Gear, Parts and Accessories

Handguns: Fiber-Optic or Night Sights?

Shield plus and Glock 17C on table

At one time, night sights and fiber-optics were only add-on features. They are still available as aftermarket options. However, more and more, pistols are coming out with upgraded sights right out of the box. Sometimes they are offered in several variations with different sighting options, such as the Smith and Wesson M&P Shield or 340PD. This is fortunate for the consumer, as we can save money — and time — getting the firearm exactly as we want it from the factory. 

Aside from the general, budget, three-dot-painted sights, the two main sighting options you’ll see are night sights and fiber-optics. Brass or gold beads, and blacked-out posts are also out there, but they are more common among serious target shooters. Much of what is manufactured and marketed today is geared toward self-defense, and that is what we’ll focus on for now. 

Two beretta pistol front sight options
Beretta offers different upgraded models with either fiber-optic or night sights.

Night Sights

Night sights use tiny tritium vials to illuminate the dots on your sighting setup. The typically snag-free steel construction makes them incredibly durable and thus popular for duty use. This also makes them great for everyday carry and home defense.

The majority of the world’s tritium comes from the same Swiss source, so there is no real quality variation. Tritium does have a shelf life though, they tend to stay bright about 10–15 years, but will gradually dim as you approach the final years. However, they are still very usable, even as they dim. I have an 8-year-old SIG whose sights still glow well. The half-life of tritium is about 12.5 years, meaning they will be half as bright as they were originally in the allotted time.

The primary benefit to night sights is as the name suggests, they are easy to see at night or in the dark. We don’t get to pick when a self-defense encounter will happen. It’s important to be able to get a clear sight picture in all lighting conditions. During the daytime, they function as a standard sighting setup. Many even feature high-visibility coloring to aid in daytime shooting. They feature simple construction and hold together well. In my experience, you can set ‘em and forget ‘em. 

Because of the inherent size of the tritium vials and the daytime “paint” (for lack of a better word) surrounding them, they are not the best for shooting at long distances. The large dots can cover and obscure the target, making accuracy more difficult. The larger dots, however, are great for getting a fast sight picture for close range, defensive shooting

Glock 43 and S&W Shield Plus
The fiber-optic sights on the Shield Plus (left) are much more intricate than the simple night sights on the Glock 43 (right).

Fiber-Optics

Fiber-optic sights utilize thin tubes (sometimes called fiber cables) that are designed to draw in and absorb light, resulting in high-visibility dots. The fiber optic is a flexible, colored fiber that transmits light the entire length and is made of a mixture of plastic and glass. It isn’t very thick, but features a reflective sheath surrounding the fiber itself.

This high-visibility, light-absorbing core material surrounded by reflective material traps light in the tube which is then visible to the shooter. This makes the bright colored tubes appear to light up a bit to your eye. They are “powered” by the lighting around them and therefore do not have an expiration date. 

One major benefit to fiber-optic sights is that the thin rods create very small dots to comprise your sight picture. This allows you to see the target more clearly with fewer obstructions. This makes them great for the range, as they allow for excellent accuracy. 

However, these plastic-like tubes are fairly fragile and can break under impact. At times, they have been known to fly off due to the recoil while firing. This is why most are designed with a metal frame guard to help protect the light pipes and keep them secure.

Glock 43 in hand
A front night sight and blacked-out rear provides a clean and simple sight picture.

TruGlo offers a good set with a rigid frame. The fiber-optic rods slide into little tube sections and are melted at the ends to stay in place. If you happen to lose one, it’s a simple replacement job (many even come with replacement tubes), but I would not want it to happen in a self-defense situation. Although, if it does, you will still likely be able to get an impaired sight picture using the remaining hole(s). Red, orange, and green are the most common colors — similar to high-visibility night sights. 

So, fiber-optics are great with light, but what about at night or in the dark? Well, first, firing in complete pitch black darkness isn’t common or advisable. Target identification is paramount. Most times we are just in low light and should have a weapon light. I know, “should.” Save the arguing for the Comment section. This provides enough light to get a decent sight picture. It is in no way better, or comparable, to true night sights, but it will likely function the majority of the time. 

TruGlo fiber-optic sights
These TruGlo TFX Pro fiber-optic sights feature a reinforced housing to keep them protected.

Purpose

By now, you’re likely asking, “Which is best?” That depends on purpose and preference. I lean heavily toward steel night sights. The added durability is comforting and the sight picture works better for my eyes and shooting. I just don’t feel like I’m benefited by anything other types of sights provide.

That is not to say I avoid fiber-optics altogether. However, I reserve them strictly for range guns — even then I do so sparingly. If a gun I like comes with a good set of sights, I don’t feel the immediate need to change them. But, if I have the option to have night sights from the jump, I take it. 

There are those who prefer fiber-optic sights, though. Some feel the high-visibility and light absorption allows them to get a quicker sight picture and track the sights easier. This can translate to faster, more accurate firing.

SIG P226 slide racking on table
A good set of night sights is durable enough to rack the slide on a table in an emergency.

