If you’ve been paying any attention to the firearms industry, you know that red dots on handguns are the new hotness. Both optics and handgun companies are embracing the concept, and we have more options than ever to attach an optic to a handgun.
The big question now is: which optics are worth it? We’ll help you ask all the right questions prior to purchasing a red dot for your handgun, and hopefully, we’ll answer those questions for you as well.
The 6 Best Red Dots For Pistols in 2021: Outdoor Empire Reviews
Here is a list of the top pistol reflex sights in 2021:
- The Cheapest Quality Red Dots #1: Bushnell TRS 25
- The Cheapest Quality Red Dots #2: Bushnell Advanced Micro Reflex Sight
- The Best for the Money #1: Burris Fastfire 3
- The Best for the Money #2: Vortex Optics Venom
- The Best Overall #1: Leupold DeltaPoint
- The Best Overall #2: Trijicon RMR
|Category||Best Cheap||Best for the money||Best overall|
|Reticle||3 MOA||3 MOA and 8 MOA||7.5 MOA|
|Length||2.4 in||1.8 in||1.31 in|
|Weight||3.7 oz||0.9 oz||1.95 oz|
|Price||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price
1. Best Budget Pistol Red Dot #1: The Bushnell TRS 25
The Bushnell TRS 25 is a compact red dot and likely the cheapest red dot that’s not a piece of junk on the market.
The TRS 25 is a rock-solid little optic that is best used by hobbyists, sport shooters, and maybe small game hunters.
The TRS 25 is a small, tube-based red dot with 11 different brightness settings. The optic has an integral Picatinny rail mount, which may require adding a Picatinny rear sight mount or an integral rail to your gun.
The TRS 25 uses a 3-MOA reticle, so it is better for long-range shooting than close-range shooting. The optic is designed to be simple and effective and is a great tool for 22 LR pistols or revolvers.
Features and Specs
- 25 mm objective lenses
- 3-MOA red dot with 11 brightness settings
- ٖٖٖٖٖFully multi-coated lenses
- Water and shockproof
- Nitrogen purged
- Affordable but reliable
- Large for some pistols.
The TRS 25 is the perfect red dot if you need something small but affordable. Adding on to its value is that it’s easy to attach to rifles and shotguns across a wide spectrum. The TRS 25 is an absolutely fantastic value.
The Bushnell TRS 25 is also available at:
2. Best Budget #2: Bushnell Advanced Micro Reflex Sight
If you want to spend a little more money, you can get a lot more optic. The Bushnell MRS, or Micro Reflex Sight, is small enough to be mounted to a standard handgun and is compatible with the Glock MOS system.
It follows the same footprint as a Trijicon RMR, and this makes it compatible with a wide variety of guns. It also comes with a removable Picatinny mount if you want to take that route.
The optic packs a 5-MOA red dot reticle, allowing you to use the optic for both close- and moderate-range shooting.
When it comes down to it, the Bushnell MRS is the most affordable miniature reflex sight that will fit on standard handguns and work reliably. It’s not a duty-grade optic, but it’s functional as a plinking or a budget competition optic.
Features and Specs
- Weighs only 2.2 ounces
- Uses an affordable CR2032 battery
- Sideloading battery
- Super small and light
- Very robust with water- and fog-proofing
- Affordable and reliable for such a small optic
- Sideloading battery requires tools to remove
This is the optic if you want to experiment with adding a red dot to your gun without spending a ton of money. It allows you to train or compete without spending the cost of your gun on an optic.
At the same time, it’s small and can fit most standard handguns with the appropriate mount.
3. The Best Red Dot Pistol Sight For The Money #1: Burris Fastfire 3
The Burris Fastfire series includes some of the earliest red dot sights for handguns. They’ve been around forever, and the third generation is the most current.
The Burris Fastfire 3 comes in either a 3-MOA dot or an 8-MOA dot, with the latter being the most appropriate handgun usage.
The Fastfire 3 has three intensity settings and an automatic adjustment mode. The automatic adjustment is one of the best and is incredibly easy to use. The Fastfire comes with a Picatinny mount and fits a common miniature red dot footprint.
Though light and small, the Fastfire 3 is also reliable and durable. It’s one of the few out there that offers a lifetime warranty, and Burris has a history of standing behind their products.
