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Updated Mar 13, 2023 4:39 PM
Ear protection is one of the most important pieces of gear when it comes time to go shooting. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer earmuffs or earplugs. The important thing is that you use it. Experienced hunters and shooters will tell you that choosing not to wear ear protection is one of their biggest regrets in their outdoor careers. Don’t make the same mistake.
There’s nothing impressive about trying to be the person who can handle the decibels, as any old-timer will tell you. We’ve come a long way from sticking spent .45-caliber cartridge cases in our ears, so be sure to take advantage of the fantastic technology available with our round-up of the best shooting ear protection.
How We Picked The Best Shooting Ear Protection
There’s a lot that goes into picking proper ear protection. When deciding what products would make this list, I looked at a wide variety of deciding factors. This included multiple brands such as Howard Leight, Peltor, SureFire, Decibullz, Caldwell, Sordin, and more. Below are the criteria I based my selections on.
- Performance: The performance has to match or exceed the value so that your money is well spent.
- Versatility: Does the ear protection offer Bluetooth, noise cancellation as headphones, and other features?
- Comfort: Is the ear protection comfortable and will I be able to wear it all day?
- Brand: Does the company have a reputable history of producing quality products?
- Price: Is the product worth what I’m paying for?
The Best Shooting Ear Protection: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Sordin Supreme Pro-X
Why It Made The Cut: The Sordin Supreme Pro-X shooting earmuffs are one of the most highly recommended options on the market.
- Ear cup shapes designed for right or left-handed shooters
- Audio input (AUX) for connecting external audio sources
- Lead with 3.5 mm mono jack plug included
- Over-the-ear or neckband versions are both available
- Two waterproof microphones
- Great amplification with little to no chopping or cutting
- Choose over-the-ear or neckband wisely, as they aren’t interchangeable
Sordin used to be a part of MSA, and that wasn’t a good association to some people. They’ve since split and are now their own company, to the delight of many.
Some people don’t like muffs that fit on the top of their head but don’t like earplugs any better, leaving them to settle for one or the other. Luckily, the Sordin Supreme Pro-X offers a neckband version so that you don’t have to compromise on personal preference, comfort, or performance.
If you shoot outdoors enough, you’re going to end up getting wet sooner or later. The Supreme Pro-X muffs have two waterproof microphones so that you’ll still get great sound quality and amplification when they get wet.
Best In-Ear Electronic: AXIL GS Extreme
Why It Made The Cut: While excellent for noise cancellation and hearing protection, the AXIL GS Extreme earbuds also offer industry-leading hearing enhancement, and they are Bluetooth-capable.
- 50% more decibel protection than other in-ear options
- Up to 25 hours of runtime on one charge
- Multiple function modes depending on specific needs
- 3-year, no questions asked, replacement guarantee
- Fast, automatic sound shutoff for noise louder than 85 decibels
- Compact and lightweight
- Could be more tech than you need in a set of ear protection
- Some could find earbuds uncomfortable
AXIL has updated the technology in their earbuds and the results are impressive. Compared to previous models, the GS Extreme’s hearing enhancement mode now features more audio boost, faster and smoother shutoff for loud noise hearing protection, and improved battery life in all of the operating modes.
In the past, you may have needed different products to offer noise-canceling audio streaming, electronic hearing protection, and electronic audio enhancement. AXIL has created a product that does all three of those in one, saving you time, money, and storage space.
At $199.99, these earbuds are on the pricey side. And some people may not find them comfortable for longer shooting sessions. However, they pack in a bevy of great features that are hard to find in other earbud options on the market today.
Best for Hunting: Howard Leight Impact Sport
Why It Made The Cut: Howard Leight’s New Impact Sport earmuffs offer lightning fast sound cutoff times and a low profile fit, ensuring all-day comfort that won’t get in the way when shooting.
