The Best Shooting Ear Protection [Muffs & Plugs]

ear protection for shooting

I have too much experience with hearing loss. Unfortunately, I experienced a fair share of it during my time in the Marines. I now live a life with a loud ringing in my ears almost constantly. 

This tinnitus is all too common among shooters and now that I’m an instructor and writer I’m a huge advocate for the use of proper hearing protection. From suppressors to ear muffs I want anyone who’s ever thought about shooting a gun to own hearing protection. 

Anything above 140 decibels will damage your hearing immediately. Gunshots range from 140 to 190 decibels depending on the type, size, etc. 

Gun Noise Levels

Learn from my mistakes and wear hearing protection. If that leads to asking questions about what hearing protection to wear or how to choose hearing protection well I’m here for you now.

I’m put together a quick and easy look at hearing protection as well as giving you my top ten suggestions for hearing protection. 

Noise Reduction Rating

Noise Reduction Rating or NRR, is a phrase you’ll see us toss around quite a bit. It’s a rating system designed by the American National Standard Institute and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

It sets the standard for hearing protection and gives you a decent idea of what you can expect in hearing reduction. Decibels as a measurement are tricky, and so is NRR. If a noise is 100 dB and your NRR rating is 25 dB this doesn't mean the noise is reduced to 75 dB. 

NRR

To find an accurate rating you have to take the NRR number and subtract 7, and then divide by two. So it would be (25-7)/2 = 9. So a 100 Decibels noise would be reduced to 91 dB. This doesn’t sound like much reduction, but it actually is. 

OSHA says a person can safely work for 6 hours in a 91-decibel environment, but only 2 hours in a 100 dB environment. Decibels are not a linear measurement. For example, 100 decibels is 8 times louder than 70 decibels. 

Name

​Type

​NRR 

Price

Surefire EP4

Ear Plug

24dB

​Safariland Range Kit

Dual

33dB

Otis Technology Ear Shield

Dual

31dB

Walker Razor

Dual Electronic

31dB

3M Peltor Optime

Ear Muff

26dB

Etymotic GunSport Pro

Electronic Ear Plug

29dB

Peltor Tactical 500

Electronic Ear Muff

26dB

Walker’s Game Ear Razors

Electronic Ear Muff

23dB

The Ear Buddy

Ear Plug

31dB

Foxnovo Ear Plugs

Ear Plug

25dB

Electronics V.S Standard 

Standard hearing protection works just to block noise. This is great for simple range practice, trap and skeet shooting, plinking and more casual shooting activities. It’s not perfect for all situations, but it will preserve your hearing. 

Standard hearing protection is the more affordable option when it comes to hearing protection. Standard hearing protection comes in both muff and earplug form. 

hearing protection

Electronic ear muffs are designed to allow shooters to block only certain noises above a certain threshold. Anything less than this high noise rating is either pushed through the earphones and can even be amplified. 

Electronic hearing protection is a must-have for shooters who go a little beyond a hobbyist. If you take shooting seriously then electronic ear muffs are for you. If you are taking a firearms class then you need electronic ear muffs.

This way you can hear your instructor teach without having to constantly remove your hearing protection. Your instructor may also approach you on the firing line and give you one on one instruction and with electronic muffs or earplugs, you can hear him or her and receive the full value of their training. 

best electronic hearing protection for hunting

Electronic muffs or earplugs are also highly valuable for hunters. Hunters need to preserve their hearing, but also hear the world around them. Without this ability, you won’t truly have a sense of the world around you. 

The same goes for police and military members. The ability to hear the world around you is critical to staying alive and keeping strong situational awareness. Electric muffs are more expensive but well worth in most situations. 

Some feature technology that allows them to be wired to a radio for communication purposes or Bluetooth connected to a phone to listen to music or take phone calls or even listen to music. Electronic hearing protection simply offers more options than standard hearing protection. 

Plugs V.S Muffs 

This can be one of the biggest dividing factors in choosing hearing protection. Do you want ear muffs or earplugs? Well, that’s a tough one so let’s examine the differences a bit to really point out what works best for you. 

Plugs

Plus are lower profile and much smaller than muffs. They can be electronic or standard, although standard is much more common with earplugs. One of the best things about earplugs is the fact they don’t interfere with your ability to get a good cheek weld on a rifle or shotgun.

shooting hearing protection

This allows you to get nice and low on a rifle and to comfortably see and engage with the sights. Earplugs are often more comfortable in hot weather since earmuffs often leave your ears sweating. 

Earplugs also do not interfere with a shooter’s choice of headwear. This includes hats, helmets, glasses and more. This makes earplugs slightly more appealing to soldiers and police officers due to their headwear requirements. 