I believe it’s largely up to personal preference. Understanding what sights work best for you really only comes by trying them. Your preferences may also change over time. I’m under 30, perhaps my feelings will be different as my eyes age. 

Final Thoughts 

It seems everything in the firearms world is about balance and compromise. From caliber selection to carry gun size, and even sight selection. Fiber-optic and night sights are the two most popular options, especially for defensive handguns. There are definite pros and cons to each, but they are both excellent options that will serve you well. If you haven’t, test them both out and see what works best for you. Then, get to shooting! 

Do you prefer fiber-optic or night sights on your handguns? What is your thought process behind the decision? Let us know in the Comment section.

About the Author:

Alex Cole

Alex is a younger firearms enthusiast who’s been shooting since he was a kid. He loves consuming all information related to guns and is constantly trying to enhance his knowledge, understanding, and use of firearms. Not a day goes by where he doesn’t do something firearms-related and he tries to visit the range at least a couple of times a month to maintain and improve his shooting skills.

His primary focus is on handguns, but he loves all types of firearms. He enjoys disassembling and reassembling firearms to see how they work and installs most of the upgrades to his firearms himself, taking it as a chance to learn. He’s not only interested in modern handguns and rifles, he appreciates the classics for both historical value and real-world use.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (10)

  1. All three of my Glocks carry Ameriglo tritium night sights. Green tritium front with orange outline and yellow tritium rear with white outline. It creates the best sight picture for me in any lighting condition.

  2. I Bought a Ruger LC9,(original) when they first came out. I put a Crimson Trace red laser on it. Factory sights work just fine till late twilight, then the laser is wonderful. I haven’t had to shoot anyone yet,(thank God); use what you are comfortable with. The laser will change hearts and minds in an instant.

  3. Sights are an easy and affordable upgrade for most firearms. I like the TruGlo TFO which includes both options in a single sight set, for the best of both worlds, and on a Glock, it also allows a single hand cocking ability AND eliminates the in Vague Goal Post. The Glock 44, with OEM sights, doesn’t really present a very accurate sight system, however replacing them with the TruGlo Pro, just makes it awesome. The big white dot is fast on in the daytime, and in the evening light, the three dot illuminated are pretty bright too, and accuracy is much improved, day or night. As for something like a Ruger Red Hawk, well, haven’t seen any night sights, but it probably wouldn’t matter after the first muzzle blast, but fiber optics are a great improvement, although I imagine those who EDC a 44 Mag are far and few. On something like the old Ruger Blackhawks, the front sight is not easily replaceable, as it is welded on, but there are options to replace the rear adjustable sight with a mounting plate for Reflect Red Dots, which is like Wild West 2023. LOL. As for Red Dots, for me they seem to be better on carbines, than pistols. Laser sights were not mentioned, but most I have seen at the range, doesn’t matter your age, looks like they have the “shakes”,and may be embarrassing to use. 🙂

  4. I use the XS “Big Dot” on all my carry guns! Period. The big dot is great for quick action & works great at night. BIG DOT all the way.

  5. All my self defense guns have TruGlo TFO (tritium fiber optics). These has held up to lost of rounds in .40 and .45. My recent purchase came with the TFO sight but had the plate for a red dot. Had to remove the rear TFO to install the red dot. I have also seen a number of compact pistols being carried by LEO detectives with red dots on them. I do agree with many here. If you need glowing dot to see you sights can you even see the possible threat. I ain’t shootin’ what I can’t identify.

  6. I use a Glock G30 with factory sights. I see no need for either option. If I get in a night time self defense shoot out it most likely will be in my house. Longest target distance is twelve feet. This is point and shoot distance (Which I practice at 3, 5 and 7 yards). I am 83 years old and still shoot fist sized groups at those distances, both in slow fire and mag dump speeds. My two cents worth.

  7. You can have your cake and eat it. I just put a set of Truglo day & night sights on my Glock G40. They consist of a tritium/fiber optic green dot front sight and tritium/fiber optic yellow two-dot rear sight.

  8. Nicely done discussion, and I share your logic and conclusions. I’m an older guy, and my primary interest is self defense. I have handguns with almost any sight combination one can assemble, but my nightstand and my carry guns have tritium night sights. As for shooting tighter groups at the range with the various other sights that don’t obscure as much of the target, I’m not trying to impress anyone, I’m maintaining proficiency. As for the rush to red dots (which you gracefully ignored), I have been experimenting for about 6 months now, and I have good days and bad days. I do pick up the dot as quick or quicker than with tritium, and do have more “dead center” percentage hits….but….I have many more really bad misses. In a crunch, I don’t want any “misses” or “malfunctions”!

    Maybe the red dot will eventually be the better choice for my aging eyes, but not yet. Tritium is the winner.

  9. I have hsd night sights put onto many pistols over the years; but I came to the conclusion about 10 years ago, that for me, If I could not see non-illuminated sights in the ambient lighting conditions, I certainly could not see my target well enough to take the shot.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading