Fieldcraft Gear & Stuff

12 Best Shooting Ear Protection [Electronic & Passive Hands-On] Eyes and ears! Find out our favorite shooting ear protection we use when we shoot. From passive to electronic and across all budgets, we’ve got you covered. BY ERIC HUNG

Don’t want to go deaf?

Tested Shooting Ear Protection Muffs
Tested Shooting Ear Protection Muffs

The percussive vibrations of each gunshot actually kill vital little hairs deep in your inner ear. And that can open the door to a high pitch ringing or humming noise that can last forever.

Three Electronic Earmuffs
Best Shooting Ear Protection

We’ve got the 411 on the best shooting ear protection…from affordable passive ones to the top-of-the-line electronic earmuffs.

We’ve tried them all over hundreds of hours at the range as shooters and range officers.

Eric Shooting
Me Shooting

We’ll go over some preliminary info but if you want the results right away…check out our table of contents.

Summary of Our Top Picks


    Ear Buddy Foam Earplugs

    Affordable, 32dB NRR


    3M Shotgunner II

    Slimmer, 24dB rating


    AXIL TRACKR Electronic Earmuffs

    25 dB NRR, great job blocking shot sounds, & amplifying speech.


    Howard Leight Impact Sport

    Affordable electronic earmuffs, 22dB NRR


    Howard Leight Impact Pro

    Large, bulky, but 30 dB of protection

Table of Contents

  1. Summary of Our Top Picks
  2. Shockwave, Meet Inner Ear
  3. “Proper” Hearing Protection
  4. Best Shooting Ear Protection
  5. Conclusion

Shockwave, Meet Inner Ear

Everyone always talks about the middle ear. That’s mainly the eardrum and those three little bones with cool names: the hammer, anvil, and stirrup.

But what really causes hearing damage though is what happens in the inner ear.

Anatomy of the Ear
Anatomy of the Ear

Inside, picture a spiral staircase. Only this passage is just 2 millimeters wide and maybe 30 millimeters long all coiled up.

Sound races along the outside of the staircase, but in the middle are the organ of Corti (yup, sounds ominous) and the basilar membrane. Both are long and thin, with the organ resting on the membrane. All along this little assembly are tiny little hairs. They register sound and transmit it through the auditory nerve to your brain.

Daniel Defense DDM4ISR Range Shooting
Daniel Defense DDM4ISR Range Shooting

But — and here’s the kicker — exposure to an intense sound — that’s 140 dB or more — can make segments of the organ of Corti separate from the basilar membrane. Portions of it actually tear away and float around.

Sound Decibel Chart
Sounds you hear all the time can have a huge effect your hearing.

So you end up with an inflamed lesion that causes an accompanying chemical reaction. Hairs die. Scar tissue forms, and even with rest, the tiny hairs typically continue to degenerate. A cascade effect takes over, and the entire auditory central nervous system goes deaf.

Researchers suspect that tinnitus—that high pitch noise inside your head that won’t go away—“begins as a result of the brain trying to regain the ability to hear the sound frequencies it has lost by turning up the signals of neighboring frequencies.”

One more thing: noise exposure is cumulative. Each loud sound is killing ear hairs, so you need to be thinking about total exposure over the course of days, weeks and years.

FN502 Shooting
FN502 Shooting

Ready for some hearing protection yet?

Pregnant Women, Take Note

If you’re looking to go to the range while you’re pregnant, you might want to rethink that. There are some special considerations that you should know if before going.

Check out our complete article Shooting While Pregnant for more details!

“Proper” Hearing Protection

First of all, forget cotton balls, tissue, packing peanuts, or my personal old-shooter favorite, cigarette filters.

While they are better than nothing, they are also next to nothing. At best, you’ll get a reduction of maybe 7dB.

Cotton Balls as Ear Plugs
Cotton Balls are Barely Better than Nothing

Effective choices for hearing protection come down to

  • earplugs
  • earmuffs
  • combinations of the two and
  • some techy alternatives with sound-circuit technology.

There are so many options, there’s no reason not to protect your ear hairs. From neon foam-on-strings to high-tech headphones, there’s something for everyone.

