There is, after all, a reason that red dot sights are used by military and police around the world. They’re also popular among civilians for certain types of competition shooting (such as speed shooting) and self defense.
Paintball and airsoft shooters also love red dots. Red dots are even sometimes used for hunting, though they’re not nearly as popular as hunting riflescopes.
So if you’ve been using iron sights, it’s time to make the switch.
To help you do just that, we’ve assembled red dot recommendations at every price range. We’ll get to that list in just a moment, but before we do, let’s go over some background on red dot sights.
What Are Red Dot Sights?
First, let’s talk about what exactly a red dot sight is.
For one, “red dot sight” is frequently used as a synonym for “reflector” or “reflex sight.” A reflex sight is a sight where the reticle is projected onto a glass lens, where it’s reflected back towards the shooter’s eye.
This allows the shooter to see the reticle superimposed over the field of view.
Technically, however, a red dot sight is a specifically a reflex sight type of reflex sight. Red dot sights are reflex sights with a red dot reticle, meaning a reticle composed of a single red dot. The size of the dot is measured in milliradians (MRAD or MIL) or minutes of angle (MOA).
Reflexive sights may also have other reticle styles but dot sights are by far the most popular. Typically, a company only makes other reticle styles if they also make a red dot.
Other common reticle styles include simple crosshairs or dots with larger circles around them.
Some may still consider a sight a red dot if the reticle is composed of a red center dot with other things, such as a larger circle, or if the sight has a single small triangle or chevron in the place of the dot.
In addition to red dots, reflexive sights may have dot sights of other colors such as amber or green dots. These aren’t as common as red dots though.
Like all reflex sights, red dot sights are non-magnifying, which further sets them apart from a magnifying optic such as a red dot scope. However, many models are compatible with magnifiers if you do want to add some magnification.
Red dot sights can be used on handguns, rifles, and shotguns.
What Are The Different Types of Red Dot Sights?
We’ve already established that red dot optics are a particular type of reflex sight, so let’s compare them to another popular type of optical sight, holographic sights.
The fundamental difference between reflex sights, like red dots, and holo sights is the technology that they use.
A reflexive sight uses a light source to project light onto a single lens, where it’s reflected back towards the eye.
Holo sights are a good deal more complicated. To put it simply, they use a laser and a series of mirrors to create a hologram. The light never even interacts with the front glass, yet the reticle appears as though it’s on, or close to, your target.
In practice, this mainly means that holo sights are faster and easier for your eye to focus on. This is because the apparent distance between the reticle and target is so much smaller.
There are a few other differences, though. Magnifiers affect the size of a reflex sight’s reticle, but not a holo sight’s.
The larger reticle means that it obscures more of the target. Holo sights also tend to have a larger field of view, though that’s not always the case.
On the other hand, holo sights are larger and more expensive. They also tend to have a battery life that’s only a small fraction of that of a red dot.
How Do Red Dot Sights Work?
We’ve discussed how reflex sights work a little already, but let’s go more into detail about red dots in particular and what it means for how you use them.
First, a red dot sight emits light from a red LED that is positioned to face the front lens, also called the objective lens. The objective lens is curved, so when the light hits the lens, it’s reflected back towards the eye, parallel to the gun’s barrel.
This means that the reticle is virtually parallax free regardless of the distance to the target. No matter how you move your head, the dot will still appear in the same place.
This allows for easy sighting and fast target acquisition compared to iron sights or scopes.
It also means that, without a magnifier, eye relief is unlimited. You can mount the sight anywhere along your firearm that you’d like and can position your eye at whatever distance is comfortable.
Speaking of comfort, red dots allow you to easily and comfortably shoot with both eyes open, which is not the case with iron sights.
And speaking of iron sights, red dots allow you to co-witness with your iron sights. That means you use both at once. Co-witnessing allows you to have a backup should your red dot fail during use.
Absolute co-witness has your iron sights positioned exactly aligned with the dot. With ⅓ co-witness, your red dot is on a riser so that only your iron sights are only visible in the lower third of your red dot sight.
To power the LED, red dots require a battery. They typically use a CR2032 battery, but some sights require different ones.
Because LEDs require so little power, batteries typically last for thousands of hours. Some red dots even have a battery life of as many as 50,000 hours.
Like scopes, red dot sights generally have windage and elevation adjustments for zeroing the sight.
What Do You Look For In The Best Red Dot Sights?
Now let’s talk about how to choose a red dot sight that’s not just good, but also good for you.
The larger the dot, the easier it is to see and, in turn, the faster it allows you to shoot. On the other hand, larger dots obscure more of your target and are less precise, especially as range increases.
The standard dot size for red dot sights is 2 MOA. That’s a good middle of the road size for general-purpose use.
If you only plan on using the sight for close range, you could get away with a larger dot. If you’ll be primarily shooting at extended ranges, you may want a smaller one.
A red dot sight with a wide range of brightness settings can perform well in a variety of lighting conditions.
The brighter the dot, the more visible it is. However, brighter settings can also cause a blooming effect, making the dot less precise. You’ll typically want to use the lowest brightness setting that’s visible in whatever light conditions you’re in.
Magnifier & Night Vision Compatibility
On their own, red dots do not provide magnification or night vision. However, some red dots are designed so that you can combine them with magnification lenses and/or night vision devices.
If that’s something that you’re interested in — or that you think you may become interested in later — grab a red dot that’s compatible with the device you’d like to use.
Many red dot sights come with a picatinny rail mount. However, mounts are typically interchangeable, so if you want to use the sight with a different style of mount, that’s usually an option.
Some sights, however, have integrated mounts. You can find adapters so they’ll work with a different type of mounting system. Adapters will, of course, raise the height of the sight.
Other red dot sights don’t come with a mount at all and instead allow you to choose the one that works best for your purposes.
Best Red Dot Sights Reviewed
Vortex Optics SPARC II Red Dot Sight (Our Top Pick)
Our top pick is the Vortex Sparc II.
This sight has a 2 MOA red dot and 10 brightness levels, including two night vision compatible ones. All air-to-glass surfaces are fully multi-coated for greater light transmission.
It has an aircraft-grade aluminum single-piece chassis with a low-glare matte hard-coat anodized finish. It’s also o-ring sealed to make it water resistant and fog proof.
Waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof
Mounts on standard Weaver or Picatinny rail bases (not included)