Night Sights: Do We Really Need Them?

Night sights are aftermarket sights that generate their own light, usually from tritium, which is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. There are variations; some use a 3-dot system, the same as non-illuminated sights. Others use 2 dots, where the shooter puts a “dot” on top of the I. A few other variations exist, but they are the exceptions and for this discussion, we’re going to keep it simple.

So, do we really need night sights for our firearms? 

Night sights might not be necessary. But I’d rather have them and not need them than the other way around. They might give me that tiny edge that I need in a confrontation. In a lethal encounter, fractions of a second can pay huge dividends. If I mount night sights and never need them, who cares? I didn’t hurt anything by adding them.

Training And Experience

During my career in law enforcement, I spent a good deal of time shooting at night and in low-light conditions. The ability to see my sights always proved to be a massive advantage over not being able to see them. We also had night sights on our AR-15 rifles, which helped a lot when engaging targets at night.

Will our sights mislead us?

Some have said that night sights might prompt us to take a shot that we shouldn’t; if it’s too dark to see the sights, it’s too dark to see the target, and we might shoot someone whom we shouldn’t have. I disagree. There is a new invention that helps us to see in the dark, and it’s called a flashlight! We can project light with it to see our target (it’s almost like magic). One has to assume that the people who believe we shouldn’t shoot in low light have never heard of a flashlight, or else do not carry one with them. Either way, they need to get a clue.

A gunman in a home.
We rarely operate in pitch blackness. Night sights might give us that fraction of a second we need to prevail in a violent encounter. (Photo: Getty Images)

Scenarios

The following scenarios are not all-encompassing, and readers will undoubtedly come up with far more scenarios than I listed here. I’m just trying to get people thinking about some different instances that could pop up.

There are times when your target might be illuminated, but you will be in a dark space, in which you’d normally be unable to see your sights. In such instances, night sights will be a huge help. Perhaps you’re hidden in the shadows, using concealment, and your target is lit by a street light or even sunlight. He’s just fired a couple of rounds at you and you’ve ducked into the shadows. You can now see your sights and your target, so you can engage.

Another scenario is a threat illuminated by a car’s headlights. You’re behind that curtain of light and can clearly see the target, but he cannot see you. He points a weapon or begins firing your way. You can see your sights because they are night sights.

Perhaps you’re in a dark room and the threat is outside in the light. Again, you can see your sights, but the bad guy will have trouble seeing you.

Let’s step away from the civilian defensive aspect for a moment and shift to military service. Say you’re on a street in a foreign land, and your mission has you in an area where there are no good guys (it happens). You literally may find yourself facing one or more threats coming at you. You don’t want to activate a white light because it will draw fire. In such a case, using your glowing night sights to engage those shadows would be acceptable. No, it doesn’t happen often (thank goodness), but it is a fact of life for some military folks, and if they have access to night sights, they’ll probably be very grateful.

Glock night sights.
Originally intended for military issue, Glock made 3-dot night sights standard on their 19X models. I applaud Glock for doing so! They’re steel (read that as durable) and they glow in the dark. Who could ask for more?

Other scenarios may come into play in the future. Let’s say society breaks down to the point where there is complete chaos (we all know it could never happen, but humor me, okay?). I’d bet those with night sights would be happy to have them at that juncture.

Maybe it’s true that the amount of scenarios in which night sights would be beneficial is limited, but they still do exist. And they might be more abundant than we’d initially think. Next time you’re out and about, start taking notice of how different lighting situations might affect your ability to fire your weapon.

Illuminated sights
Those three little, glowing dots could save your life. This sight picture is from Ameriglo Classic 3-Dot sights on a Glock 43X.

Pros

  • We can see the sights, even in the dark.
  • We can shoot more accurately in low light or no light.
  • They can help us find our pistol in the dark. We’ll likely have the pistol stored in the same place, but it still helps. And if we drop our pistol in an emergency, the sights can help us locate it faster.
  • Night sights are typically made better and more durably (of steel) than factory sights. Especially Glock sights, which are normally made from polymer.
  • We can pick the colors of the sights – most commonly green, yellow, orange, and red.
  • They (obviously) work in the daytime too; most sights have bright outlines around the tritium inserts.
  • There are no batteries. And no need to be “charged”, as with luminous paint.
  • No switches to turn on; it’s always on.
  • Very compact; the tritium vials are contained inside the sights, so the weapon’s signature is not changed. No need for different holsters.

Cons

  • Cost more than factory sights.
  • Won’t illuminate our target (although they’re not supposed to, so it’s debatable for this to even be a con).
  • Some claim that the glowing sights can be a distraction at night while aiming (I’ve never found this to be the case).
  • They aren’t a magic fix; we still need to train and practice to have the fundamentals down.
  • Tritium has a finite life, which means it will “die” (I.e., become less luminous, or “glowy”) after about 10-12 or so years.

Conclusions

As I see it, the Pros outweigh the cons. In talking to colleagues and people who are experienced and “in the know,” most agree that adding night sights to any weapon will enhance that particular weapon.

silhouette of intruder in window at night
Why wait for the Grim Reaper to call before realizing that night sights will enhance any weapon platform? (Photo: ghostemperor)

By adding upgraded sights, you are enhancing your chances of prevailing by being able to see your sights better.

Worst case scenario, you put night sights on your pistol, and at the moment of truth, you don’t need that glowing option. You still have sights that are just as effective as if they were not night sights, without harm to your gun or sight picture. In my mind, that is enough reason to add them to your firearm.

So, what are you waiting for?

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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