Best AR-15 Scopes & Optics [2020]: Red Dots to Magnified

Not sure what optic or scope to get for your AR?  We’ve bought or used almost all of them

A Couple AR-15 Optics
A Couple AR-15 Optics

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.

Now…let’s started!

Table of Contents

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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.

Budget Red Dots All On
Tested Budget Red Dots All On

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.

1. Bushnell TRS-25 AR

The budget TRS-25 red dot that has a history of great reviews and personal performance.  I would caution against going any cheaper unless you are shooting low-recoiling .22 LR.

Bushnell TRS-25
Bushnell TRS-25

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.

Bush TRS-25 on AK
Bush TRS-25 on AK

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.

 
You can check it all out in our Best Red Dots Under $100 article and video…but it did quite well for its price point.

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″ UTG version (save some weight with the slim riser) which has worked well for myself and others (gives co-witness).

UTG Slim Riser
UTG Slim Riser
Most Affordable Red Dot
80
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Want even more info…check out our standalone review of the Bushnell TRS-25.

Recommended Add-Ons:

2. Sig Sauer Romeo5

Red dots in the $100-$200 space have multiplied recently and are picking up nice upgrades previously only available to high-end ones.

Sig Red Dots
Sig Romeo5

The Sig Romeo5 brings 8 daylight settings (that actually are visible in bright light) and 2 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 Romeo5 review here.

Brutally Tested Budget Red Dot
149
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. Trijicon MRO

A relative newcomer to the high-end red dot game is the Trijicon MRO.

Trijicon MRO Midwest QD Mount
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).

Trijicon MRO Size Comparison with Other Optics
Trijicon MRO (Left) Size Comparison with Other Optics

Check it out in action…

It has great reviews and has survived a bunch of abuse (High-End Optics Torture Test). 

Trijicon MRO 12ga Birdshot
Trijicon MRO 12ga Birdshot

From water submersion to drop testing, hot/cold cyling, and a variety of gun loads…the MRO survived with the best of them.

This is what I’d consider a duty optic.

6 daylight settings with one super bright one that works even in our desert hellscape…and 2 night vision settings.

Trijicon MRO Red Reflex Sight in Desert on Steel
Trijicon MRO Red Reflex Sight in Desert on Steel

There’s a couple different flavors based on riser…from no riser to 1/3 cowitness and full cowitness.

Trijicon MRO Shell Case Ejection in Desert 2
Trijicon MRO Shell Case Ejection in Desert

Our preferred one is 1/3 cowitness so you can use irons as backup but they aren’t distracting.

Or you can opt for a quick-detach one from Midwest Industries.

Trijicon MRO Midwest QD Mount
Trijicon MRO Midwest QD Mount

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…

Best Green Dot
429
at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

What’s your take on the MRO?

Readers' Ratings

4.96/5 (1068)

Your Rating?

4. Aimpoint Micro H-2

The gold standard of red dots…the Aimpoint.

Costs a nice handgun 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 what I run on my regular AK where the optic directly sits on top of the gas block which gets extremely hot.

Aimpoint H-1 on AK
Aimpoint H-1 on AK

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 which 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 farther 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 which is what I use 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.

Gold Standard
745
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Recommended Add-Ons:

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 ft, 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).

Aimpoint PRO Testing
Aimpoint PRO Testing

Best Holographic Sights

6. EOTech EXPS2

For a long time, it was Aimpoint vs EOTech.

Newer vs Classic EOTechs
Newer vs Classic EOTechs

Aimpoint had it’s tubular “reflex” sights while Eotech had it’s distinct “holographic” sights.  While the technology was a little different, both were heavily used by the US military and had fervent supporters.

We go over all the important differences in

Then a disaster hit EOTech and culminated in a lawsuit from the US Government in 2015 for the sights losing their zero due to hot/cold weather and moisture.

But they are back.

John Wick I'm Back
John Wick I’m 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.

EOTech EXPS2-0 Reticle
EOTech EXPS2-0 Reticle

It’s the smallest EOTech model currently and has clear glass, 600 hours of battery life, integrated QD mount, and tons of other stuff.

Top Holographic Sights
Top Holographic Sights

We test this and others from Vortex and Holosun in our Best Holographic Sights article and video below.  Complete with video through each one.

Best Holographic Sight

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.

EOTech EXPS 3 .22 LR Killshot
EOTech EXPS 3 .22 LR Killshot

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?

COD MW3 Magnified Sight
COD MW3 Magnified Sight

We tested three of the most popular 3x magnifiers under $200 and found the best…

3x Magnifiers
3x Magnifiers

Drumroll…

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.

Best 3x Magnifier
199
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

All of the Prism Scopes
All of the Tested Prism Scopes

See all our Best Prism Scopes article as well as our full video review:

But these are our favorites

8. Primary Arms 1x Prism (Cyclops)

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

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.

Primary Arms ACSS 1x Prism
Primary Arms ACSS 1x Prism

If neither of those points apply to you…stick with a red dot.

