Not sure what optic or scope to get for your AR? We’ve bought or used almost all of them…
We’ll cover 1x optics and magnified scopes, plus recommended mounts, accessories, and backup sights. By the end of this, you’ll know the perfect one for your budget and end-use.
Table of Contents
Best AR-15 Red Dots
These are “red dots” or “reflex” sights which are exactly what they sound like…they superimpose a red dot as the aiming reticle.
Whereas with standard “iron sights” where you normally keep one eye closed and have to perfectly line up the two sights…red dots allow you to keep both eyes open and have a lot more leeway with where your head or eyes are positioned.
This makes them much faster in acquiring a target and also allows for more peripheral vision. Plus, they are much more useful in darker environments.
If you want to learn more about why you might want a red dot on your AR-15, check out the Brownells’ Daily Defense video below.
1. Bushnell TRS-25 AR
The budget TRS-25 red dot has a history of great reviews and personal performance. I would caution against going any cheaper unless you are shooting low-recoiling .22 LR.
With optics, you’ll usually find that you really get what you pay for…
I see plenty of TRS-25’s during rifle competitions and the owners all say that they are holding up well.
I used one on my AR (~3000 rounds) before upgrading.
Now it’s on my AK-47 pistol and even with the higher recoil of the 7.62×39, it has held zero for over 1000 rounds and multiple water splashes.
And most recently…we’ve sacrificed it to the optic gods after drop testing onto a rock. But not before we got some cool action shots.
I recommend getting a riser for the TRS-25 for use in the AR-15 for easier target acquisition and especially if you plan on using irons or backup irons.
I do not like the riser that comes with the TRS-25 since I broke mine during installation.
I recommend getting the 1-inch UTG version (save some weight with the slim riser) which has worked well for myself and others (gives co-witness).
Want even more info? Check out our standalone review of the Bushnell TRS-25.
2. Sig Sauer Romeo 5
Red dots in the $100 to $200 space have multiplied recently and are picking up nice upgrades previously only available to high-end ones.
The Sig Romeo 5 brings eight daylight settings (that actually are visible in bright light) and two night vision settings.
PLUS motion on and off so you don’t have to deal with buttons. Not that you couldn’t just leave it on since battery life is at 40,000+ hours at a medium setting.
Glass is pretty clear with a good field of view.
And for around $140 it’s pretty robust that I wouldn’t hesitate having it on a home defense gun.
We’ve put a lot of rounds through several units and you can get our full report in our Romeo 5 review here.
Brutally Tested Budget Red Dot
3. Trijicon MRO
A relative newcomer to the high-end red dot game is the Trijicon MRO.
It’s priced at around $400 but is smaller with a bigger field of view compared to others (such as the Aimpoint PRO down the list).
Check it out in action…
It has great reviews and has survived a bunch of abuse (High-End Optics Torture Test).
From water submersion to drop testing, hot/cold cycling, and a variety of gun loads…the MRO survived with the best of them.
This is what I’d consider a duty optic.
Six daylight settings with one super bright one that works even in our desert hellscape…and two night vision settings.
There are a couple of different flavors based on riser…from no riser to 1/3 co-witness and full co-witness.
Our preferred one is 1/3 co-witness so you can use irons as a backup — but they aren’t distracting.
Or you can opt for a quick-detach one from Midwest Industries.
Check out the full Trijicon MRO review and video for all our hot takes and tons of view-through sequences.
And if it suits your budget and end-use…
What’s your take on the MRO?
4. Aimpoint Micro H-2
The gold standard of red dots…the Aimpoint.
Costs a pretty penny but lasts for 50,000 hours on one battery and is fully waterproof. Also has extreme weather capabilities (around -20 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Micro H-1 is what I run on my regular AK where the optic directly sits on top of the gas block which gets extremely hot.
Thousands of rounds and still going strong. I would not hesitate to go into something unknown with my Aimpoint H-1. There is also a T version that supports night-vision, but for most people, the H-1 is everything you will ever need.
There are two reticle size options…2 MOA or 4 MOA.
If you’re mounting on your AR-15, I would opt for the 2 MOA since it’s still plenty good for close quarters but can be useful for further engagements or if you ever plan on using a magnifier.
And for a nice optic…you need a better mount that will hold zero better. I suggest LaRue. I use it for all my “nice” optics.
Update: The H-1 is now discontinued and the Micro H-2 (with only 2 MOA along with lens caps) takes over.
5. Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic)
What I would buy currently for my AR-15 if I did not have the older Comp ML3.
The Patrol Rifle Optic ($450) optic is bigger but gives an even beefier enclosure, 3-years of continuous battery life, night vision capability, is submersible up to 150-feet, and better temperature tolerance (-50 to 160 degrees). Plus, it’s cheaper than the Micro and comes with a mount.
