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In a day and age where red dot sights are gaining all the attention and are used as the primary sighting system, why use iron sights at all?
In general, iron sights have been the standard sighting system for eons. It’s been years in the making for red dots to earn trust from the civilian community. Even so, irons will always be seen as an essential piece of gear on top an AR-15, even if it’s as a back-up.
In my endeavor to find highly rated sights, I threw in a couple of my own personal, favorite ones.
With my hands-on experience and recommendations, these top iron sights for the AR meet my expectations as a back-up for use with a red dot.
Top AR Iron Sights for 2023
In general, AR-15 iron sights are primarily for a back-up sighting system. With the popularity and performance improvements of red dot sights, irons serve as a fail-safe. Mounted to co-witness in either the absolute or lower 1/3, irons have legitimate residency on the modern sporting rifle.
But throwing yet another optic on the rail can make things distracting. Enter here, the best flip-up iron sights. The purpose of flip-up sights is to keep them out of sight, out of mind until they’re needed. When they’re needed, all it takes is a push of a button.
Even my own sights are flip-ups, and I personally run them pushed down since I’m always using a red dot. But for the day when I’m screwed in the field (will do everything I can to prevent that), my irons will save my bacon.
I included my own personal pair of sights for field-testing in this list, and yes, popularity had a large part of my decision in buying them in the first place. There’s a lot of info and troubleshooting online about them, so they deserve a worthy mention.
For all others, these BUIS sights have the right price point, are adjustable, and have consumer support. Let’s sight-in for more details!
5 Best AR-15 Iron Sight Reviews
1. Magpul MBUS Flip-Up Sights – Best MBUS Iron Sights for AR-15
Magpul is an exalted firearms accessories manufacturer, and their name holds weight. They’re an extremely popular brand for the quality and performance of their gear even though they cost more than alternatives. This was my line of thinking when I also bought these MBUS sights.
- Front sight tool included
- Push-button flip-up sights
- 1.5” height/2.6” stow length
- Dual aperture rear sight
- Polymer material
The MBUS sights are made of lightweight, scratch-resistant polymer, and with the current rave of metal sights, the plastic construction may be a drawback. However, I haven’t run into a single issue with its build integrity ranging from use in heavy rain and constant tightening, untightening, mounting, and dismounting.
I really like the spring-loaded flip-up sight. Pushing the serrated thumb/finger detent makes it incredulously easy. It doesn’t really matter how you mount that front sight because the wings on the side also release the spring mechanism.
Installing them is easy but the front sight was a bit of a pain on my handguard rail. It fits tight and takes some effort to maneuver it on. You’ll need a 1/8” hex key to tighten the drive screw, but I just used a huge flathead screwdriver that was probably overkill but it got it done.
Sighting them in is a little rough given the MOA values (yes, you’ll need to do some math), but the ease of adjustability makes up for it. The windage knob offers tool-less adjustments and the front sight comes with a small polymer tool.
They’re on what I would call the mid-range spectrum for cost since just one sight costs the same as a set compared to cheaper alternatives. I’ve bought two sets (each sight separately) – one for my DB AR-15 and one for my Ruger AR-15.
But there is a set deal where you can get the front and rear sight as a pair at a lower price point than buying them separately – wish I knew this before. This is what I will do going forward – yes, I’d buy them again!
2. UTG Super Slim Low-Profile Flip-Up Sights – Best BUIS Backup Iron Sights
On average, some of the cheapest brands have top-rated firearm accessories simply due to price. The Low-Profile Flip-Up Sights are no exception. Made from aluminum with dual apertures and the Posi-Lock Design, the UTG sights are fit for AR-15s from recreational to various range applications.
- Posi-Lock Design
- Easy to zero
- Surface scratches
There are some buyers who aren’t a fan of the metal-on-metal contact, and it’s puzzling. From the get-go, they’re advertised as aircraft-grade aluminum iron sights. Like similar products, they can scratch, and this may happen if you use the wrong adjustment tool for the front sight – hasn’t happened to me. Mine are in pristine condition!
You should also know that a front sight adjustment tool is not included, so you must purchase one separately. I already have one, so it was a non-issue to get them mounted and sighted-in for 50 yards.
