Best Shooting Ear Protection Reviewed & Rated for Safety
There are many times where partaking in the act of shooting for sport or hunting can be an extremely relaxing, or supportive. Some fans of shooting even take up range time just to get some practice in at outdoor lanes, or indoor shooting galleries. But there’s one thing that a lot of people don’t necessarily think of when it comes to shooting guns, even though it should be one of their first thoughts, and that’s protecting your hearing.
Obviously, there is a ton of variation when it comes to gun caliber and size, which will make for a wide range of decibel (the unit of measurement for the loudness of a sound) measurements, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t risk. For instance, the barrier for permanent and harmful immediate damage to an eardrum is around 140db, while one of the quietest calibers of gun on the market is the .32 LONG at a high 153db. This means, paired down to a single answer, literally any cartridge-based ammunition and firearm could cause irreparable damage to your ears in a single shot.
- Honeywell R-01526
- Slim Ear Cups
- Fnova 34dB
- Multi-Purpose Use
It was Homer’s Odyssey that is credited for the first ever mention of hearing protection (there was a rumor of sirens that could sing you into non-existence). The actual market and industry for ear protection began as a speck and went up against an era of modern society that wasn’t as aware of the dangers and damages that could come with some of our favorite past-times. Things like concerts, or race-cars, or shooting. Now though, there’s a much bigger focus on safety, both for the participants and the audience, which is why the market is huge, and there exists a whole ton of extremely quality products.
Plenty of us think of the little neon-colored foam things when we talk about ear protection, as they are commonly used at events to keep audiences from having to withstand potential damage, but there is a wide variety of protection that ranges from in-ear, to over-ear, and even technological. Here, we’ve got a really solid grouping of ten pieces of ear protection that were designed specifically for use while firing guns, or could easily do the job.
10 Best Shooting Ear Protection
1. Honeywell R-01526
The reason why electronic ear protection will always reign supreme over the normal standard of noise-canceling headphones or protection is because they don’t kill all of the sound. Cues and callouts could spell the difference between being a safe shooter and putting someone or yourself in harms way while shooting. The ability to hear your surroundings at a range is extremely important. A built-in microphone picks up and sends ambient noise through to your ears, but completely shuts off and blocks all noise as soon as the ambient noise hits or goes over 85db, keeping you well within the safe zone at all times.
Out of Your Way
One of the toughest parts about using non-shooting related ear protection while at the range is that the designers and manufacturers aren’t aware of what the situation is while you’re shooting. The Howard Leight Honeywell Impact Sport Earmuffs are the opposite. They are designed with comfortable padding all around, but most importantly, slim ear cups and rifle cut-aways for easy cheek leaning and aiming. Try doing that with your standard noise-canceling protection.
Cost and Value
The standard price for the Howard Leight Honeywells is a great deal all on their own. But thanks to being pegged by Amazon as a “must-buy” item, these earmuffs are an absolute steal. They protect your ears from harmful volumes. They amplify ambient noise so you don’t miss the conversations or twig snaps. You can even use them as headphones with the aux jack! There is no greater value on the market.
Amplifies ambient sound
Can play music
Blocks 85db and up
Amazing sale price
Comfort for shooting
Some cup fitting issues
Reports of static
2. Fnova 34dB
While the electronic ear protection might be the most modern way to keep the harmful decibels away from your ears whilst still allowing you to be present, ear protection like this Fnova set are the extremely simple version. There’s nothing fancy here, just extremely deep and thick protection from noise. The Fnova Professional Ear Defenders are like over-ear headphones, but without a single piece of electronics within them. They just simply protect, only allowing 34db of sound within them.
One of the better design decisions made by Fnova when putting together the headband for their Professional Ear Defenders is that they wanted the same earmuffs to fit both adults (with giant heads) and children (that have smaller heads, obviously). This isn’t normally something that earmuff manufacturers think of, rather, they’d prefer to have two offerings, one for adults and a different one for youth.
Cost and Value
It’s always delightful when you think about all the benefits that come with a pared down design, and a simple elegance. One of those perks is that you won’t be paying as much for the simple version of a product as you would if you thought about picking up something a bit more complicated. There’s no shortage of uses for the Ear Defenders by Fnova, and that’s exactly what they’ve aimed for with these budget-friendly monsters of protection.
Fits adults and kids
Some cup fitment issues reported
May be tight on huge heads
One thing no one would ever see coming is a decently made pair of ear protection that comes in under the bar of the normal price for comparable products, that somehow manages to record a better Noise Reduction Rating than almost all of those same big name brand’s versions that you will pay a few bucks more for. The Vanderfields Ear Protection for Shooting has an astounding 26db reduction rating. Meaning that all noise is muffled to 26db or lower while wearing these protective muffs.
