Choosing the Right Hearing Protection

It seems that today’s culture bombards us with warnings and recommendations concerning how we can protect ourselves from every type of hazard. Depending on your age you may find some of this a nuisance, remembering a time when such things were hardly a concern. While some of these warnings may be excessive when it comes to wearing hearing protection in noisy environments the potential hazards cannot be over stated. Of course for the protection to actually benefit you it is important you select the proper hearing protection for the task at hand or level of noise you expect to encounter.


Hearing protect comes in many forms, or styles, and each offers a varying degree of protection as well as pros and cons. There is no perfect, one fit for application style of hearing protection available. Nor will the same style be suitable for every person in each situation. Consider the following prior to making your selection:

The amount of protection needed – what type of environment will you be exposed to? Will you be operating power equipment or practicing on the firearms range? Will you be inside, where noise can be amplified, or outside?

The length of exposure- will you spend extended periods of time exposed to high levels of noise or will it be intermittent and for short durations? Will this be something you put on once or twice per day or will you be donning and removing repeatedly?

Task you will be performing – what else will you need to do while wearing the hearing protection? Will you need to hear range commands or warning signals? Will you be required to wear headgear, a helmet or headset?

Current condition- are you currently experiencing a level of hearing loss? Do you have any other medical conditions or injuries that need to be taken into account?
Level of Protection

The easiest way to determine the level of protection a specific style offers is to refer to the Noise Reduction Rating. The NRR is a measurement of how many decibels of noise reduction the specific device offers. This rating can be found on the package labeling or by consulting the manufacturer.

Normal conversation is approximately 60 decibels. Anything over 85 decibels is considered potentially harmful, although this depends on the duration of exposure. A gunshot, depending on the firearm used, can be between 140-190 decibels and cause immediate harm.

So, if you will be shooting a firearm with an average decibel rating of 165 you need a minimum NRR of 80 – more if facing prolonged exposure. If you unsure of proper protection level, or if you have preexisting conditions to consider, you should consult an audiologist.

Types available

As stated earlier, there are several types of hearing protection available. Most are available off the shelf from any sporting goods store although many manufacturers also offer customized models. These custom models do not necessarily offer a higher NRR but do offer a more consistent level of protection due to a more personal fit.

Disposable – often referred to as “foamies” these generally resemble small pieces of foam and can be crushed and placed in the ear where they expand and fill the void. PROS – cheap, easy to use and offer a level of protection necessary for many day to day situations. CONS – one size fits all means they never really fit anyone perfectly, easy to lose, blocks ALL sound within their designed range.

In Ear Reusable- like disposables, these fit into the ear but do not expand. Instead, they rely on the shape to block opening and can even be custom fit. They can also be reused over and over again. PROS – custom fit can provide better, more comfortable wear. Can be combined with decibel dependent technology, meaning they will only cancel out noise above a specific level. CONS – still easy to loose unless equipped with a lanyard, more costly than disposables so not suitable when outfitting a large number of users.

Over the ear – commonly referred to as “muffs” this style fits over each ear and typically include and over the head band to hold everything in place. PROS – can also be coupled with decibel dependent technology. Some models include a mic to allow the wearer to clearly hear non-threatening sounds (such as range commands). Can be more comfortable for long term wear. CONS – cost. May interfere with other equipment such as helmets or headsets. May make properly mounting a long gun difficult. Battery operated models require more maintenance.

Combination – no single style will meet every need, therefore, it may be necessary to have several pairs available for different situations. You may also want to combine two styles, such as disposable and over the ear, for extreme situations.
Hearing is a precious sense and once lost it cannot be regained, at least not without mechanical assistance. Wearing hearing protection today will help you avoid wearing a hearing aid tomorrow.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell

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