Traditional iron sights consist of 2 metallic aiming markers — front sight and rear sight — that you must align to hit your target. This means aligning the top of a front blade or rectangular post vertically and horizontally with a rear notch or aperture. As the human eye can only focus on one object at a time, it’s necessary to shift your focus between three focal planes — the target, the front sight, and the rear sight. Standard practice is to focus on the front sight, keeping both the target and the background blurry.
This method of aiming a firearm is difficult for many shooters to master, and a sight picture can be slow to acquire, especially in dim light. If you’re visually impaired in some way, this can be even less dependable. A solution is to use a red-dot sight.
Best Red Dot Sights
Here are our picks for the eight best red-dot sights for rifles, shotguns and handguns.
Aimpoint CompM5S Red Dot Sight
Aimpoint AB, founded in 1974, is a Swedish manufacturer of optical sights. The firm entered the market with the Aimpoint Electronic, introduced in 1975, the first red-dot sight to use an LED (light-emitting diode). A pioneer in the field of reflector sights, Aimpoint was also the first firm to be awarded a contract to supply red-dot sights to the United States military (CompM2, 1997).
The fixed-power Aimpoint CompM5S is designed principally for tactical rifles, such as those of the ubiquitous AR-15 pattern, and can attach to any MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny accessory rail. Suitable for either close-range engagements or longer shots requiring more precision, the CompM5S has a 2-MOA (minute-of-angle) dot. As Aimpoint designed this sight to be used with both eyes open, the shooter retains a wide field of view and full situational awareness. In a tactical or competitive shooting scenario, this can be critical to success or survival.
Featuring 10 brightness settings — 6 for daylight and 4 compatible with night-vision devices — the CompM5S is always mission-ready, regardless of available light. Highly energy efficient, this red dot will continue to function for 50,000 hours — more than 5 years — on a single standard AAA battery at the brightness 7 setting. At setting 8, the battery will still last for more than a year, and you can expect 10 years of continuous use with NVD.
The Aimpoint has an operational temperature range of -49–160°F and is designed to endure harsh environmental conditions. Desert sun or blizzard, the CompM5S is resistant to climatic extremes and will still work after being submerged in water to a depth of 45 meters.
The CompM5S is enclosed in a hard-coat anodized aluminum housing for added durability and can resist chemical contamination from cleaning solvents, lubricating oils, and insect repellants.
Trijicon RMR Dual Illuminated Sight
If you’re interested in or have used optical sights for firearms, chances are good that you’ve heard of Trijicon. This Michigan-based company, founded in 1981, is perhaps best known for its ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight), often seen affixed to M4 carbines carried by U.S. infantrymen abroad.
What the ACOG and several of Trijicon’s other products have in common is that, rather than relying on 1 or more alkaline or lithium batteries to power the illuminated reticle, they’re self-illuminating. This is exemplified in the battery-free RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex) Dual Illuminated Sight. At night or when ambient light is low, the RMR uses a tritium-phosphor lamp, which produces that familiar green glow. During the day, when the ambient light is high, the RMR uses fiber optics, which collect and transmit light from the environment.
The RMR serves another essential purpose in the world of shooting. It’s an MRD, or Miniature Red Dot, and part of a wave of miniaturized reflector sights, which can be used with handguns. In particular, optics-ready semi-automatic pistols, such as the Glock Generation 5 MOS (Modular Optical System), several variants of the FN 509, and the Heckler & Koch VP9, to name a few.
As optics-ready handguns, the slides have been milled to accept adapter plates designed to accommodate different sighting systems, and the RMR is one of them. However, the RMR is also a highly suitable reflector sight for use with tactical rifles and shotguns.
Trijicon offers several MOA options — 7.0, 9.0, 12.9, and 13.0 — so you can choose the reticle size to suit your shooting preferences.
EOTech XPS3 Transverse Red Dot Holosight
The EOTech XPS2 Transverse Red Dot Holosight is a holographic sight rather than a reflector, but the practical effect is the same. The obvious difference is rather than the reticle being simply a red dot; the EOTech sight consists of a low-MOA dot centered in a high-MOA ring, providing multiple aiming points. The 1-MOA dot will not obscure targets at greater distances for increased precision, while the 68-MOA ring ensures close-range targets will be acquired and hit quickly and reliably.