Small Name, Big Guarantee
After swinging for the fences with their competition-staggering Noise Reduction Rating they were awarded, this relatively small company backs all of that up with a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee that seems to have no end. If at any point you’re not happy with these higher rated, and slightly cheaper standard protection ear muffs, you will get your money back or a replacement pair.
Cost and Value
Everything about this product oozes value. Whether you want to focus on the brilliant money-back satisfaction guarantee provided by a small manufacturer, or the competitive Noise Reduction Rating, or the slightly cheaper price tag, or the boasted extreme comfort, there’s something to eyeball at every turn with this product, and everyone looking for a decent pair of ear protection muffs should consider picking one up from Vanderfields.
Three color options
100% satisfaction guarantee
Will hurt bigger heads
It’s not that often that we focus so much on aesthetics when we’re reviewing and building guides for safety gear. Everything is usually designed for safety, right down to the visuals. But ear protection is a tad different, because it’s such a small piece of protective gear, a lot of these companies go the extra mile with their looks, and Walker’s is no slouch. These electronic ear protection muffs have an amazing Aircraft Carrier type of design, and they even send along some patches for the side of your muffs.
Noise Reduction Rating
All hearing protection is graded on a rate of decibel allowance and disqualification. This system is called the Noise Reduction Rating, or NRR in short-hand. This number is the maximum amount of exposure your ears will have whilst wearing the given protection, so it’s obviously a lot better to have as low of a NRR number as you can. The Walker’s Patriot Series Electronic Ear Muffs are sitting at a comfortable NRR of 23db. That’s 60 decibels lower than the Howard Leight pair we put at the top of our list.
Cost and Value
The cost of ear protection that installs systems of electronic support are roughly five times the cost of just padded ear protection muffs, but the fact that you’re not getting into crazy price ranges with the technological advancements we’ve made is pretty great. The Walker’s Patriot Series muffs are a great deal at their price, and are backed by a ton of fan appreciation, some extra goodies thrown in, and a staggeringly low NRR rating.
Additional patches for flare
Amplifies ambient noise
Above budget price
Only two colors
Yes we know, technically the last “R” in “NRR” stands for “Rating” but the title of this segment just feels weird if we don’t add the word at the end as well. It keeps things smooth. Stop hassling me! The ClearArmor 141001 (great name right?) have an astounding NRR number of just 31db which is slightly lower than most of the other standard hearing protection muffs on our list, and just above some of the most premium ear protection sets on the entire market.
Much like some other notable headsets on our list, the ClearArmor Shooters Hearing Protection Ear Muffs also have a wide range of fits. At their widest, they will easily go over a full-grown adults head, while at their smallest, will easily fit someone just a few years old, and can even be fitted on some babies (reported in the reviews). That’s a range that many items on this list just won’t compete with.
Cost and Value
You can tell that the ClearArmor Shooters Hearing Protection Safety Ear Muffs are of decent or good quality because they land on the price range at around the same dollar value that all of the other standard (non-electronic) hearing protection comes in at. You get one of the best NRR numbers on one of the best ear protective sets on the market, all for very little in terms of wallet weight.
Wide range of fits
Folds down small
Ear fitment complaints
Can be tight on huge heads
6. Westone DefendEar
Instead of embarking down the path of little foam plugs, Westone has developed plugs that fit firmly in the ear canal, that have more tech packed into them then your Apple AirPods. These little bad boys have the ability to block out anything about 30db from reaching your ear drums, and have three standard settings of ambient noise allowance. Thanks to a tiny microphone, these buds will let normal levels of volume in, even amplifying them in some cases, letting you hear conversation, whispers, and even the rustling of leaves.
Will Fit Almost Everyone
Thanks to the foam fitting ends, the Westone DefendEar (get it? It’s like defender, but with the word ear in it?) can and will fit almost everyone's ear. Simple mush down the foam with your fingers -- like you would with normal neon foam plugs -- and let them retake form within your ear canal. This can be a bit of a process at times, but they do an amazing job of filling almost any ear canal.
Cost and Value
We’ll get it out of the way now, the Westone DefendEar Digital SHooter Hearing Protection Ear Plugs are crazy expensive. But on the shoulders of that vast expense comes half a century of manufacturing and design prowess, as well as a ton of technology and safety packed into these teeny weenie plugs. These are the true golden children of the hearing protection aisle.
Three levels of amplification
Fits almost anyone
Poor customer service
7. Honeywell R-01902
A lot of electronic headphones boast the number that reactionary releases will promote, like the NRR rating (Noise Reduction Rating) and that’s amazing. At its core, all ear protection of any sort should promote how well they can block sound, considering that’s their sole initial job. But the Howard Leight by Honeywell Impact Pro model a few years old uses it’s active ambient noise amplification to allow all sounds up to a safe decibel (82db) and immediately shuts off when anything makes a higher level of sound, which is perfect for gunshots.
