Last updated on June 7th, 2018
I wear earmuffs for hearing protection pretty often. Around a year ago I found myself not too happy with the stock ear pads on my earmuffs. It’s not that my hearing protection sucked, it’s just that after a few hours it can get tiresome. After looking into the subject, I saw that gel pads are the gold-standard for comfortable earmuffs. However, the gel pads for my 3M Peltor Sport Tacticals cost more than the earmuffs themselves. I wasn’t too happy with that. That’s when I found another, even better solution for a fraction of the price. Here’s how to make your own cheap gel pad upgrade for hearing protection earmuffs. I promise you won’t regret it.
My main set of earmuffs are some 3M Peltor Sport Tactical 100 Electronic Earmuffs. After looking around, I found that the original upgrade replacement pads are the 3M Peltor Camelback HY80 Gel Sealing Rings. It seemed a bit pricey to me. I was definitely not enthusiastic about paying as much for gel pads as I was paying for the earmuffs. But oh well, I took a leap and I was happy with it for about a year. They were extremely comfortable for long periods of time and not any warmer.
Then I decided to look for some cheap gel pad upgrade for my backup set of earmuffs. Those were the 3M Peltor Sport RangeGuard Electronic Earmuffs. Since they were simply a backup for me or a loaner for others, I was definitely not going to spend 50$ again.
That’s when I came across this: Silicone Gel Ear Seal Replacement for Pilot Aviation Headsets. At around 15$ if it worked it would be a must have upgrade!
And work it did. Since then I decided to get rid of my 3M Camelback Gel Pads and just use the aviation gel seals on both. As this is my second install, I thought others might appreciate me documenting the process.
So…here we go!
Time: 15 minutes to 1 hour
Hearing and its long-term protection is very important. Modified hearing protection will never be endorsed by any manufacturer, as it can put you at risk. Also, no amount of protection will ever guarantee an absolute absence of risk to your hearing.
Anyone who decides to follow this tutorial must do it at their own risk and under their own exclusive responsibility. Neither this guide nor its author make any claims about the performance of this protection. Any allusions to safety ratings refer to the undamaged, unmodified original piece of equipment as the manufacturer intended.
Notes on hearing protection gear
What you’ll need for this cheap gel pad upgrade how-to will depend on what you already have and what you intend to use it for. I’ll give my opinion here in case anyone’s on the fence. If all you want to know is how to complete the project, feel free to jump straight to the next step.
Which Hearing Protectors/Earmuffs
In my case, music was a must have, and electronic hearing protection might as well be. I also wanted them to be collapsible, too. The 3M Peltor earmuffs seemed to be the best balance between price and function for me.
By the way, I also tried the Howard Leight 1030110 Sync Noise-Blocking Stereo Earmuffs for a few months. Those are garbage, both audio and comfort wise. At least in my opinion. So I’d recommend skipping those.
Before starting the cheap gel pad upgrade for earmuffs, consider your option. So far I’ve tried the stock foam pads, the 3M Peltor Camelback Gel Sealing Rings, and generic aviation gel pads. In all honesty, I think for the price you just can’t beat the generic aviation gel pads. But your case or needs may be different. My thoughts are:
The original foam ear pads are fine for short periods of time, but I don’t have much more positive to say about them. They aren’t comfortable at all for long periods, and they do get sweaty in hot weather. They’re pretty thin too, which is an issue if you are wearing earphones underneath.
For the price (essentially free as they came factory installed) they’re fine. But I wouldn’t find any reason to go back to them once you’ve tried gel.
Note: I don’t think they are any more uncomfortable than any other original earmuffs pads, and if anything better than average. They just aren’t particularly special, either.
These are great, no denying that. If your job requires hearing protection just buy these and call it a day. Really, the only issue is that it fails the “cheap” in “cheap gel pad upgrade”. They aren’t supposed to fit the Peltor hearing protectors I listed above, but in my experience they worked. YMMV. They were a bit hard to put on but not impossible.
I do find the lip in the middle of the pad a bit annoying to keep clean, but I suppose they seal off sound a bit better thanks to it. They are thinner than the aviation gel pads, which can be either good or bad. About half as thick, and just slightly larger than the original pads. If you occasionally wear earphones under the earmuffs, that might be bad. If you intend to use them shooting a rifle with your cheek against the stock, it’s probably desirable.
