You must wear hearing protection while shooting, and there are 5 good choices.
When choosing your hearing protection, it’s important to understand the standardized rating method. In the U.S., it’s the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) and ranges from 0 to 33 decibels — the higher NRR, the greater the protection. Although hearing protection can vary, and when searching online I found more than 1 million different options, there are only 2 basic styles: the earplug and the earmuff.
Earplugs fit inside the ear openings and usually provide the minimum amount of protection, while earmuffs cover the outsides of the entire ears. Both earplugs and earmuffs can be either passive or electronic. Passive ear protection dampens the sound and is the least expensive. Electronic ear protection uses technology to suppress the noise, yet still allows the wearers to hear what is going on around them.
Types of earplugs
Disposable foam earplugs (foamies) muffle the sound around you, offering basic protection. This type of hearing protection should only be worn once and then disposed of. There are 2 types of foamies, the kind you have to flatten/roll to insert and the no-roll kind. For the rollies, insertion is simple — just roll it a few times between your fingers and insert into your ear canal. The no-roll types use a built in stem and you just push it into your ear. I always carry a few extra sets of these in my range bag, in case I lose mine, or someone forgets theirs. Foamies usually cost less than $1, and are available in various shapes, sized and colors, so it’s worth carrying around a few spares.
Reusable earplugs offer more protection than disposable foam earplugs, and may be equipped with acoustic filters and impact noise protection. Unlike the disposable foam kind, the reusable earplugs may last for weeks when properly cared for. They come in many shapes, colors and sizes, with prices ranging from $1 to $30, depending on various options.
Molded earplugs are custom fit and are usually made on-site (many companies will attend shooting events and fit custom molds for shooters). However, do-it-yourself kits are available, and you can also get molds created by your local audiologist.
The process for getting molded earplugs is very simple and painless. When I had mine made at a match by Hear-Pro, the employee carefully placed a small stopper made of foam with a thin piece a string attached to it into my ear canal. Then, a tool, similar to a cookie press, pumped the cream like substance inside my ear canal. After waiting 10 minutes, the company rep removed the hardened molds by pulling on the strings. Had I purchased the InstaPRO Earplugs ($65), I would have been able to take them home that day. Since I wear mine quite a bit, I chose the PRO37 ($155 to $235). These are made of a material that provides 37 decibels of noise reduction, but also allow voice level communication to pass through.
Electronic earplugs provide automatic protection from gunshots and other sudden-impact noises, while, at the same time, offering amplified sounds through tiny speakers. Whether custom, or not, the technology used in electronic ear plugs allows you to have both hearing protection and the ability to hear what’s going on around you. This is the style of hearing protection I prefer to use when I am on the range for an extended amount of time. Prices for this type of hearing protection vary from $500 to more than $1,500.
Earmuffs are available in many sizes, shapes and colors. Like earplugs, they’re available as both passive or electronic. Whether you like the headband style or a behind-the-head fit, they’re usually adjustable, so you can find a style that fits comfortably. Passive earmuffs cost roughly $10 and up, while electronic earmuffs start around $15, but can cost up to $500.
So, with all these choices, how do you know what to wear? For many people, it depends on what activity they are involved in. When just practicing shooting pistol on the range, many people will double up their hearing protection, inserting foamies and adding passive muffs over top of them. Many competitive shooters, or those on a range with other shooters, prefer electronic protection, so they can be better aware of what is going on around them. Another important element to take into consideration is what type of firearm you will be shooting. Sometimes, with long guns, it’s difficult to wear earmuffs, because they get in the way when shouldering the gun.
My suggestion is to find what works best for you. Sometimes, having a few choices in your range bag is your best bet. That way you can switch out as needed.
Michelle Cerino, aka Princess Gunslinger, is the managing and social media editor at The WON. Michelle is the president of Cerino Consulting and Training Group, LLC, a firearms training company she built with her husband Chris in 2011. Her path in the firearms and outdoors industries is ever progressing. She is writing, hunting, competing and doing contract work for major manufacturers. View all posts by Michelle Cerino