Best Ear Protection for Shooting

When you’re out hunting, it’s very easy to think that the sound of a gunshot will carry further and therefore won’t really have any impact on your hearing, so you’ll be fine without protection. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Consider that the suggested safe exposure limit for sound without any protection is 85 decibels. To put that into context, normal conversation comes in at around 60dB, and a stadium concert can reach heights of 100dB.

A firearm sounds off at a staggering 140dB and, not only that, but tends to be in much closer proximity to your ear than somebody talking to you, or a sound system at a gig. 

Without a doubt, correct ear protection needs to be one of your top priorities when you’re out hunting, and is an essential addition to your hunting gear. But, as with all hunting accessories, there are so many options to choose from that things can become a little confusing.

That’s why we’ve put together this list of our five favorite ear protectors, along with a useful buying guide on what to look out for before making your purchase.

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Best Ear Protection for Shooting - Comparison Table

Best Ear Protection for Shooting - Reviews

Constructed using proprietary technology, these safety ear muffs from ClearArmor have a very high NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of 31dB, which offers fantastic protection against gunshot sounds when you’re out hunting, or shooting at a gun range.

These ear protectors feature a SoundBlocker Shell, that is engineered to reflect sound away from the ear cup, as well as dampen any sound waves, and a SonicRing that isolates any vibrations that have been absorbed by the shell.

Both of these features are welded together by a SonicSeal that prevents any sound from entering your ears, even at close range. Throughout each earpiece, there are also multiple layers of NASA developed LRPu (Low Resilience Polyurethane) foam that will help to insulate against low to mid frequencies as well as dampen vibrations. 

Each ear cup tilts to give you a custom fit, and their super soft foam cushions make wearing them comfortable, as well as providing an extra ring of protection around your ears. The padded headband is also fully adjustable, so can be fitted to whatever size you require.

Pros

  • Have a very high NRR rating of 31dB that offers great ear protection against gunshots
  • Features a SoundBlocker shell to reflect sound away from the ear cups, giving you extra protection
  • The SonicRing helps to isolate any vibrations absorbed by the shell, and keeps all the components as a solid unit
  • Uses NASA developed foam that insulates against low-mid frequency sound waves

Cons

  • Some customers noted that these ear muffs were a bit bulkier to carry around than some other ear protectors

Designed to be as low profile as possible, without compromising on quality, these ear protectors from Walker’s have an NRR of 23dB.

Featuring twin omni-directional microphones, combined with high definition speakers, you’ll be able to clearly hear ambient noise and commands at a safe level with minimal background interference. 

A super fast reaction time of 0.02 seconds will automatically cut out the microphones at noise levels above 89dB, meaning that you can safely shoot your firearm without any fear of it damaging your ears.

The built-in audio jack lets you connect your music to the ear protectors, and the headband has been padded to provide extra comfort all day long. They also fold down easily for compact storage and portability.

Pros

  • Have an NRR of 23dB
  • Twin omni-directional microphones, combined with high definition speakers, cut out background noise and allow you to hear commands clearly
  • A lightning-quick 0.02 reaction time cuts out noises above 89dB
  • Includes an audio jack which allows you to connect your MP3 player

Cons

  • Some customers found that these ear protectors became slightly uncomfortable when worn for extended periods

These ear protectors from Howard Leight have been specially designed for handgun shooters that are looking for superior protection. 

With an impressive NRR of 30dB, they also contain built-in directional microphones that amplify range commands and ambient noise to a safe 82dB, allowing you to still be able to hear what is happening around you. 

This amplification automatically shuts off when a sound exceeds 82dB, meaning that your ears are immediately protected when you trigger your firearm. They also feature patented Air Flow Control technology, that provides optimal noise reduction across all frequencies. 

These ear protectors are super comfortable to wear thanks to a padded, non-slip headband and snap-in ear cushions, and they even feature headphone functionality that allows you to connect to an external MP3 player!

