Cool guys like to make loud noises. We can’t help it.
Even so, nobody wants to give up one of their five senses, so we have to protect those during our cool guy activities and that sometimes requires multiple types of protective equipment. When loud noises are part of the game, that equipment list “should” at least call for hearing protection.
The options for hearing protection are many. Ranging from cotton balls to devices that run upwards of $1000. In this write-up we’ll talk about the most common and most useful under a wide range of applications, while keeping it relatively budget-friendly.
For most folks and most activities, a set of foam ear plugs that are widely available will do just fine. They’re really cheap, disposable, don’t require batteries, and don’t take up much space. I have a ton of these things for these reasons. The cons of these are that they’re a bit of a pain to take out and put back in if you need to take them out for conversation, and…they’re disposable. Disposable means that you’re throwing them away with each use and that means you have to keep up with the need to resupply. Not having ear pro when you hit the range can either mean you’re leaving the range to go find plugs/muffs or sticking fired 9mm cases into your ears and hoping for the best. I don’t recommend that last one. Kinda works, kinda doesn’t.
The most highly recommended, widely useful, and most comfortable way to protect your ears is with a set of electronic ear muffs. Basically what these do is when a noise gets over a certain decibel level, the muffs either turn off for a second or dial down the volume. This is really cool when you’re taking a shooting class or are at a public range where there is a lot of shooting going on, but you still need to be able to have a conversation. Ear plugs and non-electronic muffs make this harder than it needs to be. Quality hearing protection also seems to help mitigate the effects of the flinch response from loud noises. That translates to fewer pulled shots. In a hunting scenario, that could mean the difference between an ethical harvest and unnecessarily wounding an animal. I have a big problem with that. You should too. On the less critical side of that is a pulled shot turning your half inch group into a two inch group.
Electronic muffs used to be really expensive, especially compared to how many sets of foam plugs you could buy for the same dollars. Thankfully, as with most things in the electronics world, the prices have come down to very reasonable levels. If you keep an eye out, you can get a set of electronic muffs for the same price as a set of “nice” standard muffs. With that being said, there’s no reason not to own a set of decent electronic muffs.
Another cool thing that electronic muffs do for us is amplify our natural hearing. This makes listening to an instructor at the other end of a firing line or listening for a deer walking through the woods far easier.
The only con that I’ve been able to come up with in regards to electronic muffs is that they require batteries. But guess what? They’re still muffs, so it’s not like you have to pack it up and head back home because your batteries have died. Batteries tend to last a really long time in these things, and a spare set of AAA batteries doesn’t take up much room in the glove box or range bag. I’ll bet you have a flashlight that takes AAA batteries and you have spare batteries for that anyway….right? Yeah, you do. ::squints eyes while nodding::
In recent years the ear muff game has been brought to a new level via the introduction of gel cups. Yes. That’s right. You can be gellin’ in your ear muffs and it’s like giving your ears an all-day-long squishy church-lady hug. Sounds like a good time to me.
Now that we’ve decided that you need electronic ear pro and that you shouldn’t hate the world while doing so, let’s get into the recommended of the recommended –
The Howard-Leight Impact Sport model of electronic ear pro (linked below) is the most widely recommended and used that I’m currently aware of, and for good reason. They’re cheap, hold up well, and work. I’ve had a set for well over 5 years that I’ve used through several shooting classes, range trips, hunting trips, carpentry projects, hours of chainsaw and log-splitter use, and lawn-mowings. A really cool feature of these is that they have a 3.5mm jack for an auxiliary cord (included), so you can plug the muffs into your phone and jam while not listening to your ki…errr, mower.
Let’s talk about those super sweet gel cups. I didn’t think they existed for the Impact Sports until I was shopping for a second set of muffs to replace my nearly worn out set and stumbled onto them. Yes, I know that this raises the cost of the muffs significantly, but its sooooo worth it if you plan to wear them for long periods of time. (Note – the specific brand of gel pads mentioned originally is no longer available.)
These things are awesome. Not only do they make the muffs far more comfortable to wear, but their squishiness makes for a very tight seal to the side of your head, further insuring that those damaging sound waves don’t make it to our delicate ears. They also have a cutout at the top of the pad so that the temple of your eye pro has somewhere to go instead of being pressed into your skull. Their polyurethane skin is also non-absorbant and easy to clean. That’s important, as nobody wants to wear smelly, bacteria-ridden ear pro. The gel cups are also very easy to install. Hook the old ones with your finger, pull them out, and snap the new ones in. Their being easy to take in and out makes cleaning them that much easier. No need to worry about getting your nice ear pro wet.
Protecting your hearing is important, as the effects of hearing damage are cumulative. Meaning that each injury adds on to the next. The level of withdrawal from your “hearing savings account” during loud stuff depends on just how loud it was. Could be a little, could be a lot. And there’s no getting it back, without hearing aides. For the items linked above, your out $80 for a really nice muff setup that’ll last you several years with regular use. At that price point, there’s really not much of a justification for not having a decent set of ear pro.