For an AR15 you need a low magnification scope, red dot optics, or any option that has a magnification around the 1x – 5x range. These types of products provide the best mix of quick target acquisition and accuracy over long distances. As explain throughout this article, these types of optics work best for the AR15.
Special attention should be given to mounting hardware considering the variety of setups available. You also want to keep in mind the available accessories, including backup iron sights. This article will present the entire spectrum of optics available for your AR15.
If we have done our job well, by the end, you will have chosen the perfect optic for your needs. Or, at least, you will have a good idea of what to look for. The products we review have been chosen for their value based on budget, quality, and versatility.
- What Makes the Best Scope for an AR15
- How to Choose Between a Scope and Red Dot
- What to Consider when Buying a Scope for an AR15
- Best scope for AR15 - Comparison Table 2020
- Top 5 Best Scope For ar15 on the Market Reviews
- Best AR15 Red Dot Sights Compared
- Top 3 Backup Sights
- Top 3 Backup Sights
What Makes the Best Scope for an AR15
Red dots are fairly easy. Scopes are a little more complicated. So you may wonder what it takes for a scope to work with an AR15. Any power would work find. But, a scope with more moderate magnification would be better.
While the round is considered effective to about 500 yards, bullet drop at that range is nearly 10 feet. The AR15 does not do well over long distances. You only need magnification that provides accuracy up to 300 yards.
At the same time, you really don’t want to compromise your short range shooting. This is where the AR15 excels. With more magnification, shooting under 50 yards can be very challenging. Even finding your target at those ranges can be tough.
Therefore, the best magnification is probably around 3x – 5x. You could have a special reason your rifle that would benefit from higher magnification. However, if you use your AR15 in a tactical capacity or for home defense, more modest magnifications are best.
How to Choose Between a Scope and Red Dot
Since we are talking about low powered AR15 Tactical Optics, why not choose a red dot sight? This is a valid consideration. Many times, a red dot will be a better choice. There are some specific circumstances, however, where a scope has an advantage.
Red dots excel at fast target acquisition. There are no sights faster, but this comes with a downside. Red dots have a center dot that is usually at least 3 MOA. This means the size of the dot is actually 3” in size at 100 yards.
If you take this out farther, that size will grow in proportion to range. Add in the fact that the illuminated dot can have a halo effect, and you have obscuring issues. At 200 yards the 6” dot combined with its halo can obscure a 10-inch plate target.
If you plan on shooting much past 100 yards, a scope may be your best bet. It will slow you down. Still, the crosshair or other reticle pattern will likely improve your distance accuracy. Just know your speed will be less.
A 3x scope is still fast but will be marginally slower than iron sights. It will never compare to the speed you can get out of a red dot. We know this because of people's experiences in combat and on the range. Speed is the sole reason that most military and police units have adopted red dots as the standard.
What to Consider when Buying a Scope for an AR15
Scopes are a complicated piece of equipment. Luckily selection is not nearly as complicated as using one. There are a few points you should consider when choosing a scope. All features listed here ensure you purchase the appropriate optic for your rifle.
For ease, we will incorporate Red Dots into these features to allow a one on one comparison.
When it comes to magnification, the more you have, the slower you shoot at close range. You accuracy, however, CAN BE greater at range. There is no wrong answer when it comes to power. Let's break it into categories:
Unpowered – these scopes have no magnification. This is the exclusive territory of red dot sights. They could be called a 1x scope since they have only a 1x magnification. Red dots are fast but only assist in accuracy at close ranges.
Fixed Powered – Though it has become rarer, some scopes have a fixed level of magnification, say 3x. There is no adjustment, you are stuck at 3x. These tend to be more durable in their construction but are less versatile. You can find fixed power in some scopes or even rare red dot optics.
Variable 1x-3x – The most common magnification range on older scope. It is used by the military in Designated Marksman Scopes. This category has been slowly replaced. These are excellent scopes that do well up close. They can still get shots out to 500 yards with ease.
