Best AR-15 Red Dot Sights

Feb. 18, 2020, 8:30 p.m.


Comparison

Product
Holosun HS503CU Red Dot Primary Arms SLx Vortex Strikefire II Trijicon RMR Trijicon Reflex Sight
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Pros

Solar charging can help in a pinch

Holosun makes quality optics with a good warranty

Comes with a lower 1/3 co-witness mount

Price. This optic is pretty reasonably affordable compared to others in the list

Weight- this is a light optic that will keep your AR'w weight down

Simplicity. It features a battery and a brightness setting. Plug and play stuff.

The mount, a lower 1/3 co-witness, is really nice!

Controls are solidly built.

Matches up well with magnifiers

Light. It weighs about the same as a granola bar.

Slick. It has basically no controls that come off the side, making it less likely to snag.

Fast. It doesn’t get more simple. Put the dot on the target.

No battery! These are run on solar and tritium.

Rugged: these were meant, literally, for special operations folks.

Quick detach: the thumbscrew mounting makes taking them off and on a breeze.

Cons

Solar Charging is notoriously finicky; still needs battery as backup

Shake awake can lead to dead batteries, for example, in a truck gun

Doesn’t come with a co-witness mount for iron-sighted guns.

Fragility- at this price, I worry about how well the finish and glass will hold up to bumps.

Parallax: Primary Arms does not claim this to be parallax free: if like me, you’re afflicted with astigmatism, this might be a problem.

No shake awake and it has caps- not a fast deploy option

It’s kind of heavy with an all-aluminum tube.

A 4 MOA dot is just a little bit big for some people, especially when magnified

Price. Trijicon knows they’re too cool for school and charges accordingly.

Battery: you have to take it off the gun, and lose zero, to replace the battery.

Fragility. People say these things are tough to break, but the lightness does make me worry a little. I wouldn’t try to pound nails with it.

Price. This costs what rent is in a lot of states

4.5 MOA dot- some people really prefer smaller dots for more precision

Amber-colored dot-not changeable. Not super friendly for any color blind folks out there.

Red dot sights are a great option for a variety of AR builds. They can offer a lightweight, reliable, accurate option. So are designed for pistols and close-combat, and others can be used with magnifiers for further distance. We go through our top picks for a variety of use cases.


Best Solar Optic - Holosun 503CU

In recent years, Holosun has been making a severe dent in the red dot market, making well-featured sights that come in at price points that used to be well below the super-expensive dots that had been developed for the military. While prices on optics have, thankfully, gotten a little more reasonable, Holosun still makes excellent optics at reasonable prices. The 403C is no exception to that, and it’s a common sight (not even sorry about that pun) on rifles at the range, or for home defense.

On a single battery, Holosun promises 50,000 hours of runtime at low brightness. It also has a handy shake awake feature, suitable for home defense. Because it’s parallax free, you don’t have to worry about eye relief- just look for the dot and press the trigger. Additionally, the 403C is solar rechargeable, an attractive feature for folks who might spend a lot of their shooting time outdoors and might make a red dot a consideration even for hunting applications.

Pros:

  • The mount, a lower 1/3 co-witness, is really nice!
  • Controls are solidly built.
  • Matches up well with magnifiers

Cons:

  • No shake awake and it has caps- not a fast deploy option
  • It’s kind of heavy with an all-aluminum tube.
  • A 4 MOA dot is just a little bit big for some people, especially when magnified


Best Budget Red Dot - Primary Arms SLx

A few things tend not to grow on trees. Two of them are money and ammo. Thus, many of us are budget conscious when it comes to our optics choices as we would rather spend a little less, to shoot a bit more. That’s where Primary arms fit into the optics market. They make good sights that ordinary people can afford, and still, put some ammo into the budget. With this one, we’re recommending the SLx, an entry-level optic that will get a solid red dot on your gun.

It’s a reasonably small optic, which is excellent, and the manufacturer states 50,000 hours of on-time at a medium brightness setting. With the caps on the turrets, it’s also water and fog-resistant, making it a decent choice for a rifle you plan on taking to outdoor ranges or classes. Additionally, it’s got the standard 2MOA dot that most modern red dots have chosen these days.

