Sig Sauer P238 Review: Sig’s .380 Ugly Duckling- Worth It or No?

by Justin Fields

July 27, 2020

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I hate to admit that I am influenced at all by aesthetics, but I am.  The odd, humpback look and somewhat “off” proportions of the Sig P238 really turned me off to the gun.  Until my buddy put his in my hand and I fired a few rounds, that is.  After that first magazine I knew I needed to own a SIG Sauer P238.

Just a couple weeks later I had one of these diminutive .380s.  Being a 1911 guy I should have taken to this gun like a duck to water.  There is a lot to like – and to dislike – about this gun, so I guess you could say my relationship with it is “complicated.”

Sig P238 Background

Sig P238 Specs

  • Capacity 7+1
  • Caliber 380 Auto
  • Sights Siglite
  • Overall Length 5.5″
  • Length (barrel) 2.7’’
  • Height 3.9″
  • Weight 15.2 ounces

The SIG-Sauer P238 is a single-stack, single-action, sub-compact .380 ACP pistol.  Myriad different versions has been released over the years with seven currently listed on Sig’s website. And, it has a bigger 9mm brother, the Sig p938

The version I own – and the one I used for this review – is the all-stainless “HD” p238.  The gun closely resembles a 1911 but there are some differences you should know about.

First, it has a traditional 1911 safety. Sort of.  This gun is designed to be carried cocked and locked.  As the first carry gun I owned that saw serious, day-in, day-out carry, it carries well in Condition One.  Of note, the lever is a little bit small.

I invested many hours into mastering this little gun, but that small, rounded safety isn’t the easiest to disengage.  Nowhere is this more noticeable than when trying to reengage the safety; it’s very difficult to hit one-handed.

Unlike a 1911, the P238’s safety can also be engaged with the hammer forward.  This locks the slide in the forward position, and while interesting, I certainly wouldn’t recommend carrying the gun in this condition.

Sig P238 Features

1 Siglite Sights

Full-sized, steel sights that should be on every handgun of this class.

2 Single Action Trigger

The P238 has a very good, very short SA trigger.

3 1911 Style Takedown

This gun field strips just like your trusty 1911. This gun field strips just like your trusty 1911.

Sig P238 Model Variants

When it comes to the P238, Sig’s got a bunch of different models.  However, the differences between are essentially just color and grip variations.  Nevertheless, they’ve probably got one (or more) that you’d like better than the standard model.

Sig Sauer P238 – Our Take

The most positive aspect of the P238: it is one sweet shooter.  It’s accurate, comfortable, and most importantly, reliable.

Reliability

Since owning it I have put over 2,000 rounds of ammo through my P238.  That’s probably about ten times more than most mouse-guns will be shot and this thing has impressed me to death with its reliability.  Unfortunately, I haven’t always kept the studious range log that I keep now so I can’t be as precise as I’d like.  I can tell you this, though: I have had only a single-digit number of malfunctions and those were very early on.  I haven’t had a malfunction in – at least – the past 750 rounds. In my opinion you’d be hard pressed to find a more reliable auto of such compact dimensions.

Accuracy

I won’t mince words: The Sig P238 is absolutely the most accurate ultra-compact gun I’ve ever shot.  In fact, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it’s more accurate than some guns that are much bigger.  I think the single biggest contributing factor is Sig’s decision to equip this gun with grown-up sights.

Most ultra-compact .380s have marginal sights.  This makes the difficult to acquire quickly, and difficult to shoot well at distance. Not so with the P238.  The sights on this gun are Sig’s 3-dot “Siglite” sights and they are outstanding.  I’d be satisfied with them on most any pistol and am absolutely thrilled with them on this little pocket-sized pistol.

The sights aren’t all, though; the P238s trigger makes it really easy to get decent hits.  Now, compared to the Nighthawk Custom 1911 I carry on a daily basis now, the Sig is pretty rough.  But in comparison to everything else in its class (and many guns that aren’t) the P238’s trigger isn’t bad at all. Mine comes in at a little over 6 lbs.  It’s a very smooth, clean 6+ pounds, and the single-action means there is very little movement of the trigger.  This is an excellent trigger for an ultra-compact, and a better trigger than those on some full-size autos.

It is worth pointing out that although the trigger looks like a 1911 trigger, it’s not.  The 1911 is famous for its straight-to-the-rear pull.  Like most modern pistols the Sig’s trigger is hinged at the top, but I didn’t find this to be detrimental at all.

Ergonomics

The P238 is sort of a “just right” combination of size, weight, and caliber; I find this gun pleasant to shoot in a way that most .380s just can’t be.  I also have quite a bit of experience with the P238’s big sister, the P938 in 9mm.  I don’t think this gun scales tremendously well.  On the other hand… this gun definitely leaves your pinky finger dangling.  I know Ryan hates that, while I am willing to live with it under the right circumstances, so take it for what it is.  An OEM, extended, 7-shot magazine is available that will correct this but, in my opinion, it spoils the P238’s most appealing aspect: carry size.

The reason most people choose exceedingly small handguns is, well, the fact that they are exceedingly small.  They are easy to carry and adopting them requires minimal disruption to one’s wardrobe or habits.  The P238 isn’t the smallest handgun on the market but it is very small.  With a halfway decent holster this gun can be carried all day, every day, and you can literally forget it’s there.

