The modularity of the AR-15 makes it the most customizable rifle in the United States. You can add nearly anything you want to this gun, from grenade launchers to cup holders. One of the most common, and most useful, additions is an optic.
Adding a rifle scope or red dot sight is a drastic improvement to any AR 15 rifle. In fact, it would likely be the first upgrade I'd suggest to new AR 15 owners. The addition of a quality optic that works for your rifle and your end goal is a must-have.
How do you find a quality optic that will match your mission or end goal? Well, that’s why you’re here. If you're just looking for recommendations, you can find those below.
SIG Romeo 5
SIG Romeo 5
Aimpoint Comp M4
Aimpoint Comp M4
SIG Sauer Tango6
SIG Sauer Tango6
Primary Arms SLx
Primary Arms SLx
Vortex Optics Razor HD
Vortex Optics Razor HD
Vortex Optics Spitfire
Vortex Optics Spitfire
Let's talk about why these optics are so effective, and then we'll guide you through choosing the best scope for your AR-15.
What Does an AR-15 Optic Do for You?
Why would you install an optic on your AR 15? What does it offer for you that the best iron sights for an AR-15 can’t? To be fair you can do a lot with standard sights, and with the right skills, you can engage man-sized targets out to 500 yards.
With an optic though, you can do this faster, more accurately, and more precisely than any set of irons. A variable optic most obviously gives you the ability to see your target at long distances. You can see, and shoot smaller targets out to 500 yards with relative ease.
Modern magnified optics make it easier to compensate for windage and elevation differences, as well as bullet drop.
What if you don't want to shoot that far away? What if you're going to stick to under 200 yards? Well, iron sights will work, but a red dot sight will work better. You’ll be faster, more precise and have less difficulty using your optic in low light conditions.
Dot sights allow you to take faster follow up shots, transition between targets faster, and they can be effectively used with night vision devices.
Regardless of the type of optic, it’s always quicker and easier to use a reticle than to line up iron sights. Reticles are also easier to focus on than standard sights. They can do a lot, and I believe every AR should have a set of irons as a backup option, but modern optics really are the way to go
They should be a backup because everything iron sights can do, can be done better with an optic. What an optic can't do is give you the skills and fundamentals needed to hit your target. You’ll still need to provide those.
Types of AR-15 Optics
We mentioned magnified and red dot optics for ar 15. These are the two main categories of optics out there. Their name pretty much says it all. A magnified optic allows you to have a magnified perspective of what’s in front of you.
A red dot is a non-magnified optic that uses a red dot reticle. The red dot is a generic name, as some dots are now green or amber. These optics are technically not ''red'', but get scooped into the same category.
Inside the Magnified and Red Dot categories are several subcategories. Let’s explore those briefly to give you an idea of some of the terms you’ll be seeing throughout this guide.
Magnified AR-15 Scopes
Magnified AR-15 scopes are commonly used for hunting, tactical, and competition purposes. If you’re building a 3-Gun rifle or a varmint blaster to take care of your local prairie dog problems, this is likely the route you want to go.
Magnified optics are generally broken down into two categories, variable, and fixed-power.
Variable-power optics are optics that have multiple magnifications. They are the most common AR-15 scope out there, and are used by hunters, soldiers, competitors, and plinkers. They are often very versatile and allow a rifle to be used effectively at a wide variety of ranges.
Variable optics are often larger and slightly more complicated in build design. Because there are so many out there, you’ll be able to find nearly any combination of magnification at almost any price.
Fixed-power rifle scopes are simple devices that usually offer low to moderate power magnification. These scopes are more compact, and often lighter in weight than a variable optic. They are also cheaper because they use a second focal plane reticle because you don’t get the benefits of a first focal plane reticle when there’s no variation in magnification.
Fixed power rifle scopes are a little more robust in design, but harder to find a wide variety of. Most are aimed at tactical use or hunting.
Red Dot/Holographic Sights
Red dots and holographic sights are fairly similar but work a little bit differently. There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
There is some debate if these optics count as red dots. They meet the necessary requirements, so we’ll include them as a subcategory. A holographic sight uses a laser transmission hologram of a reticle image broadcasted to holographic film.
