The invention of iron sights has made many rifles accurate and precise. It has also transformed them from mere metal spraying sticks to an unconquerable weapon. Iron sights are still used widely and it is important to teach gun owners the basics of aiming.
Technology has replaced them to a wide extent with more powerful scopes, but the importance of sights has still not faded. Here we will be talking about the importance of an iron sight and how can you choose one for your AR-15 rifles. We will also review some of the best AR-15 iron sights that are currently available on the market to help you make a choice. If you are looking for a reflex sight, click here.
Iron Sights: Outdated or Nah?
To put it simply – no, although there are people think that it is.
Sights are not a thing of the past, as we have mentioned. Technology may have given us planes to fly, but we still essentially need legs and must learn to walk. It is the same is the case with iron sights. There are a ton of different kinds of optics out there. Ranging anywhere from AOC, MARS, red dot sights – you name it.
It does not matter what optics you use. However, you should still learn the basics of sight calibration and aiming (creating sight pictures and all that kind of things).
An iron sight is helpful in teaching a newer gun owner and gun user the basics of aiming and shooting. The latest optics are really good for sighting distant targets properly, but you will still need to learn basic aiming skills nonetheless.
Coming to the more logical part, using iron sights is pretty much a very reliable backup for your AR-15 rifles. We know optics are generally relatively delicate and they are prone to breakdowns. Maybe your optic’s battery dies or gets broken during a hunting trip. But you can still use iron sights to aim and shoot targets accurately, even if you may not achieve the same range.
Iron sights does not need any electric power to operate and are tough as a rock to bear even the most rough thrashing – important factors for any gun owners, but especially if you are planning to use the rifle in a SHTF situation – or a zombie apocalypse (hypothetically speaking). Your sights are going to be there and stay in place even in situations where other devices may not work in your favour.
Wrapping it up, we can say iron sights are a good backup, teach you to rely on basic shooting skills and are, of course, less expensive than optics comparatively.
The Criteria of a Good Iron Sights
Before you choose an iron sight for your AR-15 rifles, there are several important factors you may want to consider. A balanced combination of these characteristics can result in a reliable and durable iron sight for your AR-15 rifle.
Flip-Up Sights or Fixed Sights
As the name suggests, a flip-up sight can be flipped up when you need it to and folded down when you do not want to. On the other hand, a fixed sight stays upright all the time. Flip-up sights are the most commonly manufactured ones these days. They can be used in conjunction with your optics since you can fold them down to keep them out of your way. Fixed sights, however on the other hand, are more sturdy and tough.
Stainless steel, aluminium and polymer material are the three most commonly-used materials for manufacturing sights. Steel sights are extremely tough and long-lasting, but heavier in its weight. Polymer is lightweight but not very durable though. Aluminium falls in the middle with the strength of metal and light weight of a polymer. However, using stainless steel sights is highly recommended for its durability.
A lot of times, all sights manufactured from these materials are referred to as “iron sights” even when they are actually polymer or aluminium in material.
Construction material is a hyped consideration in selecting flip-up iron sights. If the company is trustworthy, the material will be tough, whether if it is steel, aluminium, or polymer. Its design and build quality are far more important, especially its spring and retaining pin quality. Ideally, flip-up iron sights will lock into place when it is deployed, no shock should be able to knock them into the horizontal position in a sticky situation.
Ease of Use and Visibility
Some iron sights may need you to use an “allen wrench”, screwdrivers, or even coins to make adjustments in its windage and elevation. You will have to best prefer choosing sights that have a knob or a gear to make adjustments using your bare hands.
Another important criteria is its visibility. There are hi-visual and tritium posts available on the market that can glow in the dark and offer better visibility with or without NOD’s.
Ergonomics and ease of use make a huge difference for the average gun user. Tool-free adjustability of windage and elevation can be very useful if your sights take a knock out in the field. Whether a set of sights is in-line or offset, subtle details such as beveled edges and total protrusion determines how much they snag and get knocked around. If you are a left-handed shooter, just make sure the sights are ambidextrous.
Aperture and Iron Sight Style
Aperture, which is also known as the peephole, is used to aim at your targets and helps in creating a much better and proper sight picture. Iron sights may feature different aperture styles – such as a diamond aperture, hollow aperture and a few others, to name a few.
Apart from all of that, iron sights of different styles are also currently available on the market. This specifically refers to 45-degree (offset) sights which can be used by tilting your AR-15 rifle and are very useful when transitioning between long-range and short-range shots.
In-line sights should be made for absolute co-witness or lower-third co-witness. Absolute co-witness means that the sight plane lines up really well, if not perfectly, with that of your primary optical sight. Lower-third co-witness places the optical sight’s sight plane just a little bit above that of the iron sights, which provides you a more open sight picture.
