and find what works best for you. For many people, budget is the biggest limiting factor. If this is your case, then there are still plenty of options for you. The common foam earplug is very cheap and can be found in many different variations and brands. Also, sound bands and some of the cheaper basic earmuffs can be had for only a few dollars. Unfortunately, if you are hoping to get quality electronic hearing protection you are going to have to spend a bit more.
Good quality electronic hearing protection, while affordable, is not the most cost-effective option. However, if budget isn’t the biggest factor in your decision, then this is the way to go. You will spend a bit more money in the short term, but the long-term benefits are well worth it. Another thing to consider is your type of shooting. Indoor vs outdoor, and rifle vs pistol are going to make some of the biggest differences. If you are primarily a hunter or somebody who shoots outdoors, then the NRR may not be the most important thing to look for. Furthermore, if you primarily shoot pistols and have no concern about obtaining a good cheek weld, then you will have no problem with earmuffs.
Indoor shooters, on the other hand, will want the best NRR that they can find, and in many cases may want to utilize two different forms of hearing protection. If you are primarily a rifle shooter then you will need to be much pickier if you decide to go with earmuffs. Make sure you get something with a low profile and preferably try them on first to determine if they will interfere with your cheek weld.
Volume of shooting is another important factor to consider. If you are burning through a thousand rounds in a month, then it is going to be more cost-effective for you to get a much higher quality pair of hearing protection. Getting a brand-new pair of disposable earplugs every day could get expensive after a while. If you are an occasional shooter or hunter that only goes through a box or 2 of ammo every year, then getting the best quality may not be your top priority. Spending a lot of money on a good pair of reusable hearing protection may not be the greatest idea when you only use them twice a year.
Best Ear Protection for Shooting on the Market in 2021
Best Custom Molded Earplugs:
If you are looking for an excellent pair of custom molded earplugs and aren’t afraid to spend a bit of money, then the Decubullz earplugs are a good option to consider. As far as general earplugs go they are quite expensive, but the tradeoff is that you get a good quality pair of earplugs with passive filtering specifically designed for shooting. While these will most certainly not replace your electronic hearing protection, the passive filtering is better than nothing at all and doesn’t require the use of batteries. These earplugs are easy to mold to the shape of your ear yourself and do not interfere with your cheek weld if you are shooting a rifle. If the thought of electronic hearing protection doesn’t appeal to you, and you must have custom molded earplugs, then these are a good option to consider.
- Easily forms to the shape of your ear
- No battery required
- Passive filtering
While not designed specifically for shooting, these Foxnovo silicone earplugs still work well at the range. With an NRR of 25, these do not provide the best protection available, but they do come with their own unique set of advantages. For starters, these plugs come in a 10 pack, so they are easy to keep laying around wherever you need them. They are also attached together with a cord. Not only does this keep the set of plugs together, but it also gives you the option of hanging them or tying them on to something to keep them secured and in a safe place. I have found that tying them in a simple overhand knot on the rearview mirror of your vehicle keeps them secured and handy if you ever find yourself needing them. Since these plugs are made from silicone, there is no harm in washing them, which means they are easy to clean and reuse. Being waterproof also means that they are good for swimmers as well since they will prevent water from getting into your ears. If you are looking for a pair of earplugs that can serve equally well at the range and the swimming pool, or you simply want a few extra pairs to keep laying around, then these may just fit the bill.
- Connected with a cord
- Relatively low NRR
- Can be difficult to fit correctly
When it comes to the shooting range, wax earplugs should probably be at the bottom of your list of options. However, if you are looking for a good pair of semi-reusable earplugs to fit many different purposes, or you primarily shoot small caliber, quiet firearms, then these Ohropax plugs should shoot right up to the top. With an NRR of only 23, these are among the least effective out of all the options listed here. I certainly would not trust them to protect my hearing when I am standing next to .338 Lapua Magnum rifle with a muzzle break, but they will be more than adequate for shooting a .22 rifle in the woods. Where this earplug really takes the cake is in the comfort category. These earplugs are about the most comfortable you can get, and are excellent for wearing all day in a noisy workplace, or at night to stifle traffic or other white noise that can keep you awake.
