When someone mentions Crimson Trace, the first thing that comes to my mind is a pistol-mounted, grip-activated visible laser. While this style of aiming device was Crimson Trace’s chief offering for years, the company has expanded significantly over time – particularly since their acquisition by Smith & Wesson in 2016. Today, this 27-year-old Oregonian brand sells a broad spectrum of riflescopes, red dot optics, weaponlights, a variety of laser styles, and more. One of their newer products is the CMR-301, a rail-mounted visible light/laser combo intended for use on AR-style long guns. I recently got to spend some time checking out one of these units, and will share my thoughts on it below. First, you can familiarize yourself with the CMR-301 with Crimson Trace’s official product description, copied from the product page on their website.
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CMR-301 RAIL MASTER® PRO GREEN LASER SIGHT & TACTICAL LIGHT SYSTEM FOR AR-TYPE RIFLES
The CMR-301 Rail Master® Pro offers robust power and versatility for rail-equipped rifles and carbines. The laser sight + tactical light system provides 1000 lumens (peak) for illumination and a powerful green laser for precision targeting in variable lighting conditions. The CMR-301 is user programmable and may be operated with pressure pad or tail-cap. Fits standard AR-type modern sporting rifles with M1913 Picatinny or similar accessory rails measuring at least 2¾” in length.
- Attachment Accessory Rail Attachment
- Beam Intensity 5mW peak, 532nm, Class 3R green laser
- Dot Size Approx. 0.50″ at 50′
- Instant activation™ —modes- laser, light, laser and light
- Pic rail and M-LOK® mounts
- 1000 (peak) lumen LED light
- Green laser
- Push button and remote switch activation
- INCLUDED: Rechargeable battery
Installation proved a bit finicky with the swappable picatinny/M-LOK adapters, but the unit seemed solid once mounted. Controls were a highlight, with an easily-accessed and activated button on the back of the housing and a mode selection wheel that could be manipulated just with the same support hand thumb. In the 12 o’clock position I was able to turn the CMR-301 on/off as well as change from light only, laser only, or dual light/laser modes with a quick flick of my thumb tip. If your rail and mounting configuration demand it, you can also position the device off of your top rail and activate it with the included tape switch. Although it’s not as nice to use as a top-shelf brand like the Modbutton or Hot Button, it does the job and is a nice inclusion at this low price point. The laser worked fine in darkness, but don’t expect it to cut through too much light. In rooms with the lights on, or in natural daylight, its brightness and visibility significantly degrade.
I found the light to be about on par with my expectations for the price point. I have used numerous SureFires, Modlites, and I currently run a Cloud Defensive REIN on my main AR. As in many areas, with weapon lights, you generally get what you pay for. The CMR-301’s light doesn’t provide nearly the illuminating power of the above names, but since it costs significantly less, that’s okay. It does put out enough brightness that you could positively ID and shoot small varmint animals at night in close range. Realistically, I would estimate that shots with the CMR-301 would best be kept at around 100 yards or less. For safety’s sake, this is by no means a far-throwing, long-range light like the Modlite OKW. In total darkness, the Crimson Trace light does fine, but as soon as you start introducing ambient light and photonic barriers, it begins to struggle. I tested it side-by-side in daylight conditions with my REIN, and the Cloud Defensive light was able to cut through a significant amount of brightness to still remain visible. The CMR-301 was not, and its beam got overpowered by external light sources fairly quickly. Again, just bear in mind the capabilities for the cost. The Crimson Trace beam works best if you only need a light for unchanging, fully-dark environments. If you don’t need to cut through photonic barriers, that’s where this product shines best.
In all, the CMR-301 isn’t bad. While the utility of visible lasers may be somewhat limited and the light won’t be challenging top-tier illuminators anytime soon, this little unit does provide reasonable functionality in darkness on the cheap. The main aspect I wasn’t able to test was long-term durability, but Crimson Trace does offer good warranty support if need be. I wouldn’t recommend this for duty use or a defensive gun that you might have to trust your life to, but for less serious applications it will likely meet needs well. If you have some rural acreage beset by nocturnal varmints and need close-range inexpensive illum for a beater truck gun, this device may work fine for you without breaking the bank. Just be cognizant of its limitations and temper your expectations accordingly. If you’re clearing raccoons from an unlit barn or possums near your fencelines at night, the CMR-301 may be enough. If need your light to reach out further, say, to spot coyotes across a pasture, you’ll probably be better off saving up for higher-end equipment.
At the full $314.99 MSRP, this thing would be overpriced – but thankfully your actual street price from most major retailers will be decidedly better, enough to make this a viable purchase option in its niche. Within the budget category, the CMR-301’s basic functionality and rechargeable battery make this product a decent value in the dark for what it is. For a non-wallet-busting option, you could certainly do worse. See you at the range!
Images courtesy of the author, other TFB staff, and Crimson Trace.
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