Variable 1x-4x – This is one of the options that has mostly replaced the 1x-3x scopes. It is an easy benefit to justify. You maintain close range speed but get a little more long-range accuracy. If you use a 1x-4x scope for an AR15, you probably have the perfect magnification for speed.
Variable 1x-5x – This is also a common magnification that has replaced those early 3x scopes. At this magnification, you can have some issues at close range but you will have better accuracy at longer ranges. It is a good compromise if you plan more shots at long range than short.
Other Variable Magnifications – There are dozens of variable powered options. Some as high as 14x-40x. They will not be ideal for an AR15 if they exceed more than about 10x. The only time other variable magnifications are handy is for varmint hunting with an AR15.
Any good red dot or scope will be an investment. You need to make your investments last. Getting a scope that can handle the repeated recoil and adverse conditions is essential.
Even though the AR15 is low on recoil, the weapon is often fired in quick succession. Your scope can take a beating from all the jostling. Opt for an optic that is shock resistant. Most any optic will be but it is worth a double-check.
At a minimum, your optic should be water resistant, if not waterproof. For hunting or home defense, it may have to endure a variety of weather conditions. Plan your purchase based on use, but always consider a waterproof product.
Depending on the range you shoot, you may want a reticle that lends itself to distance. Drop compensation is a good idea with an AR15 past 200 yards or so. At 500 it is necessary.
The middle ground between the standard crosshair and a full BDC reticle is the Duplex. It has a change in line thickness that can be used as a form of BDC. Mostly, the Duplex makes the crosshairs easier to see in low light. The thicker lines help you find the crosshair, while the thinner lines help with tracking small targets.
Even a red dot can have some variety in its reticle or dot patterns. Variation is usually reserved for hollow sights that come with a selection of reticles. The dot is the most common. Many people also prefer a chevron or even the donut. Reticle is a personal choice that should be kept in mind.
With red dots, you should also consider the size of the reticle. This will be measured in MOA. 3 MOA is the most common. It is a good compromise. Anything smaller can be hard to see. Those much larger can obscure targets. A good range is between 3 and 5 MOA.
Battery Type & Life
Though you may associate this with red dots, battery life can be a concern on scopes with illuminated reticles. Battery life is an important consideration. No one wants their scope to become inoperable when they need it.
Battery type is often coin cell batteries. Modern lithium batteries or even standard AA or AAA batteries are becoming more popular. These options vary in battery life. More importantly, some of these batteries are expensive or hard to find. The only thing worse than a dead battery is not being able to find one to replace it.
Battery life can vary greatly with red dots and scopes. Even the worst tend to have battery life with hundreds of hours. Many will stretch into the thousands. You can even find some products with tens of thousands of hours. There is no simple answer as to what a good minimum battery life. Instead, gauge your use and decide if a particular optic has enough life to make it a reasonable choice.
Best scope for AR15 - Comparison Table 2020
Water, fog, shockproof
Water, fog, shockproof
Water, fog, shockproof
Water, fog, shockproof
Water, fog, shockproof
Top 5 Best Scope For ar15 on the Market Reviews
1 Leupold VX-R
If you are looking for the best of the best, Leupold is going to be hard to beat. They have been in the optics game for generations and know what they are about. Their reputation is near perfect, their quality unmatched, and their durability some of the best in the world.
Made of aircraft aluminum, this scope does just about everything well. With its 1.25-4x magnification, you get great closeup speed combined. Speed combines with enough magnification to get your shots out to 400+ yards with relative ease. At the lowest setting, it is hard to even tell there is magnification.
With quality glass that is second to none and fully multicoated for added vibrancy and contrast, this is all around an amazing optic. The lenses are some of the best on the market. They work very well with the illuminated reticle. The FireDot reticle is Leupold’s own duplex reticle that is ideal for distances that don't need a full BDC.