The rear sight has a little stiffness to it, but the resistance is excellent given that it’s finger adjustable. I haven’t had any accidental adjustments yet. Speaking of, the spring-loaded Posi-Lock design and side plunger release do their job fantastically of no unintentional flipping up. Though I personally prefer the push button of the MBUS sights, the side bars work well.
During ownership, they’ve been passed along to law enforcement for sitting on a duty-mounted AR-15. They’ve passed law enforcement range qualifications to 100 yards and have held steady and steadfast during shifts in a patrol car.
I like that they’re low-profile and take up little space on the rail though I run them collapsed given that I run a red dot 24/7. For the money, they’re the best budget iron sights I’ve put on a rifle from my Diamondback to my FN.
If I were to go with a high-end pair one day, it’ll be the Wilson Combat Pro that deserves to sit on my FN-15 or gift to a LEO. Christmas present, maybe? Either way, gotta save the money honey.
3. Tacticon Armament Flip-Up BUIS Sights - Best Cheap Iron Sights
The Tacticon Armament BUIS sights are by far the most popular AR-15 back-up iron sights across the board. They come as a pair, they’re affordable, and they come with the mounting wrench and front adjustment tool needed to get running them right away.
- Full iron sight set
- Lifetime warranty
- Unintentional flipping-up
This could be a big, fat, red flag, but some have reported that the sights may unintentionally flip-up during use. Though a consequence of the spring-loaded design during repeated recoil, it can be remedied with some Loctite as some have done. As a legitimate concern, it should be weighed against the pros.
I think that the price is fair for a set given that it comes with all the tools needed to mount and adjust. Since a front sight tool costs on average $10, you’re getting sights that compare to budget models.
They’ve shown to be quite accurate out of the box, though the front sight may be a little stubborn with adjustments. With a dual aperture rear sight, you can use either one as is necessary for the application or ambient conditions.
I reckon that one of the best things about the Tacticon sights is the lifetime warranty. A quick email to the company and replacements are often sent out right away if there are any issues. So, for a budget pair, it’s easy to see why I consider them to be a high value pair.
If you still don’t want to spend as much, a highly recommended second would be the Feyachi BUIS sights. However, you’re still $10 bucks in because it doesn’t come with a front sight tool.
4. Ultralight Flip-Up Offset Sights - Best 45-Degree Offset Iron Sights
The Ultralight Flip-Up Offset Sights are exactly as described. They’re cheap, flip up, and offset. Though they’re in the budget category, they’re very popular and that $20 (approx.) goes a long way. They’re easy to mount, fully adjustable, easy to use, and they’ve held zero for thousands of buyers.
- 45-degree offset
- Dual aperture
The technical term for the material that the offset sights are made from is polyphenylene sulfide. What I get from that is it’s a type of thermo polymer that also provides its super, light weight.
Accessories of the polymer nature are known to be extremely durable, scratch-resistant, and they won’t rust over time. Though they can break, it seems very few have had them break on its first run to the range.
Since they’re offset (off to the side), you’re not using them to co-witness with a red dot. With them, you can keep your favorite LPVO or competition scope and your sights too. They do flip up and they’re very responsive when doing so.
Though it doesn’t come with a front sight adjustment tool, it does come with the mounting wrench, and I can already tell that they’ll be easy to install. I actually like the simple and clean look of its mounting bars across the rail. It’s not pretentious – just basic in a clean sort of way. Other than perhaps defective sights, sighting them in is easy and they hold zero.
I think the real catch-22 here, given its low price point, is that there is no word about a warranty. If they break or don’t work for you, it’s money down the drain. But it’s a risk that may be worth taking since they’re around $20.
If you’re going to spend some serious coin, the high-end Magpul MBUS Pro Offset Iron Sights would be a killer pair for those willing to splurge.
Available at: Amazon
5. Sniper A2 Front Post Sight - Best Fixed Iron Sights for AR-15
The Sniper A2 is a gas block front sight designed for gas blocks that are lower than the upper receiver. It’s a high-profile sight, so it’s taller to accommodate the lost height of the gas block to pair with a rear sight.
- A2 front sight
- High-profile (gas block)
- Aluminum alloy
- Huge knob
The rear sight recommended by the manufacturer is the Sniper Complete Rear Sight. It’s adjustable for both windage and elevation. However, it’s been paired well with carry handle rear sight types.