What you should be looking for is a minimum noise reduction of 15dB, but 30dB is preferable. Pair a good set of plugs with muffs and you might shut out another 10 to 15dB or so.

Gun Decibel Chart, Silencer Central

You know the load you like to shoot, but a conservative 140dB is a common figure for an average muzzle blast. A .22 will be less, a magnum more. With quality protection, you can start approaching a range that’s still loud—as in chainsaw- or sandblast-loud—but may be up to 1,000 times quieter.

Best Shooting Ear Protection

Circle of Shooting Ear Protection
Circle of Shooting Ear Protection


Traditional earplugs fit inside the ear, forming a seal that blocks sound.

They come in a range of sizes, configurations, and materials — from foam to hypoallergenic rubber and moldable polymers. Earplugs tend to be more efficient at handling low-frequency noise.


  • Least expensive option.
  • Highly effective.
  • Disposables available in bulk at pennies per pair.
  • Some rated 30dB or better.
  • Available strung or unstrung.
  • Reusable models washable.
  • Some models moldable for custom fit.
  • Compact for transport.
  • Good for tight spaces; no snagging.


  • Fit constraints for narrow or wide ear canals.
  • Comfort varies widely.
  • Muffles all sound indiscriminately; works too well.
  • Foam models require proper roll-down insertion, removal and reuse.
  • Some models difficult to pair with muffs.
  • Moldables more expensive; may be difficult to alter.
  • Fumble-and-loss factor in dirty environments.

1. Disposable Foam Earplugs

The most affordable of the bunch and really protective at 32dB NRR (noise reduction rating).

Foam Earplugs
Foam Earplugs

Remember to fully compress them before sticking them into your ears.

Glock G43X Eric Shooting
Shooting with Foamies

There are tons of other foam options but I would stay away from cylindrical ones…those are not very comfy.

2. SureFire EP3 Sonic Defenders

Want something reusable and gives you two levels of hearing protection?

Surefire EP3 Sonic Defenders
Surefire EP3 Sonic Defenders

Enter Surefire EP3 Sonic Defenders which have “filter caps” you can choose to have in or out.

Surefire EP3, One Open One Closed
Surefire EP3, One Open One Closed

Having it open gives you still decent protection against gun shots but allows you to hear range commands and regular talking.

They fit very well but keep in mind there are sizes…here I am comfy with Mediums.

Wearing Surefire EP3 Sonic Defenders
Wearing Surefire EP3 Sonic Defenders

Great for outdoor ranges and “normal” calibers…but if you’re shooting indoors or shooting magnums…I’d double-up with these inside and then earmuffs over.


at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

There are also EP4 Sonic Defenders which have a longer flange into your ears.

I prefer the EP3s though.

Passive Protection

Traditional earmuffs come on a headband and have foam pads that cover and form a seal around the entire ear.

For those who don’t like the over-the-head fit, a few versions have back-of-the-head wrap designs. Muffs typically are better at screening out higher frequency sounds.

weak hand only shooting
Weak Hand Shooting Drills with Ear Muffs


  • Convenient to put on and take off repeatedly.
  • Comfort level.
  • Easily paired with earplugs.
  • Relatively inexpensive.
  • Foldable models compact.
  • One size usually fits all.
  • Durable.


  • Can be bulky, heavy.
  • May snag or bump in confined spaces.
  • Comfort issues, especially in humidity, hot or wet weather.
  • Can interfere with proper cheek weld.
  • Issues with safety or prescription glasses and proper ear seal.
  • May not provide as much noise reduction as earplugs; can require pairing with plugs.
  • Hats or long hair, anyone?


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My favorites and what I wore for a long time are the 3M Optime model and Shotgunner model.

Shotgunner & Optime Ear Muffs
Shotgunner & Optime Ear Muffs

3. 3M Peltor Optime 105

The Optime 105 is super protective with 30dB NRR but is also quite bulky.

Passive Shooting Ear Protection
Passive Shooting Ear Protection

It’s not heavy but it will seriously cramp on your cheekweld situation for rifles and shotguns.

Use if you’re shooting handguns…and especially if you’re at an indoor range where the sound reverberates.


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

4. 3M Shotgunner II

For going slim…I really like the 3M Shotgunner.