Muffs

electronic hearing protection

First and foremost earmuffs offer shooters a much higher level of hearing protection. They are better suited to protecting the ears from intense and constant noise like the noise you'd find at a busy gun range. 

Ear muffs are also much less likely to fall off the head than earplugs. Earmuffs can also offer a higher degree of options like Bluetooth and radio compatibility. Earmuffs are often found on guys working in the Spec Ops community who uses specially cut helmets to accommodate them. 

My Picks

There are lots of different types of hearing protection out there and it can be hard to choose one set over another. So today we are going to look over some of the best sets on the market. I tried to be diverse in my picks and allow for plenty of different options for everyone. 

I chose some of my favorites, but also attempted to ignore my own bias towards certain ear protection and give you guys a good idea of what’s out there. Feel free to comment at the end of our article your favorite hearing protection and let us know why. 

1. Surefire EP4 Sonic Defenders - Best Earplugs for Shooting

best hearing protection for shooting

The Surefire EP4 Sonic Defenders come from a company known for making gear for the military and law enforcement markets. They started as a flashlight company and spread into suppressors, watches, and even hearing protection.

The EP4 Sonic Defenders are about as high tech as you can get without adding batteries. The EP4 defenders are on the high end of non-electronic earplugs. They offer 24 dB noise reduction rating. 

best earplugs for shooting

They have a set of filter caps that are quick and easy to insert into your earplugs and they stay tethered to the plugs. The system works simply, remove the plugs and you can hear normally. When things get loud put the filters back in and get to it. 

They have a set of filter caps that are quick and easy to insert into your earplugs and they stay tethered to the plugs. The system works simply, remove the plugs and you can hear normally. When things get loud put the filters back in and get to it. 

electronic hearing protection review

Sizing Guide

This keeps you from having to remove the entire plugs when you need to hear a thing or two. The earplugs are remarkably comfortable and perfect for being worn with helmets, masks, hats, and glasses. This makes them solid and affordable choices for military and police officers. 

The EP4 Defenders use an earlock pattern that has 7 points of contact that locks the earbuds into place and fit the same way every time you wear them. This means they stay in place and do not just fall out. 

best shooting ear plugs

They are made to be extremely comfortable and made from medical grade polymers that are hypoallergenic. This allows you to forget about them while being worn. They are the perfect affordable, low tech, high functioning option for shooters, especially those working in tactical environments. 

Surefire EP4 Sonic Defenders

Available at Amazon

The price of Surefire EP4 varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

2. Safariland Range Kit

best ear protection for shooting

The Safariland Range kit is a little more than hearing protection admittedly, but its an affordable option for new shooters looking for quality personal protective equipment. The Range kit is rock solid selection of gear. 

Safariland is a well-known company in the industry and produces a massive amount of gear for civilians, the military, and police officers. The kit is complete with two types of hearing protection and one set of eye protection. The eye protection is nice, but we are talking about hearing suppression here. 

best shooting ear protection

The first set is your standard over the ear earmuffs. These muffs are fitted with comfortable rubber seals that block noise out while giving you a comfortable fit. The Earmuffs themselves are usually enough, but the plugs are added for a reason. 

The earplugs are a simple medical grade polymer design that is connected with a polymer string. This keeps them together for simplicity sake. Again, these would typically work by themselves, but when combined with the earmuffs you get the best hearing protection possible. 

ear muffs for shooting

It’s wise to combine the two when shooting at indoor ranges, when the noise echoes, vibrates and has nowhere to go. This can be extremely uncomfortable with just one type of hearing protection. Combine the two and you'll be ready to rock and roll in no time. 

Safariland Range kit

Available at Amazon

The price of Safariland Range Kit varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

3. Otis Technology Ear Shield 

best ear protection for shooting range

Otis is mostly known for their cleaning kits, but they didn't end there. The Otis Technology Ear Shield is their expansion into the hearing protection and what they wanted to see. This is a fairly unique set of ear pro. 

They are ear plugs but they are combined with a rigid polymer system that connects the two together. This isn't like the normal polymer rope connection, but a rigid system that is worn over the top of the head like earmuffs. 

gun range ear protection

The design is to maximize comfort while providing consistent hearing protection. The Otis Technology Ear Shields fit like ear muffs but reduce the overall profile of the hearing protection. The Ear Shields offer you the ability to get a solid cheek rest against the gun. 

There is absolutely no stock interference and you can easily establish a cheek weld especially when it comes to shooting with an optic. They have an NRR rating of 31 decibels and this gives you remarkable protection for such a small package. 

