In The Island Test, Paul Graham wrote:

Imagine you were going to spend the weekend at a friend’s house on a little island off the coast of Maine.

What, besides clothes and toiletries, do you make a point of packing? That’s what you’re addicted to. For example, if you find yourself packing a bottle of vodka (just in case), you may want to stop and think about that.

For me the list is four things: books, earplugs, a notebook, and a pen.

That was the first time I seriously tried out carrying earplugs with me constantly.

It took some years of trying out earplugs and off and on carry before I fully committed. For the least few years, I’ve had earplugs on me almost constantly, and it’s been great.

For a while, I used to work out of the library. While the library has a reputation of a quiet place, I’ve found that public libraries aren’t all that quiet. Wearing earplugs restored the library to its former, silent glory. Similarly, at work and on the bus, I’ve found that earplugs substantially enhance my experience. I’ve even taken to wearing earplugs at home. I live with quiet neighbors, so I hadn’t thought of noise as distracting in the past, but after wearing ear plugs for a while, I’ve found that the extra level of quiet they provide is a boon to concentration.

Sometimes, I find myself at bars and live music unexpectedly from time to time. Earlier, I might have suffered through a really loud environment, but now I can just pop my earplugs in and have a nice conversation with someone, or listen to music at a reasonable volume.

Basically, the only two times I can see earplugs being a downside are if you want to have a conversation in a quiet space, or if you want to want to be particularly aware of your surroundings.

If there is even a moderate level of noise (e.g. due to ambient conversation), both of those considerations go out the door usually. I actually find it easier to hear someone with earplugs in in a noisy environment than with them out.

Earplugs I’ve tried

Over the years, I’ve tried a pretty wide variety of earplugs. Most of what I’ve tried has problems; here’s what has and hasn’t worked for me.

Hearos, 3M E-A-R, Howard Leight

I used to have a lot of trouble with these but now find them to be great. They generally have the highest rated protection levels.

At first, I had a hard time getting them to work for me. I was never able to insert them deeply enough, so they wouldn’t block much sound and would fall out easily. I found that if I tugged on my earlobe the right way, I could straighten out my ear canal and insert them more deeply. Once I started doing that, the foam ear plugs worked great.

The big downside to foam earplugs is that it’s impossible to clean them, or more precisely after washing, they don’t roll up as tightly for me. Because I wear earplugs every day, this largely rules out foam earplugs for my use.

Silent Ear

I really wanted to use these. They are extremely highly rated and look like they are easy to clean and don’t have any parts that could fail easily. The big problem I had was insertion. The earplug would block my ear canal early on, trapping a pocket of air between the ear plug and my ear drum. This effectively completely prevented me from using these plugs. If I could figure out how to insert them properly I’d love to give them another shot.

Army triple flange earplugs

These earplugs work well as earplugs, but the flanges are quite stiff, putting quite a bit of pressure on my ear canal. This made them much less comfortable to wear compared to other flanged earplugs on the market.

Peltor double sided earplugs

I didn’t really use these much. The fact that one set of flanges always sticks out weirded me out - I didn’t want to handle the flanges regularly, so I never ended up wearing these much. I also don’t see much of a use for me for the side with the hole through it. I’d much rather just have a set of regular flanged earplugs.

Elvex Quattro

These worked great. They feel great, they block noise well. I didn’t like insertion as much as some other earplugs I’ve used because the stems are somewhat soft, but I don’t see that as a huge problem. The biggest problem I’ve encountered with these is that I’ve had the tip of one pair break off due to a hollow part in the tip of the stem. For this reason, I’m somewhat reluctant to use them any more.

E-A-R UltraFit

These are my current set of earplugs. They work great. The stems are quite stiff, they are relatively comfortable to wear, the clean easily and suppress noise well. The only minor issue I’ve had is that the flanges warp after 3-6 months of constant use. Given the price, I feel like that’s not so bad.

Ear Muffs

I also own a pair of ear muffs and sometimes “double plug” when the office gets really loud. That being said, I wear glasses, and I find that the ear muffs exert not insignificant pressure on the frame of my glasses. For this reason, I find that I can’t wear them regularly.