- Nothing inserted into ear canal
- Low NRR
Noise Canceling Headphones:
The gun range is not the only time to worry about protecting your hearing, and if you like to listen to music, then these Cowin noise-canceling headphones can kill two birds with one stone. Featuring active noise canceling technology, these headphones will not perform nearly as well as earplugs or earmuffs at the range, but they will really shine when traveling or in semi-noisy environments. Add into that their ability to play music as well, and you have a product that just might fit your requirements. If you enjoy listening to music and want a pair of headphones to help in a noisy environment, then this might be a good product to consider.
- Active noise canceling
- Bluetooth capabilities
- Plays music
- Not good for range use
- Battery operated
- Not NRR rated
Best Earplugs with Headband:
If you are looking for something with the convenience of earmuffs without the bulk, then these Howard Leight Banded earplugs may be a good option. With an NRR of 25, they are low on the list when it comes to protection, but they really shine when it comes to convenience. The semi-rigid band makes it convenient to hang these anywhere you need them, be it around your neck, rearview mirror, or a peg on the wall. They are also simple to take on and off, and can even be done with one hand! While extended use may cause headaches for some people, most don’t have any problem, and I happen to find them quite comfortable. If you are somebody who requires fast, convenient hearing protection and is always on the go, then these banded earplugs would be a great option to consider.
- Easy to use
- Easy to keep at hand
- Lower NRR
- May cause headaches
Earplugs With Cord:
When it comes to keeping your disposable earplugs handy and within reach, having a cord that connects the two plugs together is a great option, and these earplugs from Howard Leight have just that. These particular plugs are affordable, comfortable, and come in a 100 pack so that you can grab a new pair whenever you need one. With an NRR of 32, these plugs are fantastic at blocking out harmful noise, and the cord will keep them always handy and ready to use. Furthermore, the bright colors make them easy to see if you happen to drop them in the field or at the range. Finally, these plugs are contoured and made of soft foam to provide easy insertion and long-term comfort.
- Bright color
- Good NRR
- Not reusable
- Cord may get in the way of earmuffs
Passive Noise Canceling Earplugs:
If you are looking for a good pair of earplugs with passive noise canceling that won’t break the bank, then the Surefire sonic defenders may be a good option to consider. They feature passive noise canceling, which attempts to filter out higher decibel noises without using electronics or batteries. They come in multiple sizes, with this particular size being large, so if you have smaller ears you may want to browse some of the other sizes. These particular plugs also feature a cord that connects the two together so that they won’t get lost as easily.
What really makes these earplugs unique is the little plastic cap that they come with. With the cap removed, you are still able to hear quieter noises such as normal conversation, while still retaining some protection against the louder noises. This also gives you the option of using the cap to close off the small channel, which provides an additional layer of protection. Since these earplugs are designed to let some sounds through, they would probably not be the best option if you are shooting at an indoor range. If you are looking for an affordable pair of earplugs that offer passive noise canceling, then these are at least worth a good look.
- No batteries
- Removable cap
- Not the best protection
- Small size may be easy to lose
Best Foam Earplugs for Shooting:
If you aren’t looking to spend an exorbitant sum of money on your earplugs, or you are just old fashioned, this box of 3M earplugs just might do the trick. They come in a 200 pack, so you will always have a pair laying around wherever you need them. Economy is the name of the game with these plugs, as they don’t have a cord to keep the pair together, but many people may even find this to be an advantage, as the cord will not get tangled or in the way during their shooting session. While these earplugs are only officially rated to 29Db, in actual practice (and with proper use) they perform on par with ear protection rated up to 37Db. I have used these ear plugs at the range, at work, and even while mowing the lawn, and have been very satisfied with their performance. They are comfortable, easy to use, and incredibly effective. If all you want is something to protect your hearing without any of the fancy bells and whistles, then this may be the product for you.
