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by Scott Murdock ,


All earplugs tested

By: Scott Murdock

For new shooters, buying quality eye and ear protection sometimes isn’t a high priority. Paying for your firearm, ammo, and a case before your first range day might steal the spotlight because those are big-ticket items. Neglecting your hearing and eyesight is a mistake, though.

If you ever take a shot without hearing protection, you’ll instantly know why leaving your ears exposed is a bad idea. Indoor shooting ranges only make the situation worse because sound levels increase drastically with multiple people shooting in a confined space.

Most new shooters start with basic foam earplugs. These don’t offer the same benefits as active hearing protection but they help manage noise levels and the price is right. If that’s what you’re after at this point in your shooting journey, we have you covered with a guide to the best shooting earplugs.

How We Chose The Best Shooting Earplugs

We bought some of the shooting industry’s most popular earplugs to test for ourselves. Each had to prove its worth during range time with rifles and pistols ranging from .22 LR to 5.56 NATO.

Man wearing Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs

In addition to finding out how well these earplugs protect our eardrums, we wanted to see how comfortable they are to wear, how well they stay in the ear, and how easy they are to use properly. We didn’t have a way to test manufacturers’ claimed noise reduction rating, but that information is provided for each product.

After all our testing, here’s what we found.

The Best Shooting Earplugs

Best Overall Ear Plugs: Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs

Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs
  • Claimed NRR 31 dB
  • Price per pair $25.99
  • Pairs included 1

Of all the shooting earplugs we tested, the Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs performed the best by a significant margin. They’re the most expensive at around $25 a pair, but the genuine custom fit is worth the upcharge.

To my ears, these earplugs did the best job of blocking sound from reaching my eardrums. I was even relatively comfortable shooting a rifle from an enclosed position that significantly raised sound levels. The soft foam inserts worked the best, but Decibullz also includes three sizes of rubber cup inserts that are easier to insert and remove. Once you get the fitment right, these are incredibly comfortable.

Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs immersed in a cup of water

The cost of this performance (aside from the price tag) is a little bit of labor on your part. You’ll have to soak these earplugs in clean boiling water and mold them to your outer ear before you can wear them. This only takes a few minutes, and it’s easy and painless. You can repeat the process if you’re not completely satisfied with the way they fit but mine felt great after the first attempt.

Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs cost a little bit more than other reusable earplugs (and a lot more than disposable ones) but I appreciate the personalized fit. These are a great backup or second layer of defense you can wear under over-the-ear hearing protection in extra-loud situations.

Best Value Ear Plugs: Surefire EPC Sonic Defenders

Surefire EPC Sonic Defenders
  • Claimed NRR 24 dB
  • Price per pair $14.99
  • Pairs included 1

One of the things we looked for in our search for the best shooting earplugs was an option that was better than old-school foam earplugs but less expensive than Decibullz. Surefire EPC Sonic Defenders fit the bill and they’re ready to go straight out of the box.

These do a good job of keeping sound levels down and I appreciate the pop-out caps that let you hear normally without removing the earplugs entirely. 

Like the Decibullz, the EPC Sonic Defensers extend into the outer ear. This distributes weight evenly and relieves pressure on the ear canal. I’m very comfortable wearing these for long training sessions at the range. There’s a tether included that you can use if you like to hang your earplugs around your neck, but I prefer to leave that in the case and just open the pass-through if I want to have a conversation between strings of fire.

These are the best bang for the buck on this list. They’re closer in performance to the Decibullz than foam earplugs but cost significantly less. The lanyard and hard case are nice additions, although I’d like to see some different size options of the silicone inserts included with each pair. If you’re looking for earplugs that are great for shooting, hunting, and even yard work, these are a solid choice.

Best Budget Ear Plugs: Walker’s Foam Ear Plugs

Walker’s Foam Ear Plugs
  • Claimed NRR 32 dB
  • Price per pair $0.24
  • Pairs included 50

Aren’t all foam earplugs the same? It’s a fair question, but I managed to find a few differences among the next three picks on this list so you might prefer one over the other. These shooting earplugs from Walker’s are the most cost-effective option and they work just as well as the next two.

