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How to Choose The Best Ear Protection For Shooting

How to Choose The Best Ear Protection For Shooting

If you’ve ever been shooting before, you know that guns are LOUD.

Using ear protection is one of the first things that most people learn about when being introduced to firearms, and rightfully so. If you plan to enjoy a long life of not only shooting but being able to participate well in everyday life, then you should take hearing safety extremely seriously.

Ear protection for shooting is one of the most important accessories you can have as a gun owner. But not all hearing protection is created equal. Before you hit the range, you need to find one that’s comfortable, has an adequate noise reduction rating, and comes with the features you want.

Every shot you take with a firearm should be with shooting ear muffs or some other kind of hearing protection. After all, it’s nearly impossible to recover from long-term hearing loss.

Ultimately, there are many good options for ear safety at a wide variety of budgets: the only truly poor choice is to forgo hearing protection in the first place.

Importance of Shooting Ear Protection

While human beings perceive sound subjectively: that is to say, we all hear things a little bit differently from each other, sounds are measured objectively using decibels.

While there’s a lot of math and measurements involved in the study of sound, we need not get too far into the mathematical weeds here. The important thing is that the more decibels a sound is perceived at, the louder it is.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a handy chart of common sounds, their usual decibels, and their effects on people. Day-to-day life activities like a conversation run at about 60 decibels, whereas things that will annoy us, like being next to a washing machine while you’re trying to have a conversation, are between 70-85. Mowing the lawn can cause damage in about two hours, while a single firecracker going off is rated at 140-150 decibels and can cause immediate “pain and ear injury.”

A table filled with items you need when you go shooting as ear protection, a Vedder Holster, your handgun, protective eyewear and a pocket knife.

A research group at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association rates firearms in excess, depending on caliber, of 175 decibels: The conclusion here is very clear: a single gunshot can lead to permanent hearing damage if you do not wear ear protection.

Since this piece is not about suppressors, what we’re looking for is hearing protection that can reduce the heard decibels as low as possible, ideally below 75 decibels or so to keep our hearing intact for years to come.

In addition to it being a good idea for your health, it is highly unlikely that any shooting range will allow you onto the firing line without having hearing protection. So, if you plan on shooting anywhere but private property, it is likely that you will have to have hearing protection anyway.

What to Look for in Ear Protection for Shooting

As you shop for hearing protection, you’ve no doubt realized that there are tons of options in a lot of different configurations, and all those choices can get a little overwhelming. Luckily, I find that there are just a few factors to consider when deciding between different options for hearing protection.

Noise Reduction Rating

The first and most important thing to look for when shopping for hearing protection is the number of decibels it can reduce, otherwise known as its “noise reduction rating” or NRR.

Unfortunately, there are no strict standards for how high an NRR should be, since it varies depending on what you’re shooting and whether you’re inside or out. Obviously, the higher the NRR the better, but what’s the minimum protection needed?

As a general rule, ear protection with an NRR rating between 20dB to 33dB should be sufficient, and is the minimum that is recommended.


There are two main types of hearing protection: shooting ear buds and shooting ear muffs. Both work similarly well in reducing perceived sound in your ears, but they’re very different in terms of how they fit.

Ear buds are small and thus extremely easy to carry around: they can be bought by the tub and make an excellent addition to any range bag, glove box, and so on. This makes them an affordable choice for a wide range of folks.They’re also pretty easy to lose, as a quick look at the floor of any gun range will tell you. Some models have lanyards or strings to alleviate this, but since ear plugs are small, they’re likely to go missing. Some shooters also experience an unpleasant build-up of sweat and ear wax using them, so it’s a good thing that there are other options.

Ear muffs generally fit over the ear and make a seal to keep out the noise. These have the benefit of making your ears a sealed environment that’s quite safe as long as they’re fitted correctly, while making some room for your ears to breathe as well. Although technology can change the economic equation quite a bit, shooting ear muffs tend to be bigger, more expensive, and bulkier than ear plugs.

Range shooting using the correct gear like it is ear protection for shooting and glasses.