- Passive and active protection
- 0.5 millisecond reaction time
- Low profile ear cup
- Sound amplification up to 5x normal volume
- Bluetooth capable
- Ear cup shape designed for firearm stock clearance
- Fast reaction time is the only major standout feature
Howard Leight is one of the best-known names in the ear protection business, and their New Impact Sport earmuffs offer great passive and active hearing protection. Perfect for hunting, these earmuffs amplify ambient sounds up to 5x their normal volume, allowing you to hear any animals approaching in the woods, but will also be able to shut everything out when the gun goes off.
When any sound over 85 decibels is detected, the electronic protection kicks in with a 0.5 milliseconds reaction time to provide maximum hearing protection. Some earmuffs can be big and bulky, getting in the way of your gun. This is no good. The New Impact Sport’s ear cups were designed specifically to allow the best unobtrusive fit so that you can make the perfect shot when it counts.
We like these for upland or waterfowl hunting situations where a lot of shooting is to be expected. At the same time, you’ll be able to effectively communicate with your hunting buddies without exposing your hearing to a shotgun blast. These earmuffs run on two AAA batteries and have an auto-shutoff feature to conserve power. As such, you can expect up to 350 hours of battery life.
Best Over-the-Ear: Peltor Sport Tactical 500
Why It Made The Cut: The noise reduction and protection on the Peltor Sport Tactical 500 is absolutely top-notch. You’ll feel like you’ve walked into a vacuum chamber with no sound.
- Bluetooth capable
- Clear Voice Tracking Technology
- Voice guidance control
- Great noise reduction
- Perfect for non-shoot activities, as well
- Big buttons and voice guidance
- At 11.4 oz, a little heavier than other options
The whole point of electronic hearing protection is that you can cancel out the damaging loud sounds while still being aware of what’s going on around you. That’s exactly what you get with the Peltor Sport Tactical 500 earmuffs. Peltor’s Clear Voice Tracking Technology is great at seeking out the human voice amongst the noise of a shooting range, improving speech intelligibility and situational awareness.
The control buttons on the Sport Tactical 500 earmuffs are big and easy to navigate while wearing, and there’s a voice guidance option so that you can make changes in a hands-free environment.
These are a good option for anyone looking to get more for their money. They’re great for other activities, such as yard work. The Bluetooth capability in these earmuffs is perfect to keep you entertained while doing mundane chores.
Best Budget: Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs
Why It Made The Cut: The biggest drawback to custom-molded earplugs is usually the price. Decibullz has managed to create a product with professional performance, a DIY setup, and, importantly, a DIY pricepoint.
- Easy DIY setup with professional results
- Much more affordable than comparable products
- Can be swapped for different purposes
- No gooey mold material injected into your ears
- Swap out inner pieces for music or percussive filters
- Really and truly, I do not have anything to detract from this product
Custom-molded earplugs are often expensive to buy and uncomfortable to make. They usually require you to shell out a lot of money for the privilege of having someone squirt that gooey mold material into your ears and sit with it as the material dries. Thankfully, those days are over with the Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs.
Because the Decibullz earplugs are a DIY product, they’re a lot more affordable than comparable custom earplugs. Plus, the material can be molded and remolded in as little as five minutes using nothing more than hot water. That means if you don’t get the mold perfect the first time, you can easily try again with no worries.
Available in multiple colors and with different filter options for music earbuds and percussive filters, you can now have truly custom in-ear protection for a fraction of the price as before.
Most Comfortable: ISOTunes Sport DEFY
- Bluetooth capability
- IPX 4 water resistance
- 22-hour battery life
- Extremely comfortable
- Makes conversing easy
- Easily connects to a phone
- Plays audio at a lower level
ISOtunes has flown a bit under the radar for noise-cancelling headphones in recent years. However, the Sport Defy feature some incredibly comfortable over-the-ear headphones that are ideal for longer periods on the range or hunting scenarios. We have tested this pair and the rechargeable lithium-ion battery easily covers a full day of hunting. This is another pair that blocks out all the bangs you’ll hear at the range while amplifying voices. It’s just nice to carry on a normal conversation without having to remove your hearing protection.