Passive Shooting Muffs, Side
Passive Shooting Muffs, Side (L to R: Shotgunner, Optime 105, Optime 101)

I painted mine over and it served me well for years. It’s less protection at 24dB but you can always double up if it gets really loud with compensated rifles. Comfort is average but I found it to be fine for a few hours if I can take it off my ears during downtime.


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Now, let’s dive into electronic ear protection that cuts out harmful shooting sounds but amplifies regular sounds like people talking.

5. 3M Optime 101 (Behind the Ear)

One of my newer passive earmuffs is the Optime 101 Behind the Ear which allows you to wear a hat, helmet, or face mask unobstructed.

3M Optime 101
3M Optime 101

I’d try these out if the other earmuffs aren’t to your liking.

Now how about we move onto…

Electronic Protection

Electronic Shooting Protection, Open
Electronic Shooting Protection, Open

High-tech electronics are stepping up the game for earplugs, ear cuffs, ear muffs, and every smart device in between.

These focus on screening out the loud booms while letting you still hear conversations and the sounds of the great outdoors.


  • Noise filtering; loud noises muffled but conversation and subtle noises amplified.
  • Comfort.
  • Small, compact.
  • Lots of options, including Bluetooth to enable smartphones.
  • Available in stereo.
  • Variety of formats—muffs, earplugs, semis and cuffs.


  • Price point—usually $50 and up, up, up.
  • Batteries required.
  • Not always water-resistant.
  • Expensive to lose; fallen electronic cuffs and earplugs hard to find in the field.
  • Comfort.
  • Some models are bulky, heavy.


My current go-to Editor’s Pick for affordable electronic hearing protection is the AXIL TRACKR.

Axil TRACKR Product
Range Ready with the AXIL TRACKR

AXIL started with manufacturing hearing aids and only recently moved into the hearing protection space…but they definitely know what they are doing.

Our entire team tested out the TRACKR and found the padding and strap to be a bit tight out of the box but very comfortable once you stretched them out a little bit.

Axil TRACKR Range
Range tested

But the electronics were what really performed.

At the range they did a great job of blocking out shots and amplifying speech. When I tested them out in my home office, I was somewhat surprised.


I was able to hear a conversation in another room, a bird tweeting outside, and my own breathing. AXIL’s background in hearing aids shines through in the amplification.

NRR comes in at 25 dB which is great for thin profile electronic earmuffs and enough for a day at the range unless you go into really big boy caliber ranges.

Axil TRACKR Side

Price is $64 which is slightly higher than other budget options but AXIL has a great deal of buying 2 for $99.

There’s also a Bluetooth version rated at 27 dB where you can also enjoy tunes with a paired device. Separate volume switches allow you to dial the ambient noise or music to your listening pleasure.

Axil TRACKR (L) and TRACKR Blu (R)

at Axil

Prices accurate at time of writing

7. Howard Leight Impact Sport

My previous go-to recommendation before the AXIL was the Howard Leight Impact Sports (free shipping and only tax in FL).

Howard Leight Impact Sport
Howard Leight Impact Sport

They are super popular for a reason. They are affordable and they work…15K reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 star average.

It’s the first pair of electronic earmuffs people get when they are tired of yelling “WHAT?!?” when someone speaks to them at the range.

Howard Leight Impact Sports and Pro
Howard Leight Impact Sports and Pro

Affordable, decent protection at 22dB NRR, slim for rifle/shotgun shooting, and reasonably comfortable.

Plus they come with AUX-in for devices.


at Bereli

Prices accurate at time of writing

The only thing I could knock them for was their comfort. But now there are third-party gel caps that make them super comfortable.


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

These feel like the pads used in my favorite $200+ earmuffs further down the list.

8. Howard Leight Impact Pro

If you’re ready to jump up a notch you get 30 dB of protection and ability to hear people around you and range commands.

HL Impact Pro with Noisefighters
Howard Leight Impact Pro with Noisefighters

They are large, bulky, but surprisingly light and comfy to wear even for longer range sessions and provide amazing noise reduction. I’d recommend these if you are shooting large caliber handguns or shoot at an indoor range.

