What Are Tritium Sights, and Are They the Right Type of Night Sight for You?

Tritium sights are an essential tool for anyone that uses a modern handgun, especially when it’s dark. Unlike red dots, these lights are not too bright and therefore won’t give away your position. Plus, there’s no risk of the light suddenly ceasing to work. Throughout this article, we will provide insights into what tritium sights are and other important things you should know about them.

Table of Contents

What Is a Tritium Sight?

A tritium sight is a radioactive hydrogen- 3 (3H) isotope used for illumination. The isotope is a byproduct of nuclear fusion mainly derived from nuclear weapons production.

This isotope of hydrogen consists of a hydrogen atom with one proton, one electron, and two neutrons, but this doesn’t light up on its own. Manufacturers store the isotope in small phosphorus-coated glass vials so that the electrons in 3H react with the phosphorus, creating light.

Tritium lights don’t need a constant energy source to light up, so manufacturers love them. It’s an independent light source that’s reliable and durable. Tritium is quite expensive, so manufacturers use it in small amounts, a gram of Tritium will cost you around $30,000.

Who Uses Tritium Lights?

Tritium sights are used in defense weapons such as handguns, but they are also present in glow-in-the-dark watches and wall clocks. Additionally, you can find them in glow sticks and self-illuminating emergency exit signs.

Shelf Life of Tritium Sights

Tritium degrades and has a halflife of about 12 years. This causes the sights to become dimmer with time, and eventually stop glowing. After about 12 years, your sights will be half as bright as when you first installed them.

Some colors hold up better than others, but as a general rule, we recommend replacing the tritium sights in your handgun every 5-6 years to keep the sights bright and easy to use.

Factors That Affect Tritium Sights Shelf Life

Because this chemical is so expensive, you need to understand what makes it degrade faster to help you care for your tritium sights better. Here are some of the factors that affect its lifespan.


Tritium comes in different colors, each of which degrades differently. Green tritium, for instance, is easily recognizable even in the dark, and it’s also the most durable, spanning 12 years. Its durability and visibility make it the most popular.

The yellow version is still bright, but it’s dull compared to its green counterpart. Yellow tritium tends to strain the eyes, especially if you’re targeting an area further than usual. This color also spans around 12 years.

Tritium comes in orange as well, and this is rarely used in firearms because it’s harder to pick up, is less reflective, and makes it hard for a shooter to focus on what’s ahead. Orange tritium lasts about five years.


The quality depends on the brand and your preference for glowing intensity. Several manufacturers produce this kind of sight, but the best thing to look for is a manufacturer that makes sights with a high tritium percentage.

Usage and Storage

Tritium night sights aren’t chargeable but use minimal energy. Problems arise if you have incorrect usage and storage mechanisms. These sights will start to work when dim, so their lifespan will reduce if you store them somewhere dark. Using your night sights daily will also result in the tritium light degrading faster than usual.

Other Types of Night Sights

what are tritium sights

Photoluminescent Sights

If you’ve ever had a glow-in-the-dark watch, then you’re familiar with this kind of lighting. Photoluminescence is the ability of a light source to trigger an object to light up.

Depending on the quality of the sight, photoluminescent sights can last up to 8 hours and will need to be recharged. You can, for instance, charge this type of light for ten to thirty minutes under direct sunlight. The main advantage of this night sight is that you can recharge them, and the main disadvantage is the need for a light source.

Laser Sights

Laser sights focus on a target, and if you have a single target on sight, then you have a chance for more accurate and faster follow-up shots. These sights come in a wide range of colors, with red and green being the most common.

The main issue with this type of lighting is that it’s more visible, and a target may notice they’re being tracked. The incredibly-focused lighting may also give away your position.

These sights require electricity to recharge, and some can be battery-powered. Laser sights also cost less than tritium sights, although tritium has the advantage of needing no recharge.

Fiber Optic Sights

Fiber optic sights can be a bit difficult to install on firearms, but they can last for a long time when installed correctly. These sights are essentially made from strings of optical fiber, and they come in a myriad of colors. Fiber optic sights are also significantly cheaper than tritium night sights.

Like photoluminescent sights, fiber optic sights require a trigger to charge them, and they depend on an external light source to illuminate. When it comes to overall reliability, fiber optic sights win over tritium sights because tritium sights will degrade over time. Fiber optic sights don’t degrade even after being stored for decades — all you have to do is expose them to a bit of light, and they light back up. They also pair well with tritium sights.

Reflex Sights

Reflex sights work well with a medium-range target and use light to point at a target with a red mark. These lights are battery-operated and heavy compared to other sights, and despite all these disadvantages, reflex sights are still pricey.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Are Night Sights?

Night sights are weapon sights that glow in the dark. Sights help shooters align their shots to their targets. Most of these night sights are made of tritium, although some are made from other chargeable materials. Most firearm experts prefer using tritium sights because they’re durable and don’t need standard charging. A tritium night sight will not give away your position as a shooter.

Is It Safe To Use Tritium Sights?

Despite being a radioactive material, tritium only emits negligible amounts of beta radiation, which is less harmful to humans. Tritium sight manufacturers also address this danger by housing the tritium in rugged vials that absorb this radiation, making it harmless to any sight user.

The only way this radioactive product would harm you is if you directly inhale or ingest the iridium, for instance, if the protective housing breaks. Even then, manufacturers use very little iridium and hydrogen, which is the building block of this isotope that would react in your body to form water.

Tritium loses its radioactive nature within seconds of being exposed to air. Aside from the fact that tritium is made from broken nuclear weapons, this isotope is also produced in the environment because of gamma rays reaching the earth.

Can I Make My Tritium Sights Brighter?

The only way to make a tritium sight brighter is to use it in extremely dark areas. Unfortunately, as this is an independent light, you can’t charge your night sights. You can, however, enhance a night sight’s brightness by using a UV or foil reflector.

How Long Can I Use My Tritium Sights?

You can use your tritium sights for as long as they can produce light. If your sights have become dimmer, supplement the light by using a shining UV or foil reflector to magnify it. Tritium’s half-life is slightly more than a decade before its ability to produce light wanes.

Can We Make Tritium?

Tritium is a byproduct of nuclear reactor operations and nuclear weapon production. It’s primarily made it by irradiating lithium metal. In nuclear reactions, tritium is used alongside deuterium to fuel nuclear fusion.

How Much Tritium Is in Gun Sights?

Gun sights use artificially-made tritium. A typical rifle sight contains about 0.012 curies.

Are Fiber Optic Sights or Night Sights Better?

Both are excellent choices for your firearms, although they each have their advantages and disadvantages. Fiber optic sights need exposure to light to work, and tritium sights will produce light without needing a recharge.

Fiber optic lights work in the dark better than tritium sights and are more reliable in storage and reliability. There is no risk of radioactive exposure with tritium.

Final Thoughts

You now have a clear understanding of what tritium sights are and how they compare to other types of night sights. Despite being practically harmless, tritium is still a chemical compound that needs proper storage. We have already covered potential risks, such as the risk of radiation exposure, but beta radiation isn’t that much of a threat.

Still, you need to take the proper precautionary measures to keep yourself protected. Before storing your firearm, inspect it to ensure that the glass vial isn’t compromised.

Your firearm’s night sights will come in handy, especially when you need light in the dark to locate and lock in your target. This chemical doesn’t need to recharge and has a long shelf life, which makes it extremely reliable. There’s no chance that it’ll suddenly switch off when you need lighting most.

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