Pros

  • Specially designed for anyone shooting with a handgun
  • Have an impressive NRR of 30dB
  • Built-in directional microphones amplify ambient noise to 82dB, and automatically shuts off when exceeded to protect your ears
  • Features headphone functionality for connection to an external MP3 player

Cons

  • As these ear protectors are electronic, they require batteries to utilize all of the features

Ideal for shotgun shooters, these electronic ear protectors from Caldwell have an NRR of 23dB, and contain microphones that amplify sounds below 85dB so you will still be able to hear commands and ambient sounds.

Any sounds above the 85dB mark will cause the microphones to automatically shut off, protecting your ears from any potentially damaging noise levels. 

Powered by 2 AAA batteries, they feature an MP3 connector socket so you can play music or listen to your favorite podcast should you choose to, and the built in volume control dial will help you find the perfect listening level. 

Their low profile design, padded headband and adjustable ear cups make them comfortable to wear, and they are also foldable and lightweight, making transporting and storing them in your hunting pack easy and convenient.

Pros

  • Have an NRR of 23dB and contain microphones that help amplify sounds below 85dB, keeping you aware of your surroundings
  • Any noise above 85dB will be automatically muted
  • Features an MP3 connector socket and a volume control dial
  • Foldable and lightweight for easy transportation and storage

Cons

  • Customers that purchased these ear protectors found that they had a chemical-like smell to them, which could potentially be detected by your target when you’re out hunting

Ideal for both outdoor and indoor shooting, these ear protectors from Peltor Sport feature proprietary technology that helps to suppress harmful gunshot noises whilst also amplifying low-level sounds.

This is achieved through ‘Adaptive Frequency Response’ and recessed microphones which reduce background and wind noise, allowing you to focus on commands and hear conversations more clearly.  

They also use ‘Variable Suppression Time’ that helps to reduce echo sounds, which is particularly useful if you’re using these indoors at a shooting range. These ear protectors also feature an MP3 jack, allowing you to connect to your music.

The padded, durable headband is fully adjustable, and the soft ear cushions don’t only make these comfortable to wear, but also bring an extra level of sound protection to your ears.

Pros

  • Proprietary technology helps to suppress gunshot noise, as well as amplify low level sound
  • Features recessed microphones that reduce background and wind noise
  • Variable Suppression Time also reduces echo sound - ideal if you’re shooting indoors at a range
  • Comes complete with an MP3 jack allowing you to connect to your media device

Cons

  • Some customers noted that these headphones used battery life quite quickly, so it would be worth getting some rechargeable batteries to use with them

Best Ear Protection for Shooting - Buyers Guide

As we’ve mentioned before, firing a gun without any ear protection can cause serious, irrevocable damage to your ears. Whether you’re shooting outdoors on a hunting expedition, or indoors at a shooting range, you need to make sure that your ears are protected.

But before making the decision over which pair you’d like to buy, there are some important factors to bear in mind. 

NRR Rating

NRR is an acronym for Noise Reduction Rating, and when you’re shopping around for the perfect ear protection for shooting, one thing you need to look out for is the NRR number. In fact, this is arguably the most important thing to consider.

Each pair of ear protectors is assigned a number according to the NRR chart. When you're wearing ear protection, the level of noise you are exposed to is based on the NRR rating, which will be measured in decibels. 

Bear in mind, though, that the amount of NRR decibels your ear protector has does not reduce surrounding noise by that amount. For instance, if you are operating a rifle with a decibel volume of 140dB, and are wearing ear protection with an NRR rating of 30dB, your level of exposure would not be reduced to 110dB.

Determining your actual level of decibel exposure takes a little working out, but luckily there is a very simple formula.

To work out the decibel reduction, take the NRR number of your ear protection (33dB for example), subtract 7 and then divide by two. This would make your equation (33-7)/2 = 13. Therefore your level of decibel exposure on a 140dB firearm would actually be 127dB.

With this equation in mind, it’s worth researching how many decibels you are going to be exposed to, and find ear protection that will bring it down to a safe level. Essentially, the higher the NRR number, the better.

Electronic vs. Passive

When you’re making your decision over which ear protection is best for you, you’ll be faced with two types to choose from: electronic and passive.

Electronic ear protectors require a power source to function, which is ordinarily batteries, so if you decide to go for a pair of electronic ones then you’ll need to commit to carrying extra batteries with you on your hunting trip, or investing in rechargeable ones. 

One great thing about electronic ear protectors, though, is that they come with functions that provide amplification over softer sounds, whilst also reducing and muting any harmful noises, meaning you can still hear commands and ambient noises without any background interference.

They also tend to come with an MP3 input jack, so you can connect your music to them.

Passive ear protectors do not require any input of power, and are essentially a headband with protective ear cups on either end. Although simplistic in their design, they are still very effective at drowning out damaging noises and protecting your hearing. 

Although passive ear protectors lack any hi-tech functionality that you get from their electronic counterpart, they are often lighter in weight, which makes them easier to transport and store away when not in use.

Comfort

For ear protectors to carry out their purpose effectively, they need to be properly positioned on your head and completely cover your ears. You may be wearing them for a prolonged period of time, so you will want to make sure that they are comfortable.

As a rule, all ear protectors come with a headband that will run horizontally across the top of your head. To ensure this is as comfortable as possible, we would recommend looking for a pair that offers extra padding on the headband. 

Look for a pair with the option to adjust the width of the headband as well, as this will not only allow for comfort, but will also ensure that they are fitted properly and safely.

The ear cups themselves also need to fit completely over your ears, but hard plastic pressing against your ears can be extremely uncomfortable, so it’s definitely worth looking for a pair that offer extra cushioning. 

Durability

A decent pair of ear protectors can be a big investment for some people, so you should make sure that the pair you decide on will last you a good amount of time. 

Be sure to thoroughly research the materials that your ear protectors are constructed from. Although it’s important that their outer body is going to be durable, it’s also really important to make sure that the sound absorbing components are also going to last. 

Ear cups constructed from layers that have been welded together will last for a very long time, and the solid nature of the unit will prevent any individual pieces dropping off or getting damaged.

Extra Features

See what else you can get for your money when you’re looking for your ear protectors as well. Many come with extra features that will give you that extra bit of functionality for your money, so you’ll feel like your budget has gone a bit further. 

Some ear protectors will let you connect to an MP3 player, which is a great extra feature if you are planning a solo hunting trip or you’re going to the gun range by yourself.

MP3 compatible ear protectors will also often include a volume dial, which will allow you to control the sound level of your music without having to get your device out. 

Appearance

If you’re out on a hunting trip, you’re most likely going to be dressed from head to toe in camouflage, and there’s a strong chance that any other accessories you’ve taken with you will be camouflage or naturally colored as well.

With that in mind, you don’t want to be sporting a bright orange pair of ear protectors that will make you stand out and potentially get spotted by your target. So carefully consider what you would like the appearance of your ear protection to look like, and try to keep it in line with the rest of your hunting gear. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do I need ear protection for shooting?

When you’re using a firearm, the average noise level it gives off is around 140dB. The safe range for a human ear is 85dB at maximum, so you’re exposing your ears to an extra 55dB of sound. Keep in mind that you’re also likely to be taking multiple shots throughout the day, or in quick succession if at a gun range, so using ear protection when shooting is extremely important and will help to reduce any long term, irrevocable damage to your hearing.

What is NRR?

NRR stands for Noise Reduction Rating, and is used to give you an accurate measure of how many decibels your ear protection will absorb and protect you from. There is an important, but simple, equation you need to work out when looking at the NRR rating of your ear protection, which we’ve outlined in our buyer’s guide above.

Which is better - electronic or passive ear protection?

This will come down to personal preference, as both electronic and passive ear protectors do a fantastic job of protecting your hearing. Electronic ones tend to have more features, such as MP3 sockets and sound amplifying microphones, whereas passive ones are more lightweight and portable. 

How many decibels should my ear protection protect against?

The maximum safe decibel range for the human ear is 85dB. With that in mind, your ear protection needs to be strong enough, and have a high enough NRR number, to bring gunshot decibels down to this level.

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