Though they are electronic ear protection muffs, the Howard Leight by Honeywell Impact Pro headset can also passively block out sounds above 30db with the microphone and amplifier turned off, making these one of the best protective ear muffs on our entire list, and that’s completely discounting the technologically advanced systemd that it also offers.
Cost and Value
At a few Hamiltons less than the newer, more sleeker model, these Howard Leight Impact Pro over-ear protective muffs are a darn good deal. Even if you were to take out the active electronically advance ambient pass-through and amplification, you’ve still got a top-tier set of protective headphones.
350 hour battery life
Passive 30db NRR
Ear cup fitment woes
Bulkier than other sets
I suppose that most people with average-sized heads have probably never had to deal with the “headset hangover” because they just naturally fit comfortably into any set. But as a large headed human, I can assure you that the headache from headphone pressure is just no fun. Thanks to an adjustable pin system, the Shooting Ear Protection Safety Earmuffs from Ucho have a “no-pressure” guarantee. Along with a 100% risk-free warranty.
It’s not going to blow anyone away, but for a relatively unknown company trying to make a few bucks by offering a surprisingly competitive product in a lucrative market, the Ucho Shooting Ear Protection has a really solid 34db NRR rating, and that’s on par with the biggest brand names on this list.
Cost and Value
Another area that might surprise you is that the Ucho Shooting Ear Protection isn’t below the market median. These competitive protective muffs are also comparable in the price department. With the Ucho pair, you get a comfortable fit sans headache, foldable design, and a 34db on the Noise Reduction Rating board which is fantastic.
Very oval ear cups
9. Pro For Sho
One thing that a lot of people don’t consider -- and unfortunately, those people also include the manufacturers and designers of these products -- is that safety and fashion can have some overlap. But not too much, because you’re still wearing giant earmuffs. The Pro For Sho Maximum Hearing Protection muffs come in nine different amazing colors, and those are just the ones we found on Amazon. These are a great choice if color options is a key to your search.
It’s not really something that stands out against other items on this list, because a lot of products in this market can do this, but it is exceptionally great when a pair of shooting ear protectors that are this size can pack or fold down into something that’s not much bigger than a softball. Most headphones these days don’t even fold away that much, and here you’ve got almost perfect sound protection for your ears that is able of fitting in your jacket pocket or your bag with ease.
Cost and Value
At just a little bit more than the Fnova pair of ear protectors, the Pro For Sho Maximum Hearing Protection is an astounding value at this budget-friendly price. Thanks to the standard non-technological design, these simple earmuffs can withstand high volumes letting in just 34db to the wearers ear drums. Safety at one of the best numbers, and a cheap price is always a good sign.
Can feel tight to some
Ear cup fitment problems
10. Mpow Foam Earplugs
They may resemble those concert-goers ear plugs, and they are, really, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be highly functional at accomplishing the task they set out to do, which is protect against high levels of volume. These little green foam gems have a wonderfully shocking Noise Reduction Rating of 32db, meaning all sound around you is passively muffled to 32db of volume or lower, acting more like a whisper to your ear drums then a gunshot.
Not only are you getting a pair of foam ear plugs that will fit nearly any ear canal, you’re also getting 59 more of the exact same thing! That’s right, there are 60 pairs in this bottle. It’s also great to know that these ear plugs are hygienic, thanks to a cool little plug carrying bottle with a key-chain attachment. They are also made out of gentle and soft foam that won’t do any sort of damage to your inner ear, and have a slow rebound, helping the wearer ensure a perfect fit and position.
Cost and Value
In what other market can you opt to get a really high quality pair of anything, or go for the version that’s slightly cheaper, and comes with 60 pairs? Probably not many. But the Mpow is last on our list for a reason. Many shooting enthusiasts understand that owning often reusable and reliable over-ear protection might be a better investment.
Soft and comfortable foam
Carrier can only hold one pair
Not optimal for re-use
There is a dizzying amount of options if you’re in the market for some shooting ear protection, and we can’t blame you for seeking out a list that might be able to offer some options, or at least assist in narrowing down the field a bit.
Regardless of why you want to block out loud and damaging noises (and shouldn’t we all?), we hope that you’ve found something on this list that will suit you or point you in the right direction. Our hearing if a very utilized, and under-appreciated ability. It’s important that we protect it as much as we can from permanent damage or faltering for as long as is possible.
Criteria Used in Choosing the Best Shooting Ear Protection
There are a few things that really come to mind when one thinks about the specific build qualities of ear protection (whether it’s inner ear protection or over-ear protection), and those are truly the headband, the muffs, and the mechanics.
