There are many pieces of equipment that you need when you pay a visit to the shooting range: targets, ammunition, safety glasses, and of course, hearing protection.
Being exposed to firearm discharges repeatedly without hearing protection can result in permanent long term hearing damage, even if it’s from a smaller caliber firearm such as a .22 LR.
This is why it is essential that you take basic precautions to protecting your ears when you hit the range if you want to preserve your hearing. It’s also important that you wear your hearing protection every time you go, and not just ‘when you feel like it.’
But while wearing hearing protection is certainly important, not all hearing protection products are created equally. Some will do a better, or worse, job of protecting your hearing over others.
This is why it is important that you know about the three most important qualities to look for in hearing protection equipment for shooting, and afterwards, we’ll go into the four primary types of hearing protection devices to choose from.
3 Qualities To Look For In Hearing Protection
Here are three specific qualities that you need to look for in hearing protection devices:
1 – NOISE REDUCTION EFFECTIVENESS
Without question, this is the single most important factor to consider when choosing which hearing protection device you’ll go with, because it’s the whole point of using hearing protection in the first place!
The most effective way to find out how effective a hearing protection product will be, without actually testing the product on the range yourself, will be to research its NRR, or Noise Reduction Rating.
The NRR simply rates how well a noise reduction product actually reduces noise, whether it be shooting muffs or earplugs or anything else. All hearing protection products sold on the market today are inspected by the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in order to assign the NRR rating.
In order to understand how the NRR system works, we first need to understand the different decibel (or dB) levels.
Any noise at or over 120 dB is considered painful, and examples include gunfire, airplanes, and jackhammers. 90 dB is considered to be extremely loud, such as chainsaws or lawnmowers. 60 dB is considered to be very loud, such as vacuums or alarm clocks, while 50dB is moderate such as a busy office. Under 40 dB is considered faint, such as whispering or the air conditioner.
The NRR is measured using decibels, but the NRR number does not represent the number of decibels that are reduced when you’re wearing the hearing protection device.
For example, if a set of earmuffs have an NRR rating of 25, that does not mean that a noise of 100 dBs would be reduced to 75. Instead, what you need to do is take the NRR number, subtract seven from it, and then divide the resulting number by two to get what the noise would really be reduced by.
So in the previous example, based on that equation earmuffs with an NRR rating of 25 would reduce a 100 dB noise down to about 91 dBs.
2 – COMFORT
Not only do your hearing protection devices need to be very effective at reducing noise, they also need to be comfortable. If they aren’t, then chances are you won’t wear them when you need to, and that’s a real problem.
There are many factors that go into how comfortable your shooting equipment is to wear: they may be too heavy, too light, too big, have poor padding, or simply be an ill fit for your head.
Any of these examples is going to cause massive problems, because the last thing you want is to have to constantly adjust your hearing protection equipment or have it door a poor job of actually reducing noise (which can happen if you’re constantly having to shift it around).
Your best bet will be to go with hearing protection equipment that are as adjustable and padded as possible. It’s for this reason that many people consider ear muffs to be a preferable option to earplugs: they’re more padded, cover your entire ears, and are far more easily adjustable. Earplugs are also much more prone to falling out.
In the case of earmuffs in particular you really do want to go with a pair that have sufficient cushioning over both the cups that go over your ears and over the headband. The headband also needs to be fully adjustable as well in order to accommodate your head.
In the case of earplugs, you should know that they really are a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Earplugs are available in different sizes, and your best bet would be to purchase multiple different ones until you find a set that fits you properly.
3 – COST
Everyone has a budget, right?
As a result, it is a factor that you will need to consider. Fortunately, assuming that you’re not on the most shoestring of budgets, finding high quality shooting equipment really should not be an issue (you shouldn’t expect to have to pay more than $30 or so).
Four Types of Shooting Hearing Devices To Choose From
Here are the four primary types of shooting hearing devices to choose from today:
Canal caps are simple earplugs that are attached to a band, which is usually made out of either metal or plastic and is worn behind your neck or head. The earplugs themselves can either be made out of a pre-molded material or they can be expandable.
Why would you go with canal caps over normal hearing plugs? The answer is because they are far more convenient: you can just keep them wrapped around your head or hanging around your neck, and then you can place them in your ears when the time comes to shoot (or when someone else is shooting).
EXPANDABLE HEARING PLUGS
The first option are foam plugs that are both expandable and disposable. In other words, these are designed to really only be used for one shooting session before you throw them away.
As the name suggests, these plugs are designed to expand and ideally to conform to the shape and size of your ear canal. Expandable hearing plugs really are meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution, though some people can encounter difficulty with them as they can be either too small or too large for certain ear canal sizes.
The main difference between pre-molded and expandable plugs is that pre-molded plugs are not disposable and are designed to be used multiple times. The fact that they are pre-molded means that they are not expandable and already have a shape to them, but they are available in small, medium, or large sizes.
Pre-molded plugs will usually be made out of plastic, rubber, or silicone. They are washable, and most are more comfortable than expandable ear plugs and are less likely to fall out of your ears.
Earmuffs tend to be the most preferable solution for many people because they do the best job of canceling out noise (after all, they completely cover the outer ear. There are also electronic ear muffs available as well that will do an even better job of canceling out noises.
That being said, not all earmuffs do an effective job of canceling out noise, and the quality of the padding or the adjustability of the different models can vary substantially. Be sure to do your research on specific models before buying.
You now know what your main options are for shooting hearing protection devices as well as the specific qualities that you need to look for in those devices. Based on this information, you can make a more informed decision on which hearing protection devices will best suit your needs for your first visit to the shooting range.