7 Best Pistol Red Dots [2021 Review and Tips] Home / Pistol Anatomy / Sights / Red Dot Sights

7 Best Pistol Red Dots [2021 Review and Tips]

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / August 12 2021

Trijicon RMR mounted on a Glock 34

Red dot sights are popular on rifles, and they're growing more popular with pistols.

Are they right for you?

We'll cover the pros and cons of pistol red dots, how to tell which red dot is best, whether pistol red dots are worth it, and the basics of getting started with a red dot. We'll feature real-world incidents, opinions from top firearms instructors, and real data from competition and experiments.

On this Page:

  1. Pistol Red Dot Pros and Cons
  2. What Makes a Good Pistol Red Dot?
  3. How to Use a Pistol Red Dot Sight
  4. Are Pistol Red Dot Sights Worth It?
  5. 7 Best Pistol Red Dots

Pistol Red Dot Pros and Cons

Pros

With a red dot, you can focus on your target while aiming. All you need is to see the target and the dot through the dot's window, and the dot will tell you where you'll hit.

Also, looking through a red dot compared to iron sights is like looking at a big screen TV instead of a phone: it's much easier to see your target and where your sights are on it.

  • Precise shooting. Long-range shots and precise shots are much easier.
    Police sometimes need that:
  • Overcoming poor eyesight. Cross-eye dominant? Older shooter? No problem.
  • Low-light shooting. A red dot is better than the best night sights in the dark.
  • Threat focus in self-defense. In a life-or-death struggle, our instincts force us to focus on the threat. Red dots work with these instincts instead of against them.
  • Situational awareness. Since you can focus on your target(s) instead of the front sight, you can quickly adapt to changes in the environment. This isn't a big deal on the range. But in a fight for your life? It's gold.
  • Shooting on the move. More situational awareness means you can move and engage targets faster and easier while moving. Again, not a thing you notice on the range, but you will when the targets shoot back.
  • Shooting moving targets. In a real gunfight, people move. As long as you can keep the dot in the window, it's easy to hit moving targets with a red dot.

Cons
  • Cost ($350+). A tough dot costs at least $250. A mount costs at least $100.
  • Needs suppressor-height iron sights ($100+) if you want irons as a backup.
  • Learning curve (3+ hours). It's mostly learning how to see the dot fast.
  • Not for pocket pistols. If you mount a red dot on a pocket pistol, it'll be too tall to fit in most pockets, and present a snagging hazard.
  • Maintenance. Battery replacements and cleaning cost more time and money.
  • Weapon light compatibility. When shooting in low-light with a weapon-mounted light (WML), the dot can wash out unless it's turned to max brightness. Some dots have an automatic mode, but it sometimes doesn't work right.
  • Can't be a ninja. When in the dark, a red dot on max brightness lights you up, too.

What Makes a Good Pistol Red Dot?

  • Tough. It must stay accurate and work after falling at least 5 ft. on concrete.
  • Long battery life (2+ years) reduces maintenance costs.
  • Top or side-loading battery so you don't have to dismount the red dot to change the battery.
  • Big window size makes a dot easier to learn and use.
    Wider makes faster target transitions (switching from one target to another, or tracking a moving target).
    Taller makes faster follow up shots, as you're less likely to lose sight of the dot on recoil. Reducing recoil can also help.
  • Large ring around the dot makes a dot easier to learn and use.
  • Lightweight, (2 oz. or less) so it doesn't affect your slide weight and recoil.

What MOA for Pistol Red Dot?

For a pistol red dot, 3 or 6 MOA are the most common dot sizes.

3 MOA

  • More precise for long-range shots.
  • More info on what you're aiming at, since the dot covers less of the window.
  • Better for dots with a larger dot mode, like Holosun red dots.
  • Harder to find the dot if you're new to red dots, or if it doesn't have a larger dot mode.

6 MOA

  • Easier for beginners to find the dot, if the red dot has no other dot modes.
  • Better for close-range shots.
  • Tougher long-range shots.

Overall, the best of both worlds is a 2-3 MOA dot with another mode for close-range shots (Holosun has a 32 MOA ring mode):

The ring on the Holosun can be turned off, so you can use it until you can find the 2 MOA dot quickly.


