As you probably know, gunshots are LOUD! In fact, they’re so loud that you should never go shooting without hearing protection. Like, not even once! No matter how tough you are, your ears are vulnerable to damage from high decibels. How high? Well, repeated exposure to sounds at 85 decibels or higher can cause hearing damage. So should you be using earmuffs, earplugs, or both for Shooting? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each class of products.
A .22 caliber rifle with stock ammunition creates 140 decibels of sound. That’s loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage after only a couple of shots! All that from a measly little .22? That’s right! Maybe now you can see why hearing protection is so important.
When it comes to hearing protection, though, there are two main options for shooters. There are earplugs and earmuffs. Which is better? That’s what we’re here to find out! To begin, let’s take an in-depth look at something that often gets overlooked. That is the NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) for hearing protection!
Understanding the NRR (Noise Reduction Rating)
If you’re savvy with shooting glasses, you probably know the following standards:
In past articles, we’ve gone over what each means for safety/shooting glasses. Well, the NRR rating is the hearing protection’s equivalent to these standards. In fact, the NRR rating comes from ANSI and OSHA. So what is it, exactly? Let’s check it out.
For example, let’s say you go to buy a pair of earmuffs. You notice in the top right-hand corner that it has a Noise Reduction Rating of 30. Is that good or bad? Here’s the rule of thumb to remember:
-The higher the NRR rating, the GREATER the hearing protection.
That means you should always look for products that have the highest NRR rating. After all, you want to protect your ears, so why wouldn’t you want the highest!
If you want to calculate the NRR’s effect on decibels, there’s a simple formula to remember. It goes like this:
-Take the NRR number, subtract 7, then divide it by 2. Check out Sensear for an online calculator and more information
Let’s take an example into consideration. Remember that noisy .22 from earlier? If you recall, we said it measured at 140 decibels. Pretty loud! So how much will your sexy new earmuffs shave off that? Let’s put the formula into practice and find out.
-NRR rating (30), subtract 7 (23), divide by 2, (11.5)
Okay, so that means we can subtract 9.5 from 140. That gives us 128.5 decibels of exposure. Now granted, this formula is an approximation. However, it’s pretty accurate as long as you’re properly wearing your hearing protection. A 9.5-decibel reduction might not seem like much, but keep in mind each 10db increase is a doubling of the perceived loudness of the noise. So in our example, we cutting the loudness of the gunshot almost in half.
All right, now you’ve got a basic understanding of the NRR rating. Remember, you want to look for the highest number you can!
Next, let’s take an in-depth look at both earplugs and earmuffs! That way we can compare the pros and cons of each. We’ll start with earmuffs.
Earmuffs are a very popular choice among shooters for a few key reasons. For one, they’re a one-size-fits-all option. You see, many earplugs require custom fitting. With earmuffs, all you have to do is strap them on, adjust a few things, and you’re good to go!
To be thorough, let’s look at earmuffs in some specific details. Namely, we’ll look at their comfort, durability, affordability, noise-reduction, and functionality.
Many shooters find earmuffs to be the more comfortable option. Although, this is something that comes down to preference. Some shooters don’t like having bulky and cumbersome equipment on their heads. Also, temperature plays a large role here.
Picture this, it’s 100 degrees outside, and you’re already sweating before getting started! The last thing you would want is a large pair of earmuffs that will make you even hotter. Conversely, the opposite is also true. If it’s freezing outside, you would definitely want a snug and warm pair of earmuffs!
One big advantage earmuffs have is that they sit still on your head. Once you put them on, they aren’t going anywhere! Earplugs can come loose in your ear and risk falling out.
A downside to earmuffs can be their ability to sit well with your eyewear. Cheaper earmuffs can get in the way of your shooting glasses. With earplugs, you don’t have that issue. However, high-quality earmuffs can comfortably fit shooting glasses with ease.
If they’re well made, earmuffs can be extremely durable. This makes them perfect for the shooter that takes a lot of trips to the range or hunting. A quality pair of earmuffs can last you years! They’re built for a lot of wear and tear, and they’re good for both indoors and outdoors.
