Who knew a little company called Aimpoint would revolutionize optics forever? They didn’t create the first red dot, but they created the first modern red dot in 1975. Since then, police, competitive, military, and civilian shooters have adopted red dots wholeheartedly. Today we are going to be looking at the best red dots on the market and discussing why.
This wasn’t an easy list to make by any means. There are an absolute ton of good red dots out there. Instead of just giving you a list of the best, I broke the list down by category to address the needs of a wide variety of shooters. Different types of shooters, different types of weapons, and different budgets all require different answers.
Before we dive into that list, let’s make sure we are all on the same page about red dots. Unless you really want to skip all this juicy information and jump straight into the sights. If so, click on the jump link below.
What’s a Red Dot?
Nothing in the gun world is absolute. It’s a big industry with lots of players, so when I define red dot, keep in mind these are the typical characteristics of red dots. Red dots are 1X optics designed for close to moderate range engagements.
The name is derived from the most basic example of a red dot. A red dot utilizes a simplistic red dot as its reticle. That being said lots of optics we call red dots do it differently. Not all red dots use a dot, and not all dots are actually red dots.
Reticle design varies quite a bit, as does the choice of reticle color. Yet, the name red dot is often used in common parlance to refer to these optics as well. While they might utilize different reticle designs, the technology is the same, and that’s what is really important.
Red dots work through the combination of an LED emitter, a lens, and a special coating on that lens. A LED emitter shines a light onto a slightly angled piece of glass. That piece of glass utilizes a special coating that only reflects red light (or green, amber, etc.), and that allows the user to see the reticle.
Anything on the opposite end of the optic cannot see the red reticle. This is rather important for the duty and defensive use of red dots on firearms.
Are Holographic Optics Red Dots?
Holographic optics like the Eotech series and the Vortex UH series often get lumped into the world of red dots. They often function like red dots and provide similar performance once lead starts meeting steel; however, they utilize a different method to obtain their reticles.
They are not red dots in the strictest sense. It’s not worth getting bent out of shape over and pulling an “It’s a magazine, not a clip” style aneurysm over. However, for the sake of this article, I’ve left holographic off of the list.
The Role of the Red Dot
Red dots excel in environments where the ranges are moderate and speed rules. The generous, often unlimited eye relief makes them fast to get behind and fast to get on target. Put the red dot on the target and pull the trigger. Removing the time it takes to align sights properly makes shooting fast and accurate.
Obviously, the use of defensive and duty weapons makes them faster and easier to react with. Red dots rock out to 200 yards and outperform iron sights to a crazy degree. A smaller dot reticle makes it easier to see targets at a distance, and the fast the reticle glows makes it easy to use in any environment.
If I was outfitting a rifle or shotgun for home defense, I don’t see any reason to use anything other than a red dot. LPVOs rule in terms of versatility, but that means nothing when the farthest shot in your home is 15 yards.
Red dots come in all sizes, and I mean all sizes. Shooters of all types have adopted red dots on their handguns, from the gunslingers of SOCOM to your average concealed carrier. A mini red dot sight drastically increases the capability of your pistol. They make it easier to shoot faster, with a greater degree of accuracy, and increase your effective range.
With something as small as a SIG P365, I’ve found myself capable of engaging gongs out to 50 yards or so. These optics add some height to your gun, but the little extra weight and size are well worth the capabilities they offer.
LPVOs, or low power variable optics, are the bee’s knees for modern rifle shooters. However, they can greatly benefit from a piggy-backed mini red dot sight. Mini red dots are perfect backup optics for magnified rifle optics ranging from LPVOs to Prism sights.
They can be offset from the optic at a 45-degree angle or placed on top of the optic at a variety of angles. They offer an immediate close-quarters option for shooters and allow you to transition to bad breath distance instantly.
Best Red Dot Sights by Category
Best Red Dots Sights
|Optic||Details||Check Price||Mobile Bottom Line|
Best for Handguns
Best Piggy Back
Best for Shotguns
Best for Subcompacts
Best Budget Duty Grade
Reviews of Our Best Red Dot Selections
As of now, the Aimpoint CompM5b is the premier red dot sight available.
Final Grade : A+
Why Use an Aimpoint CompM5b?
Aimpoint proves once again they can revolutionize a design. The CompM5B builds on the CompM4 and the Army’s own M68 CCO with the M5B.
Not only is this optic a bombproof design rugged enough to go to war and come back, but it’s also innovative. The turret implements a BDC based on a specific caliber.
On a AR 15, this means the 5.56 turret allows you to instantly adjust the red dot reticle for use at various ranges.
Aimpoint CompM5b Specs
|Reticle||2 MOA dot|
The turrets make it easy to dial in to say 300 yards and with nothing more than a twist compensate for bullet drop. Pair this with a magnifier, and you get a very competent close and long-range red dot.
