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For those whose occupation has the potential to put them in harm’s way, or for someone who feels the need for the added stopping power of a 9mm over smaller-caliber concealed carry sidearms, these three pocket-sized powerhouses—the Ruger LC9, Sig Sauer P290 and Kimber Solo Carry—are at the top of the list.

Ruger LC9

Ruger’s new LC9 is based on the highly successful LCP .380, only in a slightly larger package with several additional features that make the 9mm version a very competent sidearm for both law enforcement and civilian use. The LC9 offers compact dimensions measuring 6 by 4.5 by 0.90 inches, combined with a comparatively high capacity of eight rounds (7+1, the highest standard capacity of the three) and light carry weight of 17.10 ounces empty. The LC9 is built with a composite frame of high-performance glass-filled Nylon supported by an aluminum grip frame (subframe), a through-hardened steel slide, and 3.12-inch steel barrel.

The LC9’s contours render a gun that ideally fits the average hand, placing the trigger finger directly alongside the triggerguard with a natural recess for the first joint to rest before moving to engage the trigger. On the left side, the contoured grip frame places the thumb in position for a single-handed hold. The LC9 has a loaded-chamber indicator that rises upward from the top of the slide and is clearly stamped “LOADED WHEN UP.” It’s a very obvious tell, so bluffing is off the table. This is a well-balanced gun that is slightly muzzle-heavy, an asset in managing recoil.

One of the biggest advantages is its adjustable three-dot sights. The taller, easily acquired white dot sights add 0.19 inches to the overall height of the gun, but the tradeoff seems well worthwhile for improved sighting. The size, weight, and feel of the LC9 are very good, and while the trigger pull is exceptionally long, 1.2 inches, it remains smooth and consistent, allowing for quick follow-up shots. This is a function of both safety and the nature of the LC9’s internal hammer design. Simply put, discharging the LC9 is like firing a DAO revolver. The trigger pull on our test gun averaged 7.41 pounds. The Ruger LC9 also has a magazine disconnect and will not fire a chambered round with the magazine removed.

Sig P290

The new Sig Sauer P290 is only slightly larger overall than a .380 Auto. With an overall length of just 5.5 inches, a truncated height of 3.9 inches, barrel length of 2.9 inches, and overall weight of only 21.5 ounces empty, the P290 provides the defensive capability of a 9mm in a gun that is remarkably flat, measuring less than an inch in width.

The internal mechanism is a traditional locked-breech, Browning-type tilting barrel but with one distinguishing feature: a broadly flared muzzle that aligns with a corresponding channel in the slide. This design contributes to quicker cycling of the action. As soon as the slide starts its reward movement, it releases the muzzle, allowing the barrel to tilt and drop the breechblock in line for reloading. The P290 also employs a dual recoil spring assembly that makes this operation pretty snappy.

The frame is lightweight, molded polymer with a slide machined from a solid billet. The finishes available are natural stainless or durable Nitron coating. Standard sights are dovetailed drift-adjustable white dots. The P290 is a DAO hammer-fired pistol but with no manual cocking capability. In addition, the Sig has an automatic firing pin safety block, hammer safety intercept notch, and a trigger bar disconnect, making it safe for carry with a chambered round. And the Sig will fire with the magazine removed.

An interesting option for Sig is the Integrated Laser Module (ILM), which is custom-made for the P290. Lightweight and compact, the ILM seamlessly blends with the lines of the pistol and has ambidextrous switches. The increase in weight, 0.8 ounces, is negligible, and the laser unit adds only 0.75 inches to the depth of the gun.

What the Sig might lack in size it does make up for in well-thought-out features, such as a triangular magazine release catch that is easily depressed with the strong-hand thumb. The frontstrap, backstrap and standard side panel inserts have coarse stippling to assist in providing a firm grasp. Another interesting feature is the triggerguard, which has a raised inner surface (think speed bump) that guides the trigger finger into a smooth, continuous motion when discharging the gun. Overall, this is a rugged little gun that is relatively easy to carry concealed considering it packs 6+1 rounds of 9mm.

The Kimber Solo Carry is the only one of the three that is a striker-fired design, and it’s the only one with an alloy frame. It is also the most compact, measuring 5.5 by 3.9 by 0.9 inches and weighing 17 ounces empty. In order to achieve these dimensions in a design that is reminiscent of a 1911, everything had to be proportionately scaled down. The 1911-style frame contours are smoother and more rounded. More interesting features include the ambidextrous mag releases, which are easy to operate with either the off-hand thumb or trigger finger. Their specific shape, angle and placement were among key engineering requirements for the Solo. In our field test, this was to be one of several strong features that make this gun easy to operate with either hand. This also applies to the ambidextrous thumb safeties. They are angled to be easily activated by the side of the thumb on the draw, and just as easily reset. The angle and surface curvature also make it less likely to catch on clothing, particularly when drawing or reholstering from a pocket.

The gun utilizes a unique striker-fired system. When the slide is cycled and a round is chambered, the striker (firing pin) is between 88 to 90 percent pre-tensioned. The trigger pull necessary to discharge the Solo then is only 10 to 12 percent of the total effort needed to finish the cycle and release the striker. Even though Kimber describes the Solo as a “single-action striker-fired design,” it is actually a double-action, as pulling the trigger has to finish tensioning the striker before the gun will discharge.

Since all three guns are in the 3-inch barrel length range, we broke our range tests down into three categories: “Practical,” shooting from a Weaver stance using a two-handed hold at 7 yards (21 feet) to evaluate the inherent accuracy of each gun; “Defensive,” fired from a kneeling position using a two-handed hold at a distance of 7 yards; and “Offensive,” fired off-hand while engaging the target on the move.

Being a short-recoil design, one would expect the Kimber Solo to have quite a kick, but it’s surprisingly manageable even with 147-grain JHP. Make no mistake, it’s not gentle, but it’s nowhere what you expect from a 17-ounce gun spewing out high-pressure self-defense ammo. The trigger pull on our test gun averaged 7.09 pounds. The Solo goes off sharply, there is a swift muzzle rise and then the gun is ready to go again.

The Sig proved to be an excellent close-quarters self-defense handgun with exceptional accuracy, even with heavy recoiling CorBon +P. In fact, recoil was hardly an issue, with muzzle rise almost vertical to the target and back on sight in an instant, allowing quick follow-up shots. Even though the DOA trigger pull on our test gun averaged 8.25 pounds, it was very smooth, with no stacking. As a self-defense handgun, the Sig P290 acquitted itself well.

The Ruger produced the best five-round groups fired at a B-27 silhouette target with Federal ammunition, placing all shots within the X ring at a maximum of 2 inches center to center. Unlike the LCR .380, the slide on the LC9 locks back after the last shot—a definite advantage if you’re not counting. The magazine release on the LC9 is angled upward, toward the strong-hand thumb, allowing an easy release to drop the empty and reload.

Is there one overall best gun out of this trio? Not really. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but any of them would make an excellent concealed carry gun. The individual characteristics of each are really the determining factors. None will disappoint. And one will certainly be the best choice for anyone needing a very compact concealed carry pistol that delivers 9mm firepower. PP

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