From $14 to $400: What Ear Protection Should You Buy?
The options for ear protection are many, and you can spend a lot of time scrolling through web pages searching for the perfect pair. To make things even harder, many look very similar. At the end of the day, you just need something that will protect your hearing when shooting. So why all the options?
We are here to help you sort it out. We put together a comprehensive review and grabbed five of our favorite sets of ear pro to help you find what you actually need, whether it’s the most basic foam earplugs or the top-of-the-line electronic buds. Here’s how it breaks down.
Styles: Muffs or Plugs?
First, decide what style you want – muffs or plugs. Each has a list of pros and cons, so it is truly a personal preference. Muffs wrap over the head and are very easy to take on and off. They’re also often better at screening out higher frequency sounds. One size typically fits all, and they are very durable. The major drawback is interference with cheek weld, glasses, and hats. I’ve also found muffs can put a lot of pressure on your head, which can cause aching over time. On hot days, the sweat factor is less than desirable.
Plugs do not interfere with any other gear, are compact, and highly effective. They are, however, size-specific to fit and work best. Plugs also have the nasty disadvantage of being easy to drop in the dirt, picking up every bit of sand or getting lost.
Everyone has their preferences and reasons. Personally, I’ve shot in a lot of competitions, including rifle, pistol, and shotgun matches all over the country. This has led me to prefer muffs for louder guns (double plugging with in-ear and over-ear) and for colder weather. Muffs are also ideal for shooting environments where you might take your ears off regularly. For warm weather and long days, plugs are more comfortable. Since I have a very small head, they also do not interfere with cheek welds on long guns, unlike muffs.
Electronic or Not?
Starting with the most basic, passive protection is both inexpensive and effective. They work very well and have a low price tag. It’s easy to try several pairs without breaking the bank.
The advantage of electronic ear pro is the ability to better hear the environment around you. The nifty ability to connect to Bluetooth, listening to music during downtime or practice sessions, is a huge bonus. When I started as a range officer, electronic ears became a must to hear range commands, shooter questions, and everything that’s going on. This can be a big safety feature. Electronic ears do come with a higher price tag, and the sound can leave you frustrated if the quality is low.
Our Top Picks?
These have been some of our top sellers for ear protection. So, to figure out if they are truly “top-seller” worthy, I took these ears to the range and wore them during various competitions and gun demos ranging from .50 BMG to .22 LR. Let’s see how they stacked up.
Safariland Impulse Range Kit
If you want a starter kit, this one offers plugs, muffs, and eye protection. It's everything needed to hit the range at an affordable price. The plugs are foam with a hard backing and rubber rope. This makes them an upgrade over disposable plugs, and the rope helps to ensure you don’t lose them. The foam has a round tip, which makes rolling them difficult, but they work as one would expect once in your ear.
A nice feature is the port. Foam ears can sometimes over muffle (if that’s a thing). Opening the port will save you from yelling at friends on the range. The muffs...work. For the price of the kit, they are solid, but the band is uncomfortable and the cups are hard. I found they didn’t seal as well as I hoped. Fortunately, with plugs to combine with the muffs, these are sufficient for any range day. I will typically wear the plugs and only save the muffs for louder guns, shooting inside, or under covered positions. The eye pro was good quality and a great bonus.
Combined 38db reduction
Everything in one kit needed for ear and eye protection
Howard Leight Impact Sport
For an all-around electronic muff, these Impact Sports fit the bill perfectly. Turning on the electronic component is a simple scroll of a wheel located on the side of the muff. They have a slim enough profile to make long-gun shooting a non-issue, and the band is made well. As for comfort, the Impact Sports worked great for several hours, but the band was too much pressure after a full day. Gel ear cups would be a great upgrade, but the cups that come with it were supple enough to seal very well.
These ears managed to get thrown, dropped, and rained on – They always worked. From big calibers to small, the Impact Sports did a good job. However, with larger rifles (such as 6.5 Creedmoor or 50BMG), pairing them with plugs is recommended.
350 hours on battery
Auto shut-off feature
Surefire EP3 Sonic Defenders
At a price of $14, these basic plugs have the look of something much more expensive. The Surefire Sonic Defenders are solid plug upgrades over foamies. They even come with a small case, and the attachable chain was nifty to tie them to my pants and help prevent losing them when it came time to take them out.
The double-flanged stems really helped to keep these plugs in place and even helped with fit. Small ports on the side allow more sound to come in should you choose. These worked excellent with non-magnum handgun calibers and even kept up with 5.56. Should you start to shoot big calibers, combining them with muffs would be smart. Overall, I loved these and, for the price, how can you beat them?
Small carrying case
Caldwell E-Max Shadows
The E-Max Shadows were the easiest electronic earplugs to use. After unwrapping the box and putting them in my ears, I was instantly pleased to hear they were on and working. No user manual or buttons to mess with here. The case is a bit bulky, but the closure is high quality and charges the plugs the second you put them back in. I’m a big fan of these. For a solid price, they are comfortable with clear audio. I wore these shooting some larger calibers and felt comfortable. There were no issues with them falling out when running around with them.
Over multiple range days, the E-Max plugs got shoved into pockets, dropped, and even stepped on. Often, foam can pick up dirt and lint easily – a frustrating con to plugs. But the foam was hard enough to not pick up unwanted debris, and the hard plastic bodies held up to abuse. The charge did last a whole day (auto shut-off helped), but it requires charging after that. Charging is done with a Micro USB. It’s easy to tell if they are charging or dead based on a small light they emit.
5 hours of battery life
Walker’s Rope Hearing Enhancer
With a thin rubber rope connecting the electronic earbuds, these Walker’s are easy to take off and rest around your shoulders. They are very light, so light in fact, I didn’t notice when they fell. To make matters worse, mine were tan and disappeared into the abyss of range dirt. So, just make sure you take care of them when not in use.
Before these babies went MIA, I had the opportunity to try them at a demo day and found the Hearing Enhancers comfortable with good audio quality. The controls allow you to adjust compression modes, and they do a great job with 29db reduction. I saw multiple people rocking the exact same pair. With mine missing, I couldn’t help but pepper them with questions. One park ranger said they were his go-to, having used them for years. The battery life proved to work for everyone, ensuring no charging sessions for a whole day of shooting.
High/low compression modes
15 hours of battery life
3 pairs of foam tips (small, medium, large)
I won’t lie, this is a set of ear protection I’ve been drooling over for years, but the hefty price tag is a hard pill to swallow. Are they worth $400? If you are serious about ear protection and want the best, yes. Thankfully, the Peltors did not disappoint. In fact, after using them, I fell a bit more in love. Coming with a wide array of sizes, it was easy to find tips that fit. They were super comfortable and stayed in even when running around.
The audio quality is incredible. I could hear people talking from across the range. Feeling confident with the noise reduction, I even tried these with .50 BMG, and no ringing ensued after. They are user friendly, with a button on the buds to turn them on, and hooking up Bluetooth was a breeze. The color is also perfect and made losing these ears difficult. A full day of wear is no issue for the electronics. In terms of durability, these ears and the case went through rainy days and multiple drops with no issue.
What really impressed me was the case. Most electronic ear protection is charged with a Micro USB either to the case or plugging directly into the ears. These can power with Micro USB or AA batteries.
16 hours of life
4 pairs of rubber tips (small, medium, large)
1 pair of foam tips
15 pairs of windscreen foam
Charging case (batteries included)
What to Pick
Everything comes down to preference. Determine if you want muffs, plugs, electronics, and what price works for you. Depending on where those decisions lead, any of these ear protection options will work. From $14 to $400, you’ll have to decide just how much time you spend on the range to justify your choice.