There is a wide variety of options for your sight picture. The classically-known U.S. Military sight picture is a post inside a Y-shape as seen through a round aperture. The Germans, however, prefer a more rounded housing around the front post, which intuitively lines up with the outline of a round aperture. Recently, the diamond-shaped aperture and front housing have increased in popularity.
Gas Blocks and Same Plane Sights
AR-15 iron sights come in a couple of varieties, namely gas block sights and same-plane sights. Their name itself suggests their position on your rifle. The basic principle is that you need to have the front and back posts at the same height to be able to aim correctly.
In gas block sights, the front post is mounted on the gas block on the rifle’s muzzle and the rear post is mounted on its usual position (on top of receiver’s rear end). The front post is almost a 1/4-inch longer than the rear one to make up for the drop between the receiver and muzzle’s height.
On the other hand, posts in same plane sights are usually of the same height and are mounted at the same level. The front post is mounted on the top forward end of the rail/handguard and the rear post is mounted in its usual position.
Using a gas block sight may save you some space on your rails as compared to same-plane sights. In the end, using either of these with your AR-15 is only a matter of your personal discretion.
Why It’s Good to Invest in Flip Up Iron Sights
Flip-up iron sights are made to be used as a back-up for a primary optical sight. Some gun users, including seasoned special forces personnel, see no real need for this precaution as optics rarely, if ever, fail. But they are able to, and no one wants to be helpless in a gunfight or become a liability to their team.
Paired with appropriate training, a flip-up iron sight is, therefore, a kind of life insurance. Two main substitute forms of back-up iron sights exist, the in-line fixed iron sights and offset ones.
In-line fixed iron sights will co-witness with your primary, non-magnified optics. That means they can obscure the lower portion of your sight picture. On the advantageous side, they have fewer moving parts than a flip-up, so there is less that can go awry. Any proven flip-up iron sight will be strong enough to bet your life on, though there are design differences to look out for.
Offset iron sights sit off the top of the weapon at a 45-degree angle. This means that even if the lens of your primary optic is broken or foggy, you can simply tilt your rifle at a funny angle and keep on rocking.
The downside of offset sights is that they are prone to get caught or knocked around. Their placement can also be held-back by shell deflectors or forward assists. In-line flip-up iron sights shine, especially with a QD primary optic. Offset flip up irons debatably combine the best of both worlds.
The Best AR-15 Iron Sights – Rated and Reviewed
There is a wide selection of AR-15 iron sights that are on the market currently, with quality and value for money varying wildly. Below we provide our selections of the best AR-15 iron sights that are still available today.
1. Troy Industries AR-15 HK-Style Front Sight Set
This iron sight set from the renowned firearms maker, Troy Industries Inc., is an HK-style same-plane sight. The sight comes with a flip mechanism which locks it in place. The spring-loaded button on the sides prevents the rear sight from inadvertently flipping up or down when not needed.
The rear features two dissimilar aperture styles. The large one comes with a wide field of view for close range targets whereas the smaller aperture helps in shooting long-range targets.
These sights can be attached to any standard Picatinny rails using a flathead screwdriver. These sights are also obtainable in a self-illuminating tritium dot variant for shooting in low-light conditions.
2. Diamondhead USA AR-15 Integrated Sights System
This integrated sighting system comes with a diamondhead aperture which provides specific reference points to help you centre your eyes on the target instantly. These sights are made of 6061 T6 aluminium and have a type III hard-coat anodized matte black finish.
This is a same-plane iron sight that features a flip-up design operated by a manual mechanism, which also helps the sights remain zeroed in. The front sight has angled ears to guard the A2-type post and serve as a visual reference point.
The rear sight features dual same-plane short- and long-range apertures. Overall, the iron sight features a really great design providing you with features that are close to an optic.
3. FAB Defence Front and Rear Set of Flip Up Sights
These FAB Defence sights are manufactured from a combination of metal and polymer and feature a foldable design. They are light in weight and are durable due to the material combination. It also offers ambidextrous deployment and control too.
The spring-based locking mechanism keeps the sights in position when flipped up or down. There are finger alterations for elevation on the front post and windage on the rear.
These same-plane mounting sights do not take up as much space on the rails and can be operated easily and quickly. The low-profile design does not interfere with other mounted optics. It is well-matched only with mil-spec Picatinny rails.
4. Magpul AR-15 Mbus Gen 2 Sight Set
This Mbus Gen 2 sight set from Magpul is a brilliant pair of sights for your AR-15 rifle. It has been made using injection-moulded reinforced polymer. This means it is both light in weight and is sturdy enough to last you a few years.
This sight set features a spring-loaded ambidextrous mechanism, which can be used to fold down the sights with a simple button push. This is a same-plane sight that takes less than 1 inch of space on your Picatinny rail, and locks firmly with a steel cross-bolt.
The windage-adjustable rear sight comes with 2 apertures. This is a low-profile foldable sight that can be used accurately in conjunction with other mounted optics.