When mounting the XPS2 on a shotgun, you can use the high-MOA ring to represent the spreading pattern of a buckshot charge. However, the pattern depends on shot size, the number of pellets, and the type of barrel choke installed.
EOTech sights are housed in aluminum-alloy hoods for added protection and have a familiar appearance as a result. As you would expect from a military optical sight, all EOTech products can attach directly to MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rails.
Due to a redesigned battery compartment, the XPS3 is more compact than earlier Holosight models and takes up less space on the accessory rail.
Meprolight Self Powered Reflex M21 Tactical Sight
While not technically a red dot, as the reticle is amber, the Meprolight M21 Tactical Sight is another self-illuminating reflector sight, designed for close-quarters combat in cooperation with the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Meprolight, founded in 1990, has been manufacturing all manner of optical sights for 30 years.
The M21 reflector sight features a 30mm display window and 10–600mm eye relief, which increases your ability to shoot with both eyes open, preserving your situational awareness; you won’t have to choose between precise aiming and your peripheral vision.
As with the Trijicon, the M21 is battery-free, using a combination of fiber optics and tritium to provide 24/7 self-powered illumination for both day and night shooting.
You have 4 reticle options to choose from — 4.3-MOA dot, 5.5-MOA dot, Triangle, 2.2-MOA Bullseye, and Open “X.” When using the triangular reticle, the tip is 0.3 MOA, which is ideal for precision shooting. Optional accessories include a honeycomb flash guard to reduce glare and protect the display window and a polarizer to enhance the reticle image’s clarity.
Attaching the M21 to a Picatinny rail is simple — the sight includes a QD (quick-detach) mount, so installation and removal are a breeze right out of the box. This is a paid accessory in some other systems.
SIG Sauer Romeo5 1×20mm Red Dot Sight
If you’re new to reflector sights, you may not be prepared for the prices that some of the more sophisticated systems command. SIG Sauer offers a more affordably priced red-dot sight option. Based in Germany, SIG Sauer is one of the premier manufacturers of semi-automatic handguns for law enforcement and military service.
A fixed-power (1×) reflector sight with a 20mm display window, the Romeo5 is suitable for both optics-ready handguns with the correct adapter kit, as well as rifles and shotguns. At 2 MOA, the red dot can be adjusted to 10 different brightness settings — 8 daylight and 2 night vision — providing the necessary degree of visibility to handle a wide variety of situations.
The Romeo5 is battery-powered, running on a single CR2032 3V coin cell, which is enough to keep it working 40,000 hours (4.5 years). To further preserve the battery life, despite the low consumption, the sight also features MOTAC (Motion Activated Illumination), which turns the sight on when it detects motion and turns it off when it doesn’t.
A water-resistant optic, the Romeo5 is rated to a standard of IPX7, which means it can be submerged in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes without issue. With that kind of durability, you can rest assured that your SIG Sauer sight will hold up to a variety of harsh weather conditions.
Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight
While you should expect the best to occupy a higher price range, a reflector sight doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. If you’re new to shooting, or an experienced shooter new to reflector sights, you may want to start with a low-cost option to test the aiming characteristics and see whether it’s right for you before investing money in a more expensive model.
The Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight is a budget-friendly reflector sight that helps you determine whether this is the kind of technology you want to incorporate into your standard loadout.
Bushnell has taken what it’s learned from manufacturing rifle scopes, binoculars, and other outdoor equipment and has applied those lessons to the reflector-sight market.
The TRS-25 is a closed-tube 1×25mm red-dot sight. Rather than being a relatively flat viewing window in an aluminum housing, it’s enclosed in a metal tube, closely resembling a telescopic sight. However, this sight provides no magnification. Like with its rifle scopes, Bushnell fills the tube with dry nitrogen gas to prevent fogging and applies multi-coatings to the lenses to maximize light transmission.