Earmuffs will cost you a lot more compared to earplugs. That’s because of a few reasons. For one, a lot more material goes into making earmuffs. For two, they’re more durable and will last you longer. Earplugs are good for a few uses, while earmuffs can last for hundreds of shooting trips. The price also depends on the type of earmuffs you get. Electric earmuffs will cost a lot more than a standard cheapo pair!
Here’s where earmuffs take a bit of a ding. You see, the NRR rating on earmuffs will always be lower than earplugs. That’s because earplugs can directly seal your ear canals. Earmuffs can only cover them up. This means that some sound can bleed through the sides of your earmuffs, leading to a lower NRR rating.
This is the area where earmuffs can really shine. There are electric earmuffs on the market now, and they’re pretty amazing. How do they work? Well, they will muffle loud noises such as gunshots, sure. But what they also do is boost sounds such as the human voice! That means you can stay in touch with your buddies all while protecting your ears! Not only that, but some models even allow you to integrate your smartphone. That means you can keep in touch with a large hunting party, or even listen to music!
All right, now it’s time to look at earplugs!
Earplugs have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. As previously mentioned, they’re smaller and cheaper than earmuffs. This is great for some things and bad for others. Let’s take an in-depth look at earplugs based on the same parameters we did for earmuffs.
While it’s subjective, many people find earplugs uncomfortable. After a few hours of shooting, earplugs can start to irritate your ear canals. Once again, this comes back to the quality of earplugs that you’re using. High-quality earplugs can stay comfortable for hours and hours. It also comes down to if you’re wearing them correctly. Sometimes it can be difficult to get them to properly rest in your ears. If they should slip out, all protection you were enjoying goes down the drain!
Earplugs also have to be custom fit. It’s important to find a reliable source for this. If you can get earplugs that fit perfectly, great! Be sure to settle for nothing less than perfect, though, so they don’t slip out on you. Also, earplugs won’t get in the way of your eyewear, and they’re great for hot weather!
This area is where earplugs suffer. After all, they’re only built for a few uses. If durability is what you’re after, you’re better off with some quality earmuffs
If you’re a shooter that rarely gets out to the range or hunts, you may want to go with earplugs. That’s because they’re cheap and get the job done! They may be the cheaper option, but you won’t get the longevity that you will out of earmuffs. It’s important to bear this in mind when making a selection!
There’s no better way to reduce harmful decibels than by sealing your ear canals. That’s why earplugs always offer higher NRR ratings than earmuffs! As previously stated, they can be difficult to stay in your ears. As such, it’s important to ensure you have a super snug fit before shooting.
That high NRR rating won’t do you any good if they fall out when your friend fires his .50 cal!
Earmuffs have earplugs beat in this category. That’s because earplugs don’t have much functionality to offer besides plugging your ears.
Making the Right Choice for You
All right, so now we’ve taken an in-depth look at both options. One thing is for sure, no matter what you pick, you MUST shoot with hearing protection. Your ears are worth protecting, and nobody likes tinnitus! Let’s quickly review the pros and cons of both options.
*Highest NRR ratings
*Won’t get in the way of eyewear
*Good for hot weather
*Can be uncomfortable and/or fall out
*Not very durable, only built for a few uses
*Needs to be custom fit
*Durable, comfortable, one-size-fits-all
*Great for cold weather
*Can last hundreds of shooting sessions
*Has great functionality, electric earmuffs available
*Lower NRR ratings
*Can interfere with eyewear
*Not good for hot weather
*Can be cumbersome at times
As you can see, there are plenty of pros and cons for both. It all comes down to your personal preference and the environment that you’ll be shooting in. Oh, and there’s one more thing to mention. Are you going to be shooting around large rifles with high caliber rounds? Then you should do what many shooters do, which is double up! That’s right, there’s no law against using BOTH earmuffs and earplugs! After all, that is the MOST effective way to protect your ears! When in doubt, don’t hesitate to enjoy the best of both worlds!