These optics allow the user to have an optic similar in design to a red dot in terms of size and intended use, but a more diverse and versatile reticle. These reticles will often have multiple applications and can be used at different ranges.
Holographic sights are slightly preferable to red dots in most cases due to the fact that they project the image of the reticle over the target so as far as your eye is concerned, you only have to focus on one plane of your vision. With a traditional red dot, the dot is projected in front of the target, which means you have two planes to focus on.
Practically, this speeds up your target acquisition time with a holosight, and can help if you have astigmatism.
However, fancy lasers and holograms don’t come cheap, and most holosights are way more expensive than your average red dot. Also, despite what you might hear, they do not eliminate parallax. They do lessen it however.
Red Dot Sights
Red dot sights use a simpler LED light to project an aiming dot in front of your target, which gives you an easy place to aim. You do have to train with these a little more than you do with a holosight if you want to be super proficient with them, but they’re still much easier to use than iron sights (and faster).
There are also two types of red dots. First, there are tube-style prismatic sights like the Vortex Spitfire. These sights are like small, fixed-power scopes but offer no magnification and require fewer lenses.
Next, you have reflex sights. These often come with a square or rectangular window. These optics are super small and are perfect on small ARs. Many are small enough to be used on handguns as well
Miniature dot sights often fulfill the role of a backup optic when the AR is rocking a highly magnified optic. A miniature optic by itself can be a great design for close combat ARs as well.
Matching Optics to ARs: Picking the Best Scope for Your Gun
At the beginning of the article, we talked about matching your optic to your goal. This is critical for you to get the best bang for your buck. With all the AR-15s and optics out there, there isn’t a reason to compromise what you want.
Let’s take a look at the common uses for an AR 15 and the type of optics that fulfill the mission.
Home-Defense: A dot sight of any kind is perfect for the close quarter’s requirements of a home defense rifle or carbine
Hunting: Hunting is a dynamic sport, so a low powered best 1-6x scope or 3-9x is perfect here.
Special Purpose Rifle: Like hunting the tactical DMR/SPP rifle can be used in a wide variety of situations and a 2.5-10x is an excellent choice.
Duty Use: Depending on the environment a duty rifle may be best served with either a dot or a low powered optic. You probably want a fairly compact scope with low or no magnification on the bottom end if it’s variable, or a 2-4x magnification scope if it’s a fixed-power option.
Plinking/Fun: A just for fun gun can really have anything you want optics wise. I’ve found myself having the most fun with an affordable dot sight, but you’re the master of your own destiny here.
If you really want the over-sized 30x mil-dot reticle scope for long-range shooting or target shooting, this is where I’d put it, on a range toy.
Alright, with all that out of the way, let’s take a look at the list.
Best AR-15 Scopes and Optics We Reviewed
We’ve tested, used, and abused just about every AR-15 scope on the planet at this point, and we’ve gathered up our list of the best ones so you can choose the perfect option for your gun.
Remember, what works for me might suck for you, and I might hate whatever works for you. Choose the one that makes sense for your specific needs.
Let’s start with...
Best Red Dots and Holosights for the AR-15
Red dots and holosights are great for close-range applications like brush hunting, tactical use, home defense, and many rifle competitions like 3Gun. These are the best red dots out of the many, many options we tested.
11 Best AR-15 Scopes
1. SIG Romeo 5 - Our Favorite Overall
The SIG Romeo 5 is one of the best budget-friendly optics on the market. It’s lightweight, compact, and capable. The Romeo 5 is a simple design that incorporates some excellent and modern technology.
Part of this tech is the MOTAC (Motion Activated Illumination) that turns the device off when not in use, but turns on as soon as the weapon is moved. This keeps your optic always ready, but also expands your optic’s battery life.
Speaking of battery life, the Romeo 5 squeezes out 5000 hours from a single CR 2032 battery. The device has 8 daylight settings and 2-night vision modes. The optic has a 2 MOA dot that’s perfect for precise shots.
The Romeo 5 is completely waterproof and has an IPX-7 rating. This means it can be submerged up to 1 meter. It’s also a fog proof optic. It's designed specifically for the AR platform and sits high enough to co-witness with standard AR 15 iron sights.
