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