guide to night sights

A Look At Different Styles Of Handgun Night Sights

If a core tenet of everyday carry is preparation, then night sights perfectly align with that principle.


Studies indicate that street lighting has historically affected the rate of violent crime, and that low light conditions correlate to higher violent crime rates.


Gun owners, however, may find that traditional handgun sights can be hard to see in the rushed immediacy of self-defense in dangerous low-light situations. Many use night sights to help properly place shots, but can find themselves lost in a sea of options when determining what might work best for their individual needs.


Here are four categories to consider for visible handgun sights in low light.


Photoluminescent Night Sights


photoluminescent night sights

A point of distinction with photoluminescent night sights is that they have to be “charged.”


The premise is the same regardless of the type of photoluminescence. With exposure to intense sources of light (LED, UV, fluorescent and so on) the energy (incoming photons) is stored within the applied chemicals and in low light situations the applied area visibly glows.

Without naming any specific companies, there are manufacturers that offer circular dots with industrial adhesive. These dots have the photoluminescent chemical (paint or otherwise) already applied and the consumer installs them him or herself.


Another option is applying the photoluminescent paint to the sights and letting it dry. Others also use glow in the dark nail polish. Point being, this is a lower cost route and reapplying the chemical over time is simple.


The problem resides in whether or not the weapon’s sights are appropriately exposed to the source of light to be charged, and if they are exposed, the intensity of the light may also play a factor in how visible they are in low light.


Where photoluminescent sights have to be exposed to an external source of energy, there is a well known option that is self-sustaining, more or less.


Tritium night sights


glow in the dark gun night sights

The energy source for tritium night sights is intrinsic. Through a series of reactions, these sights, which can be more expensive than the previous option, emit a soft source of light.


The light source stems from tritium gas, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The gas decays, and because of this it releases electrons and when those electrons strike phosphorous matter, a fluorescent light is created.


Altering the phosphorous matter is what affects the color, which is why they can come in different shades.


The half life of tritium is just shy of 12 and a half years, meaning after that time has passed it will officially be half as bright as when purchased. Some argue when used in night sights, the material is still bright enough to be feasibly used after those 12 years.


So the difference, bottom line, between the two options is that one is self-sustaining while the other must absorb photons (found in light, basically). One is radioluminescence, the other is photoluminescence.


The difference is in price and application. Tritium sights can also be a bit more involved to install appropriately. There are some that have a white border, and some that don’t. That may affect how visible the sights are during the day.


Some have different preferences: one single tritium dot, all three dots being tritium and the front dot being tritium with a bar behind to line up against. It’s all individual opinion and application, but the end result is that they’re visible in low light and help place shots effectively.


Fiber Optic Sights May Be Useful At Night


fiber optic gun sights

Do fiber optic sights emit light? No. They function as a contrasting material in the sights that is easy to distinguish.


However, there are tritium fiber optic sights in the marketplace that utilize both materials for the best attributes in both types. They aren’t the most compatible option, however.


Depending on the lighting and whether a flashlight is used in conjunction, fiber optic sights could function as night sights, but they often aren’t the first option. Many argue back and forth about their fragility, but if installed correctly they will generally be durable enough for everyday carry firearms.


The folks over at Gun Nuts Media argue a mounted flashlight may enhance fiber optic sights by potentially illuminating the front optic sight, and that in any case ambient light is going to be necessary to illuminate the target in a self defense scenario before a shot is responsibly placed.


Fiber optic sights, notably, aren’t always as expensive as their tritium counterparts. Like any modification, it needs to serve the individual’s needs and where they’re carrying the weapon.


Laser Sights Do Exactly What One Might Think


laser gun night sights

Laser sights used in low light conditions display a stream of light on the designated target.


They help establish target visibility, they’re “tacti-cool” and they’re relatively easy to install as a modification on most handguns, depending on the given model’s compatibility.


There are multiple open and concealed carry holsters that compensate room for laser sights. Many lasers come in different colors for those who are color blind.


As one might guess, their lifespan isn’t as long as tritium, as they’re often powered by batteries similar to those in hearing aids. They add bulk to a handgun, which make affect concealed carry.


They are often installed and uninstalled with simple tools.


Like any topic in the firearms community, handgun sights will elicit starkly contrasting opinions from every walk of life. The right choice for one handgun may not be the right choice for another.


It depends on lifestyle and environment.


Jake Smith 

About The Author


Jake Smith (@notjakesmith) is a copywriter in his final year of studying public relations and apparel at the University of Idaho.

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