SIG Sauer P290

posted on August 19, 2011

Small has become big. Diminutive pistols suitable for concealed carry are the current rage. A few years ago, many of the major firearm manufacturers introduced tiny pocket pistols chambered in .380 ACP. These little guns were a big hit with CCW holders, and it didn't take long for gunmakers to consider a 9 mm spin on the concept.

The problem, however, is 9 mm pistols must be somewhat larger than .380 ACP pistols. Even though the bullet diameter is the same (.335 inches), the 9 mm round generates much higher pressures, and therefore requires a stronger frame and slide to contain that energy. As a result, even the smallest 9 mm pistols tend to be significantly larger than their .380 ACP counterparts. While some gun buyers might bemoan the dimensional increase, a bit more size to a pocket pistol chambered for a full-power cartridge is not unwelcome. Very small pistols are great for carry, but they can be difficult to shoot.

SIG Sauer carefully balances these tradeoffs in its new P290, a micro-sized 9 mm that brings significant power to the pocket-pistol platform. Critics may be quick to point out the P290 is not the smallest or lightest 9 mm pistol available, but that's actually a good thing. The P290 has a lot to offer as an easily concealable defensive handgun, because it's just big enough in all the right places.

Small, but Sturdy
I will admit my initial impression of the P290 was not favorable. The gun looks very top heavy, and has an extremely short grip. I was worried the gun wouldn't fit my hand well and would be difficult to control under recoil—I can't even get two fingers on the gun's grip. My worries however, turned out to be unfounded.

The P290 is considerably smaller than SIG's next largest subcompact 9 mm, the P239. The P290 is less than 6 inches long, less than 4 inches high and features a 2.9-inch barrel. These dimensions are impressive, especially considering the P290 has a capacity of six rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber, and is rated for +P ammo.

Despite the small external dimensions, the P290 is anything but delicate. The top-heavy appearance of the gun results from the very robust stainless steel slide assembly. Despite the lightweight polymer frame, the gun comes in at more than 20 ounces unloaded. While this is somewhat heavy compared to some other micro-sized 9 mm pistols, the weight is not unreasonable if you consider stainless steel snub-nosed revolvers are several ounces heavier. I find the relative bulk of the P290 actually inspires some confidence in the gun, and makes for a very sturdy feel in hand.

Big Features
Without question, SIG Sauer pistols are quality products. They always come well-equipped, and the P290 is no exception—sporting all the features you would expect on a high-end concealed-carry pistol. The P290 has a polymer frame and stainless steel slide for maximum corrosion resistance, which is important for a pistol carried close to the body. It also comes standard with SIG's tritium SIGLite night nights. Front and rear sights are fit in a dovetail, so replacing them is not a problem. However, the factory sights are excellent, and not in need of an upgrade.

One unique feature of the P290 is the removable plates built into the polymer grips. Unlike other polymer-frame handguns, this pistol's grip side plates are interchangeable. The standard plates are a textured polymer complete with a sandpaper-like finish, and are well-designed for a secure grip. However, SIG will be offering a multitude of other options, including colored polymer (yes, even pink), aluminum and wood. These options will enable owners to customize their pistols with different looks and feels without making permanent changes. The grip plates are easily removed by drifting out a cross pin and sliding them out.

SIG also offers a laser sight designed specifically for the P290. Although the handgun does not have an accessory rail, there is a small slot on the bottom of the dustcover designed to mount the SIG laser unit forward of the trigger guard and flush with the dustcover. Once installed, the laser is very secure and lookslike an integral part of the pistol. It is activated via an ambidextrous push-button switch on either side of the unit. Although I would prefer a momentary switch, the laser functions well and produces a bright red dot. It can be activated with either the trigger finger or the thumb of the support hand. Of course, learning to manipulate this unit is a skill that will have to be addressed in practice.

Rugged Design
At its heart, the P290 is a Browning-type, tilting-barrel, locked-breech design with an external hammer. The trigger system is classified as double-action-only, although the firing mechanism is partially tensioned by operation of the slide. Thus, the P290 has no double-strike capability. You can actually see whether the hammer is pretensioned by inspecting its position at rest. If the gun is ready for firing, the hammer rests in a noticeable "half-cock" position, rather than being fully at rest on the slide. Despite the pretensioning of the hammer, the trigger pull is still a relatively hefty 10 pounds.

No manual safety is offered or required on the pistol. The only external controls are the beefy slide-stop lever and the full-size magazine-release button, which is also reversible, making the gun easily adaptable for left-handed shooters.

