Best Ear Protection for Shooting: Reviews & Top Picks 2016
Gunfire is a dangerous thing. Depending on the weapon used, it can produce sounds ranging from 120 to 170 decibels, and the human ear starts sustaining permanent damage around 85 dB. This is a massive difference that can only be supplemented with the use of hearing protection when you’re firing a gun.
But what if you’ve never purchased hearing protection before? How can you tell the best ear muffs from the worst? How can you be sure you’re buying the right brand of plugs?
Consider this your ultimate guide to hearing protection for shooting and hunting. I’ve been in the business for awhile now, and I have plenty of suggestions.
Our Top Picks of Hearing Protection from Each Category
Best Electronic Ear Muffs
With active technology and cutting-edge features, these electronic ear muffs will protect your hearing in ways that only science fiction can.
1. Howard Leight Impact Sport OD
Take control of your hearing protection with the easy-to-use Impact Sports.
The Impact Sports are what I like to call an “all-around” product. While they aren’t the cheapest or the most fashionable or the most tech-savvy item on the market, they’re above average in all aspects, not just a few, making them a great all-purpose product and a fantastic value for the money.
First and foremost is their NNR 22. This will protect you from noises up to 82 dB, so you can use them anywhere you’d like, including the range, the trail and the wilderness.
Another benefit is their internal 3x amplification.
While they’ll block loud, harmful sounds like gunshots, they’ll actually amplify smaller sounds so that you can always hear human conversations and animals moving through the underbrush.
They also have an internal audio jack so you can connect your multimedia devices to your ear muffs. Whether it’s a radio, smartphone or music player, you can listen to whatever you’d like while you shoot.
I have no reservations in saying that the Impact Sports are some of the best electronic ear muffs that money can buy.
If you don’t want to listen to me, however, they’re also quite highly ranked in their department on Amazon, so go over there and check them out for yourself.
2. Honeywell Howard Leight R-01902 Impact Pro
With added comfort and convenience to an already-great product, the Impact Pros offer the whole package.
Are you tired of uncomfortable ear muffs?
Do you hate the wear and tear that accumulates on low-quality products faster than you can blink?
The Impact Pros offer everything that the Howard Leight brand is famous for, including noise protection, internal amplification and audio input jacks so you can connect your ear muffs to your smartphone or music player.
What makes them stand out, however, is their state-of-the-art earcup design that will reduce damageand discomfort for the wearer. Thanks to rubberized pressure points on both earcups, the Impact Pros won’t scratch, tear or chafe.
You might also like their low price. While not the cheapest pair of ear muffs on the market, they’re far from the most expensive, and they provide a high return on investment (ROI) considering how long they last. They’ll buy themselves back several times over before they finally need to be replaced.
Overall, the Impact Pros offer a great deal and a great product, and I definitely recommend them to anyone serious about hearing protection. Check out their page on Amazon to learn more.
3. Caldwell Low Profile E-Max
Budget shoppers, these are the ear muffs for you.
Electronic ear muffs aren’t always good for your bank account, but occasionally there will come gems like the E-Maxes.
Their hearing protection ensures that you won’t break your eardrums; their low price ensures that you won’t break your wallet.
Let’s talk about specs first. A respectful NRR 23 means that the Ear Maxes will protect you from any kind of gunfire or loud noise over 85 dB, and two separate microphones in the earcups will amplify low sounds like range commands and guide instructions so that you’ll never miss anything.
Not let’s talk about comfort. The E-Maxes use a low-profile, behind-the-neck design that I personally recommend quite a bit. Not only is it more comfortable than over-the-head ear muffs, but it’s also more accommodating for helmets, hats, headlamps and other head gear. You can wear them with any kind of uniform or work outfit without fuss.
Broadly speaking, the Ear Maxes are the best electronic ear muffs for people on a budget. They aren’t the fanciest model out there, but they’ll get the job done and leave you most of your pay check, too. Mosey on over to Amazon to see for yourself.
4. Peltor Sport Tactical 100 by 3M
A high-tech product for high-decibel noise.
