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Okay, I admit it. I’m a gear pig. After spending much of my adult life buying designer clothing I never wore, these days I’ve traded in my stiletto collection for seriously badass gear.

The downstairs bedroom/den that used to look like a designer boutique now houses all my gear, from hiking boots to riding helmets to saddles to kayak paddles. What’s different is that all this stuff gets used.

The other thing is that I review gear because I do a lot of adventure travel. That means that I’m interested in equipment that solves problems, saves lives, and makes a difference. When a manufacturer creates something that really works well, I am all over it. I like tents that don’t flood, sleeping bags that really do keep you warm below zero, boots that don’t get wet in the snow. Amazing sometimes how hard those things are to find.

Photo by Andrew Tanglao on Unsplash

I Hate the Monotony of Training

To wit: if you hate the monotony of running like I do, you use tunes. Most of us do. I listen when I run laps at my pool (yes, run, as in the shallow end, sixty at a time, which gets boring as hell). Endurance sports require training, and I train a lot. That means endless stair running, endless runs around the neighborhood. Endless hiking to prep for a big mountain.

Given that some of my sidestreets are populated with people who don’t seem to have brakes in their vehicles when it comes to stop signs, I need to hear them coming. When my tunes are too loud, I can’t hear a thing. That’s not the only problem.

While deaths of runners by vehicles are exaggerated by media, the dangers of running near or close to traffic are very real. There are more of us out there than ever, and we share the roadways.

High Frequency Hearing Loss

Here’s the larger problem:

1 in 6 adolescents has HFHL (high frequency hearing loss) caused by exposed to loud noises, such as music played through headphones.

  • 1.1 billion 12 to 35 year olds across the world are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure.
  • In the US, the number of 20+ year olds with hearing loss is expected to reach 44 million in 2020 and 74 million by 2060.


We are going deaf, because we spend way too much time with our ear buds in way too deep and the music way too loud. The problem is that once the tiny hairs in our ears are damaged, they don’t grow back.

Photo by Hanny Naibaho on Unsplash

Dance Next to the Speakers

When I was a teenager, we used to love to dance right next to the speakers at night clubs and concerts. That was bad but earbuds are worse.

Because we can shove our tiny earbuds deep into our ears, that puts the intensity of our playlist that much closer to the eardrum. This enhances the volume by about nine decibels. When we’re in traffic, or the ambient noise threatens to distort our tunes, we crank the music even higher. In as little as just under nine minutes, we can have permanent hearing loss.

More and more young people are experiencing tinnatus, which is a symptom of hearing loss. Even worse, most standardized tests don’t nail the problem early enough. Most of us don’t seek help until our hearing has truly deteriorated.


A Solution to the Problem

Last January I was attending the Outdoor Retailer Show in Denver. Always on the prowl for new stuff, I stumbled on a small booth which featured AfterShokz headphones. The attendant took my card and shortly thereafter, I received a set in the mail to review. Two, in fact.

Here’s what’s so cool about AfterShokz: the headphone speakers are placed on the bone right in front of your ear rather than inside it. For the Bluetooth version, you charge the headset, partner it with your device and you are off and running, wirelessly. The super light headphones balance on the back of your head. You can hear your tunes just fine.

However you can also hear traffic, conversations, sirens, life all around you. This could save your life. What it will most certainly do is save your hearing.


Putting Them Into Practice

Recently I was out running steps at the Red Rocks Amphitheater near Denver. I go there for two reasons: run the steps and mooch on other people’s puppers. What I loved was that I didn’t have to constantly remove my earbuds to talk to people or their pets. I could carry on a conversation, mess with the dogs, and still have my tunes in the background at a level that wasn’t giving me a headache.

When I came back down to the parking lot, I heard a low beep warning me that someone was approaching in a car. Had I’d been wearing my regular headphones, I’d never have heard it.

For people who simply cannot give up their tunes in the wild, this also serves a purpose. You need to be able to hear what’s happening around you. Personally I’m not a fan of blocking out Nature with needless noise, but I’m not the majority. At least this way you can hear lightning, thunder bumpers, the wind picking up- all the things that you might otherwise miss if you’re focusing on your music and where to put your feet rather than your surroundings.

Bluetooth or Wired

I found the wired pair of AfterShokz a bit easier to setup and manage. The down side is that you need to remember to charge your headphones. The upsides outweigh this minor accommodation. While I sometimes struggled with the setup instructions (the customer service folks are very helpful) that’s more a matter of my propensity to try to do things without reading directions than anything else.

Retailing at around $100, these headphones aren’t cheap, if you compare them to the ones you can score at TJMaxx for $5.99. However, let’s compare apples to apples. With hearing aids ranging from $1500-$3500 per ear, they’re a bargain. And that’s after you’ve permanently lost your hearing, which is no bargain at all. For my gear dollar, AfterShokz provides a product that solves multiple problems while at the same time allowing us to mitigate the boredom of long, lonely training hours.

I like my hearing- what’s left of it after dancing too close to the speakers listening to the Rolling Stones. I want to protect it. On top of that I appreciate the chance to interact with my environment which keeps me safe. AfterShokz provides a nice balance for ear protection and entertainment.

That’s a damned good piece of gear.

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