One of the most effective and inexpensive ways to see noticeable improvements on the range is by upgrading your aiming system. One of the most cost effective and simple to use aiming systems is the red dot sight. Just like anything, there is a wide variety of red dot sights available, and they can be had a varying price points and quality levels.
In fact, the red dot sight is the most commonly produced sights on the market; with such a saturated market, it can be difficult to find an optic that will suit your needs and fall within a price point that you are comfortable with. Let’s dig deeper into what to look for, and what to avoid, when shopping for the best red dot sight.
Table of Contents
- What is a Red Dot Sight?
- What Makes One Red Dot Better Than Another?
- Before We Get to Our Favorites Red Dot Reflex Sight
- Best Red Dot Sight on the Market Review
- Best for Shotguns
- Best for Pistols
- Best for AR-15
- Best for the Money
- Best of the Best
What is a Red Dot Sight?
Most red dot sights use a tube to contain an LED that reflects off the forward lens, presenting a dot to the shooter to be used as an aiming reticle. The concept is relatively simple, and these can be produced cheaply, so red dot sights are often less expensive than other styles of optic.
Using a single red dot as an aiming reticle has several benefits over traditional iron sights and magnified scopes. Since there is only one point used to aim, it is much faster to acquire targets and parallax is all be eliminated which creates more consistent shot placement, even with varying cheek-to-stock welds and shooting positions. For these reasons, militaries around the world have seen improvements in marksmanship without increasing the need for additional training. Competitive shooters have also flocked to red dot sights for the same benefits of increased speed on target when fractions of a second matter. Even hunters have been taking advantage of the benefits of red dot sights, especially hunters of fast-moving game or those who have seen their vision degrade over time.
What Makes One Red Dot Better Than Another?
Photo credit: Eric Jezierski
As we mentioned earlier, red dots can be inexpensive to produce yet you can find yourself spending over $500 for some of the top tier models. Not all red dots are created equal, and there are certain factors that should be considered before settling for a budget product that might not live up to your expectations.
The lenses of the optic are one of the first things a shooter will notice when looking down the rifle. Cheaper optics will have poor grinds on the glass lenses that cause the edges of them to look fuzzy or blurry which will cut down on the actual usable field of view for the shooter.
The coatings on lenses are to be considered as well. High end products will use coatings that help to reduce glare and protect the lenses from scratches while still maintaining a bright and clear field of view for the shooter. Cheaper optics will use a coating that often makes the field of view appear darker, if they use any coating at all.
As LED and battery technology continues to improve, the battery life on high end products can now be measured in years instead of hours. While you may not need an optic to be efficient enough to last 50,000 hours between battery changes, cheap optics can fail when you need them most so at least moderate battery life should be considered when shopping for your red dot.
Also consider what battery the optic uses to power itself. Some red dots will use odd or exotic watch batteries to help save space and weight, while others will use much more common batteries. The CR2032, has become one of the most popular power sources for mid and high-end red dot sights but other options are used.
The first red dot sights came in familiar tube-shaped design. This design has held strong as a reliable platform to build a sight around for years and some high-end red dots still use this design. As technology has continued to improve, sights have gotten smaller and lighter weight. Some are even small enough to be used as pistol optics, and to great effect. Depending on your demands, you may prefer a larger model, or you might be somebody who counts the ounces when they go into the field and you would benefit from a smaller design.
The greatest concern for many shooters will be the build quality of their red dot sight. There are many options available that can be had for under $30, but these are often a trap to the uninitiated. For the LED to continue putting the dot in same place at all times for the shooter, there is a certain amount of ruggedness that must be built into the mechanism. Lesser built products can easily lose zero from minor bumps, or even just the recoil of low caliber rifles. Before choosing your red dot sight, be sure it can handle the recoil of the intended firearm you plan to mount it on.
Most quality red dot sights will also be water resistant. While it may not be vital that your optic can withstand extreme conditions, you should consider the fact that rain happens and losing your optic to something is minor as a light drizzle is a possibility on some of the cheapest red dot sights.
And finally, the materials used for the exterior of the sight. Most quality red dots will use aircraft grade aluminum, which is both strong and resistant to drops, but is also lightweight. Some will provide an outer layer of rubber to further protect the fine components inside of the optic. Less expensive products will use die cast metals which do not have the same strength and are cheaper to produce.
Before We Get to Our Favorites Red Dot Reflex Sight
There are several factors to consider when choosing your red dot sight. When shopping for your ideal optic, consider the purpose you will be using it for and make sure that your choice will stand up to the rigors of your activities. Also make sure the battery life and weight of your selected red dot sight are adequate for your needs. Finally, there are quality products at many different price points so consider your budget and use this list to help find the best product for your needs.
