Gear, Parts and Accessories

Hearing Protection Buyer’s Guide for Shooters

Pro Ears 300 Electronic Hearing Muffs

Every once in a while, you’ll come across someone claiming that they don’t “need” hearing protection when shooting a firearm. No matter their excuse, they are simply wrong.

Gunfire produces noise levels that peak between 140 and 170 decibels. That noise is made even more damaging at indoor ranges, as the ears are exposed to the same noise multiple times as it echoes off of the walls, floor and ceiling.

Put simply, hearing protection is a range day essential.

How Much Noise Is Too Much?

The normal human threshold for pain is around 130db, and hearing loss can occur instantaneously at 120db. Even sounds as low as 78db can cause hearing loss over time.

Noise levels are measured in decibels, which we write “dB”. A gunshot is rated at 149dB and, to compare, the typical office generally has a noise level of 60dB to 65dB at most.

Noises louder than 80 decibels are dangerous and can cause immediate and permanent hearing loss.

noise decibel chart

When we look at what hearing protection to buy, we need to pay close attention to the product’s Noise Reduction Rating (NRR), which is defined as the maximum number of decibels (dB) that the hearing protector will reduce the sound level when worn.

By law, all hearing protection products have to have an NRR rating. The highest NRR rating you can get is 33 NRR. Products with a 28 to 31 NRR are recommended for indoor shooting.

Types of Hearing Protection

There are two different kinds of hearing protection: earplugs and earmuffs. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) actually recommends using both earplugs and earmuffs together when shooting.

It might come as a surprise to hear that earplugs can actually offer more protection than ear muffs because earplugs fully block the ear canal.


There are quite a few different types of earplugs:

  • Single-use
  • Multiple-use
  • Banded
  • Corded

Single-use earplugs are very inexpensive and disposable. They are probably the most commonly found earplugs. Almost everyone has come across these foam-style plugs, which are rolled and compressed before being inserted into the ear canal.

Banded or corded earplugs are best if you move between a noisy place and a non-noisy place, such as between the shooting range and your range’s lobby. Multiple-use earplugs are easier to use because they do not require rolling to fit in your ear.

reusable ear plugs - hearing protection guide
You’ve likely seen or used reusable earplugs before.

Molded Earplugs

Molded earplugs are probably the best solution out there. In the past, they had to be custom made by a company and you had to wait for them to be made. In many cases, that is still the case, and the best-molded earplugs can be much more than $100.

They usually come with replaceable filters and are very discreet and comfortable to wear. However, advancements in materials technology have led to the development of inexpensive do-it-yourself molded earplugs.


These kits, such as the Radians custom-molded earplugs, are easy to make yourself at home in less than 30 minutes. They are washable and made from non-toxic and hypo-allergenic silicone. They’re available in many colors, including tan for discreet use.

custom molded earplugs
Molded earplugs come in a variety of colors.


Earmuffs are found in two flavors: electronic or passive. Electronic earmuffs amplify quieter sounds, allowing you to hear your range master’s commands.

These earmuffs will have integrated microphones and some have independent volume controls along with a noise detection circuit that cuts out amplification when a loud noise occurs and blocks in instead.

Passive earmuffs simply block sound using foam and other materials located inside the ear cup. One thing to look for in your earmuffs is the style of band.

Plastic headbands hold their shape better than a metal band. Metal bands can become stretched over time, leading them to decrease the level of protection. Other earmuffs offer added features, such as a jack to plug in your iPhone.

electronic earmuffs - hearing protection guide
Electronic earmuffs can detect loud noises and automatically block them.


It doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting indoors or out—whether you’re firing one shot while out hunting or a fusillade while you and your buddies plink away at the range. You need to protect your hearing.

The noise from a single gunshot can cause immediate hearing damage, so take reasonable precautions and protect your hearing.

Do you use earplugs, earmuffs or both? Why? Let us know in the comments below.


Note: This post was originally published in December 2010. It has been updated for formatting, clarity and accuracy.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (32)

  1. If you are going to be on a range, especially if it is INSIDE, it is best to double up with BOTH plugs and muffs. Ear plugs with 32dB NRR, combined with muffs with 24 dB NRR is ideal.

  2. Some say higher NRR number is better, some say lower. Going by prices, it seems to me that lower would be better, and our gun shop said to get 24 or LOWER.

    So which is it? Is high or low better?

  3. I have well documented mid-range hearing loss in my left ear, more so than my right. This is consequence of growing up in the 70’s and learning to shoot a .22 indoors, and having shot 1000s of rounds without hearing protection. My left ear is impacted more than the right because I shoot right handed; the right ear was protected from the noise by my head, while the left ear is an unobstructed straight line to the end of the muzzle. I also find that most people do not know the proper way of inserting ear plugs. With that said, and with my experience, I suggest it’s best to double up with plugs and muffs. As others have pointed out, when one safety device comes ajar or moves, then you still have backup protection, which is all better than the chirping “crickets” one will eventually get to hear all the time (tinitus) as a result of not using proper hearing protection, as I do now. Get the highest Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) as possible for both and never buy any hearing protection that doesn’t have the NRR published.

