I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any shooter that doesn’t understand the need for eye and hearing protection. It’s standard industry practice, most all reputable ranges insist on their use and it’s really just common sense.
So you’ve got your gear and you figure you’re protected – but are you really? There’s a wide range of type, quality, fit and condition elements to consider with protective equipment, and what you may have kicking around in the bottom of your bag may not cut it.
This is the type of thing that you absolutely don’t want to compromise on. Hearing loss or a catastrophic eye injury can affect you for the rest of your life, so cheaping-out on these items is not the way to go. Like anything, you get what you pay for.
The Eyes Have It
Unlike hearing loss, you know immediately when you’ve got an eye injury. There’s nothing quite like hot metal hitting your eyeball at a high rate of speed to provide a good wake-up call. The most common injuries are caused by errant casing impact or some powder/particle blowback, but there are also more serious cases that can be caused by ammo malfunction or bore obstruction.
For ‘safety’ eyewear to be considered industry compliant, it must meet the standards as set forth by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and be marked with code Z87.1. This code is typically followed by a ‘year’ indicator that indicates when the most recent ANSI standards were updated (should be 2020 by now). There is also a modified code that applies to prescription lenses. This covers consumer/civilian use for high-impact resistance. The better grade lenses are of polycarbonate construction and are lighter, more durable and offer better scratch-resistance than the plastic equivalent. Specialty materials like Trivex™ can offer other advantages as well. More serious shooters may want to consider Military spec ballistic lenses that must adhere to more stringent standards.
Here are a few more elements to consider:
The general rule-of-thumb for most safety equipment replacement is 3 – 5 years. Although your gear might look OK, the structural integrity of anything made with plastic or composite materials can break down over time through UV exposure, misuse and general wear.
Speaking of UV exposure, make sure that your lenses provide sufficient protection from ultraviolet rays. Luckily, polycarbonate lenses tend to do this naturally.
Ensuring a proper fit helps to promote greater comfort and fewer distractions with longer wear. Adjustable frames and earpieces can help.
A wraparound style is recommended to help protect from anything coming at you from the side.
A lot of safety lenses are fog resistant, but there are sprays and wipes available as well. This definitely helps during cooler weather.
If you don’t want to spring for prescription safety lenses, there are impact-resistant covers that fit nicely over top of your regular glasses. You don’t want to make the assumption that what you’re wearing now is going to protect you properly in the event of an accident.
If you shoot in a variety of conditions, it may be a good plan to have several pairs of glasses available with different lens types – or have the ability to swap lenses out based on your needs. Clear models are best for indoor use, with shaded for sunny conditions and tinted for when it’s cloudy. You’ll always want to optimize your view and have the best clarity and contrast possible. Having the ability to change lenses can also help if you get any deep scratches or scuffs and need to replace them.
Using glasses with a rifle scope can cause a parallax effect and may have a negative impact when you’re aiming. In the simplest terms – stuff doesn’t line-up properly. Re-zeroing your weapon with your eyewear on can make a big difference.
And it’s always a good idea to keep a spare pair of glasses in your bag just in case.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Hearing loss can occur over time with continuous exposure to dangerous noise levels caused by heavy equipment, loud music, industrial machinery, and of course gunfire. Serious and immediate hearing damage can also be caused by singular incidents or impulse noises. Basically every shot fired has the potential to damage your ears if you’re not properly protected. Longer-term ‘Shooter’s Ear’ or high-frequency hearing loss is probably more common. It’s painless and can definitely sneak up on you. The damage can also be asymmetrical (worse on one side) depending on what you shoot and how you hold it. Symptoms normally include a ringing in the ears or having normal sounds being muffled or garbled. It doesn’t matter how old you are – once your hearing is gone, that’s it. Luckily, this is all pretty much preventable with the right equipment.
As we know, sound is measured in decibels, and the threshold that begins to cause hearing damage is around 85db. As a point of reference, an unsuppressed larger caliber weapon can produce noises up to double that level. Compare that to your lawn mower, that will produce something in the neighborhood of 90db. You should be aware that sound is measured on a logarithmic scale, meaning that the sound strength is actually magnified greatly with every increase in value. The shooting environment can also amplify the effect, as the shot noise reverberates within the confines of indoor ranges or even covered outdoor ranges. The sound has to go somewhere. It should also be noted that using a ‘silencer’ doesn’t mean that you’re safe. Suppressed sound is simply lower than it could be, but can still cause damage.
Hearing protection would fall under ANSI’s S3.19 standard. To meet compliance, equipment manufacturers publish a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) for their products, which indicates how many decibels of sound are reduced by the device. Most would typically be rated at between 21db and 30db. Note that hearing aids should never be worn with hearing protection.
There are 3 main categories of protection to be considered:
The most common are the disposable foam type. They are very effective (up to 33db protection), but must be fitted correctly to do their job. That means that they have to be fully inserted to the point where they’re flush with the outer ear. There are also re-usable molded and custom fitted versions.
Ear Muffs (or Cans)
The passive models basically block or muffle sound in a manner similar to foam plugs. Fortunately, the technology has been improving over the years to allow for lighter, lower-profile versions of this type (that still maintain protection levels). Many shooters will double-up with foam plugs and an over-the-ear set for added safety. Note that this doesn’t ‘double’ your protection though.
‘Active’ hearing protection in the form of electronic earplugs and earmuffs are a great option for those that still want some hearing, but without the potential damage that loud, intermittent noises can cause. They utilize digital circuitry and external microphones to allow for sounds like normal conversation, commands from a range instructor or for situational awareness while hunting – but will suppress louder sounds above a certain decibel level.
When considering the purchase of personal safety gear, you’ll have to weigh price vs. protection vs. comfort, with the understanding that your sight and hearing aren’t things to be messed with. Those slick-looking wraparounds at the 7-11 checkout may look cool, but I wouldn’t want to trust my vision to them.
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