The SIG optic is extremely easy to use. The controls are simple and intuitive. This is great as a plinking optic and wouldn’t be a bad choice for a home defense or duty optic for law-enforcement either.
It would even be at home in 3Gun if you’re running the same optic and rifle for both general use and competition.
Sig Sauer Romeo5
The price of Sig Sauer Romeo5 varies, so check the latest price at
2. Aimpoint PRO - Best Red Dot Overall
The Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic, or PRO, is a rugged and reliable dot scope that is perfect for home defense and duty use.
Compact and short-barreled AR 15s are all the rage right now. From AR pistols to short-barreled rifles, smaller has become better. As you shrink the barrel of a rifle you shrink its effective range and ballistic potential.
A smaller rifle is often smaller due to easier use in CQB, so you want a capable red dot optic.
Aimpoint designed the first red dot, and have only continued to perfect the concept. The PRO has 10 settings, 6 for daytime use, 4 for night vision use. The optic is powered by a single 3V lithium battery and will last a staggering 30,000 hours.
The Aimpoint PRO is waterproof up to 150 feet of water and designed to take a beating. Make no mistake about it, this is a go-to-war rifle optic. It will take whatever you toss at it and just keep going.
The Aimpoint Pro is compatible with Aimpoint magnifiers and comes equipped with an AR scope mount. Have confidence in the fact that whatever task you face, the Aimpoint will help you deal with it.
The price of Aimpoint PRO varies, so check the latest price at
3. Trijicon RMR - Best Mini Red Dot
The Trijicon RMR is the gold standard when it comes to miniature red dots. This was one of the first built with duty use in mind. This Trijicon RMR is designed for combat use and has been widely issued throughout the military.
This particular model is perfect for being mounted as a backup optic on an SPP/DMR. It does not replace your magnified optic, but it does give you a close range option should you find yourself at bad breath distance from your targets.
The dual illumination model is solar and battery powered so it's always capable of running. It’s equipped with a 13 MOA dot for close-quarters, and to be quick for the eye to pick up. There are dozens of different mount options out there that allow you to mount the optic directly to the larger optic, or at an offset angle with using an offset iron sight.
The RMR is the most rugged miniature dot sight out there, and it can be hit with dirt, water, dust and more and just keep kicking. When it comes to high stress, high-intensity close quarter’s shooting the RMR can be an absolute lifesaver.
This makes a great secondary optic on a 45-degree mount, or for mounting on top of a fixed-power optic like the ACOG above.
The price of Trijicon RMR varies, so check the latest price at
4. Aimpoint Comp M4
How do you choose just 1 optic as the best tactical red dot? Well, you look for years of proven performance, with a history of success, and combat experience. The Aimpoint Comp M4 is that optic.
It’s been in use by the US Army for almost the entirety of the Global War on Terror and proven itself as the premier dot optic. The Comp M4 is a full-sized red dot that’s compatible with night vision devices, magnifiers, and more. The optic is made entirely from 6000 series aluminum for a robust and dynamic rifle scope option.
The glass is optically ground instead of cast for superior clarity and long-lasting performance. The Comp M4 is fully multicoated for use in low light situations and to guarantee a crystal clear picture.
The optic lasts a staggering 80,000 hours on a single double A battery. This optic is also fully waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof. It comes with a QRP2 mount, which is a quick release design that’s built for AR height sights.
The Aimpoint Comp M4 is a well-made and proven choice, one that has been fighting a harsh war in harsh conditions for well over a decade now. It’s an optic you can truly trust your life to.
Aimpoint Comp M4
The price of Aimpoint Comp M4 varies, so check the latest price at
5. EoTech EXPS3 - Best Holographic Sight
Holographic sights are less common than red dots, but one company truly dominates the holographic optics market. Known as Eotech they set a standard yet to be reached by other optic's companies. From their box design to their reticle Eotech optics are unique and the EoTech EXPS3 might be their best offering yet.
These are designed at AR sight heights for co-witnessing and function extremely well on the AR design. They have a built-in mount and come in a variety of sizes. The EXPS3 holographic sight is a compact model. It uses a single CR 123 for a compact battery compartment.
