Sights are a very important component of a defensive pistol. Without sights (which can be seen in a gunfight, contrary to popular opinion), it is very difficult to direct your rounds where you want them to go. Getting effective hits on vital organs is important to ending a fight quickly. And missing a target is unacceptable – the bullet that misses the target will hit something.
Defensive pistols sights need to be large enough to be seen in a hurry. They also have to be visible in all lighting conditions – not just on a perfect, sunny range day. Sights must also be fine enough to permit good accuracy. This blog will look at the different types of pistols sights on the market from old-fashioned irons to fiber optics to tritium night sights. Pistols sights have come a long way in the past few years, so we will also take a look at the best pistol sights of 2023.
Types of Pistol Sights
There are many different types of pistol sights out there. Let’s take a look at some of the most common.
Traditional “Iron” Sights
Traditional iron sights are still very prolific, despite huge advances in sighting technology. These consist of a front blade and a rear notch, with no additional illumination. The term “iron” can be misleading. Though iron sights are most often made of metal some, like those found on most Glock handguns, are made of fragile plastic. It should go without saying that plastic factory sights – especially on duty or defensive handguns – should be replaced with steel aftermarket sights immediately, if not sooner.
Iron sights may have some simple white dots, two in the rear and one on the front, on them. The Glock factory sights have a dot in the front and a white U-notch on the rear. While this may provide some additional ability to pick up the sights on a bluebird day, these non-illuminated sights all but disappear (and sometimes DO disappear) in conditions of low light.
To be clear, the fiber optic and tritium-illuminated sights we are going to discuss below are still “iron” sights. They have some additional functionality in terms of illumination that traditional iron sights lack. Let’s look at them.
Fiber Optic Sights
Fiber optic sights have become much more popular in recent years. These sights have an exposed fiber-optic rod embedded into them. The rod picks up ambient light and transmits it to a single point on the face of the sight, making it very bright and visible in bright light. Fiber optic sights are available in a variety of colors, the most common being red and green.
There are two drawbacks to fiber optic sights. One, they can be more fragile than other types of sights. It is not uncommon for the fiber optic rod to go flying during a range session or match stage. Manufacturers realize this and often ship fiber optic sights with several additional replacement rods. Two, fiber optics provide no additional lighting capability without ambient light to draw from. Since gunfights happen in all conditions, we can’t count on sunlight to make our fiber optic sights “pop,” but a self-illuminating sight has no such dependence.
Tritium Night Sights
Tritium sights are self-illuminating. Each sight contains a small capsule of tritium, a radioactive (yet safe), glow-in-the-dark material. Tritium will self-illuminate for well over 10 years. Tritium night sights need no source of external lighting to glow, making them ideal across all lighting situations. Since the tritium capsule is enclosed within the sight there is no chance of it flying out and being lost. We believe tritium sight to be superior to fiber optics and this article offers a comparison between the two.
The glow of the tritium dot is not typically visible under bright sunlight. However, the dot only needs a small window (hole) on the face the sight. The rest of the front sight’s face can be outlined in a very bright, visible color like orange or green. This is a common feature on many XS sight models, and these sights are becoming incredibly popular because they are very fast-acquiring regardless of the lighting conditions.
Red Dot Sights
An increasingly popular trend is the addition of red dot optics like the Trijicon RMR, Burris Fastfire, Sig Romeo, or Vortex Venom to handguns. Starting with competition shooters, this trend has moved to defensive handguns, as well. More and more handguns are manufactured and marketed as optic-ready. The sights project a 4-6 MOA red dot onto a pane of glass, and offer fast acquisition and good precision at long range. The evolution of red dot sights continues every day. Red dot sights are constantly improving and shooters are doing some tremendous things with them.
However, these sights are battery life dependent and are objectively more fragile than quality iron sights. The battery life issue has been alleviated somewhat by self-adjusting brightness settings and a solar panel on some models. Additionally, motion sensor technology turns the dot on only when the gun is in use, preserving battery life further. Battery life is still an issue with red dot optics. We still think it is a good idea to back them up with a quality set of iron sights on guns intended for saving your life when things go south. Your backup sights shouldn’t be a half-hearted, last-ditch option; they should be high-quality sights chosen as if your life may depend on them…because it might.
