Best AR-15 Scopes & Optics [2018]: Red Dots to Magnified

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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

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

The budget 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.

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 (~1000 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 500 rounds and multiple water splashes.

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

Most Affordable
TRS-25 AR Optics

TRS-25 AR Optics

Recommended Add-Ons:

2. Vortex Sparc AR

A more purposeful (and newer) Sparc geared towards AR-15’s.  The Sparc AR ($199) is super beefy and can take a lot of punishment with the rubber housing.  One great thing is that it takes one AAA battery.

The glass is the clearest of the “budget” red dots but has a slightly smaller field of view when compared to the Holosun and Aimpoint Micros.  Full review HERE.

Most Robust
Vortex Sparc AR

Vortex Sparc AR

Prices accurate at time of writing

3. Holosun HS403A/B

My best bang-for-the-buck red dot that ran head to head against the Sparc AR and Primary Arms in my Best Budget Red Dot Reviews.

Best Budget Red Dots
Best Budget Red Dots

The Holosun HS403 ($140) has clear glass and a larger field of view when compared to the Sparc AR.  It also survived my drop tests and temperature tests.

Holosun also makes other models that are solar powered and even some that have two reticles…including one that mimics EOTech.

Editor's Choice
Holosun HS403A

Holosun HS403A

Prices accurate at time of writing

What’s your take?

Readers' Ratings

5/5 (386)

Your Rating?

4. Aimpoint Micro H-1

The gold standard of red dots…the Aimpoint.

Aimpoint H-1
Aimpoint H-1

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.

The Gold Standard
Aimpoint Micro H-1, 2 MOA

Aimpoint Micro H-1, 2 MOA

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 full review (with some hammer torture testing of course).

Aimpoint PRO Testing
Aimpoint PRO Testing
Goldilocks Red Dot
Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic (PRO)

Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic (PRO)

Best Holographic Sights

6. EOTech EXPS2

For a long time, it was Aimpoint vs EOTech.

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.

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.  Complete with video through each one.

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

Best 3x Magnifier
Vortex 3x Magnifier

Vortex 3x Magnifier

The Vortex 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 Fixed Magnification Scopes

Now we dive into optics with some magnification!

We’ll first start with some compact fixed scopes and then onto more traditional variable magnification scopes.

8. Vortex Spitfire 3x

A fixed 3x magnifier, this optic is built specifically for the AR platform shooting 5.56 since the reticle has dropdowns for 0-500 yards.

Since it’s from Vortex, it has an unlimited lifetime warranty that is fully transferable.

Spitfire Reticle
Spitfire Reticle

 

The Vortex Spitfire ($350) 5 intensity levels and the ability to choose between a red or green reticle to allow for shooting in darker areas, and comes with a mount.  You might need some practice to shoot closer distances because of the fixed magnifier, but the Spitfire is a great optic that I liken to a budget ACOG.

Here’s a view through the optic.  Real-life is crisper…it was hard to get my phone to focus on the reticle especially with the 3x magnification.

Vortex Spitfire View
Vortex Spitfire View
Best Fixed Magnification
Vortex Spitfire 3x

Vortex Spitfire 3x

9. 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.

Consider the ACOG or the Spitfire if you’re looking at mostly longer range engagements since shorter distances require some getting used to.  We cover all the most popular models in Best ACOG Scopes.

Battle Proven
ACOG TA31F 4x32

ACOG TA31F 4x32

Recommended Add-On:

Best Variable Magnification Scopes

10. 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.

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

See more at Best 1-6x Scopes where we have view-through videos too.

When you buy directly from Primary Arms you get a free scope ring.  But I would opt for the upgraded extended single piece for ease of install and balance.

Best Bang-For-The-Buck Scope
Primary Arms 1-6X24 ACSS

Primary Arms 1-6X24 ACSS

11. 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

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.

Best Value Runner-Up
Vortex 1-6x Strike Eagle

Vortex 1-6x Strike Eagle

Recommended Add-Ons:

12. 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.

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
Vortex Viper PST 1-4X

Vortex Viper PST 1-4X

Recommended Add-on:

13. 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:

14. 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.

Gold Standard 1-6x
Vortex 1-6x Razor HD Gen 2

Vortex 1-6x Razor HD Gen 2

Recommended Add-On:

Best Hunting Scopes

15. 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.

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.

Perfect Backup
Magpul MBUS

Magpul MBUS

Magpul MBUS Pro

The latest iteration from Magpul, the MBUS Pros ($160) 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) will help you get a better time.

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

Offset Sights MBUS
Offset Sights MBUS
Best Offset Sights
Ade Advanced Offset Sights

Ade Advanced Offset Sights

Prices accurate at time of writing

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?  Check out more in our Gun & Gear Reviews.

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David, PPT EditorCraig KissingerYanick RouillardGaroldkevin C Recent comment authors
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Craig Kissinger
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Craig Kissinger

Why Are there no Trijicon optics on your list ?

David, PPT Editor
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The ACOG is built by Trijicon and is on the list!

Yanick Rouillard
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Yanick Rouillard

Hello Mr. Hung, I red a lot of your publications on pew pew tactical, and I really like it, especially for the AR platform. Being a knew owner of a AR-15, precisely the S&W MP15 Vtac II, looking to upgrade for a optic in the vortex spitfire 3x line. My question is have you tried the Bushnell AR750010? Or do you have any other option? Thanks for all your time and effort of doing all those chronicles, it is very interesting and useful. Sorry for the awkward English, I live in Quebec. Regards….

Garold
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Garold

Great review, would like to shoot but dont think I would buy one as my safe is full and it would only be a novelty for me. Thanks for the info

kevin C
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kevin C

Hi Eric
Looking for advise, recently picked up the ruger 9mm carbine rifle. What optic would you put on, ?
I like seeing my hits, so magnification is needed as i where glasses
Regards

Vapor
Guest
Vapor

Take a look at the Leupold Mark AR 1 3-9x.
Ultra lightweight. Mrad reticle and adjustment, with a quick 55 grain bdc also on the turret.

Exposed turrets with return to zero adjustments.

I almost bought a much more expensive scope til I started playing with one of these.

Now I’m going to get one for my Rem 700 .308. I think Leupold will customize a BDC to caliber and weight.