Accompanying the 3-MOA red dot are 11 brightness settings, so you can adjust the reticle’s intensity to suit your target and environment. A 3-MOA dot offers a reasonable compromise between precision and speed.
Vortex Venom 1×26.5mm Red Dot Sight
Primarily used in competitive shooting and official-duty settings, the MRD is gaining traction for concealed and open carry for self-defense. This explains, in part, the reason for the drive to continuously reduce the weight and bulk of red-dot sighting systems — the need to meet the demand for high-quality, durable miniature red-dot sights that can be attached to handguns. One of the remaining advantages of iron sights relative to reflector sights is that the former can be designed to protrude less.
To demonstrate that reflector sights can be suitable for defensive weapons as well as for sport, the Vortex Venom weighs a mere 1.1 oz. and measures 1.9” in length, 1.1” in width, and 1.02” in height.
The Vortex Venom, a 1×26.5mm sight, is powered by a single CR 1632 lithium coin cell, which sits snugly in a battery compartment immediately behind the objective lens. Elevation and windage are adjustable via dials on the top, and right side of the housing, respectively, in 1-MOA clicks. Brightness is adjustable in two modes — Auto and Manual. In Auto mode, the reticle’s brightness adjusts itself according to the ambient light, and the sight will power down after 14 hours to preserve battery life.
Powering the sight up and down, and engaging the Auto and Manual brightness modes, is done by pressing the up and down arrow buttons on the housing’s left side.
Steiner S332 Red Dot Sight
The Steiner S332 Red Dot Sight (3×32mm) is a prismatic rather than reflector sight and provides fixed 3× magnification — suitable for engaging targets out to approx. 700 meters, according to the manufacturer. Depending on the MOA of the reticle, you can still expect to achieve precise shots out to several hundred meters; however, magnification can be a valuable asset, allowing you to positively identify target features and obstructions at greater ranges. The result is a balance between the speed and field of view of a reflector sight and the increased precision of a dedicated rifle scope.
In a closed-tube housing, the S332 is filled with nitrogen, per the industry standard for rifle scopes, to prevent fogging, so you can continue using your Steiner whether it’s cold and wet or hot and dry. Furthermore, as a testament to its ruggedness, it’s also shockproof and can endure up to 900 Gs.
With 80mm of eye relief, the Steiner S332 preserves a wide field of view, especially important for closed-tube sights, so you can retain your situational awareness and keep both eyes open when shooting.
These features, combined with a large eyebox and Steiner’s reputation for high-quality craftsmanship, translate to a highly efficient option for the shooter who requires more precision than a standard reflector sight but still wants the fast target acquisition that one provides.
What Are the Advantages of a Red-Dot Sight?
Simply put, red-dot sights are easier and faster to use. To summarize, four advantages relative to iron sights are:
- A single focal plane: The brightly colored dot shares the same focal plane with the target, so you don’t have to shift your focus between three distinct aiming points.
- Increased contrast: Without fiber-optic light collectors or the radioactive decay of tritium, iron sights can be difficult to see in low light. Black plastic or metallic sights can also disappear against dark-colored backgrounds. However, you can adjust the brightness or intensity of a red-dot sight’s reticle image according to the target and available light, ensuring the necessary degree of contrast is preserved.
- Reduced training time: When teaching a beginner the fundamentals of marksmanship, the simplicity of a red-dot sight can enable them to spend more time learning and mastering other principles, such as proper grip and trigger control.
- Speed: In a competitive or self-defense context, many shooters find they can acquire a sight picture and recover one lost between shots more rapidly when using a reflector or holographic sight than they can with traditional iron sights.
The primary disadvantage regarding red dot sights is they’re comparatively expensive and bulky.
Red-dot sights offer a simple, efficient, and easy-to-use alternative to traditional metallic or plastic sights. Increasingly affordable, lightweight, and compact, red-dot sights are no longer relegated to the role of long-gun optics, becoming a viable choice for concealed-carry and duty handguns.
The MRD, or Miniature Red Dot, has gained a foothold in the competitive shooting scene precisely because it provides unparalleled target acquisition and sight recovery for competition handguns when compared with iron sights.