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Stand-Alone vs Clip On A Thermal Scope

Is it better to have a stand-alone or a clip on your thermal scope? Which will function more effectively? In this article, we’re going to talk about what each version of a scope is and how they function. We’ll also dive into how they stack up against each other, plus the upsides and downsides of each. If you own an AR-15 or a similar rifle and currently in search of a thermal scope, it is important to read this article through so you know what to look for and expect as you’re looking for a scope of your own.

What Are Thermal Scopes And How Do They Work?

Stand-Alone vs Clip On A Thermal Scope

A thermal scope is designed to pick up heat signatures on a target. Typically, the temperature will be based on color. In cooler temperatures, you’ll notice that the colors are either in blue or green. Warmer temperatures will have color indicators like orange or red. So how does this all work on a thermal scope? Thermal scopes use infrared (IR) technology. This is the type of technology that will allow us to see things that are not visible to our own eyes.

There are a handful of groups that often rely on infrared technology for the sake of picking up thermal patterns. They include the military, law enforcement and security forces, and even those who work in various industries who use thermal imaging for maintenance purposes. If you own a gun that can work well with a thermal scope, you have the best line of defense against prowlers near your home or a best friend out in the hunting field when the light conditions are not up to par.

How does this all work? Objects that are either natural or manmade will give off this infrared energy that is translated into heat. There are three infrared light categories: near, mid-infrared, and thermal-infrared. Obviously, we’ll be looking at thermal-IR. This is the type that is used on all thermal scopes.

But does it need any light to work? Absolutely not. These will work in complete darkness. So, if you're out hunting before sunrise (where it is allowed) or if someone breaks into your home, you'll always have a reliable scope to work with in either situation. As far as hunting goes, you'll feel like you're cheating. But aside from the laws and regulations in your jurisdiction, there are no rules to what you can use for hunting.

Thermal Scopes vs Night Vision

There is often a lot of confusion over thermal scopes and night vision scopes. While both are effective in conditions where light is non-existent, both have distinct differences. For one, night vision picks up passive light sources or radiation. If there is some light, the night vision will pull that light signal in and magnify it. With thermal vision, it will use heat sources. It will pick up heat signals from different types of objects (people, animals, etc.). When pitted against each other in terms of what to use in low light or no light conditions, it’s no contest. Thermal scopes will always come out on top in terms of night vision no matter what application you use it for.

Stand-Alone Thermal Scopes: An Overview

Stand alone thermal scope

So what is a stand-alone thermal scope? These are scopes that are often mounted to your rifle or gun just like any other scope. Plus, they have an internal reticle. Plus, it will work just like any other scope. You’ll have adjustments that are designed for windage and elevation. Of course, you’ll also have adjustments for parallax as well. This will also depend on the model scope you get. Keep in mind that not all models are created the same. At the end of the day, you’re looking at your basic rifle scope with thermal imaging added on to it.

The Pros And Cons Of A Stand-Alone Thermal Scope

A stand-alone thermal scope has its advantages. But with advantages, it also comes with its share of disadvantages. Let's take a look at each one so you are aware of what you might expect if you choose to buy and use a stand-alone scope:

Pro #1: Excellent For The Purpose Of Hunting

As mentioned, adding on a stand-alone thermal scope is the same as adding on a basic rifle scope that is designed for the use of hunting. Whether you’re hunting for varmint or deer, it’s always good to have a scope that is set and ready to go whenever you need it most. This is also the best scope of choice when compared to night vision. Especially if you’re hunting targets are coyotes or hogs.

Pro #2: Some Scopes Are Easy To Install

Although clip ons tend to have an advantage in terms of installation, we can't forget that some standalone scopes (and even basic rifle scopes for that matter) are easy to install. In other words, your level of gunsmithing skills won't even matter. Installing a scope should not be the least intimidating of a task. All you need to do is mount it on to your rifle and you are good to go.

Pro #3: More Affordable

If you're looking for a thermal scope but you're on a budget, you might consider a standalone scope as your best choice if you're dead set on getting a scope with thermal optics. It is important that you should place quality as a higher priority over price while searching for a scope. Even scopes with a low price tag may not perform very well and will give you the quality you want out of a thermal scope. As a rule, find the best stand-alone scope that you can afford instead of skimping on quality because it was cheap in price.

