Shooting guns comes with inherent dangers. One of these is damage to our ears. Hearing loss is cumulative, and does not heal on its own. So wearing hearing protection is extremely important.
There are several types of hearing protection, but I think in almost every application, electronic hearing protection is the best choice. Let me explain why.
Passive vs. Active Hearing Protection, What's the Difference?
Before getting into the benefits of electronic hearing protection, I want to explain briefly the difference between passive hearing protection and non-passive hearing protection.
Passive hearing protection is probably what most people are familiar with. These ear pro products simply stop all sound (depending on their rating) from getting through the ear to the eardrum.
Active hearing protection typically uses electronic components to amplify or suppress sounds in the immediate environment. This allows non-harmful sounds to be heard while blocking out harmful sounds.
Types of Passive Hearing Protection—
Foam earplugs, pros —
Foam earplugs do a good job of blocking out the sound of gunshots. They are also cheap and disposable. I have a bag of foam earplugs in my range bag for emergencies or in case I need to double up on hearing protection, but they aren't my primary method of ear pro. Earplug also don't interfere with establishing a stock weld.
Foam earplugs, cons —
- Block all sound
A problem with foam earplugs is that they make it hard to hear range commands or other people talking to you. You can continually remove and insert the earplugs when you talk, but that gets uncomfortable and frustrating.
Plus, the plugs get gross from constantly handling them with dirty hands. If repeatedly inserting a grime-coated foam plug in your ear doesn't sound fun, I don't blame you.
So you spend your time at the range screaming to talk to anyone, or continually ask the instructor to repeat the range commands. Let's just say earplugs are good in a pinch, but if you're heading to the range more than once a year (which you should,) just ditch the plugs as your go-to ear pro.
Earmuff hearing protection, pros —
Earmuff style hearing protection is popular, affordable, and has advantages (and some disadvantages).
First, earmuffs are more hygienic compared to foamies. I've shared my muff ear pro with others, can't say that I would do that foam plugs, sorry. Would you use someone else's ear plugs?
Imagine that you are handling ammunition, propellant residue, grease, solvents, dirt, and who knows what else. You transfer all that to that foam earplug, then stick it deep into your ear.
It probably won't cause you to grow another head, but there are better options. If you have reusable plugs, think about cleaning them.
Muffs are more convenient to remove when you want to hear something, or when on a break. I also find that muffs are more comfortable than foam ear plugs. That might be because I don't enjoy inserting things into my ears.
Many students will bring plugs with them to my classes. When possible, I always offer them electronic earmuff style hearing protection. The majority of people prefer muffs over plugs.
While I agree with the majority of people, that earmuffs are more comfortable, they can be uncomfortable in certain instances.
Earmuff hearing protection, Cons —
- Block all sound
Just like passive earplugs, passive muffs block all the sounds, so you can't hear range commands or what others are saying.
I think muffs are more comfortable than plugs, but if you wearing them for a long time can cause hot spots around your ears and even cause headaches. How uncomfortable muff ear pro is depends on the brand. I'll share a low-cost fix to make your muff style ear pro so much more comfortable.
- Stock weld
Sometimes muffs cause challenges in getting a stock weld when shooting long guns. However, many low-profile products exist, and with the proper adjustments, ease this issue for most users.
Muff-style, electronic hearing protection is my go-to choice.
Active or Electronic Hearing Protection —
The major benefit and probably the most significant reason you should get electronic ear pro is that you can hear everything except the gunshots. As mentioned above, electronic hearing protection blocks out noises that would cause damage to the ear, while allowing safe dB sounds to pass through. This means you can have a conversation, hear the instructor's commands and the surrounding environment, and exclude the gunshots.
Not only will you find it to be much more enjoyable to hear what is happening, but it is much safer than hearing protection that blocks all sounds from your hearing.
I have sometimes had to grab a student on the firing line because they simply cannot hear the ceasefire command. Electronic hearing pro lets you hear the instructor's words, which you're paying to hear.
There are two styles of electronic ear pro:
- Inside the ear (plugs)
I've used a couple of different products. One from Howard Leight, and the other from AXIL. I am currently working on a thorough review of the Axil product and will include a link here when I complete the evaluation. In general, I find these products work well.
This style of electronic ear pro doesn't cover the ears, so you don't risk headaches and hot spots. They also eliminate any concern for stock weld issues.
- Earmuff style
The other style is the standard muff, but with electronics built in.
Electronic ear pro is definitely more expensive than earplugs, and a little more than standard passive earmuff style ear pro. However, prices for hearing protection have come down to very affordable levels.
For example, the Roger 22 electronic ear pro cost forty dollars! When I first started buying electronic hearing protection, the best price on a good set was easily over $100 dollars. I still have that set and it's working 10 years later. I use the Roger 22s and think they are the best bang for your buck!
I mentioned above that one complaint with muff style hearing protection is that they become uncomfortable after wearing them for an extended time. I told you I would share my fix with you. Here it is:
I have recently begun using a product called SoftSeal from ReadyUpGear. These are fantastic and undoubtedly make my earmuffs electronic ear pro more comfortable. It seriously feels like a new set of high-end, electronic ear pro. Here is a review I did of the SoftSeals.
The product replaces the existing ear pads, with soft, gel-filled ear pads. They reduce the pressure and feel fantastic. Even more, they create a better seal. I have sometimes had issues with shooting glasses creating a slight gap in the seal between the muffs and my head. The soft gel of the SoftSeal solved this.
Even if you don't get headaches or discomfort with your existing electronic ear pro, you're gonna appreciate how the SoftSeals feel.
One bonus to electronic ear pro that has nothing to do with shooting is that almost all of them allow you to play music through them. Some products have Blootooth built in which is nice. But even without Blootooth, you can plug your phone into the muffs. This is a pretty cool option if your our riding a mower or using equipment that is very loud. I never wore hearing protection when riding my mower. However now I do, and I don't have that humming in my ears after a long day of mowing.
Before you buy passive hearing protection, think about spending a bit more to get active hearing protection. I think you will find it to be money well spent.