Introduction: Budget Gel Pad Upgrade for Hearing Protection
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Time: 15 minutes to 1 hour
So, I find myself wearing earmuffs for hearing protection pretty often. Be it in the garage or at the range. Around a year ago I found myself not too happy with the stock ear pads of my earmuffs (my main set are some 3M Peltor Sport Tactical 100 Electronic Hearing Protection - around 50$). After looking around, I found that the upgrade replacement pads are the 3M Peltor Camelback Gel Sealing Rings HY80, which costs about 50$. I was definitely not happy 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. Extremely comfortable for long periods of time and not any warmer.
Then I decided to look for some upgraded gel pads for my backup set of earmuffs, the 3M Peltor Sport RangeGuard Electronic Hearing Protector RG-OTH-4. 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 Headset. 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, and I thought others might appreciate me documenting the process.
So...here we go!
Step 1: Notes on Gear
What you'll need will depend on what you already have and what you intend to use it for. I'll give my opinion here in case anyones 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
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 line of hearing protection seemed to be the best balance between price and function for me.
If you already have a favorite pair of earmuffs, take a look at them and decide for yourself if this same installation process world work for you.
By the way, I also tried the Howard Leight 1030110 Sync Noise-Blocking Stereo Earmuff for a few months, and those are garbage both audio and comfort wise (in my opinion), so I'd recommend skipping those.
So far I've tried the stock foam pads, the OEM 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:
- OEM Foam Pads - 10$: The original pads are fine for short periods of time, but I don't have much more positive to say about them. They aren't comfortable at all for long periods, and they do get sweaty in hot weather. They're pretty thin too, which can be an issue if you are wearing earphones underneath. For the price (essentially free) they're fine, but I wouldn't find any reason to go back to them once you've tried gel. Note: I don't think they are any more uncomfortable than any other original earmuff pads, and if anything better than average.
- 3M Peltor Camelback Gel Sealing Rings - 45$: These are great, no denying that. If your job requires hearing protection just buy these and call it a day. 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 second lip a bit annoying to keep clean, but I suppose they seal off sound a bit better thanks to it. Nothing you'd be able to tell apart without a meter, and if that's an issue, you should be doubling protection with earplugs anyway.
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.
But the real dealbreaker 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.
- Aviation Gel Seals - 15-20$: Designed for aviation headsets, they seem to all be pretty much the same inside this price category. As in if the pictures look identical, they're probably the same exact product regardless of the brand. I purchased two sets from 2 different brands for about 15$ and as far as I can tell they were exactly the same. Expect them to arrive in a ziplock 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, allows more space for headsets or earphones underneath, and I dare say more comfortable in the heat thanks to the added air gap. Since 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 15-20$ they are the best choice by defect.
Well, now that that has been sorted out, let's go on to the next step.
Step 2: What You'll Need
What you'll need is as follows:
*The following links are on either Amazon or Ebay for your convenience.
- Hearing protectors- 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 - 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 preferable. The best solution is "3m 300lse 4" X8" Heavty Duty Double Sided Sticky 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.
- 3M Adhesion Promoter- Optional: I love the stuff. If you have it lying around, use it. If you don't, buy it for your next project even if you don't use it on this one.
- Goo-Gone or equivalent - Optional: Useful for removing the original adhesive from the mounting rings. Isopropyl alcohol or dishwasher soap would probably work also.
Step 3: 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 might as well just get one now.
The mounting ring is a second layer of material used to mount these Gel Seals as intended. We won't be needing this, so we have to remove it.
The trick is to make a small slit big enough to fit the round edge of the seam ripper, and then simply slide it along the edge of the Gel Seal as close as possible to the edge. That way we get a perfect trim without damaging anything.
Remove the ring on both Gel Seals.
Step 4: Remove the Stock Foam Pads From the Mounting Rings
Remove the ear pads from your hearing protector. If your earmuffs are different than these, your method may vary. On the Peltor line all you have to do is pull on the earpads from the inside and they pop straight out.
Then peel off the foam pads from the ear pad mounting rings without damaging them. They are pretty easy to remove by hand. Even easier if you heat them up first (leave them in the sun a while).
After that, remove all of the adhesive residue and clean them off.
Step 5: Decide How You Are Going to Mount the Gel Seals
So I ended up installing two sets of Gel Seals.I used Double Sided Tape on one, and a Glue Gun on the other. Either will work, but I've settled on double sided tape being the better option
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 helping to 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 is 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, which is very thin, strong, and black. This is the product I was most happy with:
3m 300lse 4" X8" Heavty Duty Double Sided Sticky Adhesive Sheet Tape High Bond Transfer Tape Ideal for Attaching Digitizers to Phones and Tablets (1 sheets 4"x8")
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 probably recommend the other methods just in case you ever want to replace the rings due to wear or damage.
Step 6: Optional - Apply Adhesion Promoter
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. And since it doesn't 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 it.
For this tutorial I ended up using hot glue, but applied it anyway (the hot glue was a last minute decision, 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.
Anyway, apply, wait a minute to let the surface dry, and move on to the next step.
Step 7: Install Rings Using Double Sided Tape - Preferred Method
I believe that double sided tape is the best option for installation, especially the type like 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 those lines.
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, and then leave the whole thing alone (with the gel pads pressing against each other) for a few hours for the best bond.
Step 8: Apply Adhesive - Depracated
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 to the hot glue option.
If going the Glue Gun route, preheat the rings to assure you have time to compress the glue into place into a thin ring before it solidifies.
I applied 200 degrees celsius using the heat gun from a reflow station, but 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 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 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 your 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.
Step 9: All Done!
Once both Gel Seals are mounted 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! Thanks for reading.