Con #1: Added Weight

Part of the reason why some gun owners would choose a clip on over a standalone will be due to the fact that it will be easier to carry. In other words, a stand-alone scope may add on a little bit more weight to a rifle than it already has. This may be detrimental in situations like combat or self-defense situations where a heavy gun will often equal less time to quickly draw it. And in those types of situations, timing is critical.

Con #2: Normal Usage May Not Be Possible

By this, we mean that when thermal mode is on, you may not be able to use your gun as usual (like during the day). This may be averted if you happen to have a secondary offset-mounted optic. Stating the obvious, using these during the day will be next to impossible. Besides, what's the point in using a thermal scope when you're out hunting in broad daylight?

Clip On Thermal Scopes: An Overview

Clip on thermal scope

A clip on thermal scope is considered a game-changer among experienced thermal scope users. Especially when you've long been a user of a stand-alone scope. Clip ons are pretty self-explanatory. You clip the thermal scope onto your rifle and you're good to go. These are excellent when you're in a situation like a home defense situation. Whether you use a rifle or a handgun, a clip on can be attached in a matter of seconds.

At the same time, you don't need to worry about zeroing in these types of scopes. These are probably the most versatile of the two since you can use these both during the day in broad daylight or at night when light conditions are non-existent. Plus, if you already have a basic rifle scope, you can have an instant thermal upgrade in a matter of seconds. Once again, if your currently existing scope is zeroed in and ready to go, there is no point in having to zero it in again for the sake of adapting it to your new thermal add-on.

The Pros And Cons Of A Clip On Thermal Scope

Like the stand-alone thermal scopes, the clip on scopes have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. They are as follows:

Pro #1: No Installation Needed

When you hear the words "clip on", then it's pretty self-explanatory. You can clip on a scope onto your rifle without having to rely on certain tools. Likewise, there are clip on optics that can work in conjunction with your currently existing scope that is mounted onto your rifle.

Pro #2: Best Used In Self-Defense or Tactical Situations

In moments when your life's on the line, every second is critical. That is why it will only take a matter of seconds to clip on a scope or optic before it is ready for battle. This is key especially when most self-defense incidents like home invasions occur at night. Plus, turning on the lights may often scare off or give burglars a signal to wait for the oncoming defender. With a thermal scope, you won't need to turn on the light. This will, in turn, give you a much greater advantage against your target, especially multiple targets.

Pro #3: Can Be Used Either Day Or Night

While thermal scopes have the ability to pick up targets via heat signatures at night, clip ons also have the ability to function even in broad daylight. The main benefit of this is that regardless if you switch from daytime to nighttime optics, you won’t have to repeat the task of zeroing in your scope. No matter what mode, your scope will be set and ready for action.

Con #1: More Costly

If your bank account has a bit more breathing room, then you can possibly swing for a clip on thermal scope or optic. However, if you're on a budget this may not be an ideal scope to go after. This may be due to the fact that the clip on is an added convenience (as is the ability of not having to zero in your scope after switching modes).

Con #2: Won’t Work With Red Dot Scopes

If you have a red dot scope, there's a good chance that a clip on thermal optic will not work just as effectively. With red dot scopes, the reticle on your target is usually superimposed. Plus, the eye relief is usually limitless. Using these types of scopes is the equivalent of looking out a window. However, if you add a clip on thermal optic, you'll only see the thermal display, but not the entire display that you would normally see on a red-dot scope without thermal mode.

Stand-Alone vs Clip On: What Should You Choose?

If you’re in search of a thermal scope, your final decision will always come down to your personal needs and preferences. At the same time, you’ll also need to consider your intended purpose. If you’re using a gun that is designed for hunting purposes (night hunting, more specifically), then you’re more than likely to find that a stand-alone optic will serve you better in the long run. Likewise, if you use a clip on thermal optic, then you’ll be able to add it onto your optic if you happen to be out hunting from the early morning pre-dawn hours to daylight hours. And best of all, you don’t need to make any adjustments to accommodate any mode.

If you use your gun for home defense purposes, it’s better to use a clip on thermal image since you might have a scope already attached to your gun. If you don’t have a scope already on, you can simply apply a clip on scope and be able to install it in very little time. Regardless, it will save time and even your life if you are able to quickly add something onto your gun that ensures an advantage over your target.


Whether you’re using a stand alone or a clip on, having a thermal optic on your gun will give you a better, if not unfair advantage regardless of your intended application. Find the best thermal scope that fits your personal needs, preferences, and best of all your budget. Once you use a thermal scope, you will be satisfied with the way it performs compared to night vision scopes or optics.

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