According to Walker’s, these earplugs reduce perceived volume by 32 decibels. That’s pretty standard for passive in-ear hearing protection. They definitely muted the sound of gunfire at the range when I tested them, but they muffled everything else, too. Communicating with other shooters was a challenge and I struggled to hear things like my magazine sliding into the magazine well and locking in place. If your hearing is better than mine you might not have the same experience but shooting will be louder in that case, too.

Foam earplugs work by expanding to fill your ear canal after you compress and insert them. These earplugs use dense foam that squishes down nicely and rebounds quickly. The faster they can expand, the less likely they are to get a poor seal and pop out when you least expect it.

At less than 25 cents a pair, having a bag of these handy is a no-brainer. I always bring extra earplugs to the range in case someone forgets their hearing protection. If you shoot indoors, these are a great product to wear in addition to earmuffs to help mitigate the extra noise.

Honorable Mention: Mack’s Covert Ops Earplugs

Mack’s Covert Ops Earplugs
  • Claimed NRR 32 dB
  • Price per pair $0.30
  • Pairs included 50

In my testing, Mack’s Covert Ops Earplugs performed very similarly to the Walker’s. The main difference is a more discrete color (black instead of blaze orange) and a hard case instead of a zip-closure bag.

Passive earplugs like this aren’t fancy but at least Mack’s uses quality foam. These roll up tight and expand quickly so you only have to hold them in place for a few seconds while they match the contours of your inner ear. They’re adequate for .22 LR and pistol cartridges on their own. If you’re shooting heavy shotgun loads or using a rifle, consider stepping up to earmuffs or active hearing protection.

These are as comfortable as any foam earplugs and they did a good job of staying in my ears. The only subjective issue with these is that, because they’re so dark, an overzealous range safety officer might not see them and interrupt you with instructions to use ear protection. That’s no reason to avoid these, though.

Mack’s earplugs cost a little more than the Walker’s. That’s probably a result of the hard container as much as anything related to the product itself. These are still affordable enough to keep on hand for range days and yard chores.

Honorable Mention: Howard Leight LaserLite Foam Earplugs

Howard Leight LaserLite Foam Earplugs
  • Claimed NRR 32 dB
  • Price per pair $0.34
  • Pairs included 50

These Howard Leight LaserLite earplugs are an interesting product. I wasn’t sold on them based on my range time, but there are people who should give them a look.

The main issue I had was getting a proper fit. These earplugs are softer than the others and take a lot longer to expand after you put them in your ears. Instead of a few seconds, I had to hold them in place for 30 seconds to a minute before they were secure and effective. If you rush the process, you’re not going to get the full benefit of these earplugs.

In my ears, they felt too small. If you typically use the smallest size of headphone inserts, maybe they’ll work for you. They’d probably also be great for kids.

Pricing for this 50-pair bag is on par with other brands at around $15.


1. Do I really need hearing protection?

The short answer is yes. Even a single gunshot can leave your ears ringing, and prolonged exposure can cause permanent hearing loss. Basic earplugs aren’t the best way to protect your eardrums but they’re better than nothing.

2. Do earplugs work for shooting?

Foam earplugs were the standard for hearing protection for decades. They work by blocking your ear canal and insulating your eardrums from the rest of the world. Now, they’ve been surpassed by more effective and sophisticated active hearing protection. If you shoot indoors, it’s a good idea to wear both.

3. What’s passive hearing protection?

Passive hearing protection like the earplugs you see here works by blocking your ear canals so soundwaves reach your eardrums with less energy. They muffle everything you hear, including range commands and sounds that contribute to your situational awareness.

4. What is active hearing protection?

Active hearing protection may take the form of over-the-ear or in-ear products. All of them work by isolating your inner ears like earplugs, but with a microphone on the outside and a speaker on the inside. In between, a processor lets voices and ambient sounds pass through but clips gunshots to a more healthy decibel level.

5. Is active or passive hearing protection better?

Active hearing protection is better than passive hearing protection for shooting. When firearms are involved, it’s important that you can still hear what’s going on around you. This kind of technology costs more than earplugs, though, so a lot of shooters like to keep passive hearing protection handy as a backup.

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