Plus, it’s an Aimpoint, so it will last forever. There is a reason we still see M3 optics that are two decades old bouncing around. Aimpoint makes high-quality ear at premium prices.
Aimpoint Acro P-1
Aimpoint does it again, but this time it’s one that’s perfectly suited for your pistols.
Final Grade : A
Why Use an Aimpoint Acro P-1?
Aimpoint made waves with the Acro by taking an enclosed emitter design and shrinking it to fit a handgun.
The Acro provides all the reliability of an enclosed optic while easily mounting to a pistol.
Size and weight are increased, and this makes the Acro a little more appropriate for duty use than concealed carry.
And you get rock-solid optics designed to last forever.
Aimpoint Acro P-1 Specs
|Reticle||3.5 MOA dot|
The side-mounted battery compartment is heavenly, as are the massive controls to adjust brightness. Aimpoint’s Acro provides you with enough clarity to easily see targets at handgun ranges, and you get a very crisp 3.5 MOA dot.
While it works extremely well on handguns, I wouldn’t hesitate to shove it on a rifle or shotgun either. It’s rugged, reliable, and made to very demanding specifications for durability. It’s a professional-grade optic at a professional-grade price.
Possibly the most popular mini red dot sight available today.
Final Grade : A
Why Use a Trijicon RMR?
The RMR was not the first mini red dot but is the most proven and often most selected among law enforcement and military roles.
Its unbeatable durability and simple design make it a go-to for rifles, shotguns, and handguns.
The RMR also makes for one helluva piggy-backed optic on magnified optics. Due to its popularity, it dominates the mount market and can be mounted on LPVOs, more powerful magnified optics, ACOGs, and even easily offset at a 45-degree angle.
Trijicon RMR Specs
I personally used an RMR mounted on my machine gun day optic as a Marine and loved it. My personal preference would be for the 9 MOA dot since it’s so utterly eye-catching and rapid to get on target.
The Trijicon RMR can withstand the recoil of weapons both big and small and has proven itself time and time again as one of the best open emitter mini red dot optics.
This sleek red dot sight has an incredible reticle design that’s a perfect fit for any scattergun.
Final Grade : A
Why Use a Holosun 507C?
Holosun has become well known for producing outstanding optics at excellent price points. That’s not to say the optic is cheap by any means; it just performs above its price tag.
The 507C sits happily on my Benelli M4, and the reason why is the reticle system.
It packs 3, with a 2 MOA dot, a 32 MOA circle, and a 32 MOA circle and dot combo.
I use the 32 MOA circle and pattern my shotgun load into that circle. I know that within 15 yards, not a single pellet leaves the circle.
Holosun 507c Specs
|Reticle||2 MOA dot, 32 MOA circle, 2 MOA dot and 32 MOA circle|
This makes it perfect for home defense and allows me to maintain pellet accountability.
It’s also packed with features including a side-loading battery, a solar panel backup, utilizes an RMR footprint, and has withstood over 1,500 full-powered shotgun loads without issue. It’s tough, rugged, reliable, and well priced.
Good things definitely can come in small packages.
Final Grade : B+
Why Use a Holosun 507K?
Micro red dot sights fit subcompact handguns and are the smallest of red dot optics.
This category presents only a few options, but over time the Holosun 507K proved itself to be the best option.
On top of that, it’s the most durable and robust and time and time again proves itself against the competition.
Very similar to its cousin the 507C, the 507K also packs the multi reticle system with the 32 MOA circle and 2 MOA dot for both speed and for those with astigmatism.
Holosun 507k Specs
|Reticle||2 MOA Dot, 32 MOA Circle, 2 MOA dot and 32 MOA Circle|
It grants the smallest of guns a very capable optic that even offers a built-in rear sight for co witnessing purposes.
The lens provides a remarkably clear presentation with just a slight blue tint. This little fella weighs barely anything and adds very little bulk to weapons built intentionally to be small. Plus, unlike the competition, you get two buttons for controls that make brightness adjustments quick and easy.
Designed for trusted performance for those on a budget.
Final Grade : A
Why Use a Trijicon MRO?
The Trijicon MRO offers shooters a professional-grade optic at an affordable price point.
Let’s be real; this isn’t a cheap optic by any means but is affordable as far as duty-grade optics go. Trijicon produces the MRO with various mounts for different heights for use on a variety of different weapons.
The MRO gives you that bombproof performance Trijicon is known for but at roughly half the price of optics from Aimpoint and the like.
Trijicon MRO Specs
|Reticle||2 MOA dot|
Durability and reliability get top marks, and the optic can go to war and come home without issue. It meets professional-grade standards for submersion, shock, and beyond.
The MRO packs super clear lenses and a crisp dot that’s tough to beat. My biggest complaint would be the somewhat fish eye effect that rides the sides of the optic. You get multiple night vision settings and six daylight settings to tackle any environment.
Bushnell TRS 25
This is easily the best option for red dot sights in the under $100 range.