It's very basic in design, but the knob on the left for mounting tension is just a little bit funny at how big it is. Despite the eyesore, it’s easy to hand-tighten and makes installation easy. I would recommend a little Loctite to secure it just in case.
As far as adjustments go, there’s mixed feelings. The worst reports say it runs out of adjustment without bringing groups up or a standard tool wouldn’t fit between the wings. Most people were able to zero without issue. You will need your own front adjustment tool since one isn’t included, by the way.
Made from aluminum alloy, I think it’s perfect for the gas block. It’s not going to melt down, and there’s a solid feel to its build quality. That’s one thing that everyone agrees on – it’s well-made.
For the very low price point, the Sniper A2 sight does the job. It’s basic, has an old-school appeal, and it functions. Little more is warranted when it’s exactly what buyers want – easy, affordable, and solid.
Available at: Amazon
What to Look for in the Best Iron Sights for AR-15
Overall, considerations such as budget, special features, and use with a red dot sight will determine what the best iron sights will be for the task ahead. Like any gunsight, there are various configurations, price points, and benefits one can get out of irons.
Below is a quick guide that will give you a starting point on what to look for in your first pair, replacement, or upgrade.
In general, iron sights are relatively cheap when compared to rifle scopes and red dot sights. Budget iron sight sets (front and rear) can be found for $20-$50 (approx.) but can be as expensive as $200. Mid-range sights can range from $50-$150 for an individual sight (front or rear).
Since sights are not made equal, quality will vary. The more expensive sights will have more features and are typically made in America. Cheaper irons are made in China and come at a budget-friendly price point.
|Iron Sights||Price Range|
|Magpul MBUS Sights||Under $50 (each)|
|UTG Low Profile Sights||Under $30 (each)|
|Tacticon Armament Sights||Under $50|
|Ultralight Flip-Up Offset Sights||Under $25|
|Sniper A2 Front Post Sight (no rear)||Under $15|
Fixed VS Flip-Up
On average, flip-up sights are very popular as they can be pushed down for out-of-sight, out-of-mind convenience while they’re not needed. This is a practical solution for those that prefer the absolute co-witness but also don’t like the distracting view of seeing the irons through the red dot.
Though practical, convenient, and very easy to use, it requires more moving components. This may raise concerns about durability when compared to fixed sights.
Fixed sights are always in position and operationally ready. They do not fold down as they are fixed in their design and mounting position. Fixed sights are known for their durability and reliability due to the fact that there are no moving components in regards to its mounting and functionality.
|Magpul MBUS Sights||Flip-up||Push|
|UTG Low Profile Sights||Flip-up||Press (side bar)|
|Tacticon Armament Sights||Flip-up||Press (side bar)|
|Ultralight Flip-Up Offset Sights||Flip-up||Press (side bar)|
|Sniper A2 Front Post Sight (no rear)||Fixed||N/A|
Same Plane VS Gas Block
Most of the time, the front and rear sights are going to be the same height if you expect any sighting-in success and POI accuracy. However, there’s a difference between gas block and same plane sights that determines where the front sight is to be mounted on an AR-15.
Same plane sights mean that both the rear and front sights are the same height when on a flat surface and are assumed to be mounted on the same plane – typically the rail on the upper receiver and a free float handguard.
Same plane sights also include gas block sights with a height that is appropriate for mounting to gas blocks that are at the same height as the receiver.
Gas block sights that are lower than the receiver will require a front sight that is taller to make up for the height difference. With the high-profile front sight, it should match up for use with the standard height rear sight.
|Magpul MBUS Sights||Same plane|
|UTG Low Profile Sights||Same plane|
|Tacticon Armament Sights||Same plane|
|Ultralight Flip-Up Offset Sights||Same plane|
|Sniper A2 Front Post Sight (no rear)||Gas block (lower than upper receiver)|
In general, irons are extremely durable though not indestructible. They’re easy to install on an AR-15. The base is molded to clamp around the rail and a bolt sits in the slot. Tightening the bolt secures the iron sight further to the rail.
The front sight is installed on the rail towards the muzzle end. The rear is installed on the rail closer to the charging handle. A popular position includes the first slots with the rear sight folded down over the charging handle.
Instructions aren’t always included in the package but are nearly always found online in the form of written instructions or a video for the specific model. If torque specs are not included, 15-25 in-lbs is a common rule to follow.