The digital age has added a lot of awesome features to the world of hearing protection. Even relatively affordable earbud models can have Bluetooth connectivity so that you can listen to music or a podcast while you shoot.

Some of the more sophisticated ear muffs have modes that not only do the main job of reducing the noise the shooter hears from firearms, but can amplify voices, the impact on steel targets, etc., making them a truly awesome tool for taking classes where you have to be able to hear instructors speaking while also keeping ear protection on at all times.

While this added tech does add to the expense of hearing protection, the additional capabilities that the technology can provide make them a good investment for people who plan to do a lot of shooting.


Luckily, you don’t have to spring for expensive electronic earmuffs to get proper ear protection.

For example, these relatively affordable ear plugs claim a 25-decibel reduction in heard noise. To make a comparison, these costlier over-the-ear models claim a 21-decibel reduction in heard noise.

Either of those choices would make gunfire a lot more tolerable for a much longer period of time: this is especially true when you consider that the measurements of firearm volume are likely taken at the muzzle, and things like distance and air density from humidity make a big difference in perceived sound.

There’s an important set of conclusions to be drawn here. One, it is entirely possible to get adequate hearing protection for just a few dollars. Second is that you will need to do some reading on the specific products that you’re thinking about buying to ensure they have a reasonable decibel rating.

Choosing the Best Shooting Ear Protection For You

Ultimately, choosing the right hearing protection for you is a matter of taking decibel reduction, form factor, and technology into mind while also thinking about economics.

Even if budget is a major constraint, for less than the cost of a cup of coffee, you can get shooting ear buds that reduce gunfire to safe levels. But, a lot of shooters will find that spending a little bit more for some quality ear muffs is worth the money. These budget options of various form factors are great for all shooters, and it’s important to not compromise on non-rated ear protection.

The form factor is a matter of comfort and personal choice: For example, wearing ear muffs might be great for people who make a lot of ear wax, but ear plugs are easier to wear with thick hats at cold-weather outdoor ranges.

Man using protective shooting ear protection

Finally, technology can make things more expensive, but, as I mentioned before, if you’re taking a class or want to listen to some music, the ability to connect to Bluetooth or amplify conversations can be indispensable.

There is also nothing stopping you from combining types of hearing protection: wearing a set of cheap ear plugs with some ear muffs over them is a fantastically effective and safe way of preserving your hearing.

Shooting ear plugs are so inexpensive that they can be part of the basic kit for every firearm: stashing a pair in your firearms cases can help to ensure that you’ll always have some kind of hearing protection available.

If shooting ear muffs are more your speed and you go with a type that is electronic, making sure that they’re charged, or that you bring along spare batteries, can save you from a lot of hassle at the range as well. Electronic shooting ear protection can be a major benefit for modern shooters, and the upkeep is often well more than worth it for folks who take a lot of classes or simply like to have conversations at the range.


I can’t say this enough: wear shooting hearing protection with every single shot that you take. If you’re lucky enough to be into shooting and not have hearing issues, you should do anything and everything you can to keep it that way.

At a bare minimum, have some cheap foam shooting ear buds available all the time. If your budget allows, electronic ear muffs are the way to go in the 21st century, especially if you plan on taking classes either indoors or at outdoor ranges. For options somewhere in the middle, standard ear muffs can be a great option, too.

That’s another good reason to buy and keep ear protection for shooting around: you can use it outside of the range as well and for the exact same reason. With that in mind, a nice pair of shooting ear buds with Bluetooth connectivity would make mowing the lawn a lot more fun than it is now.

Aside from hearing protection, a good holster is a key piece of firearm safety equipment. If you’re looking for a new IWB, OWB, or pocket carry holster, visit our Holsters by Gun Model page for Kydex holsters that are custom-made for your weapon of choice.

Interested in items beyond holsters? Check out our Resources Page for links to recommended products like lights, lasers, first aid, maintenance, and more, and browse our selection of apparel, and accessories at our website,

To stay up-to-date on all the latest Vedder Holsters content and offerings, check out our blog and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And be sure to visit our sister company, GeoGrit, for all of your American-made minimalist wallet needs.

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