The Tactical 100s have a dizzying array of features that are sure to satisfy even the pickiest shooters. Let’s go through them one at a time, shall we?
∇ The NNR 22 will protect you from all types of gunfire. This includes rifles, shotguns, hand-held guns and anything else with a loud discharge.
∇ Recessed microphones will block wind noise and other distracting environmental sounds.
∇ The input audio jack will allow you to listen to songs or radio broadcasts while you shoot.
∇ Low profile earcups will provide comfort while you’re wearing a helmet or aiming a rifle.
∇ The automatic two-hour shutoff will prevent you from accidentally running down your battery. If you don’t want it to shut off, simply tap the controls and leave it running.
While they may not be the best choice for beginners since they offer so many features and options, the Tactical 100s are a fantastic choice for shooters who know what they’re doing and what they need in a pair of ear muffs.
The reviews on Amazon will back me up, check them out and see for yourself how much customers love the Tactical 100s.
5. Peltor Soundtrap Electronic Headset by 3M
These portable, easily-stored ear muffs for great for shooters on the go.
If you have places to be, the Soundtraps might be your best bet for getting there on time and with the hearing protection you require.
They’re small and lightweight, clocking in at just 1.6 oz and 6.2 x 5.8 x 4.5 inches, and they can also be folded and stowed away without causing any damage to their construction.
Don’t let their lightness fool you, however: The Soundtraps are still packed to the gills with active hearing protection technology.
Each earcup comes with independent microphones and volume controls for the ultimate in customized shooting experiences, and since they’re non-passive ear muffs, they’ll filter through low-decibel sounds while blocking high-decibel ones.
Now for the bad news: the Soundtraps only offer a NRR 19. It’s enough to protect you at the range or for casual hunting trips, but if you’re heading into a war zone, you might want a different product.
All things considered, the Soundtraps are a good option for people who need portable, lightweight ear muffs and don’t mind that they aren’t the strongest option available.
This is the consensus reached on Amazon and the one you can check out when you visit the Soundtraps product page.
6. Champion Electronic Ear Muffs
Enjoy a classical look with the Champions.
The Champions aren’t anything special to look at. They’re a pair of solid black ear muffs that could almost be mistaken for headphones, and they’re free of all the wires, controls and blinking lights of high-tech gadgets.
But remember what your mother told you about judging a book by its cover?
The Champions have a whopping NRR 25, making them one of the stronger products on this list and definitely one worth considering if you’re an intense or avid hunter. They’re also quite comfortable with a thick, padded headband and adjustable settings so that you can always find the right fit over your ears.
They’re even collapsible for easier transport and storage!
If you’re looking for a sturdy, durable pair of electronic ear muffs, the Champions are mighty titans in the world of hearing protection.
They might not be the most fashionable pair on the runway, but they’ll do what they advertise in ways that are actually better than some of the fancier models.
Read more about the Champions on Amazon to see for yourself why they’re worth your time.
7. Pro Ears Pro Slim Gold
When nothing but the strongest will do, turn to the Pro Slim Golds.
There’s no point in beating around the bush when it comes to the power of the Pro Slim Golds. They offer a fantastic NRR 28, one of the highest ratings that can be achieved through electronic ear muffs, so they don’t mess around when it comes to hearing protection. You put on the Pro Slim Golds and no gunfire sounds get in.
They offer more than just a strong NRR, however, and that’s why they’re a truly great product. For example, they come with an audio input jack so that you can blast the radio or hook up your smartphone to receive GPS instructions.
They’re made with medium-profile earcups so that they’ll be compatible with a wide range of firearms.
Last but certainly not least, they’re comfortable. They’re fully adjustable in both physical fit and electronic volume control, so you’ll never have to grit your teeth and bear an uncomfortable situation.
If you don’t like what the Pro Slim Golds are doing, the settings are yours to change.
With a combination of power, precision and technology, the Pro Slim Golds are what you need if you’re on the prowl for the best ear muffs. Feel free to view their Amazon page to learn more.
Best Passive Ear Muffs
When you’re looking to block all sound without exception, these are the products for you.
