It’s quite common nowadays to see airsoft players wearing ear protection when playing airsoft. It’s difficult to tell whether players are wearing them to complete the look of their loadout or wearing them for genuine ear protection.
Regardless of why players wear ear protection, do they need it? What are the dangers to your hearing whilst airsofting? We’re going to go through the common dangers that your hearing may face on the airsoft field, and whether hearing protection is required.
One of the primary dangers to your hearing when airsofting is from damage caused by some form of grenade. Grenades are loud and designed to be so. The whole point of an airsoft grenade is to simulate a genuine grenade’s explosion, therefore they’re explosive.
Two of the most well-known manufacturers of airsoft pyrotechnics list their grenades as outputting 120-125dB from 5 meters. This is what most people would classify as “painful” to their ears and is in a similar decibel range as a being 30m from a military jet as it takes off.
Naturally, the sudden fraction-of-a-second exposure to 120dB from a grenade is different to the damage caused by prolonged exposure, but the damage is still being done. After several close-range encounters with a pyrotechnic grenade, a person can begin to show signs of damage to their hearing. Continual exposure, such as marshals (who are often in areas of high traffic, near grenades to check their effect) will have a long term effect on hearing.
However, pyrotechnic grenades are not the only kind that you will find on an airsoft field. Airsofters, for years, have been using BFGs (blank firing grenades). As the name suggests, these grenades use blank rounds to create their sound. Many blank firing grenades can support rounds as large as 12 Gauge shotgun cartridges. These grenades can and will ring your ears with over 150dB of force – Dangerously close to causing instant ear drum bursting damage, especially if you come face to face with one in a confined room.
A quality pair of hearing protection should offer around 30 decibels of sound reduction, bringing the potential sound experienced from a pyrotechnic grenade down to 90dB (No louder than your average motorcycle or petrol mower) and will bring a BFG down to a more manageable (but still painful) 120dB.
But airsoft is all about communication and you use your ears to listen out for the enemy. How can you continue be an effective? A common solution is ear protection with a built in sound reproduction system. These headsets dampen all of the sound around you and then reproduce the sound into your ear using microphones and speakers. This allows you to hear everything going on around you, but keeps everything at the same volume. Whispers are loud and crisp, talking is clear and loud noised are no louder than the previous.
Ultimately, you can’t really put a price on your own hearing. You can think back to how many times you’ve been hit by a grenade and estimate the likelihood that you’d need to be wearing ear protection to protect yourself from permanent damage. However, once it’s gone it’s gone and there’s no getting it back.