The Best Pistol Red Dot Sights for 2020

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Upgrading your pistol with a quality red dot

If you’re a pistol enthusiast and you want to take your handgun accuracy as seriously as you would any other firearm, we’ve concluded that the Vortex Optics Venom Red Dot Sight is the best after testing 9 of the best selling pistol red dot sights over four weeks.

We tested these in a variety of locations – just outside the Grand Canyon, the mountains of Montana and Oregon countryside.

For more casual shooters, we also have a budget-friendly pick, the Primary Arms Classic Series Compact Red Dot Sight, which packs a lot of the features of higher-end red dots into a more approachable price point.

Quick List: The 6 Best Pistol Red Dot Sights:

  1. Best Overall: Vortex Optics Venom Red Dot Sight
  2. Upgrade Pick: Trijicon RMR Type 2 
  3. Super-Premium Option: Aimpoint Micro T-2 Red Dot
  4. Most Configurable: Burris 300234 Fastfire III
  5. Budget Pick: Primary Arms Classic Series Compact Red Dot Sight
  6. Budget Runner-up: Bushnell TRS-25 Red Dot Sight

Our Top Pick (Best Overall):

Stability:
4.5/5
Fit:
5/5
Clarity:
5/5
  • Weight: 1.05 oz
  • Night Vision Support: Yes
  • Dot Size: 3 or 6 MOA
  • Waterproof: No
  • Water Resistant: Yes
  • Price: $$

For avid pistol shooters who want a quality product and the best mix of price and accuracy, the Vortex Optics Venom Red Dot Sight is worth the investment. Unlike less quality-focused red dots, which can be difficult to sight in or inconsistent at the range, Vortex Optics uses high-quality glass that eases target acquisition with little to no distortion across the entire field of view.

The 10 brightness levels make it easy to tailor the dot intensity to your specific environment, and the automatic brightness setting uses ambient light levels to control dot intensity automatically, which gives the Venom a real sense of flexibility.

Walking through a variety of lighting with the Vortex Venom

Windage and elevation adjustments are easy to make, and we really liked the battery top-load system which makes changing the battery possible without removing the scope, which saves a lot of time. Mounting and unmounting the Venom was the smoothest and easiest of our test units and well – and it comes with a pistol-friendly low rail mount and an optional riser mount for rifle height mounting.

Consistent & clean

After sighting the Venom in and putting about 100 rounds through it we got the sense that this would make for a great first red dot. It was surprisingly easy to get out of the box, onto our pistol, and hitting plates at 7, 15, and 25 yards. 

We also found it really solid in low light situations, as the auto-brightness adjustments were pretty spot on (if not as fast to adjust as the Trijicon or Aimpoint). We tinkered with the brightness here and there to see if we could improve on it, but after a few rounds determined we preferred the simplicity and accuracy of auto.

While the Venom is not cheap, it does offer all of the features available within the category while being about half the price of premium options. Available in 3 and 6 MOA options.

Pros

  • Top-load battery 
  • 10 brightness settings
  • Auto-brightness is very effective
  • Lifetime warranty & A+ customer service

Cons

  • Slightly sensitive
  • Low light settings too bright for night usage for some users

Upgrade pick:

Stability:
5/5
Fit:
5/5
Clarity:
5/5
  • Weight: 1.2 oz
  • Night Vision Compatibility: Yes
  • Dot Size: 3.25 MOA or 6.5 MOA
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Water resistant: Yes
  • Price: $$$

The Trijicon RMR Type 2 might be just the ticket if you’re looking to buy a combat-proven premium red dot. Many folks will tell you that the RMR is the benchmark against which all other pistol red dots will be measured – and for good reason. The ease of set-up and flexibility of these products is second to none. You can have the RMR at zero in under 10 shots – it’s that good out of the box. 

The contrast of the green glass with red dot is effective

Bright with fantastic contrast

We zeroed in both the 3.25 and 6.5 MOA versions and found them both very easy to use. Shot after shot the RMR was brighter, clearer, and made it easy to get back on target quicker than every other red dot in our test group. 

The auto-brightness adjusted as fast if not faster than any other test red dot, and while there’s no manual brightness adjustment – the RMR’s 2-year battery life means it won’t occur frequently enough to be much of an irritation. 

If a premium red dot is what you want – look no further than the RMR Type 2. It’s expensive but truly in a class of its own.

Pros

  • Very small and light
  • Easy to install
  • Holds zero consistently
  • Crystal clear glass
  • Designed to last

Cons

  • Battery change requires removing the scope from the weapon
  • No manual brightness adjustments
  • Glass height is lower than other options
  • Price

Super-premium option:

Stability:
5/5
Fit:
5/5
Clarity:
5/5
  • Weight: 3.9 oz
  • Night Vision Compatibility: Yes
  • Dot Size: 2 MOA
  • Waterproof: No
  • Water resistant: Yes
  • Price: $

If you’re looking for a premium pistol sight that’s renowned for its ruggedness, light weight, and compact size take a look at the Aimpoint Micro T-2. You can take it into any terrain or conditions – it’s even waterproof to 80 feet (25 meters).