Burris also offers a wide variety of rear sight replacements that allow you to mount the optic—no milling required.
Features and Specs
- 3 brightness settings, 1 automatic setting
- Top-loading battery
- Weighs 1.5 ounces
- Can mount to nearly any handgun without milling
- Lifetime warranty
- Must cycle through every setting with one button.
The Burris Fastfire 3 is the base-level red dot I’d trust for home defense. It’s not ready to tumble and fall, but in a static environment, it’s a rock-solid choice. It’s perfect for competition as well as just shooting for fun.
Burris Fastfire 3 is also available at:
4. The Best for the Money #2: Vortex Optics Venom
Voortex made a big name by producing budget-friendly red dots built on reliable fundamentals. The Venom is their higher-end miniature red dot sight designed for handguns of all kinds, including the Glock MOS, S&W CORE, and Canik series firearms.
The Venom is a competition or even home defense optic. It’s not quite built for duty use, but it’s still a robust and durable design.
The Vortex Venom comes in both 3-MOA and 6-MOA models, allowing them to be used in various configurations. The manual brightness controls offer 10 different levels of brightness.
The Venom is a proven and solid performer, and it’s an optic I think a lot of people underestimate. The Venom can last 150 hours on the highest setting and 13,000 hours on the lowest.
The Venom also comes with a Picatinny rail mount for use on sporting pistols.
Features and Specs
- 10 different brightness settings
- Weighs only 1.05 ounces
- Utilizes a 1632 battery
- Lightweight and reliable
- 10 different brightness settings
- Top-loading design
- Using an unusual battery
The Venom is for those who want an ultra-lightweight optic for down and dirty competition use. This optic is incredibly reliable and often overshadowed in the optics realm.
This ergonomic and reliable design is surprisingly affordable and packs a lot of value into such a small optic.
Vortex Optics Venom is also available at:
5. The Best Overall Red Dot For Pistols #1: Leupold DeltaPoint
It should be noted that the new SIG P320 that was recently adopted by the United States military is cut for a Leupold DeltaPoint.
The DeltaPoint is a duty-approved red dot system that will take a beating and keep on going. The DeltaPoint excels for military and police use, as well as home defense, competition, and anything else you want to toss at it
The DeltaPoint is designed to last and has a bombproof design. There are a wide variety of different-sized reticles with the 7.5-MOA model being the best suited for duty and defensive use. This optic makes quick and accurate shooting possible in a variety of situations.
The Leupold DeltaPoint uses an aspheric lens that aids in increasing the effective field of view by 56 percent. It’s also compatible with a wide variety of handguns and attaches with ease to all popular handgun systems.
Features and Specs
- 100% waterproof
- Motion-sensing technology conveniently turns the optic off and on
- Made from aluminum and steel
- Top-loading battery
- Can mount a rear iron sight for co-witnessing
- Motion sensing technology ensures the optic is always ready
- Slightly heavy
The DeltaPoint is a professional grade optic that is still somewhat affordable. This is a duty-grade optic, but it is the most affordable of the duty-grade miniature red dots.
It’s not cheap, but relatively affordable. It’s no slouch either: it runs, runs, and runs.
6. The Best Overall #2: The Trijicon RMR
The Trijicon RMR is the standard-setting optic that really started the entire pistol-mounted red dot craze. The Trijicon RMR is a professional-grade optic, and the price reflects that.
This optic is currently the choice of spec ops forces around the world, as well as many very progressive police departments.
The RMR is a nearly indestructible optic that is used on a wide variety of weapons outside of handguns. The RMR is the most common optic to find milled into handgun slides and is easily the most versatile option.
The RMR comes in a wide variety of configurations, including the dual illumination that uses a battery and solar power to keep the optic running.
The RMR comes in a wide variety of different dot sizes, and the 6.5-MOA is an excellent choice for handguns. There are also amber or red dot options for the reticle. The Trijicon RMR is simply the best red dot on the market.
Features and Specs
- Unique shape and use of military grade aluminum diverts shock away from falls
- Bombproof design will last forever
- Weighs 1.2 ounces
- The strongest optic on the market
- Easy and quick to use
- Top-loading battery
The Trijicon RMR is the optic for you if you refuse to accept substitutes. It’s a massively popular and proven optic used by armed professionals worldwide, and buying it will ensure you have a duty-ready optic that is well suited for any task you want to throw at it.