The 30mm main tube is sealed and purged to keep the internals free from fog. Combined with water and shock proofing, there is nothing about this scope that is second rate. It is made for the tactical shooter and hunter and will perform anywhere.
Leupold is synonymous with amazing scopes. This product is among the best made anywhere at a great price. It will be a great hunting scope for AR15 enthusiasts. Of course, it will work for most needs in the tactical realm too.
2 Vortex Optics Diamondback
Vortex has taken the scope market by absolute storm over the last few years. You could probably populate a list of the best scopes with only Vortex Optics. If you haven’t had a chance to see one of these in person, you really need to. They are top notch.
If you want an amazing budget scope for AR15s or any other rifle, Vortex is the answer. This is easily the best AR15 scope under 300 bucks. While you are at it, this is also the best AR15 scope under 200 bucks. It can’t get much better than that.
The optical quality of the Diamondback is phenomenal. The low dispersion glass that has a full multicoat treatment. Even in low light, you get a bright and crisp image that makes target identification easy. This actually makes it about the best scope for coyote hunting expeditions.
On top of that, the Diamondback is tough as hell. It is fully water, fog, and shockproof for rough use in any environment. Even full submersion won’t cause an issue. It is completely sealed and purged for an inert atmosphere inside the 1” tube.
With its Dead-Hold BDC reticle, which is a modified duplex reticle, you can get some ranging out of this scope. It maxes at 5x, which could come in handy. When it comes to AR15 scopes, Vortex has nailed it. This is easily one of the top contenders on the market.
ACSS stands for Advanced Combined Sighting System. This scope does exactly what it says. The reticle is tuned to work with the 5.56 round of the AR15. It can also perform on a 5.45x39 and .308 Winchester. Combine this with a cantilever mount, and you have an optic that can serve multiple roles.
If you are looking for a scope for AR 15 deer hunting, this is the best all-around option. It doesn't matter whether you use the AR15 or step it up to a .308. The glass is quite good. The full multicoating makes it even better. Combined with a max 6x magnification, you can get plenty of range for any hunting or shooting.
This is about the perfect scope for those who want a decent short range rifle that can take the occasional long range shot. Gauging bullet drop is simple and quite accurate. The illuminated reticle makes this easy to use. It has multiple settings from low light to the brightest noonday sun.
Made of rock solid 6063 aluminum for maximum toughness, you would have to try to break this scope. It is fully water and fog proof. It also has a sealed and nitrogen purged 30mm tube. Therefore, you will never struggle to use it in harsh environments. It is also shockproof for those days when you just want to unload a bunch of ammo. It will always hold its zero.
It even comes with a lifetime warranty. The warranty covers almost anything that could happen to this scope short of intentional breakage. If you mess it up or they messed it up, you will get a free scope. What more could you ask for than a company that stands by its products?
Weaver is one of those companies that have been overshadowed by newer technology. They have made scopes for years that have been used by both military and police forces. Their reduction in popularity is really a shame. Weaver produces high-quality scopes. It has even preserved its reputation though it is now owned by Bushnell.
The V-3 is one of those classic patrol optics in a 1-3x magnification that will work for anyone. The low profile makes this a good scope for an AR15 with carry handle mounts. The more than generous eye relief keeps your head in a perfect position.
The glass is super clear from edge to edge. It uses one of the oldest and most trusted multicoat technologies in the world. They have even coated the glass exteriors to prevent scratches and damage. Its glass combines well with the ruggedness of the overall scope.
Other features that make this hard-coat aluminum scope a truly rugged option include its full water and fog proofing It is also purged and sealed with bedded lenses that make it fully shockproof. This is true gem of a scope that will perform any task.
From long range to short range, the transition is easy. You may not be able to make the farthest shots, but you can hit targets to 300 yards or more with little issue. The Dual-X duplex reticle works well for these ranges well, which makes it a great go-to tactical scope.
Of course, we can’t leave out Bushnell. They are one of the most recognized brands on the market for good reason. They have been producing excellent scopes on a budget for decades. This is one in a long line of good scopes for reasonable prices.
If you need an AR 15 scope under 100 bucks, the Banner is the go-to. With a reasonable 1.5-4x magnification and good quality glass, you will have no complaints. It also benefits from a multicoat specifically formulated to give better visibility in low-light conditions.
These scopes are really purpose-made for hunts from dawn to dusk. It will also function perfectly well in the rain or any bad weather. It has a water and fog proof design. Any abuse you want to dish out, it should shrug off.
The Multi-X reticle is a modified duplex that works well at reasonable ranges. The Banner has no BDC if you are looking at maxing out the 5.56 round. It was never designed to do that. What it was designed for was putting you right on target out to 300-400 yards. It achieves this goal without sacrificing short range shots.
With a fast focus eyepiece and easy adjustment knobs, the user was definitely considered in this scope's design. Everything about it caters to the hunter and shooter. If money is tight, this is among the best scopes you can get!
Best AR15 Red Dot Sights Compared
CR2032 / 5000 Hours
Dot - Red
Water, fog, shockproof
CR2032 / 1000 Hours
Dot - Red
Water, fog, shockproof
CR2032 / 3000 Hours
Dot - Red
Water, fog, shockproof
1 Vortex Optics Sparc 2
If you want the best red dot scope for an AR15, you need look no further than Vortex. One of two models they offer, the Spark is the most advanced and lightweight. It is built to the exacting specifications of any Vortex optic and is of the highest quality.
The Sparc is one of the most popular red dots on the market right now. There is an excellent reason for its popularity. The optic uses the multicoat technology usually found on the highest powered scopes. This technology prevents glare and reflectivity, which ensures a quality image every time.
With ten brightness settings, this optic is simple to use and easily visible no matter the conditions. The battery life ranges from 300 hours at the highest setting to 5000 hours at the lowerest. You can rest assured that your rifle is ready when you are.
This sight will cowitness if you are after a scope for an AR15 with fixed front sights. It is even night vision compatible if you are going high-tech. With a full lifetime warranty to boot, this is the best red dot deal anywhere. Guaranteed.
2 Primary Arms Micro Red Dot
What was the predecessor in popularity to the Vortex, the PA Micro is still an outstanding optic. The battery life is the only thing that separates the two. Rather than the 5000 hours with Vortex, you will cap around 1000 hours of battery life with the PA.
Still, this 11-level illumination scope has more battery life than is really needed. It can easily be seen from low-light to daytime light without any issue. With the angled front lens, the dot is easy to see. It will be perfectly visible any time you need to use it.
All of the toughness features of the Vortex red dot are still here. The PA is just as rugged and waterproof as any red dot out there. It will stay fog-free in all but the roughest weather. This is a great budget red dot for those who want the quality of a more expensive model.
It only has a 1-year warranty. But, that year is fully covered unless you abuse the red dot. It does cowitness well. It also has three levels that are night vision compatible. Any way you cut it, this is still a great product, even if it falls a little behind the Vortex.
3 Bushnell Trophy TRS-25
What is the best selling red dot on the market today? It may surprise you to learn that it is made by Bushnell. While most standard scope makers were still spinning their wheels over red dots, Bushnell jumped right in. Their long experience combined with company mission has produced an amazing red dot for a surprisingly low cost.
This optic is built like some of the most expensive out there. It has a multi-coated amber lenses for the best contrast and view when hunting. It also has amazing battery life and infinite brightness between its highest and lowest settings. The dot is crisp when the proper settings are used. The dot is also easy to see no matter the conditions.
With full waterproofing including a dry-nitrogen purged interior, nothing gets inside this optic. Fog, dust, everything else that could damage it is locked out. It has enough shock resistance for a 12 gauge, so your AR15 can do nothing to harm it.
If you need a red dot under 50 bucks, this is the red dot for you. It has all of the quality and features seen on the highest end models. Bushnell has done it right. That's why this is the bestselling, and maybe best value, red-dot on the planet.