  4. I flew Jets in the navy n doubled up then, my hearing after 30 yrs still was pretty good with hi freq loss at the upper end. I double up at the range as well, I use the walker ear plugs n muffs. Great priducts

  5. Best to have and wear both, and any parent, Hunting Educator, Range Master or Shooting Instructorwho has children learning to shoot should emphasize ear protection as but one more safety factor.
    My sons grew up and are real stickler of gun safety, it is my fault that it took me a couple years before brining ear protection into play.
    It is best to form a “habit” of ear safety, repetition until it is second nature bordering on first.
    Years ago when I was chosen to be a research monkey or noise reduction having to do with professional powers as timber fallers, I wore multiple types while wearing a Docimeter each full 8 hr workday, and I very quickly realized whynall the old fart tree tellers favorite , other than cuss words, responce to a question waz, “HUH” and damn near were yelling when sitting by me..
    I used firms equipment on weekends when plinking or target shooting , and after first weekend went out and bought severa hundred l ear plugs, that became standard for our family members.
    Older, especially black powder and shotgunz rounds were loud, but when our newer standard and wildcat rounds appeared they sometimes are so loud your ears hear what your brain cannot.
    Seen mention of a power saw and let me nay US government took years of input by domestic saw manufacturers and Corporate users before we who suffered were able to get Goovernment and Industry to listen.
    European saw makers were granted permission to sell saws here without the decibel reducing mufflers, in fact banned such at request of US interest.
    Here’s the rub, it is not today’s mufflers you need most protection from it is at the bar tip which by design the chains motion causes decibel levels beyond our hearing capabilities, and way into physical harm realms.
    And those same decibel levels are reached by many of our high speed bullet projectiles, it is not the powders boom, but sonic waves of bullets that are most harmfull.
    One caveat; as with power saw users there is a need to train oneself at first, your ears pressure is a huge factor in ones balance, and just as we had a hard time getting older gents to wear them due to that reason when introducing old farts to hearing protection, do so by using the bestand most comfortable protectors out there.
    Preferably ones that allow normal conversational levels, but automatically block out any sound waves of over 90 dbs.
    Those electronics are great for hunting if they have both high protection with ability to enhance low wave level, ya that stick that was snapped by the deer sneaking from you on a dew dripping early morn

  6. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, many of us didn’t use hearing protection. It wasn’t until the early 90’s that I even started using earplugs. Now, at 58, I have considerable hearing loss in both ears, and hearing aids won’t assist in any way per my ENT Doctor. So, I encourage hearing protection because I found out the hard way, what a precious sense it is, and keenly feel the loss of hearing. So now, I wear both indoors and electronic protection in the outdoors. It’s not something to play around with for sure.

  7. How is it some of these comments are NINE years old???
    I wear BOTH when indoors, outdoors not usually both. Always wanted to try the molded style.

    1. This is an updated post from December 2010, as stated at the bottom of the article. Thanks for reading!

  8. In 2009, I had a “Stroke”, and as a result of the stroke, I was diagnosed with “Misophonia Syndrome”. The ability to Block Out Noise! I just have to hear the Noise once, and then can mentally block out that noise at any time…

  9. I use electronic muffs for handguns and pistol caliber rifles but when the ARs come out i double up because the stock tends to push up the muffs and ARs are loud.

  10. Just bought some inexpensive ear muffs with a NRR (noise reduction rating) of 21 for use with riding lawn mower and chainsaws. The NRR say’s :”— higher numbers (0-30) denote greater effectiveness”.

  11. I currently bought a pair of earplugs that have a NRR of 21dB and are by FLUGS which you can custom mold to your ears after you buy them. What are your opinions on this

    1. Arvin,
      Always wear double hearing protection. Muffs alone can be easily displaced. As little as a single shot can do hearing damage. Plugs alone do not protect from the concussive forces of the muzzle blast from another firearm or your own when bouncing off the walls. ~Dave Dolbee

  12. does anyone know of the manufacturer of the PM4C10 ANSI S3.19
    ANC earmuffs? I would like to get in touch with them. About 4 years old, maybe not made anymore.

  13. My sister bought a pair of these molded ear plugs and said they worked really well. She was totally sick of my brother in law snoring all night and I think these might have saved them from divorce. She’d tried some other types but none of them worked.

  14. I always double up. Earplugs and muffs. Sometimes when shouldering a rifle the muffs can get bumped and the seal is no longer good. Thus the use of the plugs.

  15. i am currently rockin some peltor ultimate 10’s and i love them, but those hyskores look too good to pass up. dunno how i missed these in my google adventures, thanks for the great article!

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