The reticle is a 65 MOA ring with a stadia on the top, bottom, left and right sides of the circle. In the middle is a single 1 MOA dot. The reticle is designed for both medium and short range engagements.
At close range, the user fills the big ring with the target and lets lead fly. At extended ranges, between 50 and 200 yards, you use the centered single MOA dot. This makes both CQB and moderate distance shooting easy and intuitive.
EOTech optics are built like tanks too. The EXPS3 is small, but it’s a brick. It can take whatever abuse you can toss at it. The system can run between 600 to 1000 hours continuously depending on the quality of battery and the settings, and it works amazingly well with a flip-up magnifier.
The price of EoTech EXPS3 varies, so check the latest price at
Best Magnified Optics for the AR-15
Between fixed-power battle sights like the Trijicon ACOG, or competition-ready low-power variable optics like the Vortex Optics Strike Eagle, many shooters enjoy running magnified optics on their AR, especially for hunting.
6. SIG Sauer Tango6 1-6x24 - Best Tactical Scope For AR15
Choosing the best tactical scope was easy. In fact, the Army chose it for me. The Army just announced the adoption of the SIG Sauer Tango6 1-6x24. The Tango6 is a 1-6x power variable scope that’s lightweight and compact. It’s the perfect candidate for any standard rifle length AR-15.
The Tango6 is a professional-grade optic that is packed full of tactical features. This includes tactical turrets for easy fingertip adjustable adjustments to make those field necessary changes. The turrets are all and easy to reach, as well as heavily textured for a sure grip when wearing gloves.
At the 1x setting you have an effective CQB optic for busting through doors, or more likely for killing it in 3-Gun. Dialing up the magnification gives you a more effective overall scope for those long range or precision shots.
The Tango6 has an illuminated reticle that utilizes the MOTAC system to preserve the battery while providing an always ready option. It features crystal clear extra-low dispersion glass, as well as high transmittance glass for use in low light shooting. The sight picture is to die for, and you’ll have more than you can handle with this bad boy.
SIG Sauer Tango
The price of SIG Sauer Tango varies, so check the latest price at
7. Primary Arms SLx 1-6x24mm - Best Budget LPVO
Low-powered variable optics absolutely rule, and the Primary Arms brand is some of the best out there. These variable optics are designed to give you the versatility of both a magnified optic and a red dot scope.
The Primary Arms SLx 1-6x is an affordable, but high-quality rifle scope that Primary Arms have designed to be their flagship LPVO. This optic is outfitted with the Primary Arms ACSS reticle, which is designed for both the 5.56 and 308 calibers. It features drop points out to 800 yards.
It's a short and lightweight scope that’s perfect for modern semi-auto rifles and does a good job of being tough, as light as it is. The scope is IP67-rated for water resistance and it’s shock- and fog-proof as well. The SLx is made from 6063 aluminum and comes with a tough flat matte black anodized finish.
The Primary Arms SLx comes with a lifetime warranty and is ridiculously affordable.
The SLx also has an illuminated reticle, with 11 different brightness settings, and at the 1X setting, it works as a quick response option, much like a red dot. The reticle becomes handier once you zoom out and get on target, but it still has generous eye relief and fast target acquisition on the low-end for those close-in shots.
Primary Arms SLx
The price of Primary Arms SLx varies, so check the latest price at
8. Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen II 1-8x24mm - Best LPVO Scope
If you’re after the absolute best variable power AR scope, then the Vortex Razor HD Gen II is the one you’re looking for.
Though expensive, this 1-8x scope is well worth the money. The glass is crystal clear at all magnifications, and the magnification range is just about perfect for the AR-15 unless you’re running some of the niche long-range calibers like .224 Valk.
For inside 600 yards, this optic is perfect. It also fits really well on top of a standard AR-15 receiver with it’s smaller overall footprint and objective lens.
The low-profile locking illumination knob has off settings between each brightness level so you will never be more than one click away from turning the optic off, or flicking it back on to your previously-chosen brightness level.
