Ear defenders vs. Ear plugs – Which hearing protector is more ideal for your shooting needs

Ear Defenders vs. Ear Plugs

Generally, ear plugs fall in the same class of ear defenders but there are significant differences between ear plugs and other ear defenders. After years of handling these hearing protection gears I know quite a bit about them to tell which is best for you.

If you are wondering which is the best hearing protection for you then you have landed in the right place. This is an insightful review on ear defenders and ear plugs that come in handy for shooters, hunters and workers alike. As a hunter myself, I have grown to appreciate the benefits of a good quality hearing protector. With ear defenders, you get high noise reduction ratings while with ear plugs you get the same and noise cancellation features. They also both enhance low-level sounds around you so that you are not completely isolated from your surroundings.

Getting one of these is not as hard as you might think especially if you are looking for factory level gear, all you need to do to find them is find a local gun shop or sporting goods and look at the protection ratings initiated as NRR (noise reduction ratings). Here is how else to tell them apart so that you can know which one is designed for you.

What are the differences between Ear Defenders and Ear Plugs? 

Ear Defender
Ear Plug
Average Noise Reduction Rating
31 dB
33 Db
Comfort Design
Most designed with an ear cup shape that surrounds the whole ear
Tight fit into ear canal
Robust and bulky
Small and compact
No custom fit required, adjustable headband
Hard fit, may need customization

Ear Defenders vs. Ear Plugs – How do they compare?

Build and design

Most hearing protectors have a moldable design for easy handling. Ear plugs have proved more convenient especially the design whencomparing them to the ear defenders because they are molded to fit the ear. These work when wax ear plugs are rolled into a ball and carefully molded to fit the external part of the ear canal. Custom molded ear plugs are made from a cast of the wearer’s ear and designed squarely to fit the ear of the wearer.

Ear defenders on the other hand are also comfortable. Earmuffs for example have comfortable fitting pads around the ear region that are made of sound-limiting material. They are made in different designs varying in material, their concaveness and fit design of the headband.


Good earmuffs give you generally good and reliable noise reduction. Their only downer is that they can be uncomfortable to use in hot or humid conditions because they make your ears sweaty. Here, ear plugs prove to be better as well for a number of reasons. First, they are easier to carry and can be easily placed in small pockets for carrying around unlike ear muffs which are quite bulky and cannot be easily carried around. Secondly, they are easy fit and remove quickly.  Do keep in mind that to get the most out of earplugs you need to select a pair that fits your ear canal, and you need to learn how to insert them deep to get optimal noise reduction.

For top notch feasibility, we also look at models that are long-lasting, robust, and not liable to deterioration. One indicator of this is a pair that is resistant to water and other toxic elements. With ear defenders, you can get a whole host of these features like Peltor Tactical 6s range that is water resistant. Ear plugs on the other hand shine out because they can be easily cleaned, repaired or replaced, as necessary.

Noise Reduction Rating

Ear defenders like the electronic earmuffs not only provide significant reduction of dangerous and abrasive noise, but ear plugs do shine out here. When it comes to the noise reduction,deep-set cup designs generally offer standard attenuation levels of low frequency protection but ear plugs offer a greater attenuation.Most ear protection like the ear muffs use electronic amplification which sometimes does not cancel incoming noise levels but simply caps the amplification of the incoming noise. Electronic ear plugs on the flipside reduce both soft and loud noises.

Ear Defenders vs. Ear Plugs – A Comparison Overview

Ear Defenders

Ear Defenders vs. Ear Plugs

Whether you work on a noisy construction site or spend your free time at a shooting range, you will definitely appreciate the importance of having the right hearing protection like ear defenders. Ear defenders come in a wide range of models, brands and categories. When it comes to choosing the best, I also check on the comfort, noise reduction levels and clarity. An example of ear defenders that fit the bill are ear muffs which quite popular as they offer comfort while reducing the risk of any hearing problems.

Generally, most of ear defenders have noise reduction ratings between 18-31 dB which is safe enough to protect you in extreme situations as well. I also particularly like the new wireless technology that comes with the latest ear defenders. Now that we are past connecting the traditional jack to your phone, you can use Bluetooth which is way easier and efficient to allow you to enjoy yourself on your expeditions.

Ear defenders also have different designs and build depending on the budget but you can tell the best piece of protection just from the comfort you experience. Also, almost all ear defenders use the 3M technology that gives the protection and still allow portability and flexibility.


  • Compatible with other personal protective gear
  • Washable and reusable
  • Versatile models to choose from


  • Diameter of some ear defenders must be adapted to the size of the ear canal

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Ear Plugs

Ear Defenders vs. Ear Plugs

This set of hearing protection is popular not only for hunting and at shooting range but they also work well enough for sleeping. If you are easily woken up by noises like hooting cars or even your sleeping partner then ear plugs work well. I used ear plugs at work as well as when hunting because they block out the loud sounds of rifles. They do this while offering top notch comfort so I can even have them the whole day at times. In fact, they fit in so well you can actually forget you have them on. Foam ear plugs are the most popular ear protection since they fit most ear sizes, disposable and relatively affordable.

Ear plugs are also impressive because of their noise reduction rating.So while both ear defenders and ear plugs use the same technology on their headsets you are better off with plugs. At very high levels, the amplification is turned off automatically and you receive the full attenuation as if it were turned off. This protects your hearing and also allows you to carry on normal conversation.


  • Offer better hearing protection because of how deep they sit in the ear canal
  • Light and easy to carry


  • Can be difficult to fit
  • Not ideal for people with ear infections

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In conclusion, when it comes down to protection, the ear plugs are better as their deep canal fit offers a tight background. One just needs to find a pair that sits in their ears well. As for comfort and ease of use, you might be better off with ear muffs.

Final Verdict – So which is better? Ear defenders vs Ear plugs

When it comes to choosing betweenear defenders and ear plugs, I think it all boils down to the user and their preference especially on comfort. However, ear plugs are better at noise reduction as they fit tightly into the ear canals with the right fit making them more ideal.


Are ear defenders or ear plugs waterproof?

It all depends on the brand. Some higher end models do have such features.

Do ear plugs have microphones?

No but you can receive calls while having them on.


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