I have already addressed the ergonomics of the safety.  In short, the safety could be better and I’d be cautious about recommending this gun to a new shooter, or one who isn’t going to put in the necessary hours of practice.  The rest of the controls aren’t bad at all, though.  The slide release is slightly extended and easily operates the slide under the light .380-powered spring. The magazine release is well placed and appropriately sized.  No complaints there.

Recoil

The small .380s are somewhat infamous for their stiff recoil.  The tiny guns in which they are chambered don’t leave a lot to hold onto, nor do they have much recoil-absorbing weight.  This is one area where the P238 shines above the competition.

First, the P238 is relatively wide at about 1” on the grip panel.  Compare this to a maximum width of 0.82” for the Ruger LCP, and it makes a huge difference.  I’m able to lock this little gun down tightly enough to feel the slide firmly hitting the end of its travel.  The larger grip surface of this gun is very welcome, even at the cost of maybe making it slightly less concealable.

Next, the weight. This isn’t a heavy gun by any means. Well…I take that back.  Most P238s aren’t heavy guns, and this is where mine is an aberration.  My HD model weighs in around 20 ounces, about five ounces heavier than the standard, aluminum-framed P238s. Even with the aluminum frame, however, the Sig weighs in over 15 ounces, about a 60% increase in weight over the Ruger LCP.  Again, everything is a compromise and the additional weight might make this ever-so-slightly harder to carry.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned in the opening I have some mixed feelings about the P238.  On the one hand, the safety lever is too small and hard to disengage.  The short grip leaves your pinky dangling (and can pinch the crap out of your hand if you try for a speed reload).  And for a gun of its size and weight, 6+1 is pretty bottom-of-the-barrel.  And for the money – well, let’s just say this thing costs a heck of a lot of money for a 6+1 .380.

I still really, really like this gun.  It’s a very small gun that shoots like a big gun. Recoil is completely reasonable, and grip size, weight, and those Siglite sights make outstanding accuracy possible.  As someone who carried this gun for almost two years I’ll put it this way: this gun probably isn’t for the casual owner.  But if you’re a 1911 guy – and/or are willing to put the time in to become one – the Sig P238 will serve you extremely well.

Sig P238 Pros and Cons

  • Extremely Reliable
  • Extremely Accurate
  • Best-in-Class sights
  • Excellent size
  • Very expensive
  • Ergonomics (safety and grip length)

Report Card

Reliability

The most reliable .380 I’ve ever shot.

A+
Accuracy

Shoots extremely well – as well as many guns that are much larger.

A+
Shootability

Incredibly comfortable, easy shooter. Could shoot it all day if I didn’t have to jam mags so much.

A+
Ergonomics

Critically, the safety is small and difficult to engage.

C
Value

With street prices north of $600 and magazines at $39 or $59 (7-round) each, this is a top-end 6+1 .380.

D

Our Grade

B+

Reviewed by Justin Fields

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Sig P238 Starter Pack

If you’ve decided to bite the bullet and pick up the Sig P238, you’ll want to make sure you have everything else needed for basic firearm operation.  This includes eye & ear protection, extra magazines, cleaning kits, and proper storage. 

Finding a Sig P238 isn’t necessarily too tough.  There’s tons of models available and just about every marketplace carries one.  Just remember, the deals listed above are subject to price and availability change.

Upgrades and Accessories for the Sig P238

When it comes to choosing the best accessory you can get for this gun, we recommend a quality holster.  While the firearm is small enough to fit in some pockets, you won’t just want it bouncing around there unsecured.  Here are our top 3 picks for best holster for the Sig P238:

Best Holsters for the Sig P238

HolsterDetailsCheck Price
Galco Tuck-N-Go
  • IWB
  • Fits P238 very well
  • Very discreet
Check Price
DeSantis Nemesis
  • Pocket Holster
  • Ambidextrous
  • Textured exterior
Check Price
Comfort Tac Ultimate Ankle Holster
  • Comfortable Neoprene band
  • Silent draw
  • Flexible fit
Check Price

Best Ammo for Your Sig P238

Picking the best ammo for your Sig P238 isn’t as simple as just grabbing any old box 380 Auto. Some rounds are made better than others for certain things.

If you’re using this as a personal defense firearm, you’re going to want to maximize the amount of stopping power your P238 has.  You’re going to want to find the perfect balance between expansion and penetration.  But if you’re just slinging metal downrange, cheap ball ammo would probably be your best bet.

Range Rounds

PMC Bronze 380 Auto FMJ

Working Ammunition

Sig Sauer Elite Performance 380 Auto

How to Care for Your Sig P238

If you’re going to spend the money to purchase this .308, there’s no doubt that you’ll want to properly care for it.  And doing so requires breaking it down and cleaning it out once in a while.

However, this isn’t necessarily the easiest firearm to disassemble.  And if you’re unfamiliar with the weapon, you might just lose a pin or shoot a spring across the room.  Molly from Shoot Point Blank does an absolutely phenomenal job explaining how to take down, and put back together, your Sig P238.

Important Links and Manuals for the Sig Sauer P238

Need some more info on the Sig P238?  A great place to start is the manufacturer’s website and the User’s Manual.  We’ve listed them below along with a sweet video review from Hickok45.

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About Justin Fields

Justin is a former MARSOC Marine, former government contractor, former special operations instructor, current student of paramedicine, author of digital security books, and blogger at SwiftSilentDeadly.com. Justin prides himself on being a generalist with a heavy emphasis in firearms and their employment.

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