Our main knock against these earmuffs is that if you use them to listen to music or other audio via Bluetooth, the audio is played back at a slightly lower level than we’d like. For the price, these are some excellent headphones for anyone wanting an affordable pair of noise-cancelling protection.
Things to Consider Before Buying Shooting Ear Protection
Shooting ear protection comes in a wide variety of types and applications. Some are well-suited for multiple kinds of uses while others can be more mission-specific. Here are some of the most important considerations to make when protecting your ears.
How Long are You Shooting?
Are you going to be wearing the ear protection for a long period of time? This could include hours at a time in the field hunting or at an all-day shooting competition. If this is the case, then comfort is going to be of extreme importance here. Having protection in your ears versus over your ears could be the difference between having a great time or having a real pain in your ear.
Where Are You Shooting?
Will you need to hear other sounds going on around you? If you’re at a range or event with a lot of people with whom you’ll be interacting, or perhaps you’re trying to hear approaching game in the woods, then you’ll probably want to go with some kind of active, or electronic, hearing protection. This helps amplify ambient sounds while blocking out the percussion of the firearm.
What’s Your Budget?
What kind of a budget do you have? Hearing protection costs vary widely—from a few cents for a pair of foam earplugs to hundreds of dollars for the latest-and-greatest electronic ear protection with Bluetooth and other technologies built into them. Cost doesn’t always equal quality, so don’t think you’ve got to shell out big bucks to protect your hearing.
In any case, the products on this list will fit all kinds of shooters in all kinds of situations and at different price points.
Q: Are foam earplugs good for shooting?
Foam earplugs are good for shooting, with some caveats. They are certainly better than no hearing protection at all, but there are definitely better options on the market. You can spend a bit more money upfront and have a higher quality form of ear protection that will last a lot longer.
Q: What gives the maximum hearing protection?
The maximum hearing protection would be a combination of both earplugs and earmuffs. This provides a double layer of protection and does not require any fancy or expensive equipment. You can buy a good pair of passive earmuffs and a bunch of foam earplugs for far less than any of the fancy electronic options on the market.
Q: What level of ear protection is best for shooting?
The best level of ear protection for shooting is a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 33, which is the highest on the scale. Any product with a 28 to 31 NRR is recommended for shooting.
Q: Can I harm my eardrums by shooting a gun without ear protection?
Yes. Permanent and temporary hearing loss can occur from a single gunshot when not using any ear protection. Sound levels can also be increased when shooting at a firing range since sound waves bounce off walls.
Q: How do I clean my shooting ear protection?
Most ear protection can be wiped down with a damp towel and some soap. Electronic ear protection should never be submerged in water and should be cleaned using a device-safe cloth.
Q: What is the difference between earmuffs and earplugs?
Earmuffs are ear cushions that sit over the ears and are made from a material that attenuates sounds. Earplugs sit inside your ear to block the ear canal. Both earmuffs and earplugs can be effective and safe solutions for ear protection.
Final Thoughts on the Best Shooting Ear Protection
You only get one set of ears, and any of the hearing protection options on this list will ensure that you keep your hearing for as long as possible. The Sordin Supreme Pro-X were the obvious choice of best overall for us based on the comfort and bevy of features afforded by these noise-cancelling headphones. For serious shooters who spend a lot of time on the range, they are one of the most versatile options out there right now.
Why Trust Us
For more than 125 years, Field & Stream has been providing readers with honest and authentic coverage of outdoor gear. Our writers and editors eat, sleep, and breathe the outdoors, and that passion comes through in our product reviews. You can count on F&S to keep you up to date on the best new gear. And when we write about a product—whether it’s a bass lure or a backpack—we cover the good and the bad, so you know exactly what to expect before you decide to make a purchase.