The Pros and Cons of a Red Dot On A Handgun
There are some very good reasons to toss a red dot on your handgun. I can tell you from experience that a handgun equipped with a red dot is easier to shoot overall. With a red dot you can shoot faster and with more precision.
It’s quicker to acquire the red dot with your eyes than lining up iron sights, and it’s so much simpler to put the dot on target and pull the trigger.
The small size of the dot makes it easy to see your target and reticle at extended ranges. From a defensive standpoint, anything that allows for more precise and accurate shooting is an amazing addition.
If you toss a red dot on a small pistol, you also eliminate any issues with sight radius. You can have a short-barreled gun that can just as easily shoot as accurately as a full-sized gun.
My first red-dot experience
My first experience with a red-dot-equipped pistol blew me away, and I couldn’t believe how easy it was to ring steel at 50 yards and beyond.
The downsides are few, and admittedly they are more logistics based. The main physical downside is the increased size and bulk for a concealed carry pistol.
Other downsides are, of course, the costs associated with the optic. These optics are electronic, and electronics fail, so you also need to invest in higher iron sights if the optic will be used for defensive purposes.
You also have to purchase a pre-milled slide or pay to have your slide milled by a gunsmith. A cheaper option is to fit the gun with a replacement rear sight that will allow you to mount the optic. This adds extra height and isn’t secure enough for duty or defensive use.
There is also the need to retrain your brain to look for the dot instead of the iron sights. This is a problem only training can solve.
How to Choose the Right Red Dot for You?
Choosing the right red dot for your handgun is a tricky thing. You can find a wide variety of red dots out there for different tasks and at range of prices.
It’s important to identify a few key factors that will ultimately help you choose the right red dot for you.
This is an odd but important factor. Most modern miniature red dots are designed to work with handguns and feature top-loading batteries. Top-loading batteries are superior because you do not have to remove the optic to replace the battery.
Some optics have a cover that you remove via a tool, while others hold the battery on a sliding tray that you pull out and push in. Either system is very dependable.
On units with bottom-loading batteries, you’ll need to remove the optic, replace the battery, and then reattach. This includes the need to re-lock the system to ensure the zero is still present and valid.
Attaching an optic to your gun is another challenge you may need to overcome. Fortunately, there is a multiple ways to solve the problem.
1. Companies like Glock, S&W, and FN all include optics-ready models.
Some cut for specific optics, while others, like the MOS Glock, have multiple plates to accommodate a dozen different red dots.
Different optics have different footprints, and this relates to their size and screw pattern. You may need to have your slide milled to fit specific optics.
2. Some optics produce mounting systems that will replace your rear sight with a plate that the optic attaches to. I know Burris and SIG specifically produce systems for this method of attachment.
3. There are also optics designed to mount onto a Picatinny rail, something traditionally used on rifles and shotguns. Some handguns, specifically 22 LR sporting pistols, will feature a rail across the top of the gun.
This makes it very easy to mount miniature, compact, and even full-sized red dots to one of these pistols.
4. A fourth mounting system that seems to be popular with competition guns involves attaching a scope mount to a forward Picatinny rail and setting the optic above the slide.
The ALG 6 second mount is the most common of these mounts. This makes a bulky package but works, and you can mount red dot dots of all sizes.
Lots can be said about an optic’s dot size. Red dot reticles are measured in minute of angle (MOA).
Your dot size is critical because the larger the dot, the faster you’ll be able to pick up the dot with your eye. The counter to that is the smaller the dot, the more of your target you can see.
Your dot size will depend on how you intend to use your handgun, as well as how far away you plan on shooting. Dot size is a major consideration, and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
You may need a 3-MOA dot to hit very small targets with ease, or you may want a 6-MOA dot to hit larger targets faster.
Adjustable Brightness Method
Adjustable intensity is a must-have on any red dot or electrical optic in general. With miniature red dots, there are typically two means to adjust the reticle’s brightness level, one by manually pressing a button and the other through automatic adjustment.
Some optics may have a mix of the two as systems and allow you to swap between each setup. The automatic adjustment systems have made leaps and bounds in terms of adjusting quickly and efficiently.
Manual modes are still more reliable if you want to be able to draw your gun and get it on target as rapidly as possible.