However, the real deal-breaker is the price. It doesn’t make sense to me to spend as much on the ear pads as you do on the earmuffs. Especially when they are technically a consumable. Whether it’s worth it or not is your call.
These are my favorites for a cheap gel pad upgrade for earmuffs – Aviation Gel Seal Pads. Designed for aviation headsets, they seem to all be pretty much the same inside this price category. As in if the pictures look identical, they’re probably the same exact product regardless of the brand. I purchased two sets from 2 different brands for about 15$ and as far as I can tell they were exactly the same. Expect them to arrive in a zip-lock bag with no other packaging.
They are just as comfortable if not more than the 3M Peltor Camelback rings. And since they’re about double as thick, it’s a lot more cushioning and allows more space for headsets or earphones underneath. I even dare say they’re more comfortable in the heat thanks to the added air gap.
Given that they are designed for pilots, they are probably as good if not better at sealing off sound compared to foam pads. Think your compressor is noisy? Try the cabin of a Cessna. I don’t think using these would compromise safety at all, and could probably help.
Like mentioned in the previous point, it being double as thick may or may not be good for your situation. In the shop? Irrelevant. Shooting your AR or bolt-action? Not ideal, but probably irrelevant. Your call. All in all, I think for the price they are the best choice by defect for a cheap gel pad upgrade.
Well, now that that has been sorted out, let’s go on to the next step.
What You’ll Need for this mod
What you’ll need is as follows:
- Hearing protectors – I can tell you for sure that this project works with the 3M Peltor Sport Tacticals and Peltor Sport Rangeguard. If you haven’t tried electronic earmuffs before, try ’em. You’re in for a treat. But if you are using something else, the mounting plate will vary depending on the model. Make sure this mod will work for you before breaking or buying anything.
- Replacement Gel Pads – The is the key item in this custom gel pad upgrade project. As discussed in the prior step, purchase what works best for you.
- Double-Sided Tape or Glue Gun – I have tried both, and while either will work, I have settled on thinking that Double-Sided tape is preferable. It can be thinner, and if any part lifts up at an edge, it gets stuck again. With hot glue once something gets unstuck, it’s unstuck. Strips of double-sided tape are an option, but not ideal. The best solution is 3m 300lse Heavty-Duty Double-Sided Adhesive Sheet. It’s the type of adhesive you use to install phone screens, so it’s a very strong bond and very thin.
- Seam Ripper – Ask your mother or better 3/4. She’ll know what I’m talking about.
- 3M Adhesion Promoter (Optional) – I love the stuff. If you have it lying around, use it. If you don’t, consider trying it on your next project. You won’t regret it, I promise.
- Goo-Gone or equivalent (Optional) – Useful for removing the original adhesive from the mounting rings. Isopropyl alcohol or dishwasher soap would probably also work.
Cheap Gel Pad Upgrade for Earmuffs How-To: Steps
Step 1 – Remove the mounting ring from the gel seals
Now it’s time to remove the mounting ring from the gel seals.
If you turn out to be lucky, this step might not even be necessary. If you’re using other earmuffs which use the same type of mounting ring then this might be a direct fit. It’s worth checking at the very least.
Honestly, the seam ripper worked so well that I’m hesitant to recommend any other method. Using a hobby knife or scissors you’re bound to either damage the gel seals or make a sloppy cut. Given how useful seam rippers are it’s useful to keep one around anyway. And they’re cheap, so one might as well.
The mounting ring is a second layer of material used to mount these Gel Seals as intended to aviation headsets. We won’t be needing ’em, so we have to remove it.
The trick is to make a small slit big enough to fit the round end of the seam ripper, and then simply slide it along the edge of the Gel Seal as close as possible to the border. That way we get a perfect trim without damaging anything.
Remove the mounting ring on both gel seals.
Step 2 – Remove the original foam pads from the mounting rings
Remove the ear pads from your hearing protectors. If your earmuffs are different from these, the method may vary. On the Peltor line all you have to do is pull on the earpads from the inside of the earmuffs and they pop straight out.
Then, peel off the foam pads from the earmuffs ear pad mounting rings without damaging them. They are pretty easy to remove by hand. Even easier if you heat them up first. Just leave them in the sun a while.
After that, remove all of the adhesive residue and clean them off.
Step 3 – Decide how you are going to mount the aviation gel seal pads
So I ended up installing two sets of gel seals. I used double-sided adhesive tape on one, and a Glue Gun on the other. Either will work, but I’ve settled on double-sided tape being the better long-term option for the cheap gel pad upgrade.
With hot glue, the issue is that if an edge comes unstuck, it stays unstuck. With double-sided tape if it comes unstuck at an edge, it will stick again. At least that helps keep other parts from coming unstuck. Plus, it allows for more surface being adhered and an airtight seal between the gel pad and the mounting ring.
Smaller sections of a roll of double-sided tape are an option, but not ideal since there will be air gaps. The best solution is the type of double-sided tape used for adhering phone displays. It’s very thin and strong. This is the product I was most happy with: 3m 300lse 4″ X8″ Heavty Duty Double Sided Sticky Adhesive Sheet. One 4″x8″ sheet should suffice.
Other options would be any cyanoacrylate glue (read superglue) or epoxy if you’re okay with a permanent installation. I’d certainly recommend the other methods just in case you ever want to replace the rings due to wear or damage.
Step 4 – Apply an Adhesion Promoter (Optional)
I really like this stuff: 3M Tape Primer. It turns double-sided tape into something that can actually stick things together for more than a few minutes. I’ve gotten used to using it anytime I want to use a pressure sensitive adhesive as a permanent solution. It’s perfect for plastics that don’t really like anything sticking to them, like these rings. And since it doesn’t typically damage the surface in any obvious way it’s really versatile. Things can still be removed when using it, it just takes a conscious effort to do so.
If you’re going the double-sided tape route, I’d absolutely recommend using the primer.
For this tutorial I ended up using hot glue, but applied it anyway.The hot glue was a last-minute decision, as I was intending to use double-sided tape. In this case I’m not sure it helps, but it surely doesn’t harm. And hot glue doesn’t always stick all that great to some plastics anyway, so I’m betting on it helping.
Apply the adhesion promoter, wait a minute to let the surface dry, and move on to the next step.
Step 5 – Install the aviation gel pads
Preferred method: Use double-sided tape
I believe that double-sided tape is the best option for this installing this cheap gel pad upgrade. Especially a tape like the 3M 300LSE, which is virtually identical to the solution the manufacturer uses.
Simply apply it to the mounting ring, press in place, and use a X-acto knife to cut around the edges. Use your fingernail to clearly mark along the edge of the mounting ring so you can cut along that line.
After that, simply remove the protective cover, and apply the gel pad. Make sure you align the gel pad before making contact with the adhesive, since there are no second chances with this stuff.
Apply the same process to the other side of the hearing protector. Then leave the whole thing alone (with the gel pads pressing against each other) for a few hours for the best bond.
Deprecated method: Apply hot glue
Update: I only recommend this option if you’re in a hurry and can’t get double-sided tape. Honestly, I ended up preferring that option much more than the hot glue solution.
If going the Glue Gun route, preheat the rings to assure you have time to compress the glue into a thin ring before it solidifies.
I applied 200 degrees Celsius using the heat gun from a rework station. Nonetheless a hair dryer at high temperature or a heat gun at low temperature would work just as well if not better.
Now the moment of truth. Apply the adhesive.
Since this is a thermal adhesive, do it as quick as possible. You want to make a complete ring so it seals the air either in or out. You don’t want it thick. Just apply a bit and spread it.
As far as mounting position, the mounting ring doesn’t have an orientation but the Gel Seal does. You want to mount the Gel Seal with the tiny vent hole at its bottom facing down. The hole is simply there to let air escape when the rings are compressed. If you’re OCD, you can align it with the orientation of the molded text of the production info on the back of the mounting ring. If not, it’s possible to glue the Gel Seal whichever way on the mounting ring and simply mount it right on the earmuffs.
After mounting compress together while the glue solidifies. About a minute or two. We’re one step closer to finishing this DIY cheap gel pad upgrade.
Now you have some upgraded hearing protection!
Once you’ve mounted both Gel Seals on their rings, simply pop them into the hearing protectors and you’re all done!
So that’s all for now. Enjoy! And if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions; leave them below!
Anyway, thanks for reading my how-to! If you found this interesting, check out what other projects I’ve been up to. Here are a few you might find interesting: