Skip to main content

Offset Iron Sights vs. Red Dot: Which is Best?

There are many great primary AR sights, but backup sights are always a good idea, and offset is a popular option. However, should you go with offset iron sights or an offset red dot?

Offset Iron Sights vs. Red Dot: Which is Best?

Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases.

Sighting systems for AR-15s have matured in the last few years. The number of options is mindboggling, but they can be narrowed down significantly. That still leaves many different products to choose. Notice, however, that red-dot sights feature prominently in all of these, and they show up in the last three as a secondary sight, either mounted on top of a primary optic or offset. The latter is a more common setup that takes advantage of the AR platform’s straight stock. Since the buttstock lines up with the barrel axis, rotating the rifle by about 45 degrees counterclockwise (for a right-handed shooter) makes for a rapid transition between a conventional sight and an offset one. How exactly you use offset sights comes down to preference and training. Some use them as the default close-range optic. Others treat them as a truly secondary sight. It all works fine if you train. What is often overlooked is red-dot sights are not the only offset game in town.

Offset sights exist for one reason: speed at close range in all lighting conditions. The first offset sights were irons, but they were essentially normal AR sights mounted at an angle. They worked and got out of the way of the primary optic. However, the adjustments and apertures, while helpful for accuracy, are not ideal for speed, especially in low light. Red-dot sights quickly took over by offering a much simpler sight picture. That satisfied the speed requirements and added a second independent aiming device in case the primary fails. As good as red-dot sights are, they also have drawbacks. They depend on batteries for power. They often do not play well with eye astigmatism. Lastly, since they stick out to the side, they tend to get bumped against barricades, door frames, etc. They are durable but still a risk. This last problem is what drove me to look for lower-profile offset sight options, eventually leading me to XS Sights’ XTI2 offset irons. They have since become my default option on rifles when I want to stay away from batteries. Unlike nearly every other offset iron sight, these are seriously fast. The sight picture is based on classic express sights where a large and exceedingly visible front sight sits in an open, shallow “V” of a rear sight. This type of a sight picture is often the default choice on dangerous-game rifles in thick brush, and I can see why.

offset-irons-red-dot-which-is-best-02
In dim lighting, XS’ tritium offset sights stand out better than traditional irons.

With a little training, it is seriously fast while maintaining a lower profile than a typical red dot. XS offers a few different options: an orange luminescent dot, bright white dots in several sizes, and tritium options. They all seem to work well and stay zeroed. There is nothing to adjust on the fly or unfold or deploy. Rotate the rifle until you see a large dot superimposed on the target and pull the trigger. I was originally concerned that I would end up with vertical stringing due to the front dot not always indexing the same away in the shallow and wide-open rear sight. That has not been the case. The point-of-impact consistency has been reassuring. Most critically, that consistency extends into low-light scenarios. Traditionally, a tritium-powered setup would be preferred for low-light use, but I prefer the large, orange dot that XS offers, although I have both on different rifles. In pitch black, tritium is more visible, but if I can’t identify the target, sight visibility does no good. During the day or at night when using a flashlight, that orange dot sticks out against nearly any background. Whatever coating they use has some photoluminescence. In the presence of the sun, there is some extra glow that helps it stand out. Is it a solution to all sighting problems? Certainly not. I use both red-dot sights and XTI offset irons, depending on the application. Where I am particularly worried about durability, I stick with XTI sights. Steel sighting apertures in aluminum bases make for a rugged setup. I am not proud of it, but I have even used them as makeshift barricade stops, and zero never shifted. Fundamentally, they are a tool designed for a purpose: speed and simplicity on close-range targets without batteries. For that purpose, they are the best set of irons I have seen yet.




GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
Guns

Browning X-Bolt Mountain Pro

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
Guns

Taurus TX 22 Competition

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
Gear

Federal FireStick Precharged Loads

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
Gear

Remington Core-Lokt Tipped

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
Guns

Walther PDP

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
Learn

Hodgdon Shooting Powder

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
News

A World Record Attempt: Practice Round and Media Day

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
Learn

How to Aim with Iron Sights

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
News

Interview with Israeli Defense Forces, Part 1

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
Guns

Custom Mossberg 500 at the Range and Live Turkey!?

Learn the difference between revolvers and semi-auto pistols and what makes them different. Learn more here: http://bit....
Learn

SHOOT 101: Know Your Handgun Types

Shooting Times Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Shooting Times App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Shooting Times stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now