How to Use a Pistol Red Dot Sight

Finding the Dot Faster

It's going to take a lot of practice. Some things to keep in mind:
  • You can do most of this practice with a dry (unloaded) pistol.
  • To first find the dot, bring your pistol close to your face. Line up the pistol's back plate (or hammer) with the tip of your nose. You should be able to see the dot. Press out the pistol slowly, keeping the dot in the window.
  • Focus on your pistol presentation from ready. Get it on-target ASAP, so if you shot part-way through your presentation, you'd still hit the target.
  • When you present the pistol, keep your head still. Let the pistol's sight come up to your eye. With fewer moving parts, it's easier to get a consistent presentation.
  • To help you find the dot when you can't see it, try drawing a vertical line down the middle of the top of your red dot with a silver marker. Or, use a bright, narrow piece of tape to try it out. When you can see the line on top of your red dot, you'll know your sight is aimed too high.

Zeroing a Red Dot on Pistol

Point of aim is where your sights say you'll hit.
Point of impact is where you actually hit relative to where you aimed.
A target showing point of aim vs. point of impact.
Zeroing a sight means to set your point of aim equal to your point of impact at a specific distance. Since bullets travel in an arc, this affects your point of impact at all other distances.
Holdover is how you compensate with the sights so you hit where you intend.

If your eyesight is good, zero your dot for 25 yards. Otherwise, zero for 10 yards.

10 yard zero holdovers:
  • 5 yards: Aim 1 inch high.
  • 15 yards: 1/2 inch low.
  • 25 yards: 1 inch low.
  • 50 yards: 6 inches low.
25 yard zero holdovers:
  • 5 yards: Aim 1 inch high.
  • 10 yards: 3/4 inch high.
  • 15 yards: 1/2 inch high.
  • 50 yards: 1 inch low.
How do you zero your red dot? First, prepare for a range trip. You'll need:
  • At least 20 rounds of ammo (your defensive ammo, ideally)
  • Your pistol (with red dot installed)
  • A rest: a small sandbag, bag of rice, or bag of ammo.
  • Some Shoot N'C Targets (Check price @ Amazon )
    Birchwood Casey Shoot NC Targets for easily seeing where you hit
Next, the procedure:
  1. At the range, on the firing line, place a Shoot N'C target on your target.
  2. Place your target at the desired range.
  3. Adjust your red dot so it matches up with your front iron sight.
  4. Turn down your red dot's brightness as low as you can.
  5. Unload your pistol. Point it downrange and and do some dry fire trigger presses. Make sure the dot doesn't move when you press the trigger.
  6. Load your pistol. Take aim on the target, either with your usual firing grip, or resting the pistol's grip on your rest (sandbag, etc.).
  7. Fire on the target, ensuring the dot doesn't move during the trigger press.
  8. Repeat the previous step 2 more times, aiming at the exact same spot on the target each time.
  9. Note where the bullets hit the target.
  10. If there's a lot of variation, estimate the average point of impact.
  11. Put the pistol back on your rest, and line it up on the target like you did before.
  12. Without disturbing the pistol's alignment, dial the red dot's sight adjustment so that the dot covers where you actually hit the target (or the average point of impact, if there's a lot of variation).
    So if you aimed dead center of the target, fired, and hit 2" high and 4" right, move the dot so it would cover a spot on that target 2" high and 4" right of center.
  13. To verify, line up your aim on the rest and fire on the target again.
  14. If your last shot was way off, start over and have the best shooter at the range do the firing to make sure the dot doesn't move due to trigger press.

Are Pistol Red Dot Sights Worth It?

It depends. If you're using a pocket pistol, a laser sight is better.

If you haven't taken any training classes or competed at USPSA B class or above, a laser is probably better. Otherwise, it's a wash. For more info, see Red Dot vs. Laser: Head to Head.

For compact pistols and larger, it's complicated. Let's walk through some data to get a clearer picture.

USPSA Production vs. Carry Optics (2019)

Points and time on USPSA Carry Optics vs. Production classifiers (2019)
In competitive shooting, classifiers are short stages that test a few shooting skills at a time. Several classifiers are used together to rank a shooter (Grandmaster, Master, A class, B class, etc.) for competitions. Masters compete with Masters, and so on. Some examples:

In USPSA competitive pistol shooting, the Production division only allows pistols with minimal upgrades from the default. The new Carry Optics division is like its Production division, except:
  • Slide-mounted red dot sights are allowed.
  • There's no 10-round magazine limit.
How did Production shooters score vs. Carry Optics shooters? How much does a red dot sight help someone shooting a production pistol?

Key Takeaways
  • Assume the general public competes in USPSA D class (bottom 40%).
  • Both Production and Carry Optics divisions shot about the same speed.
    Ratio of time to complete a USPSA stage for Carry Optics vs. Production. There's no major difference across stages with few targets or lots of targets.

  • Carry optics shooters averaged 15% more accurate, making better hits.
    Ratio of time to complete a USPSA stage for Carry Optics vs. Production. There's an overall positive ratio for Carry Optics, and stages with fewer targets have more spikes in the ratio.

  • Most the gains from red dots were from B class shooters (top 60-79%) and up. In the chart below, the further a thin colored line is to the right of its thicker version, the more gains.
    Chart showing the gap between scores for Prodcution and Carry Optics shooters. The gaps only really show a positive for Carry Optics at B-class and higher ranks.
  • For B class or higher shooters, red dots offer 15-20% more accuracy.
  • Most of the red dot gains were from stages with shots over 10 yds., or head shots.

Red Dot in Force-on-Force (2017)

Miniaturized Red Dot Systems for Dut Handgun Use (2017)
This used force-on-force scenarios to test red dots vs. iron sights.

Key Takeaways
  • Those using a MRDS had significantly higher rates of using their sights.
    Graph of Red Dot vs. iron sight accuracy in force on force. Red dots had far fewer misses and more critical hits.

    A map of where hits occurred, below. The shaded areas show vital areas. Headshots can get an immediate stop, and shots to the heart can get a stop within 10 seconds.
    Hit map for red dots in force on force scenarios.
    Hit map for iron sights in force on force scenarios.

  • The MRDS had significantly lower rates of misses, and significantly higher rates of critical (vital) hits.
  • With a pistol, one must hit the head or heart to stop a threat fast. Otherwise, the threat can keep attacking if it chooses to.
  • The accuracy gains found in competitive shooting may be magnified in defensive use.
  • The methodology of this study isn't ideal, but it's the only data available for red dots vs. irons in self defense.

Red Dot in Timed Drills (2017)

Red Dot Study – Key Points (2017)
Conducted by Karl Rehn of KR Training. Participants were tested on timed firing drills at 5 and 10 yards. They were allowed 10 or fewer dry fire presentations per sight type before testing began.

Key Takeaways
  • Participants performed better with iron sights than red dots.
    Lasers (especially green lasers) were comparable to irons.
    Graph of red dot vs iron sight hit rates for timed firing drills at 5 yards. Graph of red dot vs iron sight hit rates for timed firing drills at 10 yards.

  • At very close range and with minimal practice or training, red dots performed much worse than other sight types.
  • This study highlights the need to train and practice with a red dot. It is not an easy shortcut to better shooting.
  • It also reveals an easy learning curve for lasers.

Comparative Pistol Project (2011)

Comparative Pistol Project (2011)
This took 27 students, split them up into an iron sight group and a red dot group, and tested them on various courses of fire:
  • Stage 1: untimed fire at 15 yds, 1 target, 10 shots total.
  • Stage 2: timed strings of 2 shots at 5 yds, 1 target, 20 shots total.
  • Stage 3: timed strings of 2 shots at 10 yds, 1 target, 10 shots total.
  • Stage 4: timed strings of 2 shots at 10 yds, 2 targets 2 yds apart, 12 shots total.
Key Takeaways
  • Both groups had about the same number of hits.
  • They were also about the same speed on the timed stages.
  • However, the red dot shooters had significantly better hits than iron sight shooters. Their hits were in vital areas instead of non-vital areas.
  • With pistols, shot placement is critical to stopping threats quickly.

Pistol Red Dot vs. Iron Sights: Final Verdict

  • For trained and competitive shooters, red dots usually gave better accuracy at the same speed as iron sights.
  • Accuracy with a pistol is key to stopping threats quickly.
  • Accuracy gains mainly came from training and practice.
  • A red dot and some training are valuable investments for self-defense. If you can only afford one, get the training.
  • If you have eyesight issues and can't use iron sights, a laser sight is good if you don't have training.

7 Best Pistol Red Dots

  1. Pistol Red Dot Selector
  2. Best Red Dot for a Pistol

Pistol Red Dot Selector

The best pistol red dot depends on your needs. Take out the guesswork and use our red dot selector:

I Need a Red Dot For...