Top Pistol Sights for 2023
As we said early in this article, pistol sights have come a long way. So, what are the top pistol sights available in 2023? Let’s take a look at four of the best sights money can buy in 2023.
DXT2:This non-traditional sighting system is one of the best sights on the market for quick target acquisition. The large front features of these sights also make them ideal for old eyes. It features a Big front dot in either Optic Yellow or Optic Orange for fast acquisition in daylight. The front sight has a tritium insert for low- or no-light use. Surrounding the tritium is a photoluminescent Glow Dot that absorbs ambient light and provides illumination before it is dark enough to see the tritium.
The rear sight, rather than a traditional, deep U-notch, is a very shallow V-notch. Again, this promotes speed and allows the user peripheral vision as the rear sight obscures almost nothing of the target. The rear sight also has a vertical tritium insert. The contrast of the round front and the vertical rear inserts makes them easy to align in a “lollipop” arrangement, even in total darkness. There is a slight learning curve when moving to this sighting system but it is pretty painless.
DXW2: The DXW2 is similar to our DXT2’s in that it also has a highly visible dot on the front sight, which is available in either our Optic Orange or Yellow color. The DXW2’s also have a tritium insert in the front sight for low light or no-light use. DXW2 front also mates to a shallow V-notch rear. The rear sight does not have a tritium insert and instead has a white stripe. The DXT2 is available in a “big” dot or standard-sized dot, and in suppressor height to fit any application.
Like all XS sights, these are machined from steel bar stock for unparalleled durability. These truly are “iron” sights, evolved. There are no sharp edges to cut you during hard training, or to foul your draw in a real-world confrontation, and these sights are available for a wide variety of pistols. XS Sights also has an industry-leading 12-year warranty on the tritium in their sights!
F8: The F8 Sights feature a front sight that is square and mated to a traditional U-notch. This is familiar to many shooters, and allows for outstanding precision. It combines this traditional sight picture with the best advances XS Sights has to offer. The front sight has a big, orange glow dot, and a tritium insert. The rear sight has a single tritium insert directly below the notch. To align these sights in darkness simply put the big dot on top of the little dot making a figure-8.
R3D: For customers preferring an even more traditional sight picture (or perhaps officers working for a law enforcement agency requiring a 3-dot system) XS Sights offers the R3D. This sighting system offers the same dual illumination with glow dot technology and tritium in the front sight. Mated to a traditional U-notch rear sight. Unlike the F8 with its single, center dot, the R3D has two dots – one on each side of the rear sight. Sight alignment involves aligning the three dots horizontally with the larger front sight in the middle. The R3D combines a traditional sight picture with the best of modern sighting advances.
Any of these sights will probably serve most users well. There are just a few additional considerations. You should consider your body of training and experience. If you have decades of training on a traditional sight picture, the F8 and R3D sights may be for you. On the other hand, if you are older and have difficultly achieving “equal height, equal light”, the DXT2 or DXW2 may be the better option. If you need a sight with better precision at longer ranges, again the F8 and R3D sights are likely the better options. If speed at close range is your overriding consideration, you should seriously consider the DXT2 or DXW2. And then there is always personal preference. If you aren’t compromising reliability or accuracy, humor your personal preference and go with the one you like!
XS Sights can be DIY installed or installed by a gunsmith. If you can’t find a gunsmith in your area to install sights, you can ship your slide to XS Sights for their installation services (for the record, we prefer you support your local shop, too!). If you’re a little bit more handy, XS offers installation videos to help you get through the process on your own.
Upgrade to The Best Pistol Sights on the Market
Sights are a vital component of a defensive pistol. Being able to effectively place rounds is the only thing that stops a truly determined bad guy. You want to feel fully confident that you’re using the best sights you possibly can, especially in high-stress situations.
XS Sights offers the best pistol sights on the market. We manufacture durable, American-made, and fast-acquiring sights that are backed with a 12-year tritium warranty. Our company’s focus is on delivering exceptional products and service to our customers. We provide easy DIY instructions, a 30-Day Satisfaction Guarantee. As a company, we are committed to making sure that effective sighting systems are available for everyone.