Check out our YouTube review of it after 3+ years and thousands of rounds:
We also have a full written review (with some hammer torture testing of course).
Best Holographic Sights
6. EOTech EXPS2
For a long time, it was Aimpoint vs EOTech.
Aimpoint had its tubular “reflex” sights while Eotech had its distinct “holographic” sights. While the technology was a little different, both were heavily used by the U.S. military and had fervent supporters.
Then a disaster hit EOTech and culminated in a lawsuit from the U.S. Government in 2015 for the sights losing their zero due to hot/cold weather and moisture.
But they are back.
And if you do like the large circle reticle, I would recommend the newer EXPS2-0 ($490) model which allows for 1/3 co-witness with iron sights.
It’s the smallest EOTech model currently and has clear glass, 600 hours of battery life, an integrated QD mount, and tons of other stuff.
We test this and others from Vortex and Holosun in our Best Holographic Sights article and video below. Complete with video through each one.
Plus holographic sights can survive complete destruction to their front lens without skipping a beat. And oh yes…it was in our High-End Optics Torture Test and passed with flying colors.
Learn more in Red Dots vs Holographics.
Best Flip-Mounted 3x Magnifiers
Want the quick target acquisition of a 1x red dot or holographic sight…but still, need to hit out farther?
We tested three of the most popular 3x magnifiers under $200 and found the best…
7. Vortex 3x Magnifier
The Vortex 3x had the clearest glass, good eye-relief, changeable for lefties, easy to use mount, slim design, and was the lightest of the bunch.
Check how it compared to the competition in our Best 3x Magnifiers shootout.
Best Prism (Fixed Magnification) Scopes
Now we dive into optics with some magnification!
We’ll first start with some prism scopes and then onto more traditional variable magnification scopes.
See all our Best Prism Scopes article as well as our full video review:
But these are our favorites
Prism scopes offer some great pros:
- Etched reticles so it doesn’t require batteries
- Much better for those with astigmatism
- More robust construction
But also some cons:
- Not cheap
- Heavier than red dot counterparts
- Worse eye relief and eyebox
8. Primary Arms 1x Prism (Cyclops)
First up is Primary Arms’ 1x Cyclops that you’ll love if you have astigmatism and/or are deathly afraid of running out of batteries.
If neither of those points applies to you…stick with a red dot.
Otherwise, the Cyclops is nicely built and has decent eye relief for close-up work.
It also has the ACSS reticle which we love for higher magnifications but at 1x you don’t really get all the benefits.
Still…it was decently quick when you needed it.
Check it out if astigmatism is ruining your red dot life.
9. Primary Arms SLx 3 Prism
Our overall winner for a prism sight goes to the Primary Arms SLx 3 which gives the perfect amount of magnification.
It’s only slightly slower at close quarters compared to a 1x prism or red dot…especially with the ACSS CQB reticle.
But it also enables you to reach a little farther out with ease…
Check out more of it in action in our Best Prism Scopes article.
10. Sig Sauer Bravo 5
Want a bigger field of view and more magnification?
Check out the Sig Sauer Bravo 5 which is one of the most impressive pieces of glass we’ve had the chance to use.
With Megaview™ (lol), you get a much bigger field of view through its crystal clear glass.
The only knock is on its hefty 23-ounce weight…but it has three Picatinny rails that can be removed if you aren’t adding a micro red dot onto it.
11. ACOG TA31F 4×32
The Trijicon Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG) is battle-proven, compact, and basically bombproof.
The recommended TA31F version is a fixed 4x magnification and has a reticle calibrated for AR’s shooting 5.56 from 0-800 meters.
The ACOG is expensive because it combines the best of all worlds…it does not need a battery during the day since its fiber optic system illuminates the chevron (upside-down V) reticle, while at night the tritium lamps take over and are guaranteed to glow for 15 years.
I would highly recommend trying one out in person since the fixed sight system is not for everyone.
Consider the ACOG or the Spitfire if you’re looking at mostly longer-range engagements since shorter distances require some getting used to.
But if you need a two-decade proven combat optic…it’s gotta be an ACOG.
And if that wasn’t enough…the ACOG was the only optic to make it through our High-End Optics Torture Test and still be usable at the end.
Need a tank? This is it!
We also cover more popular (and newer) models in Best ACOG Scopes.
Now with a full review video too!
Best Variable Magnification Scopes
12. Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS
Great glass at 1x plus a sweet reticle they dub the ACSS that has a small reticle for precise shots and a larger circle for close-up targets.
1x is very clear and there’s less distortion at 6x compared to the runner-up Strike Eagle 1-6x scope.