Best Red Dot Sight on the Market Review
Best for Shotguns
1 Aimpoint Micro
The Aimpoint Micro is one of the best lightweight, tactical reflex sights available on the market. Aimpoint continues its legacy of combat ready optics with the Micro. This red dot optic offers a crisp and precise 2 MOA dot in a package that weighs less than 4 ounces. With 12 different brightness settings, this optic also advertises a battery life of over 5 years when left on in the 8th brightest setting; this means you will almost never need to concern yourself with the battery whether you are a competitive shooter, home defender, or armed professional.
This sight is also parallax free and has unlimited sight relief, so it can be placed anyplace on the firearm that is comfortable for you. The dot is not visible from the front of the sight, which might seem trivial to most consumers but is important to a few. The tracking on the elevation and windage adjustments are crisp and reliable, making zeroing the optic very easy and confidence inspiring. Another nice touch is that the caps on the elevation and windage adjustments are designed to be used as tools to make the adjustments, so you don’t need any extra tools to zero your firearm.
The rock-solid construction and reliability of this red dot sight allows it to stand up to a ton of abuse and heavy recoil. That makes this one of the best red dots for shotguns, and one of the best tactical red dot sight. Whether you are trying to improve your odds for turkey hunting, or a police officer outfitting your patrol rifle, you can’t go wrong with the Aimpoint Micro. The only drawback for some consumers is that this is one of the more expensive red dot sights you can purchase.
2 Vortex Spark II
If you like the value and innovation built into the Vortex Strikefire but prefer a micro smaller red dot sight you are in luck. The Vortex Spark II incorporates many of the features found in the full-sized optic but puts them into a compact package.
The Spark II also offers extremely rugged construction and light weight. You can expect this red dot sight to stand up to the heavy recoil of shotguns and high-powered rifles, making this one of the overall best sights for hunting.
Like all Vortex products, the glass on this optic is crystal clear, and this product comes with the hardware to mount the optic at 3 different heights, making it a great value for those who might swap this red dot to different firearms. With the excellent build quality and value built into the Spark II, this is probably the best micro red dot sight for under $200.
Best for Pistols
3 Trijicon RMR
Trijicon is another brand that has a history of successfully fulfilling military contracts. This is a company that stakes its reputation on bullet proof construction of their products and using the finest components available so their optics will stand up to the rigors armed professionals demand. The RMR is built to the same standard.
When a product is one of the best, it sometimes becomes the name people use to identify a whole genre of products; The RMR is like Kleenex in the way that when many people look at any pistol mounted reflex sight, they call it an RMR regardless of the actual manufacture or model. This should tell you something, as a consumer, as to how iconic this optic has already become.
The RMR uses a 3.25 MOA red dot to help the shooter by presenting an easy to acquire reticle, but still remaining precise enough to help achieve a level of precision few can reach with iron sights alone.
The benefits of the RMR can be found by many different shooters. Competitive shooters, concealed carriers, home defenders, and armed professionals will all benefit from the Trijicon RMR. Due to the high price that the brand demands, this is recommended as the best pistol red dot for armed professionals and concealed carry practitioners.
4 Vortex Optics Viper Red Dot Sight
If you are interested in upgrading the sighting system on your pistol, but you are scared off by the barrier to entry for the Trijicon RMR you need not despair. Vortex not only creates a product to compete with Trijicon, but many shooters actually prefer the Viper.
The Vortex Viper offers the shooter a 6 MOA red dot with windage and elevation adjustments to one MOA per click. The optic is waterproofed, and the lenses are sporting high tech coatings to prevent both fog and scratches. The optic is also designed to be low profile, allowing for users to co-witness this optic with the existing iron sights. Another great benefit that Vortex includes with the package is that the Viper comes with a low profile mount that will allow you to mount this optic on long guns as well, making this not only the best pistol red dot for under $200, but also a very capable rifle or shotgun red dot as well.
Competitive shooters love the Vortex Viper for the easy and clean interface with only the features needed, but also the low cost. Concealed Carry practitioners love the Viper for the rugged durability. All shooters can appreciate the incredible value that Vortex has build into this attractive and functional optic that is quickly becoming a favorite among those who hope to improve their accuracy and speed at the range, and this is my pick for best sight for the Glock 19.
Best for AR-15
5 Primary Arms Classic Series Micro Red Dot Sight
If you are looking for a low cost, no frills red dot sight from a reputable name in the optics industry Primary Arms has you covered. This micro red dot sight is lightweight and sturdy but is able to save your wallet some grief by cutting back on some of the extra features that you may not need. While this optic does not come with a laundry list of features, the features that it does have are of excellent quality.
The reticle is a simple red dot, but the dot is a crisp and precise 2 MOA which is hard to find at the price range of under $100. With 11 brightness settings, the lowest settings are compatible with night vision. Of course, you can expect unlimited eye relief and an excellent field of view with no parallax concerns. The sight runs from the popular CR2032 battery and offers 1,000 hours of life per battery. The optic also comes with a low-profile mount that will attach to picatinny rails, but can be swapped out for taller mounts if you prefer for your AR 15.
Even at the low price point, many users will compare this red dot to their Aimpoint Micro. While I’m not prepared to put this red dot in the same tier for overall build quality, I am fully confident recommending this sight for your shotgun, or as a red dot sight for hog hunting. As another budget red dot, you can certainly do much worse than the Primary Arms Micro.
6 Sightmark Wolverine Red Dot Sight
If you like to step away from the tactical crowd and try something a little bit different, the Sightmark Wolverine is the red dot sight for you. That is not to say that this is not a quality optic, it’s actually a very rugged sight with a rubberized coating, nitrogen purged main tube, and water resistance built in. The optic features a crisp and precise 2 MOA dot for a reticle and tracks reliably when zeroing.
The unique look of the Wolverine tells you that they are not trying to copy all of the other guys, and this unique design is able to stand on its own. One of the extra convenient features is that this optic is powered by a single AA battery, which nearly everybody has laying around the house. In addition to using a common battery, the advertised battery life on a mid-level setting is 50,000. Even if you are using bargain batteries, you can expect to potentially go years between battery changes.
While this is not the optic you want to take to war with you, this could be the best sight for squirrel hunting, plinking cans, or shooting pizza boxes on your back 40. If you are not looking for a military grade piece but want quality and value this might be the best sight for you.
Best for the Money
7 Sig Sauer Romeo 5
Right off the bat, this is probably the best red dot sight for under $200 available today. That’s saying a lot, especially because this optic can usually be found much closer to $100 in current date. This is a small, rugged little red dot sight with attractive looks and a history of reliable performance.
The 2 MOA dot is crisp and clear, the glass on the optic is surprisingly clear for the price point. The Romeo 5 has 10 brightness settings, including 2 settings that are compatible with night vision, and Sig Sauer advertises a battery life of over 40,000 hours. Features like this make the Romeo 5 a solid competitor in the pro-sumer market for shooters who want a high-quality optic that won’t break the bank.
The brightness is controlled by two rubberized buttons that are tactile and responsive when actuated. The optic is powered by a single CR2032 battery, which is the standard in many similar products.
A great value point for this red dot is the included riser mount. While the Romeo 5 can be mounted directly to a standard picatinny rail, the included riser will allow the sight to be co-witnessed with iron sights on an AR-15. This is a further value on an already budget friendly sight that you don’t always get with some of the more expensive red dot sights on the market.
I’d recommend this optic for enthusiasts, home defenders, or hunters as the battery life and water resistance built into this red dot sight will serve the user well at a budget friendly price point.
8 Bushnell TRS-25
There might be more TRS-25’s on rifles than any other red dot ever made. This is not the highest quality red dot sight that money can buy you, but it is probably the best sight for under $100. This optic is extremely popular for both its low cost, and its excellent customer reviews claiming that this optic certainly performs above its class.
The optic uses a CR2032 battery to power a 3 MOA red dot with 11 brightness settings.
The optic is advertised as rugged enough to handle the recoil of rifles, shotguns, and even muzzle loaders. Not only resistant to shock, the optic is also water resistant with O-rings in battery compartment and with the main tube nitrogen purged, you should expect fog proof performance as well.
At this budget price, you should not expect this to be a service rifle optic. However, this product will find itself at home on a number of different platforms. I’d recommend this for hunters and enthusiasts who are looking for an upgrade to their iron sights. This might be the best red dot scope for your Ruger 10/22, and even be a competitor for your duck hunting shotgun or the rifle you plan to take to your next training course. This is the most budget friendly red dot sight that can be had in such a small package, and unless you are an armed professional, you should not write this option off just because of the low price point.
Best of the Best
9 Holosun 503C
This is an exciting optic from a relatively new manufacture that is absolutely jam packed with features. The optic is a similar size and weight to other “micro” sized red dot scopes. The optic runs on a CR2032 battery, and advertises a battery life of over 40,000 hours, but the reticle could run indefinitely because the optic uses a solar panel to further save battery power. The optic is operated by a very tactile and satisfying buttons, which many users have come to prefer over the dial power selectors. The caps on the elevation and windage adjustments are built to be used as tools for adjusting the zero of the optic, keeping things easy and extra costs down for the user. The optic comes with two separate risers, creating even more value allowing the consumer to mount this optic on nearly platform right out of the box without the need for additional purchases.