1. ClearArmor 141001 Safety Ear Muffs
With power and control, the Safety Ear Muffs are some of the best passive ear muffs on the market.
The Safety Ear Muffs laugh in the face of lesser ear muffs.
With a record-breaking NRR 34, this is the product you want if hearing damage is something you want to obliterate from space.
They’ll block absolutely all sound waves coming towards you.
How do they offer such rock-solid protection? Well, for one, they’re constructed with two layers of padded foam on top of several more layers stuffed into the earcups.
They also have a noise-dampening sound ring that isolates vibrations before they reach the inner shell of your ear.
They’re also highly adjustable so that you can find the perfect fit over your ears. Never again worry about your ear muffs slipping out of place; the Safety Ear Muffs will stay put once you’ve locked them on.
All in all, the Safety Ear Muffs are a great example of how passive technology can be just as good and strong as active technology.
Just look at their amazing reviews on Amazon!
2. Peltor Sport Bull’s Eye 9 Hearing Protector
Light and breezy, the Bull’s Eye 9s will make you forget you’re wearing ear muffs at all.
Clocking in at just 10 oz, the Bull’s Eye 9s are a great choice if you’re looking for something light and portable. While their thick ear cups will provide a respectful 22 NRR, their actual construction is designed to be as weightless as a feather.
They even come with a see-through headband to add to the illusion!
Comfort is another great benefit of the Bull’s Eye 9s. Between padded headbands and soft foam earcups, they aren’t a pair of ear muffs that will chafe or dig into your skin. It’s entirely possible to forget you’re even wearing them.
The one drawback of these products is that they don’t have much in the way of customization options. What you see is what you get, so if they wind up being a bad fit, there isn’t a lot you can do to change that.
All things considered, however, the Bull’s Eye 9s are a solid choice in passive ear muffs. You can read their reviews on Amazon to see for yourself how much buyers enjoy them.
3. Howard Leight Leightning L0F Super Slimline
Slim and trim, these ear muffs offer solid power in an attractive package.
The Leightnings are so slim that you can turn them sideways and make them disappear. When it comes to fashionable, cutting-edge ear muffs, they’re far and away one of the best choices you can make.
But what about power? Will the Leightnings measure up in strength as well as style? The good news is that they have a NRR 23, and that’s more than enough to protect you from gunfire at the range.
The bad news is that it’s still passive technology, so there’s no filtration or amplification of any kind, you simply put on the Leightnings and the rest of the world drops away.
Maybe you want that, however. Maybe you’re looking for a pair of ear muffs that you don’t have to fiddle with every time you put them on.
If you want something slim, comfortable and easy to use, the Leightnings are a clear frontrunner. Check them on Amazon to see for yourself how highly they’re regarded.
4. 3M Peltor X-Series Over-the-Head Earmuffs
When powerful protection meets comfortable construction.
The X-Series Ear Muffs have a NRR 31 that will keep you protected everywhere from the range to the middle of a wildebeest stampede.
Use them for hunting, shooting, tracking, off-roading or any combination thereof; no matter what noises you throw at them, they’ll always have your back.
They’re also an extremely comfortable pair of ear muffs.
With a twin headband design to prevent heat build-up, you can rest assured that you’ll never be sweaty or prickly under their refreshing construction. Their earcups are also tilted to provide less pressure on the shell of your ears.
There’s one catch to all these positive product features, however. The X-Series Ear Muffs are a “one size fits most” item, and they might not be the right size for you.
You’ll need to check them out on Amazon to see if their measurements will fit your skull.
Best Ear Plugs
Size isn’t always a reflection of power. These ear plugs are both small and strong, so have a look and see if they’re right for you.
1. Etymotic Research ER125-GSP15BN GunSport Pro Hearing Protection
The technological prowess of the GSP-15s is matched only by their comfort and convenience.
Let’s address the elephant in the room right away: These are expensive ear plugs.
There’s no getting around it. However, you get what you pay for with the GSP-15s, so don’t count them out just because of their price.
