SIG’s Light 9mm, the P290

By Bob Campbell published on in Range Reports

You should think carefully about the reasons for choosing a handgun. I do my best to test and review appropriate defensive handguns. And although the pistols may not be your choices, they are reasonable choices. With the explosion of concealed carry permits, many are carrying pocket pistols that give them more comfort than performance.

SIG SAUER P290

It takes a little more effort to manipulate the controls of the SIG P290 than a larger handgun, but it handles well for its size.

The .380 ACP cartridge was not nearly as popular before the introduction of the Kel-Tec pistols in that caliber. Light, compact and well-made pistols sell well, although professionals realize the wound ballistics of the .380 ACP are not enough to bet your life on. If you are dissuading a thief bent on profit, any gun will do, but a psychopath bent on causing suffering and death may not be impressed by a small-caliber bullet wound.

Shooter demand has resulted in the introduction of ultra-compact pistols in the more powerful 9mm Luger caliber. While a few are less than ideal, others are jewels worthy of your trust. A generation ago, the only small-carry compact pistols were in .380 ACP, and even the best quality .380 pistols were not completely reliable without proper maintenance. The Walther PPK and SIG P230 were among the top .380 ACP pistols. However, there were many poorly made pistols as well.

The SIG P290 Features

The SIG P290 is perhaps the ultimate development in compact 9mm pistols. Backed by a prestigious company with a proven track record in design and reliability, the P290 is a winner. The example illustrated comes with SIGLITE night sights and an interesting laser.

Black SIG P250 In supplied plastic holster on a white background.

The plastic holster supplied with the SIG is a fine range holster.

The SIG is supplied with a spare magazine and an inexpensive plastic holster, which is best regarded as suitable for range use, not service use. But it is at least something to carry the pistol in for a range outing.

For use with most holsters, you must remove the P290’s laser component. The spare magazine has a generous finger extension, which makes shooting easier and gives you options. You may prefer to carry the short magazine in the pistol for maximum concealment; otherwise, the longer gripping surface of the spare magazine gives good purchase on the draw. If you carry the extended magazine, shooting is easier, although the short magazine is easier to carry.

Since its introduction, I have been impressed by the polymer frame double-action-only SIG P250. The P290 relies on the proven lockwork of the P250, although the P290 is smaller, weighing only 24 ounces fully loaded with 115-grain. That is light enough for 24-hour carry and heavy enough to lessen the jolt of firing full-power or +P loadings. There are few firearms in this size and weight category that operate as smoothly or accurately as the SIG.

There are caveats in choosing the self-loader over the revolver:

  • The 9mm Luger and .38 Special cartridge are roughly comparable in wound ballistics, with the edge going to the .38 when firing both from a 2- to 3-inch barrel.
  • The 9mm offers less recoil in a similar weight handgun.
  • The reciprocating action of the self-loading pistol soaks up some of the recoil and transfers part of the load to the recoil spring.

A .38 kicks more with +P loads; I find the recoil unpleasant in most revolvers. The 9mm with +P loads offers little more jolt with heavy loads compared to recoil with standard loads—the greater momentum may simply make the recoil spring work harder. The self-loader offers greater hit probability and an instant second shot, and you absolutely must pay attention to detail.

  • You must maintain a proper grip to control recoil and be certain the pistol functions properly.
  • You must learn to field strip the pistol. Without being able to partially disassemble the pistol, you cannot clean and lubricate this handgun, and that is a necessity.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of the SIG P290.

Pros and Cons of the SIG P290

When firing the pistol, the double-action-only trigger proved smooth and controllable, breaking at perhaps 6 pounds. The sights are excellent (some makers do not seem to realize this simple fact—you need good sights on a compact pistol even more than on a full-size pistol).

Sight alignment is critical, and with the short sight radius, it is easy to misalign the sights. The tritium sights of the SIG pistol are ideal for rapid acquisition. They are large enough for close-range efficiency, and you get a good sight picture for good sight alignment well past the normal handgun range.

Black SIG P290 and .380 Ammunition

On the range, the P290 digested an eclectic choice of ammunition with good results.

I fired the pistol extensively with a new idiom in ammunition. Several companies are offering affordable steel-cased ammunition in 9mm caliber.

Those rounds were reliable, clean burning and accurate with zero problems, and the pistol was easy to control. With concentration, staying on a humanoid target to 15 yards was not difficult. While designed for close range, a trained shooter would be far from helpless at longer range with this pistol.

I also fired a good amount of the hotter rounds. That hollow-point ammunition was not quite in the +P category, which is a good choice for those that do not like +P recoil. The sights are well regulated at moderate range, with most loads striking about 2 inches high at 7 yards.

A black SIG P290 with a focus on the trigger action and grip.

The SIG P290 is ergonomically sound, with a smooth trigger action and stippled grip section.