Disassembly is easy to accomplish by pushing the slide stop out from the right side of the frame while retracting the slide to the indexed position. The barrel, dual-recoil spring assembly and guide rod are then easily removed. Takedown is not quite as simple as some pistol designs, but still very straightforward for a micro-sized 9 mm.

Once disassembled, you can clearly see the innovative bell-shaped flare on the muzzle end of the barrel. When in battery, the barrel actually locks into the slide both at the barrel hood and the muzzle. This is an interesting design that creates a very tight lockup between barrel and slide.

The SIG factory magazines are constructed with a stainless steel body and follower together with a black polymer base. They fit flush in the gun, but have a small tab on each side that facilitates stripping the magazine out of the gun in the event of a double-feed or similar stoppage. Under normal conditions, empty magazines are forcibly propelled from the gun under spring pressure when the magazine release is depressed. As you would expect, the magazines have five witness holes to permit a quick visual inspection of the number of rounds loaded. An optional eight-round magazine with an integral grip extension is expected in the near future.

Solid Performance
A small gun 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 a typical micro-sized 9 mm. The relatively large slide and controls make the gun easy to manipulate for loading, unloading, press-checks and stoppage clearance. Even though I can only fit a single finger on the grip, all the necessary manipulations can be easily accomplished. I often struggle with the small dimensions of a tiny 9 mm pistol, but the SIG handles very well for me.

The additional weight of the gun is definitely a benefit for recoil management. A couple of extra ounces in the slide really help tame 9 mm loads. Even a recoil-sensitive shooter should have no problems controlling the P290. I was initially worried the small grip would make the gun difficult to control, but felt recoil is so mild that the abbreviated grip length is not an issue—even hot +P loads are manageable. Mechanical accuracy of the P290 is quite impressive. At realistic self-defense distances, the gun can deliver 1-inch groups all day long. After getting bored with cloverleaf groups, I backed up for longer shots. At 30 feet, group size opened up to a bit more than 3 inches. Even after retreating to the 25-yard line, the P290 could still dump a full magazine into the "A-zone" of a standard IPSC silhouette target. This gun is more than just combat accurate, it is quite impressive for a pocket-sized 9 mm.

In real-world use, the SIGLite night sights are excellent, and certainly help take advantage of the gun's inherent accuracy. Unlike some micro 9 mm pistols with small nubs where the sights should be, the P290's sights are normal-sized and look like the sights on a full-size handgun.

The pistol's double-action-only trigger is quite heavy, measuring slightly more than 10 pounds on average. It stacks quite a bit at the end, making a smooth trigger pull challenging. If there is any significant room for improvement in this pistol, it's with the trigger. 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 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 any stoppages. This is definitely the level of reliability I expect from a SIG Sauer pistol, and the P290 did not disappoint.

Quality Carry
A high-quality concealed-carry gun, the P290 is quite different from the rest of the micro-sized 9 mm pistols on the market. It is small enough to carry in a pocket, but large enough to handle and shoot well—with the feel of a much larger pistol. SIG Sauer has managed to deliver an impressive blend of size and performance. The P290 is certainly not the smallest 9 mm pistol on the market, but it may be the most shootable 9 mm in its class.

As I would expect, this pistol exhibits the fine fit and finish that has become the company's trademark. And, of course, SIG Sauer stands behind the P290 with excellent customer service and a lifetime warranty.

The P290 has an MSRP of $758 without the laser, and $828 with the laser. Given the $70 price difference, the model with the laser seems to be the way to go.

If you are looking for a 9 mm deep-concealment gun, you should consider the SIG P290. But, you can't just hold the gun in your hand at a local shop—you really have to shoot it to appreciate the brilliance of the design. This SIG may be one of the biggest of the micro-sized 9 mm pistols available today, but in this case, size really does matter. If you want big performance in a small package, the SIG Sauer P290 will deliver…big time!

Manufacturer: SIG Sauer; (603) 772-2302,
Action Type: Tilting-barrel, locked-breech, double-action-only, semi-automatic
Caliber: 9 mm
Capacity: 6+1 rounds
Frame: Black polymer
Slide: Stainless steelFinish: Natural stainless
Grips: Polymer with removable plates
Barrel Length: 2.9 inches
Rifling: 6 grooves; 1:10-inch RH twist
Sights: Dovetail mounted ramp and notch, with tritium SIGLite sights
Trigger Pull Weight: 10 pounds
Length: 5.5 inches
Width: 1.1 inch
Height: 3.9 inches
Weight: 20.5 ounces; 21.5 ounces with laser sight
Accessories: Two magazines, customizable grip plates, mini-laser sight (optional)
MSRP: $758; $828 with mini-laser sight


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