Their NRR 25 will protect you from everything from gun shots to heavy machinery.
Wear them on the range; don them at the warehouse; you could even put them on during a rock concert. Their active hearing technology will amplify harmless sounds up to 5x while simultaneously blocking anything above 80+ dB.
They even come with a variety of ear tips so that you can find the perfect fit for you.
Whether you’re looking for something comfortable, powerful, precise or just plain convenient, the GSP-15s will deliver in spades.
Try to think of their price as a long-term investment instead of a one-time expense. As you can tell from their Amazon reviews, they’re a popular product for a reason.
2. Liberty DuraPlug Uncorded Disposable Foam Earplug
Are they disposable? Yes. Are they still worth buying? You bet.
Disposable ear plugs get a bad reputation. In a world of fancy, high-tech ear protection, it’s easy to look at the bright orange DuraPlugs and write them off as something cheap or worthless.
But consider their value. There are 200 pairs per box, and that’s enough to last you months or even years at the range.
What’s more, since they’re the type of ear plugs you throw away after each use, there’s no need to worry about losing, damaging or breaking them. If something happens to one pair, just toss them aside and pull out another.
Consider, too, their comfort level.
DuraPlugs are made with soft, self-adjusting foam that gently expands within your ear to ensure the right fit every time.
Will complicated electronic plugs do that?
The DuraPlugs might not be the fanciest ear plugs on the market, but they have plenty of value in other ways. Let the shoppers on Amazon tell you all about it.
3. Mack’s Shooters Ear Seals Ear Plugs
As another great product from Mack’s, the Ear Seals offer strong protection in an unlikely package.
You wouldn’t expect such small, unassuming ear plugs to offer a NRR 27, but the Ear Seals were made to surprise.
They employ passive technology, so you shouldn’t expect any filtration or amplification from their design, but otherwise they’re some of the greatest ear plugs on the market.
They’ll block out everything from rifle fire to shotgun blasts!
Did I mention that they’re also an incredibly affordable option? The Ear Seals cost less than a sandwich at a fast food restaurant.
That’s an incredible amount of power for such a low price.
If you’re on a budget and despairing at the prices of other ear plugs, look no further than the Ear Seals.
They’re available for purchase at Amazon right now, and they’ll only take pennies from your paycheck to boot.
4. Ear Pro By Surefire 4 Sonic Defender Ear Plugs
With attachments galore, you can customize the Sonic Defenders any way you’d like.
Some products say they’re “customizable” and mean that they have a single volume knob. Others, like the Sonic Defenders, say that they’re customizable and actually mean it.
With a variety of caps, tips and stoppers included right in the box, the Sonic Defenders can be made into several different kinds of ear plugs for the price of one.
Wear the stoppers for a complete noise-dampening effect; remove the stoppers to bring back low-decibel sounds without entirely removing the ear plugs. Attach or detach the filter caps for yet another layer of protection. It’s all up to you!
The only real flaw of the Sonic Defenders is that they utilize seven contact points along the ear to hold themselves in place. While this isn’t painful, it can feel restrictive when you aren’t used to it, so it may take a few rounds of target practice to adjust.
All in all, however, thee Sonic Defenders are a great value for the money and a fantastic example of customization. Check out their product page on Amazon to learn more.
5. Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs
A unique product begets a unique fit.
How often do you adjust your ear plugs while shooting? How often do they slide out of place or even fall from your ears entirely? The fit is to blame, of course, but there isn’t anything you can do about it.
Or is there?
The Custom Molded Earplugs are a one-of-a-kind invention from Decibullz.
Instead of relying on ear tips and headbands to get the right fit, they made their product out of thermoplastic molds that can be heated and shaped to the exact specifications of your ear.
No more slipping pieces.
No more painful moments when high-decibel noises reach your eardrums because your plugs fell out of place.
With the strong and uniquely-sculpted Custom Molded Earplugs, you’ll never have to worry about the perfect fit again. Check them out on Amazon to learn more!
6. 3M PELTOR TEP-100 Tactical Digital Earplug
The best ear plugs on the market also come with the most swag.
There’s a lot to love about the TEP-100s. For one, they’re powerful ear plugs that will protect you from gunshots above 80+ dB while simultaneously allowing human and environmental noise.
They’re also made for a variety of environments with their rechargeable and water-resistant design, so it doesn’t matter if you’re crawling through sand dunes or splashing through brooks; the TEP-100s have you covered.
My favorite thing about the TEP-100s, however, is their convenience.
With waterproof cases, attachable lanyards and battery charging stations right in the box, 3M makes sure you have absolutely everything you could need when you buy these ear plugs.
I believe that speaks to a level of customer satisfaction that just isn’t seen in many of today’s brands.
They want you to buy this product, and they want you to be happy with your purchase too.
I’d recommend the TEP-100s to all serious hunters and shooters.
There are ear plugs, and there are ear plugs, and the TEP-100s fall into the latter category. Check out their rave reviews on Amazon if you don’t believe me.
Also read our complete guide on choosing the best ear plugs (don’t buy any ear plugs without reading this guide !)
The Best of the Best
Best Electronic Ear Muff
Howard Leight Impact Sport OD
There's no such thing as a universal pair of ear muffs, but with their fun features, advanced technology and overall ease of use, the Impact Sports come awfully close.
The Impact Sports aren’t the prettiest product on the market. They aren’t the cheapest or the most convenient. They don’t offer the most features. They don’t even have the most advanced technology.
So why do I think they’re better than anything else? Because they offer a fantastic all-around value. They’ll protect you from noises up to 82 dB; they offer an input audio jack for multimedia purposes; they’re comfortably middle-tier when it comes to price. Howard Leight even threw in some perks like 3x sound amplification and automatic four-hour battery shutoff.
If you could only buy a single pair of electronic ear muffs in your life, I’d tell you to buy the Impact Sports.
Rating : 4.8/5
Howard Leight Impact Sport OD
The reviewers over at Amazon will tell you that, too, so it's not just me.Check out its product page and see for yourself how much people love these ear muffs.
Best Passive Ear Muff
ClearArmor 141001 Safety Ear Muffs
With a NRR 34, the Safety Ear Muffs are some of the strongest hearing protection devices anywhere. This includes passive and active technology. The Safety Ear Muffs are simply that good.
Combining multiple layers of foam, sound rings and vibration stoppers, these are the ear muffs you want if you’re tired of external noise leaking through your headgear. The Safety Ear Muffs will stop all of it as effectively as throwing a blackout blanket over your auditory senses. They don’t mess around when it comes to noise dampening.
In addition to their ultra-strength, the Safety Ear Muffs also come with nice features like swivel ear cups and adjustable headbands for maximum comfort and convenience. Some ear muffs can hurt with extended wear, but these won’t; you can don them for hours without any kind of discomfort or irritation.
Rating : 4.8/5
ClearArmor 141001 Safety Ear Muffs
At the end of the day, the Safety Ear Muffs are tangible proof that hearing protection devices don't have to contain active technology to be great at what they do. Click on over to Amazon to see this proof for yourself.
Best Ear Plug for Shooting
Ear Pro By Surefire 4 Sonic Defender Ear Plugs
The Sonic Defenders are a marvel of technology. With multiple caps, stoppers and tips, they’re ear plugs that you can practically build from scratch to create the perfect, custom-fitting pair for you.
Speaking of fit, that’s another area where the Sonic Defenders excel. While their seven contact points might take some getting used to, they’re absolutely invaluable for locking the ear plugs into place and making sure they don’t move, not even during intense physical activities like hunting and tracking. When you put on the Sonic Defenders, they’ll stay on.
You might also appreciate the hypoallergenic nature of their medical-grade polymer. Not only is it soft and safe, but it’s also durable enough to last for years with the proper maintenance.
Rating : 4.5/5
Ear Pro By Surefire 4 Sonic Defender Ear Plugs
The Sonic Defenders are easily some of the best ear plugs on the market, and I highly recommend them to anyone looking for a good, long-lasting pair. Go on Amazon to learn more about them if you'd like.