Final Grade : B-
Why Use a Bushnell TRS 25?
Who knew an optic costing less than 100 bucks could be so dang good?
Seriously, the TRS 25 packs a lot of optic into a little price tag.
It’s not a professional-grade optic by any means, but I’d toss it on a beater rifle, shotgun, or even certain handguns.
And for a plinking rifle, it’s a great option.
Bushnell TRS-25 Specs
|Reticle||3 MOA dot|
Clarity isn’t the best, and it’s not feature-filled, but it keeps up enough to be a competent red dot. It does the basics very well and provides you with a basic red dot that holds zero and withstands drops, falls, and even a little water.
The TRS 25 gives you an extremely competent optic at a very low price point. It’s perfect when budgets are tight, and you just need a basic plug-and-play aiming option.
Best Red Dot Sight Buyers Guide
When it comes to choosing the right red dot sight for you, there are several factors you have to take into consideration. Sure, you’ll need to know what gun you’re actually going to mount it on. And yeah, you’ll need to be able to afford it.
But beyond that, what should you look for?
Let’s take a look at some commonly forgotten factors you’ll need to look at before purchasing your red dot optic.
Open Or Enclosed Emitters
Throughout the list above and throughout the world of red dots, you’ll see two design types, open and enclosed emitters. An open emitter features an exposed emitter with a single lens. See the Trijicon RMR, the Holosun 510C, and most pistol red dot optics. This system works and is quite reliable 99% of the time.
Open emitters do present the possibility of gunk getting between the emitter and the lens. Be it dirt, dust, snow, or rain. When this occurs, you may not find the dot in the lens or see a distorted dot. Since open emitter optics utilize one piece of glass, distortion tends to be lower, and the optics tend to be smaller and lightweight.
Enclosed emitters represent the majority of long-gun red dots and the minority of pistol red dots. On these optics, the emitter settles in nice and cozy inside the optic. With this setup, you have two lenses with the emitter in front of the lens closest to the eye.
Enclosed emitters add a hefty dose of reliability to the optic. Nothing gets in between the emitter and the front lens. Snow, rain, sleet, skittles are all nonissues for enclosed emitter optics. The downsides are increased weight and a greater chance of optical distortion due to two lenses.
A magnifier provides anywhere from two to six power of magnification behind the red dot and increases your effective range when using a red dot. Most red dots are compatible with long gun-type red dots. Micro red dot sights are the real non-starter here.
Also, some weird budgetary optics might be incompatible due to their size and mount height. If magnifiers are a big deal, make sure you have a red dot that is the correct height to align with a magnifier. If not, be ready to swap mounts.
Reticles come in a multitude of colors, including red, green, amber, and even some blues. When choosing a specific dot color, there are a few things to consider.
Green reticles draw less power from batteries and last longer than red dot reticles. Red tends to appear less in nature and contrasts against certain backgrounds better than green. Honestly, outside of that, there isn’t much of a reason beyond personal preference.
I tend to stick with red but have found green dots to be quite comfortable. Amber dots tend to wash out in daylight, and blue dots are exceedingly rare.
Red dot should sound simple enough, but we, the gun industry, like to innovate and improve. Most red dots use a red dot. However, some implement more complicated, often large reticles. Holosun, SIG, and a few more utilize circle and dot combinations.
These tend to be bigger, and bigger can be better when it comes to speed. A dot that’s bigger is easier to see. Also, when you utilize a 65 MOA ring, you can implement some basic range finding at 100 yards and beyond.
Most importantly, these dot and circle combinations tend to help those who have astigmatism. Astigmatism often makes red dots blur and become star-like. A circle and dot will appear clearer and be more usable for those astigmatism sufferers.
Even when you get down to simple red dots, the size matters. Red dots made for rifles are often 2 to 3 MOA and are smaller because rifles tend to be more precise. Handgun red dots are often larger from 3.5 MOA to 9 MOA and provide an easier-to-see dot that’s faster to find and easier to use at closer range.
Shotguns and pistol caliber carbines can often go either way. I tend to prefer bigger dots for these weapons personally.
When mounting your typical red dot to your typical long gun, you’ll likely just use a Picatinny mount and call it a day. That’s perfectly suitable for most long guns, but not so much for handguns.
With handgun red dots, you’ll most likely need your slide milled for a specific footprint or to utilize a plate system. Dovetail mounts are a poor way to go. Mini red dots often have a specific footprint because this industry hates to standardize. Keep that in mind.
Shotguns also often benefit from low mounts for co-witness purposes and due to typical shotgun stock design. Tall mounts intended for AR-type rifles are a poor choice for most shotguns.
Rarely can an accessory improve actual performance. Red dots break the mold and allow even average shooters drastic increases in speed, accuracy, and overall performance. Red dots are sized and priced for every weapon and budget. Being without one is just plain silly. Let us know what your favorite red dot is below, and most importantly, why is it your favorite?
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