Fantastic collection of settings

The integrated settings are really useful and well-thought-out – you get 4 night vision settings and 8 daylight – we really liked the inclusion of an “extra bright” daylight setting which was very visible even in the brightest of our test conditions. 

You can see how nicely this would work in desert-like conditions where you have a lot of glare and visual noise.

The ultimate red dot to stack

It also plays nicely stacked with other optics, so you can add magnification, night vision, or thermal capabilities.

Aimpoint Micro Red Dot Demo

When researching red dots you will often read comments like  “it’s just as good as an Aimpoint…” or “It’s just like an Aimpoint, but costs half as much” – there’s a reason people compare other products to Aimpoint – they’re the absolute peak of optics for almost any kind of firearm.

They’re good enough that counterfeit Aimpoints are a problem – so make sure you review the ratings and feedback from other customers before making the purchase. Aimpoint also has a page dedicated to determining the validity of your product.

Pros

  • Clear, high-quality glass
  • Very bright dot
  • Fastest auto-brightness adjustment

Cons

  • Price
  • Counterfeits are a problem

Most configurable:

Stability:
5/5
Fit:
4.5/5
Clarity:
5/5
  • Weight: 1.5 oz
  • Night Vision Compatibility: Yes
  • Dot Size: 3, 4 or 8 MOA
  • Waterproof: No
  • Water resistant: Yes
  • Price: $$

The Internet is awash with mid-tier pistol red dots that include auto-brightness sensors designed for handguns, but the Burris 300234 Fastfire III, which offers a tremendous amount of variety of models, makes it easy to find the right mix of features & reticule sizing.

6 different models

The Burris comes in 6 different models – from 3 to 8 MOA dot reticles and with various illumination controls – so you can really find the right red dot for your specific needs. It’s designed to work with any handgun that’s optics ready – and easy to mount on spotting scopes or other optics – which adds close-quarters capability to any rifle.

Cycling though brightness modes with the Fastfire

The Fastfire is a pretty slick system that gives you enough selection to get the right product for your needs without forcing you into a specific reticule size or means of illumination – all while offering super-crisp visuals and a price point that’s well under other premium price points.

Thin bezel & lots of glass

We also really liked the thinness of the frame around the Fastfire and how the bevel of the glass created more room – we found it very easy to see through and acquire targets.

BurrisvsRMR
Comparing the RMR to the Fastfire you get a sense of the bezel & size of the glass

The screw that come with the unit can be too long for some pistol threads, so make sure you test them out before installation. Also – put a battery in it before mounting as it can be tricky to install once in place.

Pros

  • High-quality build
  • Holds zero well
  • Many options 
  • Lots of glass paired with a thin bezel

Cons

  • Hardware is less than premium
  • Battery replacement not intuitive

Budget pick:

Stability:
4/5
Fit:
4/5
Clarity:
4.5/5
  • Weight: 3.9 oz
  • Night Vision Compatibility: Yes
  • Dot Size: 2 MOA
  • Waterproof: No
  • Water resistant: Yes
  • Price: $

The Primary Arms Classic Series is a solid choice if you’re not ready to commit to a more expensive (see $200+) pistol-friendly red dot and aren’t overly concerned about size or having a variety of reticule dot sizes (the Classic only offers a 2 MOA dot).

It’s far and away Primary Arms’ most popular red dot.

Easy illumination & adjustment controls

This sight features 12 illumination settings (more than almost all of the red dots we tested) and a forward-angle lens capable of delivering a crisp dot with little tint or distortion. The controls are easy to get at – especially the elevation adjustment atop the unit and oversized illumination knob.

Demoing the Classic’s size & brightness settings

The Primary Arms Classic is reliable and affordable, but in terms of hardware quality, it doesn’t stack up well against the sights from Burris, Vortex, or Trijicon.

Hardware upgrades are recommended

You’re likely to notice the hex bolt on the rail mount is thin and tinny, and in our tests, we saw rounding on the bolt head with straightforward installation. It’s also about 2 ounces heavier than other options.

We swapped the questionable bolt out with a 1-1/4″ stainless steel hex bolt with a lock washer that resolved our stability concerns. If the hardware & weight flaws aren’t a major concern (bolts be resolved with either a better bolt/washer or replacing the mount altogether) take a look at the Classic.

