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Best Hearing Protection for the Range

Best Hearing Protection for the Range

Choosing Between In-Ear Plugs and Over-the-Ear Muffs, or Both?

Shooting sports demands keen focus and safety, of which hearing protection plays a crucial role. While the primary goal is to safeguard your hearing from the damaging effects of gunshots, the choice between in-ear plugs and over-the-ear muffs can significantly impact comfort, convenience, and even shooting performance. This article examines the distinct characteristics of both types and aids in determining which might be the best fit for your shooting needs.

In-Ear Plugs: Compact and Unobtrusive Protection

In Ear Protection

In-ear plugs are favored for their compactness and low-profile design. They fit directly into the ear canal, offering a lightweight option that doesn’t interfere with the wearing of hats or eye protection. This feature makes them an ideal choice for shooters who find over-the-ear muffs cumbersome or obstructive, especially when aiming down sights or shooting from various positions.

  1. Portability: In-ear plugs are highly portable, easily fitting into a pocket or a small compartment in your range bag. This makes them a convenient option for shooters who prefer minimal gear.
  2. Level of Protection: While the level of noise reduction varies, many high-quality in-ear plugs offer substantial protection, with Noise Reduction Ratings (NRR) comparable to some muffs. The effectiveness, however, is highly dependent on achieving a proper fit inside the ear canal.
  3. Electronic vs. Non-Electronic: Advanced in-ear options include electronic plugs that allow for normal conversation while blocking out harmful gunshot noises. This dual functionality is particularly beneficial for instructors or those needing situational awareness.

Over-the-Ear Muffs: Comprehensive and Enhanced Safety

MSA Sordin Supreme Pro-X Earmuff
MSA Sordin Supreme® Pro-X Earmuff

Over-the-ear muffs encase the entire ear, providing a physical barrier that offers comprehensive hearing protection. They are generally considered more reliable in terms of consistent noise reduction, as they are less dependent on perfect fitment compared to in-ear plugs.

  1. Consistent Protection: Muffs typically provide a consistent level of protection without the need for precise fitting. This can be especially beneficial for new shooters or those who have difficulty inserting earplugs correctly.
  2. Comfort for Prolonged Use: Many shooters find muffs comfortable for extended periods, with padding that cushions the ears. This aspect is crucial for long shooting sessions or competitions.
  3. Additional Features: Over-the-ear muffs often come with additional features such as electronic noise cancellation, amplification of ambient sounds, and even connectivity options for communication devices. These features enhance the shooting experience, especially in scenarios where situational awareness is key.

Choosing the Right Option for You

The decision between in-ear plugs and over-the-ear muffs often comes down to personal preference and specific shooting environments.

  1. Shooting Environment: Indoor ranges typically require higher NRR due to the amplified sound of gunshots. Here, over-the-ear muffs or a combination of plugs and muffs might be preferable. For outdoor shooting, in-ear plugs might suffice, offering comfort and sufficient protection.
  2. Type of Shooting Activity: Precision shooters and hunters might prefer in-ear plugs for their unobtrusiveness, while those engaged in tactical training or shooting courses might benefit from the advanced features of electronic muffs.
  3. Personal Comfort and Convenience: Ultimately, the choice might come down to what feels most comfortable and convenient. Some shooters prefer the simplicity and minimalism of in-ear plugs, while others opt for the comprehensive protection and additional features of over-the-ear muffs.


In conclusion, the best hearing protection for shooting depends on various factors including the shooting environment, type of activity, and personal comfort. In-ear plugs offer a compact, unobtrusive option with surprisingly effective protection, suitable for a range of shooters. Over-the-ear muffs provide a more consistent level of protection with the added benefit of advanced technological features. Understanding these nuances will help you make an informed decision, ensuring both the safety of your hearing and the enjoyment of your shooting experience.