- Easy to use
- No extra features
- Easy to lose
Best Electronic Earplugs for Shooting:
If you are a high volume or competitive shooter, and absolutely must have the Cadillac of hearing protection, then these electronic earplugs from Gunsportpro are a good option to consider. While these are by far the most expensive option on the list, they are also the highest quality and most effective. Featuring active filtering, these battery-operated earplugs contain a microphone, speaker, and circuitry to amplify quiet noises up to 5 times, all while still protecting your hearing from louder noises. Featuring an NRR of 25Db, these earplugs are sufficient for stand-alone protection for just about anywhere except an indoor range. If you have the money to spend and want the best that you can get, then these electronic earplugs are a good product to consider.
- High quality
- Active hearing protection
- Small and comfortable
- Does not interfere with cheek weld
- Battery operated
Best Earmuffs for Shooting:
If the thought of earplugs doesn’t appeal to you, and you would much rather have a good budget pair of earmuffs, then these low-profile earmuffs from Winchester might be right for you. These stylish earmuffs boast the Winchester logo on their side and have ample padding for comfort around the ears. They are low profile, but they still may interfere with your cheek weld, depending on your shooting style. Additionally, those with a much larger head may find that they put a bit too much pressure on your ears. If you are looking for a pair of earmuffs that will get the job done without breaking the bank, then you may want to give these a good look.
- Winchester brand
- No electronic protection
- May interfere with cheek weld
Earmuffs with Radio/Music (General Use):
If you are looking for a good general use pair of earmuffs that could be used for much more than just shooting, and you also love music, then these earmuffs may be what you are looking for. While they are priced quite a bit higher than the regular earmuffs, this particular pair allows you to listen to the radio or your own music via Bluetooth. While these might not be ideal if the only time you need hearing protection is at the range, but if you frequently find yourself needing hearing protection for tasks such as working in a shop or mowing the lawn, then the music provided by these muffs may help break the monotony and give you a nice change of pace, all while still protecting your hearing.
- High quality
- Bluetooth capability
- Not ideal for shooting
Best Electronic Earmuffs for Shooting:
If you are looking for what is by far the best all-around option for shooting hearing protection, then the impact sport from Howard Leight may be what you are looking for. These earmuffs are economical, come in an assortment of colors, and have many extra features. They are comfortable to wear for long periods of time and provide excellent protection. When I am at the range or shooting in competitions, I wear my pair of Howard Leight a vast majority of the time.
These earmuffs are powered by 2 AAA batteries and feature an NRR of 22. The active filtering kicks in at 82Db, but sounds below that can be amplified up to 3 times, depending on how you have your volume knob adjusted. The directional stereo microphones allow you to still maintain situational awareness, which is very important in a competition shooting scenario. These earmuffs also feature a 3.5mm audio jack, which allows you to plug in an MP3 player and listen to music. Finally, these earmuffs feature a battery life of up to 350 hours, and a 4-hour automatic shut off.
- Electronic protection
- May interfere with cheek weld
- NRR is lower than many earplugs
Best Ear Protection for Shooting Final Thoughts
Let’s face it: spending a few dollars now to protect your hearing can save you hundreds, or even thousands further down the road by preventing hearing damage. You only get one set of ears, and it is up to you to protect them. If you want the best hearing protection available, you will need to find a set that is comfortable, effective, affordable, easily used, and convenient. I have listed many good options in this article that will get the job done, but I believe that the clear winner is the Howard Leight Impact Sport. These earmuffs have everything you need and more to not only protect your hearing but thoroughly enjoy your time at the range. This is the hearing protection that I have chosen for my personal use, and I highly recommend it to anybody who is looking for a good set of hearing protection. After reading this article, you have all the information you need to purchase your own set of hearing protection today!
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Dan is an avid outdoorsman and shooter who developed a passion for firearms at an early age. When you can’t find him in the field chasing birds or big game, you can find him at the range shooting various competitions such as 3-gun, IPSC, and IDPA. He also enjoys manufacturing his own ammunition, as well as both working on, and building his own firearms. Dan has many years of firearms experience, and enjoys helping people find the right gear and sharing his extensive firearms knowledge.