Buying A Red Dot Sight
The red dot sight market is overflowing with thousands of products to choose from, ranging from dirt cheap to outrageously expensive. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with so many options. This guide will help you narrow down what to look for, so you can avoid paying for features you don’t need.
Red Dot Uses
What you plan on using the red dot for will help you quickly narrow down your price range. This will reduce the total number of optics you’re looking at, and help reduce anxiety from information overload.
Range Trips: $70-200
If you’re at the range, you probably have spare batteries with you, so replacing one isn’t a big deal. They need to be sturdy enough to take a hit or a drop and still hold zero, but don’t necessarily need to be built like a tank. Optics in this range can be as cheap as $20, but we recommend spending a little bit more so you have something that will last.
Recommended name brands: Vortex, Bushnell, Burris, Holosun, Primary Arms, Nikon
The Bushnell TRS-25 is one of the most popular red dots on the lower end of the price scale, at around $99. It’s accurate, durable, and typically lasts around 3,000 hours (4.16 months) on a single CR2032 battery.
An example of the higher end of the price scale is the Vortex Sparc AR, which costs around $199. It features a more accurate reticle, uses a cheaper AAA battery, and even has a 12-hour auto shut-off feature. To top it all off, they have a lifetime warranty, regardless if you’re the first owner or the tenth.
Home Defense: $400-700
You will want a red dot sight with a long battery life, measured in tens of thousands of hours, or an “always on” sight that doesn’t require batteries. When you and your family’s safety is on the line, spare no expense. The last thing you want to be doing is fumbling with batteries in the dark. While these red dot sights are among the most expensive, they will give you a lifetime of service.
Recommended name brands: Aimpoint, Trijicon, Meprolight, Sig Sauer, Leupold, Nikon, Burris, Vortex
The Aimpoint Carbine Optic (ACO) is an example of the lowest priced model in this price range, coming in at just under $400. At 10,000 hours of battery life, this red dot sight can run for 1.14 years on brightness setting 7 before it needs to be replaced.
An example of the high end of this price range is the Trijicon 1×42 Reflex Sight, coming in at just under $700. Unlike the Aimpoint Carbine Optic, this sight uses fiber-optic to collect and use daylight to power the reticle, and uses glow-in-the-dark Tritium for at night.
If you like the idea of not having to worry about batteries, but don’t like the $700 price tag that goes with it, Meprolight makes a similar optic that’s cheaper. The Mepro-21 Reflex Sight only costs $524, saving you $176.
Armed Services: $500+
Whether you’re a private security contractor, serving our military or in law enforcement, you need an optic that has long battery life and can take a beating without failing. When your life is on the line and you get what you pay for, always buy the best. While many of the optics in the previous price range will work well, Trijicon and Aimpoint do offer higher-priced models with better battery life, and more magnification for shooting longer distances.
Recommended name brands: Aimpoint, Trijicon, Meprolight
Red Dot Sight Features
Now that you’ve narrowed down the use and price range, it’s time to look at features of the optic. Determine which are most important to you, and which optic has the most of those features. Rarely will you find an optic that contains all the features you want, unless you’re willing to pay more money for it.
Size does matter with optics, regardless of what people tell you. While someone who needs an optic for home defense may not care if their optic is on the larger side, someone using it for competition will be concerned about the weight saved by choosing a smaller optic. With new improvements being made to red dots every year, size ranges from four inches to nearly ten inches.
MOA stands for “minute of angle”. It is measured as 1/60th of a degree. When aiming at a target, your optic’s reticle will cover part of the target. An optic with a 1MOA reticle will cover one inch of your target at 100 yards. At 200 yards it covers two inches of the target. Similarly, a 2MOA reticle covers two inches of the target at 100 yards, and 4 inches at 200 yards. How small of an MOA reticle you want depends on how accurate you want to be with it. The lower the MOA, the more you’ll pay.
Choosing your intended use earlier in this guide helped you narrow your choices. Even within this scope, there are red dot sights with varying battery efficiency, measured in hours of battery life. As a rule of thumb, if they don’t advertise the battery life, it’s probably not going to run more than a few hundred hours on a single battery. Below is a quick reference list to give you an idea of battery life converted to days, months, years, etc.
720 hours = ~1 month
4320 hours = ~6 months
8640 hours = ~1 year
10,000 hours = ~1.14 years
30,000 hours = ~3.42 years
50,000 hours = ~5.71 years
There is one exception in which a manufacturer may not list the battery life, or may not list it in hours. Some specialized optics built by Trijicon and Meprolight use a specialized substance called Tritium. It produces low level radiation which isn’t harmful to humans, and glows in the absence of power and light. Reticles that use Tritium are always on, ready to go at a moment’s notice, and will last 10-20 years before the reticle becomes so dim that it must be replaced.
Coinciding with battery life is the battery type. For those using a red dot at the range, battery type may not be an issue. For those in a home defense, military or law enforcement situation, it is usually more favorable for a red dot sight to use commonly available batteries. Smaller red dots tend to run on button cell batteries, such as the commonly available CR2032. Others, such as Aimpoint, use a harder-to-find DL 1/3N battery, but their optics are designed to run 30,000-50,000 hours even while left on the whole time. When looking for battery types, the following models are the easiest to find in most retail, convenience and drug stores, in addition to most gas stations: CR2032, AA and AAA.
While durability can be harder to compare on models under $200, most manufacturers do their best to offer technical specifications. Many of these will tell you how far an optic can stay submerged underwater and for how long. Some will tell you how far it can be dropped and still be guaranteed to work. Lastly, they’ll also list the maximum operating temperatures, so you know how hot is too hot, and how cold is too cold. If they don’t list any specs on its tolerances, you’re probably better off staying away from it. If, however, you have your heart set on it and can’t find information, more than likely someone has personally tested it and posted results on YouTube, AR15.com, or another website.
While you may have found an optic that boasts the highest level of durability, or found a cheap red dot sight that you don’t care if it breaks and has to be replaced, always check the warranty. You can buy the nicest optic ever made, but if the warranty is garbage and it breaks, you now own a very expensive paperweight. A simple Google search will easily turn up questions regarding warranty coverage for lesser known manufacturers. Of the well-known manufacturers, the top warranties are provided by Vortex, Aimpoint, Trijicon, Leupold, Burris and Nikon.
Best of luck finding a red dot that will work well! If you’re still having difficulty finding a red dot that you like, feel free to leave a comment. We’re always happy to help!