Tools needed for actual installation are either a flathead screwdriver or the right sized Allen wrench. For example, a 1/8” hex key would fit the drive screw to the MBUS sights. Hand-tighten the screw and do another turn to secure. Often a flathead screwdriver will do the job with some mounting tension screws. If you’re using a torque wrench, use the right size bit and set the value.
The tool needed for front sight adjustment may need to be purchased separately. Using the casing of a spent round may work as an alternative. Most rear sights have tool-less adjustments via a rotating knob or dial.
|Iron Sights||Tool Included|
|Magpul MBUS Sights||Front sight tool|
|UTG Low Profile Sights||Mounting Allen wrench|
|Tacticon Armament Sights||Front sight tool & mounting Allen wrench|
|Ultralight Flip-Up Offset Sights||Mounting Allen wrench|
|Sniper A2 Front Post Sight (no rear)||None|
Sighting in iron sights can be difficult for those new to using them. The MOA values to adjust are not universal and chasing groups may be the result. Even when using math to figure out what the values are according to various factors like sight radius, it still requires live rounds to confirm zero.
You must also consider what is the best zero distance for an AR-15. Very popular distances are the 36/300 and the 50/200-yard zeros. Though it appears to be two zeros, the first number is the zero distance. The second number is the distance where the trajectory course puts the POI on point (approx.) without having to hold over.
|Iron Sights||Front/Rear Adjustable||Front Sight Tool||Price Range|
|Magpul MBUS Sights||Y||Real Avid A1/A2||Under $10|
|UTG Low Profile Sights||Y||TACFUN 4/5 prong||Under $10|
|Tacticon Armament Sights||Y||Aim Sports SK/SKS||Under $15|
|Ultralight Flip-Up Offset Sights||Y||Ozark A1/A2||Under $15|
|Sniper A2 Front Post Sight (no rear)||Front only||Ultimate Rifle Build 4/5 prong||Under $10|
More on sighting in iron sights is discussed in our How to Zero Iron Sights guide.
Co-witnessing is how the iron sights can be used as seen through a red dot sight. The most common positions are the absolute co-witness and the lower 1/3 co-witness. However, not all red dot sights are compatible for co-witnessing with iron sights.
AR-15 BUIS sights typically come in standard heights. It is the mounting height of a red dot and any special accessories needed for mounting that will determine the co-witness.
|AR-15 Red Dot Sight||Co-Witness w/Iron Sights||Price Range|
|Sig Sauer Romeo MSR||Absolute||Under $100|
|Holosun HS403B||Lower 1/3||Under $150|
|Vortex Sparc AR2||Absolute & Lower 1/3||Under $200|
|Holosun HS510C||Lower 1/3||Under $350|
|EOTech EXPS3||Lower 1/3||Under $700|
Read here for more on Co-Witness Explained.
BUIS VS Red Dot Sight
There is a legitimate trend of running red dot sights alone without any iron sights. This has become a common move because of the reliability and long-lasting battery runtimes of contemporary red dots. Some are doing away with irons altogether for various reasons.
They may have absolute trust in the RDS, or it could be that the busy sight picture with seeing irons through a red dot is too distracting. Though less of an argument, some are even saying that they need to slim down on total gear weight on a rifle… though it could be argued that a flashlight, IR illuminator, or laser could shave significant weight instead.
Perhaps for some with battle or survival (SHTF) rifles intended only for close-range use, running only irons may be the more trustworthy route to follow. However, there are bona fide benefits of using a red dot for speed, target acquisition, and usability in the same applications and distances.
|IRONS||RED DOT SIGHT|
|Easy to Zero||✔|
|No Power Needed||✔|
Check out our Iron Sights VS Red Dot comparison guide for more in-depth explanations!
Iron Sights Matter Even as a Back-Up
There are scores of sights outfitted for the semi-automatic modern sporting rifle. As such, this isn't an all-inclusive list but a handful of the most popular irons for the AR-15. With affordability and exceptional build quality, there’s no reason to be without irons even when running a red dot.
Apart from those running irons (as the primary sighting system), the rest of us are running them as a back-up. It goes without saying, you’d better know how to use both sighting systems.
Your AR-15 rig is only as strong as your weakest link. Don’t be lazy and let your iron skills get rusty. If you’re going to have them, know how to use them!