Best Red Dot for a Pistol

The best red dot for your pistol depends on whether the red dot is compatible, your use (competition, concealed carry, or duty) and your price range.
  1. Best Budget Pistol Red Dot
  2. Best Pistol Red Dot for $250 - $339
  3. Best Pistol Red Dot for $340 - $399
  4. Best Pistol Red Dot for $400 or more

Best Budget Pistol Red Dot

This red dot is the best you can get on a budget while still being reliable. Cheaper red dots will tend to break on you, causing you to spend even more money.

Updated hourly

Vortex Venom
$249.99
$229.99
@ Palmetto State Armory
Compare Prices
Window Vortex Venom Window
0.64 x 1.04 in.
3 or 6 MOA dot
1.1 oz
Survived 2 shoulder-height drops on concrete, but failed on the 3rd.
6 days - 1 yr
Lifetime, second-hand or not.
Glock Gen5 MOS (any)
  • Most affordable red dot that is still reliable.
  • Large window size, for an easier learning curve.
  • Battery can be changed without needing to unmount the optic.
  • Great warranty.
  • Battery life is too short on highest setting.
  • Fits the fewest optics-ready pistols.
  • Any pistol NOT on the compatible pistols list needs a $40-50 separate mounting plate that raises the sight 3/16". The Holosun 507C might be a better choice.


Best Pistol Red Dot for 250 - $339

The Holosun HE507C v2 is an awesome optic for the money, with more than enough reliability for concealed carry. If you have the cash, upgrade to the HE508T for more ruggedness and a better warranty.

Updated hourly

Holosun HS507C x2
$309.99
$309.90
@ Brownells
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Holosun HE507C-GR x2
$339.99
$339.90
@ Brownells

Compare Prices

Window Holosun 508T Window
0.63 x 0.91 in.
2 MOA dot and/or 32 MOA circle
Holosun 508T Window
0.63 x 0.91 in.
2 MOA dot and/or 32 MOA circle
1.41 oz 1.41 oz
Stayed accurate and didn't shatter after 3 5-ft. drops onto concrete. Stayed accurate and didn't shatter after 3 5-ft. drops onto concrete.
5-10 years 5-10 years
Lifetime (housing), 5 years (window glass), & 3 Years (electronics). Registration required, first-hand purchase only. Lifetime (housing), 5 years (window glass), & 3 Years (electronics). Registration required, first-hand purchase only.
CZ P-10c, Glock 19 Gen5 MOS, Glock 34 Gen5 MOS, Canik TP9SFx, Canik TP9 Elite Combat CZ P-10c, Glock 19 Gen5 MOS, Glock 34 Gen5 MOS, Canik TP9SFx, Canik TP9 Elite Combat
  • Best value.
  • Best battery life.
  • Same mount as the Trijicon RMR. Any pistol that takes the RMR will take this sight.
  • Manual and auto brightness modes.
  • 3 target modes: dot, circle, or dot + circle. The circle can help with finding the dot on presentation.
  • Green dot easier to see.
  • Best battery life.
  • Same mount as the Trijicon RMR. Any pistol that takes the RMR will take this sight.
  • Manual and auto brightness modes.
  • 3 target modes: dot, circle, or dot + circle. The circle can help with finding the dot on presentation.

Best Pistol Red Dot for $340 - $399

The Holosun HE508T v2 is an awesome optic for the money, with reliability that rivals the more expensive Trijicon RMR. It's built for duty, while also offering a larger window, better battery life, a better reticle, and a better battery slot than the Trijicon RMR.