The reticle on this red dot is more complex than the simple dot that out previous entries are sporting. In addition to a 2 MOA red dot in the middle of the reticle, allowing for extreme precision, there is a 65 MOA outer ring with marks in the 4 cardinal directions for close quarters target acquisition or leading targets at range.
With the added value from the peripheral accessories included, the more complex reticle, and the excellent features, this is the best red dot scope under $300. While Holosun does not yet have the storied reputation of some other brands, there have been some smaller contracts with European militaries, and I feel totally confident recommending this as a contender for a police service rifle optic. This optic will also find itself at home in home defense, hunting, competitive shooting, or with an enthusiast who appreciates higher end equipment.
10 Aimpoint PRO Patrol Rifle Optic
A list of the best reflex sights would not be complete without including the Aimpoint PRO. This is an optic that has been in use by the U.S. Military for years, continues to serve in military capacity as the M68, and is also a very popular option for law enforcement agencies across the country. Ultimate rugged construction what the reputation of this red dot sight has been built on. A crisp, 2 MOA red dot that will last for over 3 years on a single battery. Of course, this optic is compatible with night vision, and as with nearly all other red dot sights the eye relief is unlimited and parallax free. The optic also comes with a mount traditional to AR 15 pattern rifles that has an interesting feature; the knob used to lock the optic to the rail automatically torques itself to the correct weight for a solid connection to the rifle without damaging threads.
This is a larger optic than most of the others on this list, but it is certainly smaller than almost any scope, is compatible with a ton of different magnifiers, and has an unparalleled history of proven service. The battery that powers the PRO is a little odd, and is a lithium 3 volt cell that might be a little more challenging to find than an AA or CR2032 but shouldn’t be too much of a problem if you are only going to need a new one once every 3 years.
This is possibly the best tactical red dot sight available on the market based on the track record. If you are an armed professional, law enforcement agent looking to outfit your duty rifle, or anybody who might need to trust their life to their rifle this is the first red dot sight you need to consider.
Mark Grimsley also has an in-depth review for this toughest red dot used by military and law enforcement for over 2 decades, read the article here: Aimpoint PRO Review – The Most Affordable Duty Optic.
11 Vortex Strikefire II
If you prefer the full-sized red dot sight, but don’t want to pay Aimpoint prices, the Vortex Strikefire II should definitely be on your radar. Not only does this reflex sight come in at a lower price point than comparable products, but it comes with a bunch of extra features. A cantilever mount appropriate for AR pattern rifles comes included with the optic, which many shooters prefer as they like to get their reflex sight as far forward on the rifle as possible without mounting it on the rail.
This is the first optic on our list to come with the option to choose between a red or green dot. While many budget optics include multiple colors for their reticles to help entice buyers, they are usually of low build quality; Vortex is a brand that can be trusted to produce high quality optics that are both rugged and have superior quality glass so there are no concerns here. The brightness on the Strikefire II is the popular push button design that some find superior to the twist dial found on the Aimpoint PRO.
If you prefer a full-sized sight, you might consider this the best sight under $200. With the durability and value built into this optic, I feel confident recommending this as an excellent option for your AK 47 or 300 Blackout rifles as you will get a ton of benefit from the excellent array of features as well as the durability and value built into Vortex products.
12 Trijicon MRO
The Trijicon RMO is another military grade red dot sight from a manufacture with a track record of excellence. While we’ve heard that a few times already today, this is not a clone of other products on the market and has a couple of features that make this optic totally unique. As you would expect this optic is made of aircraft grade aluminum and especially high-quality coated glass giving the product the extreme durability demanded by members of the military, a 2 MOA red dot as the reticle, and night vision compatibility. Also, like similar products, the optic has battery life measured in years on a single CR2032.
Unlike competing optics, the MRO uses a unique design for the main tube that gives this red dot sight the best field of few available on the market. A combination of carefully planned geometry and the slim profile of the aluminum body allow the shooter to have the most unobstructed view possible with an optic, making this the best sight for CQB. Whether you are training, defending your home, or planning to use your rifle on a two-way range, this optic will be perfectly at home on your weapon.
Whether you are preparing for your next hunting trip, outfitting your latest AR 15 build, or getting your competition rig put together, there is something for you in this list. This is not a comprehensive list of all red dot sights available, or even all the good ones, but we feel absolutely confident in recommending each and every one of these products to you. We hope this guide helps you find the best red dot sight for you, and we hope to see you out on the range.