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.

The double-strike capability is a feature on second-generation P290s. The new P290s have a few other improve-ments over the earlier version. For in-stance, Sig Sauer has enhanced the beavertail effect on the frame. They also redesigned the slide stop lever, and shortened the magazine release to give it a slight forward contour. Sig Sauer also put a finger groove base on the magazine of second-generation pistols, but they also included a flat base in the case. Personally, I like the finger groove base better, but you may feel differently. You can tell a second-generation P290 by the designation “26C” at the start of the serial number.

Range Time

The more I shoot the P290, the more I like it. With its short barrel, tiny grip and relatively powerful chambering, I expected the P290 to be a bear to shoot. It wasn’t. It has the shooting manners of a much larger gun. The P290 points well, gets on target quickly,shoots accurately, and is very controll-able under recoil.

I tested the P290 with three brands of ammunition; Winchester’s SXZ 9 Person-al Protection, 115-grain jacketed hollow points, Black Hills Ammunition’s 124-grain jacketed hollow points and Hornady Steel Match 125-grain HAP bullets. I have also put a couple hundred of my 9mm handloads through it, shooting 115-grain plated bullets over 4.3 grains of Bullseye. The P290 has shot accurately with everything it was fed, and I haven’t had a single malfunction.

The Winchester SXZ Personal Pro-tection, 115-grain, jacketed hollowpoint bullets with their black, Lubalox coating, are amazingly good expanders, and are a great choice as a 9mm self defense load. As an added bonus, SXZ is really an ammunition system. Besides the personal protection hollow points there is an SXZ Training version that mimics the weight, bullet shape and ballistic performance of the personal protection round.

The Winchester SXZ ammunition came out of the P290’s sub-3-inch barrel at 1,061 feet per second (fps). The hollowpoints delivered excellent accu-racy as long as I minded my “Ps and Qs” on trigger control. Shooting from a Weaver stance at 10 yards, I shot a number of 1-inch groups over the course of firing a box of the 115-grain SXZ hollow points. My worst group with this ammunition was 4 inches, and I have no one to blame but myself for that one. Overall my groups with this ammunition averaged 2.5 inches in diameter.

The 124-grain JHPs from Black Hills had a higher velocity than the lighter SXZ rounds. The Black Hills ammunition moved along at 1,067 fps. Over the last year, this loading from Black Hills has become my go-to 9mm round, and it didn’t let me down in the P290. It also delivered one-inch groups, as long as I maintained my concentration. The worst group I shot with the Black Hills round was 3 inches across. Over the course of a box of ammunition my groups averaged 2 inches, even.

This was the first time I had shot any of Hornady’s Steel Match ammunition. This isn’t self-defense ammunition—it is bona fide match-grade ammunition with a twist. To make it more affordable Hornady is using a polymer-coated steel cartridge case in place of the more expensive brass casings.

The average velocity for these rounds in the P290 was 1,019 fps. Hornady loads their 9mm match ammunition to make IPSC’s minor power factor. Accuracy was good, but I actually shot better with both of the self-defense load I tested. My average group with the steel match ammunition was 2.75 inches in diameter. My best group was still an inch, and my worst group was 4 inches.

Carry Options

This gun was made for the real world, and Sig Sauer sends it equipped for carry by providing a holster as part of the kit. The holster is a kydex paddle holster, branded with the Sig Sauer logo. It fits the gun well and does what it is designed to do. I used it during all my range sessions, but it wouldn’t be my choice for street carry. It doesn’t do justice to the concealability of the P290.

An inside the waistband holster, or a poc-ket holster would be a better way to go.

My choice for this pistol is Galco’s Pocket Protector holster (800-874-2526, This is a rough-side-out holster that stays put in your pocket. The leather extends out from the gun pocket to help prevent printing, and the mouth of the gun pocket is reinforced to hold the holster open for a smooth draw and return. When I draw, I push
off that reinforcing strip with my thumb, and the pistol comes out easily.

The P290 proved itself to me. This is a little gun that packs a solid punch. It will serve admirably as either a back up arm, or as a primary defense weapon when you can’t conceal a bigger gun. To learn more, call 603-772-2302 or visit

Up Next

Revolver vs. Auto

Back when I first started shooting in the 1970s, a pocket pistol usually meant…