A few years ago, all the major manufacturers were introducing tiny pocket pistols chambered in .380 ACP. The natural evolution of the market was to upsize these somewhat underpowered guns to 9mm—a better caliber for serious self-defense.
When Sig Sauer first announced the P290 as their entry into the micro-sized 9mm market, some critics said the gun was too big and heavy. Certainly the newest Sig is not the smallest or lightest 9mm available, but that doesn’t mean the P290 doesn’t have a lot to offer. This pistol is bigger than most in its class, and that is actually what I have come to like about it.
Honestly, my first impression of the P290 was not favorable. The gun looks very top heavy and has an extremely short grip. I worried the gun wouldn’t fit my hand well and would be difficult to control. All my worries turned out to be unfounded—but more on that later. The P290 is considerably smaller than Sig’s next largest subcompact 9mm, the P239. The P290 is less than six inches long and less than four inches high. These dimensions are impressive, especially considering the P290 has a capacity of six rounds of 9mm in the magazine, plus one in the chamber, and is rated for +P ammunition.
The top-heavy look and feel of the gun results from the robust stainless steel slide assembly. Despite the lightweight polymer frame, the gun weighs in at more than 20 ounces unloaded. While somewhat heavy compared to other micro-sized 9mm pistols, the weight is not unworkable for a deep concealment gun. Consider that one of the traditional concealed carry favorites, a 5-shot stainless steel snubnose revolver, weighs several ounces more and packs less firepower. In a strange way, the relative bulk of the P290 actually inspires some confidence in the gun and makes for a very comfortable feel in the hand.
The P290 is a Browning type tilting barrel, locked breech design with an external hammer. The trigger system is classified as Double Action Only (DAO), although the firing mechanism is partially tensioned by operation of the slide. No manual safety is offered or required on this DAO pistol. The only external controls are the beefy slide release lever and the full-size magazine release button.
Sig pistols always come well equipped, and the P290 is no exception. The pistol features a polymer frame and stainless steel slide for maximum corrosion resistance—which is important for a gun carried close to the body. The P290 also comes standard with Sig’s tritium SIGLITE night nights. Front and rear sights fit in a dovetail, so replacing the sights is not a problem if you have an aftermarket sight configuration you prefer.
One interesting feature of the P290 is the removable plates built into the polymer grips. Unlike other polymer frame pistols, this Sig’s grip side plates are interchangeable. The standard plates are a textured black polymer, and are well-designed for a secure grip. However, Sig will offer other options, including colored polymer, aluminum, and wood.
Owners will be able to customize their pistols with different looks and feels without making any permanent changes. Sig also offers a laser sight designed specifically for the P290. Although the gun does not have an accessory rail, there is a small slot on the bottom of the dust cover designed to mount the Sig factory laser unit.
Once installed, the Sig laser is very secure and looks like an integral part of the pistol. The laser is activated with ambidextrous push button switches on either side of the unit. Although I would prefer a momentary switch, the laser functions well and produces a bright red dot. The laser can be activated with either the trigger finger or the thumb of the support hand.
A small pistol is great for carry, but often difficult to shoot. With the P290, the extra bit of heft and bulk make the pistol much more comfortable to shoot than other tiny 9mm guns. The relatively large slide and controls make the gun easy to manipulate for loading, unloading, press-checks, and malfunction clearances. Even though I can only fit a single finger on the grip, all the necessary manipulations of the pistol are easily accomplished.
The additional weight of the gun helps recoil management. A couple of extra ounces in the slide really help tame the recoil of the 9mm loads. Even a recoil-sensitive shooter should have no problems controlling the P290. Although I worried that the small grip would make the gun difficult to control, the felt recoil is so mild that the grip length is not an issue. Even hot +P loads are quite manageable in this tiny Sig.
At realistic self-defense distances, the P290 can deliver one-inch groups all day long. After getting bored with clover-leaf groups, I backed up for longer shots. At thirty feet, the group size opened up to a bit more than three inches. Even after retreating to the 25 yard line, the P290 could quickly dump a full magazine into the “A-zone” of a standard IPSC silhouette target.
The SIGLITE night sights are excellent, and certainly help the gun’s accuracy. Unlike some micro-9mm pistols with small nubs where the sights should be, the Sig’s sights are normal-sized, and look just like the sights on a full-size pistol.
The DAO trigger is quite heavy, and stacks quite a bit at the end, making a smooth trigger pull somewhat challenging. There is significant room for improvement with the trigger, and I hope Sig will address that issue. Of course, a heavy double-action trigger can be overcome with practice, and adds a level of safety to this deep concealment gun.
The P290 performed flawlessly throughout my testing, digesting a variety of self-defense loads of various bullet weights without a problem. All in all, I fired more than 200 rounds without a stoppage of any sort. This is the level of reliability I expect from a Sig, and the P290 did not disappoint.
During my testing, I carried the P290 in a pocket holster most of the time. Pocket carry works well, so long as you have a good belt and relatively sturdy pants. Dressier pants with light fabrics won’t conceal as well because of the weight and size of the gun. The pistol also carries well inside or outside the waistband. The short overall length makes the gun ideally suited for appendix carry as well, where shorter pistols are more comfortable. Unfortunately the custom holster I ordered did not arrive in time for testing, but I found a Sig P239 holster would work, although it’s a bit longer than necessary for the P290.
The Sig P290 is small enough to carry in a pocket, but large enough to handle well and shoot well—having the feel of a much larger pistol. Sig Sauer has managed to deliver an impressive blend of size and performance. Although not the smallest 9mm pistol on the market, the P290 may be the most shootable 9mm in its class.
This pistol exhibits the fine fit and finish that has become a trademark of Sig Sauer, and Sig stands behind its products with excellent customer service and a lifetime warranty. The P290 has an MSRP of $758 without the laser, and $828 with the laser. Actual street prices will be somewhat less once the initial demand is satisfied. Given the $70 price difference, the model with the laser would seem to be the way to go.
If you are looking for a 9mm deep concealment gun, you should consider the Sig P290. But, don’t just hold the gun in your hand at a local shop—you really have to shoot the gun to appreciate the brilliance of the design. This Sig may be one of the biggest of the micro-sized 9mm pistols, but the size is actually the best feature of the gun. The P290 is big in all the right places. When it comes to small guns, the Sig Sauer P290 delivers big!
Prices as of July 2011
[ Duane A. Daiker is a contributing editor for CCM, but is otherwise a regular guy—not much different from you. Duane has been a lifelong shooter and goes about his life as an armed, responsible, and somewhat opinionated citizen. Duane can be contacted at Daiker@RealWorldCarryGear.com, or through his fan page on Facebook, and welcomes your comments and suggestions. ]
**The Sig P290 was provided on loan by Sig Sauer with an option to purchase at a discounted price. Ammunition was provided at no charge from the respective companies. The holsters used were from the author’s own collection.