Here it is at the range.
We’ve also shot it a bunch in the desert and at competitions.
Here’s a 200-yard target that was almost too easy to hit once we learned our bullet drop.
We now have a full review of the 1-6x ACSS scope…AND Youtube:
I would opt for the upgraded extended single-piece scope mount for ease of install and balance.
13. Vortex 1-6x Strike Eagle
My previous 3-Gun optic of several years allowed me to much more easily hit the 375-yard targets at my local competition compared to my previous 1-4x TAC30.
The Strike Eagle 1-6x is very affordable and very clear glass from 1-4x.
I can see some hints of distortion at 6x but since I usually only use the max magnification one stage a match it doesn’t bother me.
If you’re shooting closer matches or distances, you can just turn it to 3-4x as well to minimize the minor distortion.
The reticle is pretty good for close-up shots as well as farther shots.
I paired mine up with an extended Aero one-piece mount for a super-secure hold and weight savings.
You also can’t go wrong with the combo mount that comes from Palmetto State Armory.
Best Bang-For-The-Buck Scope
14. Vortex Viper PST 1-4x
Now with great 1-6x scopes under $300…there’s almost no reason to have a 1-4x. But if you really want one…here’s my pick for one with great glass.
The PST 1-4x is a higher-end 1-4x scope with better/clearer glass and a different reticle that excels at both close quarters and distance shooting.
Second focal plane. With a better optic, I recommend a better mount as well.
15. Vortex Viper PST II 1-6x
What I now run in my competition rifle. The Viper PST II is the best combo of glass quality, forgiving eye box, and daytime-bright illumination.
That means for close-up shots I can use it as a red dot (hard to show in pics)…
And get up to 6x zoom of crystal clear glass with almost no side distortion.
Check out more in our Best 1-6x Scopes article.
16. Vortex 1-6x Razor HD Gen 2
This is the go-to AR rifle scope for rifle competitions when you will be engaging 300+ yard targets and 1-4x just doesn’t cut it.
The 1-6x Razor has really clear glass and is built tough. Compared to the others, the glass is much clearer, you have a larger field of view, and a more forgiving eye box.
If tenths of a second matter in your rifle shooting…this is the one to get.
Best Hunting Scopes
17. Leupold 3-9x VX Freedom
One of our recommended hunting optics (Best Hunting Rifles) where you don’t necessarily need 1x but might need something more magnified. The 3-9x VX Freedom fills this need nicely and at a great price.
I’m running it on my 30.06 rifle and so far it’s held up to the pretty large recoil.
Glass is very clear at 3x.
As well as at 9x.
The Freedom takes over from Leuopold’s venerable VX-1 scope which we previously recommended. If you don’t mind it being phased out, there could be some good deals there.
Best Long Range Scope
18. Steiner PX4i 4-16×56
It was really hard choosing my favorite “long-range scope” for the AR-15. Normally I think of them as 5-25x scopes but that’s a little too much magnification for the 5.56 cartridge.
It has SUPER clear glass that no pictures can do justice (and a nice reticle).
Plus great turrets! It passes the tracking test, and a nice feeling magnification ring.
If you’ve got the cash and want my favorite long-range scope for an AR…
Best AR-15 Back-Up Iron Sights (BUIS)
Now that you have your primary sight, you’ll need some backup sights in case your primary breaks, runs out of batteries, or just falls off.
For 99.99% of their life, they will live flat underneath your scope. But if something happens to your primary, you’ll wish you had these to flip up!
Magpul Gen 2 BUIS
Polymer Magpul BUIS ($80) paved the way for backup sights to become mainstream. Affordable and still plenty accurate when you need them.
Magpul MBUS Pro
The latest iteration from Magpul, the MBUS Pros ($180) is steel instead of polymer to survive anything you can throw at it.
Offset Iron Sights
Maybe not for everyone, but if you’re competing and don’t have time to switch your AR-15 scope back to 1x…these offset sights ($25) from Ade Advanced will help you get a better time.
All you need to do is tilt your gun and you have these ready for close targets.
Hopefully, we’ve given you a good starting point when it comes to choosing the perfect optic for your AR-15. From red dots to scopes and backup iron sights, make sure you have what fits your lifestyle.
And don’t forget to sight that baby in.
Now that you’ve seen everything for the AR-15 from red dot sights to ACOG’s and variable optics, what will you choose for your purpose? Need some glass for a non-AR platform like rimfire or long-range…check out our huge Best Rifle Scopes and Best Pistol Red Dots article. Or learn How-To Zero a Rifle Scope from the ground up.
Best AR-15 Scopes & Optics : Red Dots to Magnified is written by Eric Hung for www.pewpewtactical.com