The glass is also absolutely superb and is fully-multicoated with Vortex’s XR+ anti-reflective coating that aids light transmission and cuts down on glare. Zeroing is quick and easy with the resettable turrets, and you have multiple BDC reticle options so your elevation holds will be spot on as long as you know your ammo.
Finally, you get Vortex’s excellent lifetime warranty and stellar customer support, so even if you do manage to damage the one-piece aircraft-grade aluminum tube, you’re still in good shape.
Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen II
The price of Vortex Optics Razor HD Gen II varies, so check the latest price at
9. Leupold VX-Freedom - Best Hunting Scope For AR-15
Leupold’s VX-Freedom line is a favorite with hunters, so it’s probably not a surprise to see the Leupold VX Freedom 3-9x40 here taking the top spot out of the hunting optics.
If you’re looking to hunt game with your AR, then this is the best option around. The Twilight Light Management lens coating that comes standard on the Freedom line gives you extra shooting time in the stand late in the afternoon and early in the morning, and cuts glare when it’s sunny out.
You also get some added scratch-resistance thanks to this coating. The 1” aircraft-grade aluminum tube is also o-ring sealed and nitrogen purged and is 100% waterproof, fogproof, and shockproof.
Leupold also beats the living hell out of all their scopes during their testing, so it should come as no surprise that this thing is basically a tank.
The price of Leupold VX-Freedom varies, so check the latest price at
10. Vortex Optics Spitfire - Best 3x AR-15 Sight
The Vortex Spitfire 3x is a prism scope that is designed to take a lickin’ and keep on kickin’. In technical terms, this is a waterproof, shockproof, fogproof, and damn-near idiot-proof optic.
It has just enough magnification to reach out and touch something, while still giving you a wide enough field of view to work well in close-in shooting situations. Sighting and zeroing are easy thanks to the simple adjustments so you’ll be able to get up and running quickly.
Instead of a traditional crosshair, you get more of a red dot-style reticle that is etched directly on the prism of the scope to ensure it stays extremely accurate and centered no matter how much abuse the optic takes.
You also get five levels of illumination and red or green reticle options, several of which work well with night vision.
Overall, it’s a very compact optical system that gives you good flexibility no matter what you’re doing with your AR. If you’re going for a multi-purpose build, this is a great option to top your rifle with.
Vortex Optics Spitfire
The price of Vortex Optics Spitfire varies, so check the latest price at
11. Trijicon ACOG - Best Combat Optic
If you told me “You're going to a fight right now,” and I could choose one optic for my rifle it would be the Trijicon ACOG 4x32mm. Why?
Because I went to war with one and it never stopped kicking ass. The Trijicon ACOG is a fixed power rifle scope that comes in a variety of different magnifications. My magnification of choice is 4x.
It provides both close range and medium range performance. It’s remarkably simple to have man-sized target acquisitions at 500 yards. The built-in BDC reticle is simple to use and comes complete with a range finding capability.
The hash marks that are used for different ranges are all scaled to the average man’s shoulder width. So if you place the 300-yard reticle on a man’s shoulders and it matches he is roughly 300 yards away.
This is a combat optic through and through. It will take a massive amount of abuse and never stop working. The illuminated reticle is powered by a combination of tritium and fiber optics for battery-free illumination.
The scope is designed around the AR family of rifles and is both lightweight and compact. Not to mention it’s foolproof and in use around the world due to its dependability and robust nature. Nothing short of a bomb stops an ACOG.
The price of Trijicon ACOG varies, so check the latest price at
A modern AR-15 has that flat top for a reason. Rifles are expected to wear optics. Every modern army and police force around the world issues an optic with their rifles. This single upgrade can make a world of difference in how your rifle handles, and how you perform.
An optic doesn’t replace skill but accentuates it. The right optic will give a much-loved edge in combat, at the range, in competition, and of course inside the home. If you’re on the fence about adding an optic it’s time to admit the platform is best served with quality and mission specific optics.
When it comes time to pick one in particular though, only you can make that decision. Hopefully now you have everything you need to choose the best optic for your specific needs.
Which of these AR scopes and red dots do you like the best? Is there a particular one that might find a home on your gun anytime soon? Let us know in the comments below!