Ear Protection for Shooting, Hunting and Tracking: A General Guide
Where do you even start with ear protection? It’s easier than you think.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most preventable types of hearing loss, but more than 10 million people still suffer from it.
Why is that?
Some say it’s a matter of ignorance. Viewers see cops and robbers on TV firing off their weapons without any kind of ear muffs or ear plugs, so many people don’t even realize that hearing protection is a vital component of responsible shooting.
Others think it’s a matter of convenience. People know they should be wearing ear protection, but because they don’t even know where to start when it comes to finding, selecting and buying ear protection products, they just don’t bother with it at all.
Whether you’re one of the former or the latter, I hope you’ll take the time to read this article and understand that hearing protection is important. I’ve been in the gun business for a long time, and I’ve seen many people damage and even lose their hearing in completely preventable ways. Let’s talk about hearing protection to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.
How It Works
Noise-cancelling devices are measured and advertised on the basis of their noise reduction rating (NRR). You’ll see this on packages in the form of “NRR 22,” “NRR 23,” “NRR 24” and so on. The higher the number, the stronger the hearing protection.
There’s a lot of math involved in NRRs, and honestly, it’s not worth memorizing unless you’re into gadgets that way. All you need to know is that gunshots are measured in decibels (dB) which are then recorded and given NRRs.
It’s pretty simple, right? Don’t be afraid of acronyms on hearing protection products. While “NRR 20 dB” might look intimidating, all it means is that the product has been tested by third-party institutions and issued a ranking based on its strength. It’s a good thing. It means that you aren’t buying an untested product someone just threw on the shelf without certification or accreditation.
Different Types of Ear Protection
There are two basic kinds of ear protection: ear muffs and ear plugs. Either one will get the job done, so if you’re not picky, go ahead and buy whichever is most convenient for you.
If you’re looking for more specialized protection, however, there are a few differences to consider between the types. For one, ear plugs tend to be stronger than ear muffs. Ear plugs can go up to 33 on the NRR scale while ear muffs usually max out at 30-31, and remember, a high NRR means a strong product. So that’s something to consider when comparing and contrasting ear protection.
You might also want to consider the special features offered by hearing protection products. In this respect, ear muffs come out on top; since they have a bigger surface area, they can provide all kinds of controls, settings and options that ear plugs are too small to offer.
Last but not least, think about the level of comfort that you want from your hearing protection. Think about a long day on the range and what will bother you less as the hours pass.
Which will be more comfortable for you, ear plugs inside your ear canal or ear muffs resting outside of the shell of your ear? There’s no “one true answer” here; it all depends on your personal preferences.
Passive vs Electronic
If you’ve already poked around different selections of ear protection devices, you’ve probably come across the terms “active,” “passive” and “electronic.” Here’s what they mean.
∇ Passive ear protection blocks all sound. It’s the equivalent of stuffing cotton in your ears so that nothing gets through. If you’ve ever purchased disposable ear plugs for a flight or a roommate’s snoring, those were examples of passive ear protection. Passive ear protection can be beneficial at the range or for target practice where loud sounds are constantly assaulting your senses.
∇ Active ear protection, also known as electronic ear protection, is a bit more complicated. It blocks high-decibel noises while allowing low-decibel ones. For example, if electronic ear muffs are advertised with the stamp “85 dB,” this means that they’ll protect you from anything over 85 dB (like gun shots) while allowing anything under 85 dB (like human voices). They’re a great choice for hunting or tracking expeditions where you want to hear small, harmless sounds without constantly having to take off your ear muffs.
Again, there’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to what kind of hearing protection you prefer. It all depends on personal factors like where you’re shooting and how you like to do it.
Personally, I always recommend that my customers consider both passive and active technology before settling on one or the other.
Finding the Right Ear Protection For You
These are just a few things to keep in mind as you search for hearing protection. Remember, all it takes is a little precaution today to save your hearing for tomorrow.
When you compare a lifetime of silence with a few hours of researching the best ear protection for shooting, which is more important?