Back when I first started shooting in the 1970s, a pocket pistol usually meant a five-shot J-frame revolver. If you wanted a highly concealable auto pistol, you had to settle for one with a blowback action that was chambered in low powered rounds. Most of the models available back then weren’t really pocket-friendly. That situation changed very little for decades, but in the last few years there has been an explosion in new pocket pistols on the firearms scene.

The pocket pistol boom started with highly compact .32 ACP models, but quickly moved to .380 ACP, and then 9mm. It seems like we’ve sparked something of an arms race, with firearms manufacturers trying to put as much firepower into as small a package as possible.

If this trend continues, we’ll be seeing the Micro-Mini Desert Eagle in .50 AE soon.

One of the latest entries into the pocket pistol market is the Sig Sauer P290. The Sig Sauer puts real 9mm power into a small but surprisingly well handling, package. The P290 weighs a bit over 20 ounces. That is a bit on the heavy side for guns of this class—several of which are in the 11- to 12-ounce weight class. That weight reflects the amount of steel reinforcing the polymer frame, and that isn’t a bad thing. Some of those featherweight 9mms on the market are uncomfortable to shoot, but I found the P290 to be quite comfortable with every type of ammunition I fed through it.

Gun Details

I don’t want to give you the impression that the P290 is a big piece of hardware—it is not. The P290 is only 5.5 inches long and just under 4 inches tall. Perhaps best of all, it has a single-stack magazine and the entire pistol is less than an inch wide. Those dimensions, coupled with the bobbed hammer, make the P290 very pocket-friendly.

The slide is steel and it is available in a couple of finishes. The test gun has Sig Sauer’s black Nitron finish, which is Ionbond’s DLC Coating. DLC stands for “Diamond Like Coating,” it is used extensively in the aerospace and high-performance automotive industries. This is a low-friction; flat black coating that is very wear-resistant. The P290 is also offered with a stainless steel slide or with a black Nitron slide that has a diamond pattern engraving.

This SIGLITE sights on this gun are very effective. They are dovetailed into the barrel so you could drift them for windage adjustments, but mine were right on the money as they came from the factory. The front sight is 0.14 inches thick, which is nice and wide for easy acquisition. The square notch in the rear sight is wide enough to give you plenty of daylight around that blade. I found I could get on target quickly and stay on target easily during rapid fire. The sights have the ubiquitous three-dot feature, and they glow in low light.

The frame is black polymer, which really reduces the weight. The grips are aggressively stippled a full 360 degrees. One thing you will immediately notice about the grips is that they were made for three-fingered cartoon characters rather than four-fingered human hands. With the standard magazine in place, my pinky was nowhere in contact with the grip. But that doesn’t seem to affect control during firing at all. With the extended, eight-round magazine I could get all four fingers firmly wrapped around the handle.

When you rack the slide on the P290 you will immediately notice the belled muzzle on the barrel. The P290 has a Browning-type tilting-barrel, locked-breech action, and the big bell on the muzzle helps the short barrel tilt to lock and unlock the breech.

The P290 is a double-action-only (DAO) pistol with a bit of a twist. Racking the slide partially tensions the hammer—but, unlike most pre-tensioned designs, the P290 gives you a second-strike cap-ability. This is an outstanding feature. In my time testing the P290 I ran into two rounds that each required two strikes to fire. In a serious encounter, a second strike can be a lifesaver.

When the slide is racked to pre-tension the action, the P290’s trigger pull was 8.5 pounds. On the second strike, with an untensioned action, the trigger pull was just a hair under ten pounds. The trigger stacks pretty significantly. If you pull it slowly, you’ll feel two distinct stages. Shooters may even hear a little “tick” as it reaches the full stack with about a quarter-inch of travel left before it fires.

This made shooting groups pretty easy, because essentially I squeezed the trigger, stacking it up until I heard the
tick. Then I made sure my sight picture was right before squeezing off the shot. I shot a number of one-inch groups that way from 10 and 15 yards. Of course in serious use you won’t be shooting like that, and luckily the Sig Sauer trigger really likes a quick, smooth pull. When you pull it quickly you don’t even feel the stacking. I was able to put full magazines in the X-ring and 10-ring on B-27 targets from 10 yards with no trouble.

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