Range Reports

SIG’s Light 9mm, the P290

Black SIG P290 with boxes of ammo on a wood plank background

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.

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.


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.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (11)

  1. Just purchased my 290RS a few hours ago. Haven’t fired it yet. Why am I leaving this note? I’m a big guy and needed an easier to conceal pistol that was 9mm NATO capable, would’t print, and most important, fit my hand. The 290RS with the optional 8-round mag provides everything I needed. The point? I had never heard of this model of Sig….And can’t figure out why. JDW, DFW

  2. I purchased the p290rs orb about 6 months ago. Have read many reviews regarding light strikes and must say that I had that issue with my first outing but took the advice of a few that said to break it down to the firing pin and clean / oil thoroughly. and BREAK DOWN and buy some good ammo!! tulammo and other white box 115 grain will give you a 30 to 40 percent light strike experience. no problems at all using 124 grain. confidence is restored. Finally…..to easily break down the p290rs, lock the slide open……insert the orange piece (that comes in the gun that holds the slide open) into the gun with the bullet or rounded end towards the barrel. then release the slide and the pin will easily slide right out. you dont need three hands!!!

  3. 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.

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

    1. +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.

  5. 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!

    1. 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!)

    2. I would have to disagree about Glock trigger reset being the Glock. Shoot a Walther PPQ. Best striker fired trigger reset I have ever felt.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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