If we were to look at the regular gold standard for volume protection and ear coverings, you’re going to want to (as we did) pay close attention to the quality of the headband, and that which is stuck to it. This is the part that you will most likely notice the most while wearing it, and picking up some ear protection only to have it bother you because it’s uncomfortable, is a huge bummer. The hinge of the ear cups is also a crucial point of focus because that’s almost always the first thing to go on over-ear protection or headphones. One of the muffs will break off from the hinge and you’ll be left fending for your drums, or just using tap like the rest of us.
The foam in everything matter. But not more than it does within the ear cup. Almost all of the manufacturers on our list, and most of the market will have a clear description or diagram that displays exactly how their ear cups are built, staged out like a lego explosion. This is something you’re going to want to watch out for while shopping. It’s easy to hide the density or quality of a muff in a product shot. The exploded diagram is key.
For those ear protection headsets that rely a whole lot on electronics and technology to offer the wearers a supernatural experience while also protecting their hearing, you’ll need to pay as close attention as you can to the quality of those electronics. You’ll often seek our consumer reviews for this, as it turns out, those tasked with selling shooting ear protection sure don’t understand technical mumbo-jumbo, so there’s a bare minimum in the product descriptions.
Features aren’t deep in the standard pairs of over-ear protection. You’ve usually got a lightweight build, ear cups (obviously), and possibly some design that allows you to fold them up and stick them in a bag or carrier. That’s about it. There isn’t a huge list of extras one can search for when looking for the bare-bones side of the market.
The electrical and technical side of the ear protection market, however, is an astounding array of tech specs and features. From the ability to amplify ambient noise one, two, or three times louder than natural. To the absolutely crucial ability to completely shut off all incoming noise when the volume range hits a certain threshold.
Other general features include shipping with a case or carrier, having other forms of protection in the box (hunting glasses, etc), or just having some awesome variety in the color department.
It’s important that we don’t head into our search for anything with the idea that just because this market sounds boring and simple, that we shouldn’t shop for some features that might drastically improve our experience or pleasure. Be crucial regarding a product’s features, and the contents of a package. There’s no shame in looking for the best option, rather than a great option.
It began a little bit hairy, but we quickly established that there are two distinct (incredibly so, I might add) price ranges in the world of shooting ear protection. Either one of them is grande, and affordable. Of course, there are astoundingly expensive ear protection options out there (we included a single one), but those are mostly the exception and not the rule.
There’s a range of hearing protection earmuffs that come with no technical aspects, and all they focus on is getting the absolute best job done in keeping the noise you hear to a minimum. They do a great job of that. These will run you a few Benjamins. The median is pretty comparative, and you truly shouldn’t really have to even consider options at the 30 to 40 dollar price range, because there’s so much quality at half that price.
Then there are the active listening, ambient allowance, and more advanced ear muffs that come to the table being able to allow the wearer to remain attached to the sounds of the outside world and only cutting off the sound when it reaches a dangerous level. These ear protection options shouldn’t ever reach three digits, but they can run anywhere between 50 and 80-ish bucks, which is pretty worth it for the improvement in experience that technology has brought to the world of sound dampening.
As with anything we post here, it’s really important to find a budget and stay within it. It truly helps if you narrow down your search criteria before setting out on the adventure of shopping because this will help keep you focused on true competitors, instead of getting lost in a different battle all-together.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a decibel?
A: In a world where we have to be able to measure everything, the decibel is the actual unit used to measure the impact or density of volume. This can include all things that produce sound, including cars, concerts, guns and more. There are many tools that can be used to measure decibels, and the use of decibels in relation to hearing protection is extremely important because that’s the exact scale we need to measure these products up against.
Q: What is a harmful volume?
A: The scale of decibels is a little bit tricky, mathematically. It can often not make a whole lot of sense. The website HowStuffWorks describes that a jet engine is nearly a trillion times more powerful than a near silent noise, yet, on the decibel scale, it’s 120 in comparison to the silent 0dB. Things like a whisper would rate between 15 and 20dB, while conversation at normal volume rates around the 60dB range. Permanent damage isn’t guaranteed but can begin to be afflicted on your eardrums starting around the 80-85dB range. For comparison sake, a rock concert or a jet engine is 120dB, and a gunshot (the whole reason we’re here rating these items) is a whopping 140 decibels on the scale. So protection while shooting should be mandatory if you like your ability to hear things.
Q: What does NRR stand for?
A: Tons of people asked this question, and that’s because a lot of the products on the market display a NRR number without any context. Some of the brands that took a bit more time to flesh out their product descriptions did break it down though, and we’re here to help you! The NRR number listed on ear protection is what’s known as the Noise Reduction Rating. This is given out by a testing facility (much like a DOT sticker on a motorcycle helmet) and rates the protection according to how muffled sounds will be. For instance, a 34dB NRR means that those particular ear muffs will take sounds that are 120dB (a randomly chosen amount) and only allow 34dB of volume through. This is why things sound a little weird and low when you’re got your ears plugged or are wearing protection.