Top 3 Backup Sights
It does you little good to have a quality scope if you don’t mount it with the proper hardware. All of the red dots above are ready to go out of the box. Your scope, however, is going to need rings or a one-piece mount. Don’t skimp here. You will regret it.
The most surefire method of mounting a low-powered optic to your AR15 is with a one-piece mount. No one-piece mount beats the cantilever mount. It even allows you to adjust your mounting position behind the receiver for better eye relief.
Not all mounts of this type are created equal. The lever design can put a lot of strain on the mount. Make sure you purchase one of good quality, or it could cause a wobbly scope and throw off your aim. In addition, the rings may not be properly aligned. This can make your scope impossible to zero.
Vortex's hard-anodized aluminum mount is precisely the quality you need. It is lightweight, durable, and fits all 30mm scopes. If you need a 1” mount, Vortex makes those as well but only in their PRO line. You will pay a little more but they are all quality mounts.
If they are made incorrectly, they can cause issues with accuracy over time. They can even prevent you from being able to zero. Vortex's rings are premium quality with a great hold on the scope that won’t damage it. A little lapping job will make them even better.
With a total of 4 screws per ring, this is the most solid mount possible for your AR15 scope. It will never move or come off. These are available in either a 30mm or 1” variety. Make sure you get the correct ones for your scope.
UTG Carry Handle Rail
The last thing you may need to mount your scope is a carry handle mount. If you prefer the classic AR15 design but still want a scope, you have to have a carry handle rail. Luckily today you can get a good quality rail for cheap. A decade ago, these cost over a hundred bucks.
There are a lot of options, most of which are adequate quality. The UTG happens to be a good quality carry handle rail that is about as cheap as they come. Good quality for cheap means excellent value.
Made of solid machined, not pressed, aluminum makes this a very strong option. It accepts all Weaver style bases or even STANAG rings. All in all, this is a good setup for your carry handle AR. It's even see-thru so you can still use your iron sights.
Top 3 Backup Sights
We are nearing the end. There is only one more piece you need for the perfect AR15 setup. Sometimes things go wrong with optics, but you still need your sights. When this happens, you better have some backup sights ready to go.
These are the standard for what a backup iron sight. They are the most popular by far and are standard on a lot of rifles. For most people, these will do everything they will ever need.
Made of a high-impact polymer, the Magpul MBUS are as tough as they get. They are also nearly weightless. They are easily adjusted to get your rifle hitting correctly. They also mount to the standard rail.
All it takes is the time to clamp them down and get them zeroed. They are spring loaded so they are out of the way when you don’t need them but flip up with the push of a button. No one does it better.
Diamondhead USA Flip-Up Sights
If you wanted more than the Magpul sights, there is the Diamondhead. These have a more unique look that suits many rifles well. They give it that little something different.
But looks are not the only important aspect. These sights also have a NiteBrite glowing front post for low light use. The glowing post can be a good thing but is not often necessary. If this extra feature is important to you, consider the Diamondhead.
Otherwise, the same composite poly as the Magpul makes these sights durable and lightweight. They flip up on a button press just like the Magpul. They even have a lifetime warranty.
If you are on a tight budget, you can always go with a milled aluminum sight. They are actually a little less durable than poly but not enough to really notice. The ones offered by Ozark Armament are very good quality and affordable.
These are made to be low profile and flip up when needed. They are spring loaded so deployment is fast. The milling is quite good though not perfect. Only their appearance is affected, which is not that big a deal.
Ozark has made flip-up sights for years. Their products are popular, no-nonsense sights that are a good value. They may not be my first choice but they are a good choice.
And that is the full setup. No matter your budget, you can get a good optic setup for less than most people think. Even if you were to go with the most expensive options on this page, everything would provide a good value and wouldn’t break the bank.
Of course, there are plenty of optics companies that produce better products. But when you combine all of the features and factor by cost, I would bet my money on any of these optic choices.