Howard Leight, Side Profile
Howard Leight, Side Profile

They are pretty thick and will mess up your rifle cheek weld.

Plus…since they also fit the Noisefighters Gel Caps!


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

9. Walker’s Razor Slim Muff

Ok, no list would be complete without the Impact Sport’s arch-nemesis…Walker’s Razor Slims. They look cooler and performance is pretty on par.

Walker's Razor Ear Protection
Walker’s Razor Ear Protection

They are head-to-head against the Impact sports so I say get whichever is cheaper…which usually are the Impact Sports.

And keep in mind the Walker’s don’t have AUX-in if that’s important to you.


at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

And oh yes…they also have access to Upgraded Gel Pads.

Walker's Razor, Side
Walker’s Razor, Side with Gel Pads

10. Pro Ears Pro Tac Slim Gold

For most, you’ll be well-served with any of the Howard Leights with the possibility of upgrading to gel caps.

Next up is a bigger jump in price.

But with that, you get much better cutoff and amplification. Pro Ears has a stellar reputation and I like their Pro Tac Slim Gold edition. They don’t make my Editor’s Pick because they fit a little tight for people and the ears aren’t as comfy as the MSA Sordins.

But if you want better sound quality and shutoff (plus the ability to change it for each ear), I like Pro Ears’ Pro Tac Slim Gold with 28dB NRR.

11. MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X

Most of my fellow competitors wear MSA Sordins for their comfort and sound quality.

MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X
MSA Sordin Supreme Pro X

I finally caved after I became a range officer for a couple of competitions. That meant constant blasts for hours while still needing to hear everything.

Eric Shooting
Me Shooting

I simply asked my competition buddies “what are the best electronic ear muffs” and the MSA’s got the majority of votes.

They already has built-in gel caps and there’s a couple colors. I of course went with the camo…

Supreme Pro-X Controls
Supreme Pro-X Controls

They are comfy for hours with their gel caps, have easily accessible button controls, great sound cutoff and compression, and allow for earplugs if the decent 22db NRR doesn’t cut it.

MSA Supreme Pro-X, Side
MSA Supreme Pro-X, Side

Plus they can attach to ballistic helmets and comms if that’s your thing.


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

What I wear when I shoot for hours and my main recommendation for when people want the best.

What do you think about the MSA Sordins?

Readers’ Ratings

4.95/5 (957)

Your Rating?

Last category…Electronic In-Ear Protection

This is newer for us and we’re going through and testing more in-ear options so stay tuned.

12. Axil GS Extreme 2.0

We tried the first generation of GS Extremes and were not impressed. However the newest generation is great.

AXIL GS Extreme 2 wearing
AXIL GS Extreme 2.0

However we must note that you have to really fit the ear with the foam plugs.

AXIL GS Extreme 2 foamies
AXIL GS Extreme 2 Foamies

They come in a variety of sizes and so far the three of us that tested them could find a size that worked.

Another note is that the smaller silicone plugs are just for music…not for blasting guns.

AXIL GS Extreme 2 everything
AXIL GS Extreme 2 everything

Other than that…there’s some great pros to the GS Extreme 2.0s.

  • Super lightweight
  • Out of the way
  • Bluetooth capable
  • 29dB of noise blocking when correctly worn

Now you’ll have no excuse to have a good cheekweld…but make sure to put some sunblock on your ears (we learned the hard way).

As for price they are decent at $129 for one pair but Axil currently has a great deal of 2 pairs for $199.



Prices accurate at time of writing


MSA Supreme Pro-X
MSA Supreme Pro-X

To sum it all up…

To get great protection and not have to deal with earmuffs…get some disposable foam earplugs.


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Want to upgrade to some earmuffs?

I like the slim Shotgunner ones if I’m shooting rifle.


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Otherwise if I want the most protection I go with Optime 105s which are bulky but the best rated.


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Ready for electronic protection?  My go-to suggestion is AXIL.

And for the best electronic earmuffs I’ve been rocking for the last few years…MSA Sordins.


at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing


  • Amazon (See Price)
  • Brownells (See Price)
  • ———————————————————————————Trust me on this one issue. As THE Boss gets VERY FRUSTRATED with me and my loss of hearing! Grumpy

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