Updated hourly

Holosun HE508T x2
$369.90
@ Brownells
Compare Prices

Holosun HE508T-GR Elite x2
$399.99
$399.90
@ Brownells

Compare Prices

Window Holosun 508T Window
0.63 x 0.91 in.
2 MOA dot and/or 32 MOA circle
Holosun 508T Window
0.63 x 0.91 in.
2 MOA dot and/or 32 MOA circle
1.76 oz 1.76 oz
Stayed accurate and didn't shatter after 3 5-ft. drops onto concrete. Stayed accurate and didn't shatter after 3 5-ft. drops onto concrete.
5-10 years 5-10 years
Lifetime (window glass & housing). 10 Years (electronics). Registration required, first-hand purchase only. Lifetime (window glass & housing). 10 Years (electronics). Registration required, first-hand purchase only.
CZ P-10c, Glock 19 Gen5 MOS, Glock 34 Gen5 MOS, Canik TP9SFx, Canik TP9 Elite Combat CZ P-10c, Glock 19 Gen5 MOS, Glock 34 Gen5 MOS, Canik TP9SFx, Canik TP9 Elite Combat
  • Tougher than the Holosun 507C, and a better warranty.
  • Best value.
  • Best battery life.
  • Same mount as the Trijicon RMR. Any pistol that takes the RMR will take this sight.
  • Manual and auto brightness modes.
  • 3 target modes: dot, circle, or dot + circle. The circle can help with finding the dot on presentation.
  • Tougher than the Holosun 507C, and a better warranty.
  • Green dot easier to see.
  • Best battery life.
  • Same mount as the Trijicon RMR. Any pistol that takes the RMR will take this sight.
  • Manual and auto brightness modes.
  • 3 target modes: dot, circle, or dot + circle. The circle can help with finding the dot on presentation.

Best Pistol Red Dot for $400 or more

At this price range, the best red dot depends on your pistol. The Leupold DeltaPoint Pro is best for pistols that force you to choose between a rear iron sight and a red dot. Why? the DeltaPoint Pro can attach a rear iron sight to it, bypassing that choice. That said, the Deltapoint Pro isn't as rugged as other red dots. It's great for competition, and acceptable for concealed carry.

Otherwise, the Trijicon RMR Type 2 is the better choice if you value reliability over window size. It's made for duty.

Updated hourly

Leupold DeltaPoint Pro
$498.99
$399.99
@ GrabAGun
Compare Prices

Trijicon RMR Type 2
$609.99
$449.99
@ Palmetto State Armory
Compare Prices
Window Deltapoint Pro Window
0.68 x 1.01 in.
2.5 MOA dot
Trijicon RMR Window
0.62 x 0.86 in.
3.25 MOA dot
1.95 oz 1.2 oz
Stayed accurate and didn't shatter after 3 5-ft. drops onto concrete.
3-6 months 1-2 years
Lifetime, second-hand or not. 5 Years (electronics)
CZ P-10c, Glock 19 Gen5 MOS, Glock 34 Gen5 MOS, Sig P320 XCompact, Canik TP9SFx, Canik TP9 Elite Combat, Sig p320 X-Five, Sig p320 X-Five Legion CZ P-10c, Glock 19 Gen5 MOS, Glock 34 Gen5 MOS, Canik TP9SFx, Canik TP9 Elite Combat
  • Biggest window size, for the easiest learning curve.
  • Compatible with the most pistols.
  • Battery can be changed without needing to unmount the optic.
  • Can install a rear iron sight on the optic itself. Recommended for Sig p320 & Canik TP9 series.
  • Sits so high that most suppressor-height iron sights don't work.
  • Worst battery life.
  • Toughest.
  • Lightest.
  • Sits lowest on the pistol.
  • Button lockout, so your brightness doesn't change while carrying it.
  • Max brightness setting blooms and lights you up in the dark.
  • Must unmount optic to change batteries. Must adjust the optic each time, and may strip the screws.
  • Smallest window size, for the worst learning curve.
Disclaimer: I get a small commission on purchases through the price links above, at no extra cost to you. Pistol Wizard LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

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References

  1. Holosun 508T Gen 2 (2020)
  2. Holosun 508T (2019)
  3. Zeroing a Handgun Red Dot Sight (2019)
  4. Choosing a Handgun Optic Dot Size Revisited (2019)
  5. Points and time on USPSA Carry Optics vs. Production classifiers (2019)
  6. Carry optics and production HHF (2019)
  7. Making the Switch to Handgun RDS (2018)
  8. Leupold Deltapoint Pro (2018)
  9. Miniaturized Red Dot Systems for Dut Handgun Use (2017)
  10. Red Dot Study – Key Points (2017)
  11. Trijicon RMR Type 2 (2017)
  12. Natural RDS Dot Movement and Sight Picture (2017)
  13. How I Zero My Red Dot On My Pistol (2017)
  14. Can't Find The Red Dot When You Are Drawing? (2017)
  15. What dot are you using on your pistols? (2017)
  16. Which red dot sight has the largest window ? (2016)
  17. Developing Point of Aim with a RDS handgun optic (2016)
  18. Handgun Reflex Sight Use at Close Distances (2016)
  19. Point & Shoot Visible Laser Advantages Featuring the MAWL (2016)


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