Pros

  • Great field of view
  • Holds zero well
  • Price

Cons

  • Less than premium hardware 
  • Larger and heavier than other options

Budget runner-up:

Stability:
3.5/5
Fit:
4/5
Clarity:
4.5/5
  • Weight: 3.7 oz
  • Night Vision Compatibility: Yes
  • Dot Size: 3 MOA
  • Waterproof: No
  • Water resistant: Yes
  • Price: $

We recommend the inexpensive Bushnell TRS-25 Red Dot Sight for anyone who wants to acquire targets faster and shoot better overall but find that the Primary Arms Classic isn’t available or they’re working with a more limited budget.

Its reticle was clear and easy to use, and we found it held zero well after 100+ rounds through both 9MM and 45 APC pistols. The lens provided excellent light transmission with little glare.

Demoing the TRS-25 brightness settings

The adjustment dials are nicely tight and use o-rings to seal the housing, which ensures they’re adjustable with a dime but will hold their settings over time. Of the budget options, only the Primary Arms unit adjusted more evenly than the TRS-25.

Reasonable quality without the price tag

On top of that, its nitrogen-purged housing means it’s solidly water & fog proof construction – certainly a nice feature for a sub-$100 red dot sight. This Bushnell is a great option for people who don’t want to invest in a $200 or more in a red dot but want to stick with a brand that’s known to deliver quality products.

You can’t submerge it 80 feet underwater or get a variety of MOC sizes and illumination settings, but you can get is to zero and keep it there, which is more than we can say for a lot of red dots in this price range.

Pros

  • Price
  • Quality build
  • Easy to use

Cons

  • Can lack durability 
  • Not many feature options

Choosing a red dot for your pistol

Now that you have a sense for the best pistol-friendly red dot sights, but you may still be wondering – what’s the advantage of mounting one in the first place?

Pros:

 

Faster target acquisition:

A red dot sight makes it easier to get on target because it places the reticle and target on the same focal plane.

This takes less visual effort than using iron sights – which require you to balance the front sight, rear sight, and the actual target. It can be a little disorienting to use a red dot initially, so look to mount it as low as possible (pre-milled slides are a great option) because the lower the mount the closer it feels to using irons.

Once you’ve got it figured out, though, it can feel like cheating.

Better long-range shooting:

The precision placement of the dot means it’s much easier to shoot from distance as it essentially takes all of the guesswork out of aiming.

A 3 MOA dot covers 3” of the target at 100 yards – 6” at 200 yards – so while it’s more precise, make sure that you’re selecting the MOA size that’s appropriate for your normal shooting distance.

Improved low light performance: 

It will become much easier to shoot in dim light – especially vs irons. Plus many red dots work well in combination with longer range scopes and night vision, essentially layering on another level of performance.

Easier on bad eyes: 

Older shooters love red dots for the above reasons. As eyes age focus becomes more challenging – which means shooting does as well. Red dots eliminate that need so long as eye conditions (such as astigmatism) aren’t impacting your vision.

Wider situational awareness:

Red dots don’t require you to close one eye because the dot and the target are on the same plane. With both eyes open, there’s nothing to impede the perception of your environment

Cons:

 

More failure points:

Red dots are, at the end of the day, electronic devices. They use batteries, wires, and circuits – which means they’ll fail at some point.

Make sure you’re selecting the right product for your application – plinkers may not need a $900 red dot. Also – swap the batteries every couple of months & carry fresh ones with you in your gear bag. Weather can also impede performance if the glass is fogged or the LED isn’t registering clearly on the internal mirrors. 

Requires familiarity:

Getting accurate with any handgun requires practice, but due to the fact that a red dot is an additional bit of kit, you’ll need to get to know how your weapon performs with the optic or risk delaying your target acquisition while you try to locate the dot in your field of view.

Additional costs:

As we have seen here – you’re looking at $80-$100 minimum for a budget red dot – possibly $400+ for a more rugged model. Add to that mounts (because you’ll need to mount the optic in a way that suits your shooting style) which means you’ll need a MOS-ready (modular optic system) pistol or a separate rail.

No magnification:

red dots offer 1X magnification – which means none. They don’t make your target any larger than the naked eye – so if you like using a red dot but need magnification you’ll need to select a red dot that pairs with other optics (such as a rifle scope) that provide it.

Conclusion

Each of these pistol red dot sights offers advantages for different users, but our top pick is the Vortex Optics Venom Red Dot Sight. It was easy to install, held zero, and was capable red dot that doesn’t require shelling out as much as you paid for your pistol. It also has all the features that we look for in a pistol-friendly red dot:

  • Clear, high -quality glass
  • Auto & manual brightness adjustements
  • Solid fit on a variety of handguns
  • Fantastic light transmission

There are quite a few options out in this category, but we hope this article steers you in the right direction. If you have any questions or feedback please drop us a line.

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Michael Crites

Michael Crites

Michael grew up shooting in the soggy hills around his SW Washington home. Now a father of 3, hobby farmer, & firearms enthusiast living on 10 acres in the Oregon country.

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