Pros:

  • Price. This optic is pretty reasonably affordable compared to others in the list
  • Weight- this is a light optic that will keep your AR'w weight down
  • Simplicity. It features a battery and a brightness setting. Plug and play stuff.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t come with a co-witness mount for iron-sighted guns.
  • Fragility- at this price, I worry about how well the finish and glass will hold up to bumps.
  • Parallax: Primary Arms does not claim this to be parallax free: if like me, you’re afflicted with astigmatism, this might be a problem.


Best Red Dot for use with a Magnifier - Vortex Strikefire II

One of the great things about a red dot is how flexible they are. Up close, they’re meant for fast targeting and better situational awareness, shooting with both eyes open. But, they’re not excellent at the range. For the AR platform, 3-500m shots are more than possible, assuming you can see. What is a red dot user to do? Simple! Slap a magnifier in the back if you have the rail space. For that purpose, we recommend the Vortex Strikefire II

The Strikefire II is a pretty rugged optic. The included mount is rock solid, the controls are all nicely rubberized, and the thing comes with caps that flip up, keeping the glass nice and clean. It does have a 4MOA dot, which some find a little significant, but fits nicely in the 30mm tube. The manufacturer has enough faith in these to tell you to put them on a 12 gauge, which is usually pretty shocking to budget optics. Windage and elevation knobs have lovely metal covers. Primary Arms also sells a magnifier that matches up perfectly, which is a nice bonus.

Pros:

  • The mount, a lower 1/3 co-witness, is really nice!
  • Controls are solidly built.
  • Matches up well with magnifiers

Cons:

  • No shake awake and it has caps- not a fast deploy option
  • It’s kind of heavy with an all-aluminum tube.
  • A 4 MOA dot is just a little bit big for some people, especially when magnified


Best Lightweight Red Dot - Trijicon RMR

Just like people around the new year, some of us want to put our AR’s on a diet. A bipod, laser, optic, and sling all sound awesome….until you have to walk with the thing up a hill. Then, to cite an old soldier’s adage, ounces start to make pounds. That’s where the RMR shines.

Trijicon really needs no introduction; they’ve been one of the big boys in the red dot market since there was no red dot market, and your choices were between a Trijicon and an Eotech, and that was that. Now, they’ve really expanded their line. The RMR is a small reflex sight that is used mostly on pistols. With that said, pic rail is pic rail, and the RMR can be mounted to an AR just as well as it can to a handgun. It’s a slick little optic that’s waterproof, durable to shocks, and pretty easy to adjust if you have a screwdriver handy. Overall, it weighs about nothing but still gets you a great dot on the rifle.

Pros:

  • Light. It weighs about the same as a granola bar.
  • Slick. It has basically no controls that come off the side, making it less likely to snag.
  • Fast. It doesn’t get more simple. Put the dot on the target.

Cons:

  • Price. Trijicon knows they’re too cool for school and charges accordingly.
  • Battery: you have to take it off the gun, and lose zero, to replace the battery.
  • Fragility. People say these things are tough to break, but the lightness does make me worry a little. I wouldn’t try to pound nails with it.


Best All-around Red Dot - Trijicon Reflex

If you want the baddest, best, absolutely most cool red dot that (a lot of) money can buy, get the Trijicon Reflex Sight. It’s one of the oldest models on the market, and they’ve been continually updating and testing these for a few decades now. They even make them with duckbill mounts so that folks running A1 and A2 uppers can use them, as you can see in old photos from the Blackhawk Down mission. It’s got a 4.5 MOA dot, which is a little big, but the things have been to hell and back and keep on ticking.

Pros:

  • No battery! These are run on solar and tritium.
  • Rugged: these were meant, literally, for special operations folks.
  • Quick detach: the thumbscrew mounting makes taking them off and on a breeze.

Cons:

  • Price. This costs what rent is in a lot of states
  • 4.5 MOA dot- some people really prefer smaller dots for more precision
  • Amber-colored dot-not changeable. Not super friendly for any color blind folks out there.

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