5. Ozark Armament Flip Up Backup Battle Sights
Ozark Armament offers this super-affordable option if your sights are just going to be BUIS. These flip-up sights have been made from milled aluminium and have a spring loaded mechanism for quick deployment. These are same-plane sights that can be mounted on the rail of your AR-15 rifle. The rear sight has click alterations for windage and features both precision and CQB apertures.
The package includes an “allen wrench”, which can be used to install the sight on the rail of your AR-15 rifle. These iron sights are a really great option if you do not want to spend a lot of money, and still need a good piece of aiming equipment. The manufacturer offers a 1-year warranty on this product and the customer support from Ozark is outstanding so to speak.
6. Matech AR-15 USGI Backup Iron Rear Sight
As the current U.S. Army standard issue, this sight has some top-notch street credentials. This sight has been meticulously tested by the military and proven to be rugged and fool-proof. Because of that, it is made of machined steel. It is planned to be a reliable, low-profile flip-up backup sight, and fills this role beyond censure.
The aperture firmly locks up into position. It does not include a front sight, so that means you will have to purchase that separately. Of course, it is made to pair with a standard A2 sight, but many other choices exist. The most idiosyncratic feature of this sight is the 8-position, detent-locking range selector, with 50-meter increments out to 600m.
All controls and alterations, including windage feature positive, tactile knobs and controls, means that no separate tools needed. Range and windage also comes with clear, white, laser-etched markings for repeatability. The entire unit has oblique edges and corners to reduce catching.
When a unit is U.S. military standard issue, you know that it is going to be dependable, tough, and gets the job done for a sensible price. This is not intended to be a primary match sight though some shooters are satisfied with it as such. Besides being an outstanding flip-up sight, this is a little piece of living weapons history.
7. Magpul MBus Flip-Up Backup Sights
When it comes to the fit, finish, and material of our firearms, it is astounding how a tough guy becomes a little Liberace and primadonna. The space age was the 1960s and we are now somewhere way beyond that. As such, we should not be allergic to non-steel materials on our firearms.
Everyone familiar with Magpul’s legendary MBUS sights has been incredibly cured of steel-diva-itis. Polymer is the future. These sights are almost as fine battle-tested as the U.S. military standard-issue ones. They have exactly the same height-over-bore as the military-standard A2 sights, allowing usual co-witness with any standard non-magnified optical sight.
Windage can be attuned by hand on the rear sight with a positive detent knob.
The elevation is attuned on the front sight with a standard tool, which it ships with. These spring-loaded sights are great for gun owners who are ambidextrous as they can be flipped up from either side or by pressing on the top. Although they do not lock hard and fast into place, the detent holding is consistent.
Magpul is a market leader for a very good reason. These are perfect backup flip-up sights that will stay out of sight and out of mind until it is time to use them.
8. Diamondhead USA Polymer Front and Rear Flip-Up Sight
When symmetrically rounded HK-style sights have been around for so long, it has often baffled a lot of gun owners and gun users (including us) why so many of us continue with M1-style 3-pronged sight picture. Diamondhead portends to make both options out-of-date with their patented symmetrical front and rear diamond-shaped sights.
The diamond shape on the front sight housing is similar to the contours of the rear sight, which has well-defined reference points at each corner of the aperture. This allows the target to be assimilated much faster.
Sight picture attainment is assisted by a coating of Nitebrite, also known as the poor man’s tritium, on the forward post. This is another set of sights constructed mainly of polymer. Remember though, with trauma forceful enough to permanently bend steel out of shape, polymer can bounce and maintain its shape.
This is further supported by Diamondhead’s lifetime warranty. Unlike the Magpuls above, these sights bolts firmly into place. You may find that the unusual profile of these sights takes up a bit more space than usual, although they do lock down out of sight.
If you haven’t given this patented diamond-shaped aperture a try, you should try nonetheless. Many of the professional gun owners have switched over and now swear by them.
Iron sights are an important component of an AR-15 rifle, which not only helps in teaching the basics of shooting to newer gun owners, but it also serves as a backup. Iron sights are sturdier and stronger than optics and will serve as your backup if batteries dry out or your optics get damaged.
Before choosing an iron sight for your AR-15 rifle, you should consider several factors such as material, aperture type, ease of use, visibility, design (flip up or fixed), mounting options and type (gas block or anything else similar).
Flip-up iron sights for an AR-15 rifles are a backup, similar to an insurance policy against the failure of your primary optical sight. Although you may never need to use them in a life and death situation, however, you will need to train with them regularly just in case. Whatever your taste in material or aperture design, the sights above will aid you well.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) for any gun owners.
Q: How accurate are AR-15 iron sights?
The iron sights on an M4/AR15/M16 rifle are very accurate. They are created to allow the user to zero at 25 meters and hit the same spot on a 300 meter target.