Otherwise the Cyclops is nicely built and has decent eye relief for close up work.

Primary Arms ACSS 1x Prism Fired While Kneeling
Primary Arms ACSS 1x Prism Fired While Kneeling

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 astimatism is ruining your red dot life.

240
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Primary Arms SLx 3 Prism
Primary Arms SLx 3 Prism

It’s only slightly slower at close quarters compared to a 1x prism or red dot…especially with the ACSS CQB reticle.

SLx 3 Closeup Shots

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.

290
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Sig Sauer Bravo 5 Side View
Sig Sauer Bravo 5 Side View

With Megaview™ (lol), you get a much bigger field of view through its crystal clear glass.

Sig Sauer Bravo 5 View Thru
Sig Sauer Bravo 5 View Thru

The only knock is on its hefty 23 oz 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.

ACOG Reticle
ACOG Reticle

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.

Trijicon-ACOG-TA11F-View-Through
Trijicon ACOG Viewthrough

Consider the ACOG or the Spitfire if you’re looking at mostly longer range engagements since shorter distances require some getting used to.

Trijicon-ACOG-Chevron-Reticle
Trijicon-ACOG-Chevron-Reticle

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.

Trijicon TA-02 Acog .22 LR Minimag Damage
Trijicon TA-02 Acog .22 LR Minimag Damage

Need a tank? This is it!

Best ACOG
1109
at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Recommended Add-On:

We also cover more popular (and newer) models in Best ACOG Scopes.

Trijicon-ACOG-Lineup
Trijicon ACOG Lineup

Now with a full review video too!

Best Variable Magnification Scopes

12. Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS

The Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS is the winner of our Best 1-6x Scopes article.

Primary Arms 1-6x with ACSS
Primary Arms 1-6x with 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.

Primary Arms at 1x, ACSS Reticle
Primary Arms at 1x, ACSS Reticle

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.

Primary Arms at 6x, ACSS Reticle
Primary Arms at 6x, ACSS Reticle

We’ve also shot it a bunch in the desert and at competitions.

Testing the PA 1-6x ACSS
Testing the PA 1-6x ACSS

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 on the 1-6x ACSS scope…AND Youtube:

I would opt for the upgraded extended single piece scope mount for ease of install and balance.

290
at Primary Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

13. Vortex 1-6x Strike Eagle

My previous 3-Gun optic of several years which allowed me to much more easily hit the 375-yard targets at my local competition compared to my previous 1-4x TAC30.

Vortex Strike Eagle at 1x
Vortex Strike Eagle at 1x

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.

Vortex Strike Eagle at 6x
Vortex Strike Eagle at 6x

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

Recommended Add-Ons:

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.

Viper PST Reticle
Viper PST Reticle
450
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Recommended Add-on:

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 eyebox, and daytime-bright illumination.

Vortex Viper PST II 1-6x
Vortex Viper PST II 1-6x

That means for close-up shots I can use it as a red-dot (hard to show in pics)…

PST II at 1x
PST II at 1x

And get up to 6x zoom of crystal clear glass with almost no side distortion.

PST II at 6x
PST II at 6x

Check out more in our Best 1-6x Scopes article.

Recommended Add-Ons:

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 (location where your eye is and you will still get the full field of view).

Razor HD 2 Reticle
Razor HD 2 Reticle

If tenths of a second matter in your rifle shooting…this is the one to get.

Clearest 1-6x Glass
1099
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Recommended Add-On:

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.

Mossberg Patriot 30.06 with VX Freedom 3-9x
Mossberg Patriot 30.06 with VX Freedom 3-9x

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.

VX Freedom at 3x
VX Freedom at 3x

As well as at 9x.

VX Freedom at 9x
VX Freedom 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.

249
at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Recommended Add-On:

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.

Steiner P4Xi 4-16x
Steiner P4Xi 4-16x

So I went with my favorite 4-16x scope…the Steiner P4xi from my Best Long Range Scope article.

9 Tested Long Range Scopes
Tested Long Range Scopes

It has SUPER clear glass that no pictures can do justice (and a nice reticle).

Steiner P4Xi 16x
Steiner P4Xi 16x at 600 Yard Target

Plus great turrets, 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…

Recommended Add-On:

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

These polymer Magpul BUIS ($80) paved the way for back up sights to become mainstream.  Affordable and still plenty accurate when you need them.

Best BUIS
79
at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

180
at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

Ade Advanced 45 Degree BUIS
Ade Advanced 45 Degree BUIS

All you need to do is tilt your gun and you have these ready for close targets.

Viewthrough of Ade 45 Degree BUIS
Viewthrough of Ade 45 Degree BUIS

Our budget pick so you can see if you want to upgrade to Magpul MBUS Offset ones (the Gold Standard).

And of course…now we have full in-depth reviews of both Backup Irons Sights and Offset Iron Sights.

Conclusion

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.

Tested Pistol Red Dots
Tested Pistol Red Dots

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