The Otis headset also collapses into a very pocket-friendly package that's no bigger than a set of glasses. This easy to use design is perfect for a variety of shooters. It's perfect for trap shooting since you get that solid cheek weld. 

The Otis Ear Shields are also quite affordable, remarkably well made and perfect for the range. 

Otis Technology Ear Shield

Available at Amazon

The price of Otis Technology Ear Shield varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

4. Walker Razor Behind the Neck 

best electronic ear plugs for shooting

Following the trend with cell phone Bluetooth headsets, Walkers came out with an around the neck set of earplugs. The Walker Razor Behind the Neck ear plug offer you some substantial benefits compared to traditional ear muffs or ear plugs. 

First, they do offer you a rigid and secure design that most earplugs don't. Second, they do not interfere you with establishing a good cheek weld to your gun. They also don't form hotspots like ear muffs, which can create some sweaty situations. 

electronic ear protection

The Razor behind the neck earplugs are also electronic and utilize Bluetooth to connect you to common electronic devices. This includes your cell phone or music player. You can listen to music and make phone calls as you shoot. 

firearm hearing protection

The Razor’s offer independent volume control for both sound amplification and Bluetooth connection. They reduce external sounds by 31 dBs. They are perfect for hunters who want to hear the world around them.

electronic ear muffs for shooting

Hearing what’s around you is critical for hunters who need all five senses to successfully hunt. They are ultra lightweight and low profile. They won’t get in the way of cold weather gear or hats, and does give you that solid cheek weld necessary to take shots. 

Walker Razor Behind the Neck

Available at Amazon

The price of Walker Razor Behind the Neck varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

5. 3M Peltor Optime

hearing protection for shooting

If simple is good is your mantra then the 3M Peltor Optime headset is perfect for you. These are very simple, but a very effective set of hearing protection. The Optime headset is nothing fancy, and that’s okay. 

The 3M Peltor Optime is over the head earmuffs designed for a variety of purposes. They fit into the so simple it’s perfect portion of this list. They are not electronic, or anything crazy. They offer a noise reduction rating of 25 dB. 

shooting headphones

This makes them perfectly suited for shooting. The soft rubber cups around the outside of the muffs are perfect for long term use. They can get a little hot in the summer but will function fine regardless. 

The 3M Peltor Opime ear muffs utilize stainless steel in their construction for an almost invincible design. The earcup pivots to allow the wear of the ear muffs to be adjusted for comfort and to accommodate hats, helmets, and more. 

gun headphones

3M and Peltor make a wide variety of PPE and their ear muffs range from simple sets like these, all the way to high-end units utilized by military members across the world. The 3M Peltor Opime muffs are simple, effective, and best of all affordable. 

3M Peltor Optime

Available at Amazon

The price of 3M Peltor Optime varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

6. Etymotic GunSport Pro

electronic ear protection for shooting

If you want professional grade ear protection with the lowest profile possible then the Etymotic Gunsport Pro earplugs are the answer for you. These are the smallest electronic ear protection on the market, and also the most rugged. 

best electronic hearing protection

The Gunsport Pro is designed to provide a constant noise canceling capability with the option for amplification. Only noises above a dangerous decibel rating, other than that they allow noise to travel through. This makes conversation possible, as well as the ability to hear what’s going on around you. 

shooting range ear protection

With a quick switch flip your hearing is amplified by 5x. This allows you to pick up little noises you wouldn’t otherwise hear. 

Etymotic GunSport Pro

Available at Amazon

The price of Etymotic GunSport Pro varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

7. Peltor Tactical 500 - Best Electronic Ear Muff

electronic ear muffs

These are my personal favorite hearing protection devices. These are rather new but are very capable and easy to use. Peltor is a major player in the hearing protection market and the Peltor Tactical 500 headphones are absolutely fantastic. 

The Peltor Sport Electronic Hearing Protection line consists of the 100, 300, and 500 series of ear muffs. The 500 series is the top of the line option for hearing protection. The 500 Series has soft and comfortable ear cushions for comfort throughout the longest of days.

best electronic ear muffs

The Peltor Tactical 500 headphones give you a 26dB reduction rating, which will provide you with protection against the loudest of guns. The adjustable and vented headband is incredibly comfortable and functions well with hats and other headwear. 

The Peltor Tactical 500 also works with Bluetooth and allows you to connect your headset to your cell phone. The Tactical 500s allow you to talk on the phone with really amazing clarity. As a firearm instructor, I really like these for the ability to utilize my phone in case of an emergency on the line. 

best electronic hearing protection for shooting

Outside of that, I can listen to my favorite music when shooting at the range. This is usually gangster rap, to be honest, and the clarity is really impressive. There is nothing like blasting Wu-Tang clan while rocking my favorite Glock. 

Outside of cell phone and Bluetooth compatibility, you get crystal clear sound and sound amplification. The Peltor Tactical 500 headphones have amazing voice tracking capability and really make conversations easy to hear. This makes them amazing for taking classes. 

shooting ear protection

It makes it so you can hear what your instructor is trying to teach you. The Tactical 500s by Peltor is a fantastic set of ear pro, and are my go-to hearing protection. 

Peltor Tactical 500

Available at Amazon

The price of Peltor Tactical 500 varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

8. Walker’s Game Ear Razors 

best hearing protection

Walker’s is a great company when it comes to hearing protection. The Walkers Game Ear Razor headset is an excellent mid-priced set of hearing protection. They get the Razor name by being incredibly slim and lightweight. 

This is great for all day shooting. The lower the weight the easier it will be on your neck over a long day. The Walker’s Razor headphones are capable of reducing 23dBs of noise and provide you with plenty of hearing protection. 

best ear muffs for shooting

Walker’s Headphones were my first electronic hearing protection and I instantly saw the benefits of electronic hearing protection versus standard hearing protection. I was able to hear the world around me, which made me a safer shooter and allowed me to communicate effectively with my fellow shooters. 

best shooting hearing protection

The Game Ear Razors use super thin, but very comfortable rubberized cups. This helps cut down size and gives that Razor thin profile. The Razors are powered by 2 triple A batteries and from experience, they seem to last forever. 

The Razor’s use omnidirectional speakers which helps you identify the direction of the noise as its emitted. The Razor uses a single volume control knob to amplify the noise around you. There is also an audio input jack for connecting your phone to your headphones. 

tactical hearing protection

The Walker’s Razor Slim ear muffs are comfortable, lightweight, and give you excellent sound quality. 

Walker’s Game Ear Razors

Available at Amazon

The price of Walker’s Game Ear Razors varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

9. The Ear Buddy

shooting hearing protection reviews

If you are looking for something simple, disposable, and effective then the Ear Buddy disposable earplugs are for you. These are perfect if you have a family shooting event coming up, or are teaching or hosting a class. The Ear Buddy earplugs are a simple disposable foam hearing protection system. 

range ear protection

This jar of ear protection contains 50 pairs of earplugs. Perfect for trap matches, 3-Gun, USPSA, and backups for wearing under ear muffs. This type of hearing protection is commonly known as squishies. 

You squish and roll them between your fingers to insert them in your ear. This forms a mighty good protective seal that gives you an impressive 32 dB noise reduction rating. The Ear Buddy hearing protection is an excellent source of temporary hearing protection. 

electronic hearing protection reviews

Even though I own several pairs of high-end electronic hearing protection I still keep a good amount of squishies on hand and in my range back for new shooters or those who are a little unprepared. 

The Ear Buddy

Available at Amazon

The price of The Ear Buddy varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

10. Foxnovo Ear Plugs

best earplugs for shooting range

A lot of people really hate squishies but still need an affordable and effective pair of hearing protection. For those folks, I point them to earplugs like the Foxnovo earplugs. These are formed for the ear canal and a lot of people find them more comfortable. 

This is another option for bulk disposable ear plugs for shooting and safety purposes. These earplugs are quite comfortable and connected by a polymer cord. This makes them harder to lose and easier to retain overall.

hearing protection reviews

These earplugs have a noise reduction rating of 25 dB and give you nice and safe hearing protection for outdoors shooting and indoors pistol shooting. For an indoors rifle range I’d suggest a good set of ear muffs on top of these earplugs. 

The Foxnovo earplugs are well built, cheap, and effective for shooters looking for something more comfortable than squishies. 

Foxnovo Ear Plugs

Available at Amazon

The price of Foxnovo Ear Plugs  varies, so check the latest price at Amazon.

Save Your Ears 

The right hearing protection will work wonders when it comes to preserving your hearing. The right pair will also be comfortable, easy to wear, and make your shooting experience much more enjoyable. Regardless of what hearing protection you choose it's critical you choose some kind of hearing protection. 

Do not try and be tough, because science says your ears simply aren’t. Hearing protection should be worn for each and every shot, no excuses. 

References:
  • Safariland Range Kit Photos: ​SoFr​​ep​​​
  • Otis Technology Ear Shield Photos: ​TrucksAndGuns​​​
  • Walker Razor Behind the Neck  Photos:  ​TFG​​​

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.

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