There were no failures to feed, fire or eject when firing more than 200 rounds. However, I did experience a strange malfunction. The pistol is supplied with both a flush-fit six-round magazine and an extended eight-round magazine. The floor plate of the smaller magazine worked loose and moved forward. During the range session, the loaded magazine would not fully seat due to that movement. At first, I suspected a bullet nose popping out of the magazine; although as it turned out, the magazine floor plate was loose. The magazines are well made, but this was not a welcome incident.The feed lips are a bit sharp on the fingers during loading but are reliable in action. The laser supplied with the P290 is among the brightest compact lasers I have tested. It is OK as far as it goes, although I prefer to rely on the iron sights and not a device that uses a battery. Just the same, if you prefer the laser, this is among the neatest and brightest I have tested. It does not attach in the normal rail-gun fashion, instead it attaches using a curious figure-eight attachment that works well. You may remove the laser, if desired.

I carried the P290 in a belt holster with excellent results. and the holster offered good comfort and real speed. I also confirmed that the P290 is light and compact enough to carry in a pocket holster. The DeSantis Nemesis is the current top choice. In the end, the SIG P290 is a great pistol. It is light, compact, functional, smooth in operation and accurate enough for the task at hand. If you are willing to learn the manual of arms and maintain this pistol, it should serve you well in the personal defense role.

Footnote

In the interest of further proofing the pistol, I fired additional loads in the SIG P290. 124-grain JHP, 147-grain Subsonic and lead bullet handloads proved reliable. This is a good kit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What is your favorite SIG handgun? Do you plan to add the SIG P290 to your arsenal? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Trackback from your site.

The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (8)

  • Curt W.

    |

    I have carried the P290 for over a year, and generally I am happy with it. I have not experienced a failure to feed or fire and I appreciate the size and weight. The problem I had was with the magazine release and the way it released the magazine when I sat back wearing it in an IWB Crossbreed holster. I had Reynerson Gunsmithing in Baton Rouge machine down the release and they took over 1/8th of an inch off and this alleviated the problem. Otherwise this has been a good choice for concealed carry.

    Reply

  • Kelly Harbeson

    |

    Look closer. The 290 and the 938 could not be more different even if they shoot the same round.

    Reply

    • Nick S

      |

      +1 Agree. And EXACTLY why I would personally continue to carry my 238/938 over the 290. The trigger is simply MUCH easier to be accurate with – both on First AND Follow-up shots, IMHO.

      Reply

  • Mark

    |

    I have carried a Sig 938 for quite a while, now, both in my pocket and on my hip. Couldn’t be more satisfied (traded in a Kimber “solo” for it). Now you come out with what appears to be a lightweight version of the 938. STOP. I’m running out of excuses for upgrading!

    Reply

    • nick s

      |

      not sure I agree 100%… I own a 238 and LOVE it. (This comment is NOT about ballistics – it is about Trigger RESET). As a dedicated Glock guy, there is NO other trigger on earth with as good a short-reset as Glock, at least NOT unless it’s a 1911-style. Accordingly, while I respect that the 290 MIGHT be a touch smaller than the 238 (and I still don’t think it is) I believe the short-reset trigger is exactly the difference, and exactly why I would be more confident carrying the 238/938 platform, instead of the always-LOoooong-reset of the 290 chassis. Just my 2 cents.. We all agree that carrying a pocket-pistol is a compromise. To me, the trigger on the 290 is a deal breaker. SIG: GLOCKS PATENTS HAVE RUN OUT!!! PLEASE DO YOUR SELVES A FAVOR AND COPY THEIR AUTO-TRIGGER!!! (**THEN I WOULD HAVE NO EXCUSE TO NOT PURCHASE A 290!)

      Reply

  • MickD

    |

    I have a P290RS which has been my (pocket) carry gun for the last three years. It replaced a Kahr P40 which I could never get to work right, and survived a challenge from the Springfield XDS45, which likewise turned out to be troublesome. When the ammo madness first started 16 months or so ago, I bought 1000 rounds of American Eagle to use as practice ammo, and generally I’ll get a couple of light primer strikes or stovepipes out of every box. Perhaps it just doesn’t like AE much. However, I have run at least 200 rounds each of Gold Dot, Federal HST, and Ranger-T, without a failure, so it works flawlessly with high quality-controlled ammo.

    Reply

  • Kelly Harbeson

    |

    Is the P290RS the easiest pistol to shoot that I own? Not really. Is it the most concealable pistol I own in a major defensive caliber? Absolutely.

    Reply

  • CoachRick

    |

    I’ve had the P290rs for a few months and may be switching from the Kahr PM9 for EDC. The DA trigger takes a little getting used to and I find the overall small size to require a ‘fingerprint’ position on the trigger, rather than the more natural(for me) 1st finger joint. This allows me to make a much smoother complete(yeah, it’s LONG) trigger pull. It’s a bit heavier than the PM9, something I’ll have to study as we get in to warmer weather. I usually carry IWB and the Kahr has become very comfortable over the time I’ve used it. I do like the additional capacity of the P290, adding just a bit more weight to the already slightly heavier set-up. I’ve added a salvaged trimmed grip band to help fill my fairly large hand…same as I did with the Kahr.. Overall, I like the P290rs very much. It has performed without a hitch using aluminum cased Blazer target rounds as well as Blazer Brass and a couple others. I’ll of course run some SD rounds through to make sure it handles those as well before carrying; but I don’t anticipate any problems with the hollow point defense ammo.

    Reply

Leave a comment

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.


six + = 11