Depending on your handgun, you may have a different idea of the type of red dot you want to mount to it. While some may picture teeny tiny optics on duty guns, others may be picturing larger red dots on hunting pistols.
Neither is wrong. Heck, some people may want a big optic on their duty pistol. I’m not here to judge—I’m here to inform.
Miniature red dots are the smallest red dots on the market, and they often have a square or rectangular viewing window and weigh next to nothing.
These are most commonly found on duty- and defensive-edged pistols. They will require a rear sight mount, milling into the slide, or a replacement of the rear sight.
Compact red dots are often the smallest rounded red dots, with an example being the Aimpoint H1. These red dots offer a wider field of view and much longer battery life. We are talking batteries that will last years and years.
Some companies have milled slides or dovetail sight replacements to fit these optics, but they seem to be more common on pistols with a Picatinny rails integrated into their design.
Some large revolvers and full sized 22 LR sport pistols will have these rails. Additionally, these are also a common choice with ALG 6 second mounts.
Standard or full-size red dots, like the Eotech series or the Aimpoint Pro, are traditionally designed for long guns and are rarely used on pistols.
When used on pistols they are only used on guns with integral rails or ALG-style mounts. These optics are too large to mount to slides.
These are uncommon to see on handguns, and I know that if I say never, someone will show me an example. In person, I have seen Eotechs on S&W 500 and 460 revolvers, and they seem to work for that purpose.
The Red Dot’s Intended Purpose
The red dot’s intended purpose is the most important factor in choosing a red dot. This consideration will help generate a list of features you’ll need as well as your expected budget.
Red dots have a few common uses and these include:
Defensive use is the most demanding of uses. If you need a red dot for a defensive pistol, you should purchase the best model possible.
Defensive use red dots are an item you are betting your life on, so do not skimp when it comes to cost. A defensive red dot needs to be shock and water resistant, as well as bright and clear.
It needs to be quick and easy to use under pressure, and you should be able to leave it on at all times. Red dots designed for defensive firearms should have a larger dot than others. Six to eight MOA is quite common. The bigger the dot, the faster it is to get on target.
Speed is critical in defensive gun use, and the faster you can place an accurate shot on target, the more likely you’ll be to survive.
Competition red dots share a number of features with defensive red dots, including a big reticle. Modern handgun competition does place heavy consideration on speed.
Red dots designed for competition use should be reliable and easy to use, but there is less stress on these optics.
You do not need one designed for duty or defensive use and can spend considerably less on one of these dots price-wise. Your life is not on the line, so you don’t need an optic designed for war.
In comp use, you may even want the optic with a bigger window since size is rarely an issue in competition.
Red dots designed for hunting on handguns will need to be water resistant due to the elements of nature, and you’ll likely want a durable and strong optic rated for your caliber.
If you are hunting medium game with a powerful magnum cartridge, you need to ensure your red dot can withstand that kind of recoil.
Many cheaper models are not designed for heavy recoil and may break or lose zero from high recoil shots. If you are hunting with powerful weapons, you’ll need a more expensive and better-made red dot sight.
If you are hunting small game with something like a 22 LR pistol, you can choose a very affordable optic because this caliber does not have much recoil.
Hunters will likely prefer an optics with a smaller reticle, typically 5-MOA and below. This fine dot will make it very easy to shoot at a distance while seeing what you are shooting.
I’d also suggest a manually adjusted intensity option. This allows you to set the optic’s brightness, and this may be critical if you are in a bright area and your prey is in a darkened environment.
If you just want to have fun, then you can go with any red dot at any price you want. Obviously going super cheap is going to result in a dot that may break or wear out quickly. However, with plinking, there are no particular demands.
Red Dots Rule
I firmly believe the future of handguns will involve the presence of red dots of some kind. They complement the role of the handgun very well, and we are currently seeing adoption across the board by all major manufacturers.
The United States military recently adopted M18/17 guns that are SIG Sauer P320s, and they are all milled for a red dot. Border Patrol just adopted optics-ready Glocks to replace their aging HKs.
The handgun red dot is here to stay, and it won’t be long before police and military units around the world are tossing red dots on handguns. Red dots can be pricey investments, but they’ll make you shoot faster and further than irons and are worth the money.
If you want to look beyond miniature red-dots, check our picks for: