Whether you’re shooting for competition, recreation or work, repeated exposure to loud noise puts your hearing at risk. A quality ear muff, then, is an essential part of any shooter’s safety repertoire.
Learn more about the best shooting ear muffs in this buying guide. We’re detailing what type, Noise Reduction Rating, fit and other considerations to keep in mind before you buy. Our top pick, the Howard Leight Honeywell Impact Sport, offers excellent protection with a low-profile design for firearm stock clearance.
There are two types of shooting ear muffs, passive and electronic. Constructed of foam and plastic, passive ear muffs protect hearing by reducing all incoming noise but can make communication difficult. However, their simple construction allows for a lower price point and makes sanitization easier.
Likewise, electronic ear muffs provide the same noise reduction as their passive counterparts. Also, they can differentiate between loud and quiet sounds using small microphones and speakers built into the equipment, allowing the shooter to easily communicate with others while still being protected from the damaging noise of a gunshot. The electronic components inside the ear muff are delicate and can make sanitization and storage more complicated.
Though all shooting ear muffs provide noise reduction, some ear muffs are not practical for specific environments. If used in the field, a shooter should consider an ear muff with a lower profile to discourage the ear muff from being caught or pulled by low-hanging branches or foliage.
If the user intends to be at a shooting range, they should consider an ear muff that allows for better communication. Better communication means a shooter can easily hear safety precautions, instructions or advice from fellow shooters or instructors.
Some shooters may need an ear muff for various settings and consider a product that provides accessible communication, quality ear protection and a low profile. Models that include all these features may mean a higher price point.
Some shooting ear muffs are multifunctional and can be used for more than just noise reduction. You can use a more comfortable and durable pair for yard work, building projects or machine work. A few electronic models feature a 3.5-millimeter audio input jack, allowing users to listen to music or podcasts.
Every shooting ear muff comes with a Noise Reduction Rating. The higher NRR, the greater the number of decibels it cancels, resulting in more outstanding ear protection quality.
To determine how many decibels an ear muff cancels out, simply subtract seven from the NRR and divide the result by two.
Any noise above 120 decibels can cause damage to the ear, especially if the noise is continuous or repeated. Therefore, when deciding on a shooting ear muff, make sure that the listed NRR accurately reflects the manufacturer’s decibel reduction claims and reduces the decibel level to as safe a level as possible.
An ear muff that fits improperly will become uncomfortable and require adjustments while wearing. Frequent adjustments compromise the seal of the ear cup and result in ineffective sound reduction. Consider lightweight models which tend to be more comfortable during extended use. Also, ear cups secured by a flexible material with a greater range of motion require less adjustment and make it easier to find a proper fit.
For avid and cost-savvy shooters, light maintenance can significantly increase the lifespan of a shooting ear muff. Earcups can become cracked, stiff, or worn, becoming uncomfortable or compromising their noise-canceling effectiveness.
Electronic ear muffs require a power source, and a user will need to monitor the ear muff for a proper charge or enough batteries for the equipment to operate. When sanitizing, ensure that the speakers and microphones inside the ear muff do not get wet, or they can stop functioning.
When storing your ear muff, consider the temperature, air moisture and type of container wherein the shooting ear muff will be stored. Between uses, if the ear muff is exposed to extremely high or low temperatures or high humidity, the ear cup cushioning, ear cup lining or any possible electronics could become damaged.
Before purchasing a shooting ear muff, consider the level of care required for maintaining its components or the ease and cost of replacing components during its lifespan. More durable components mean a higher quality of life for the shooter.
Passive ear muffs tend to cost less than their electronic counterparts, but don’t expect to spend big for either. Quality passive ear muffs can be found for $20 or less, while you should expect to pay around $50-$70 for electronic variants.
Q. Will shooting ear muffs completely cancel incoming sound?
A. Shooting ear muffs are not designed for completely eliminating noise, though some do better at limiting noise than others. Make sure to locate the NRR to find out how many decibels you can expect to cancel out.
Q. Why can I hear quiet sounds, but not loud sounds, with electronic shooting ear muffs?
A. The small microphones inside of electronic shooting ear muffs capture all incoming sounds. A microchip then determines the decibel levels of each sound and plays the ‘quiet’ sounds through built-in speakers.
Q. When should I replace the batteries in an electronic shooting ear muff?
A. Some electronic shooting ear muffs have a small LED light which indicates when it’s time to charge or change batteries, while other models play a tone or tones to designate low power.
Q. If the battery dies in my electronic shooting ear muff, can I still use it?
A. Passive and electronic both decrease noise by utilizing layers of physical foam and padding. If unpowered, electronic shooting ear muffs still provide ear protection but lose their functions, like determining and playing ‘quiet’ sounds.
Our thoughts: No other ear muff we tested had better features or higher quality.
What we like: These ear muffs provide excellent ear protection and noise reduction inside a low-profile design without sacrificing comfort.
What we dislike: The highest price point of all the ear muffs we tested.
Where to buy: Amazon
Our thoughts: For shooters on a budget, this provides quality for the value.
What we like: This shooting ear muff’s easy-to-fold design allows for easy storage and travel, while providing quality ear protection.
What we dislike: Some wearers might find the limited adjustment range doesn’t fit their needs.
Our thoughts: High performance at the expense of profile and features.
What we like: Rugged yet lightweight, these shooting ear muffs provide quality ear protection with manufacturer-backed consumer satisfaction.
What we dislike: Bulky compared to other options we tested and lacking in features.
Where to buy: Amazon
Gerrad Frei is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.