Smith & Wesson recently sent us a model 610† for review. As soon as that T&E was in the works I realized I didn’t have a suitable holster for the big N-Frame. I wanted to carry the gun, at least a little, in a platform that suited its ideal purpose: hunting or defense in the great outdoors. Someone pointed me in the direction of the Kenai Chest Holster, and I’m glad they did.
Full Disclosure: Gunfighter’s Inc. provided a Kenai chest holster for review here. I was paid nothing for this review, and was not asked to write it. However, this post does contain some affiliate links to Amazon.com.
I’m typically not one for unconventional carry methods. The most-used methods to tote handguns – AIWB, IWB, or strong-side OWB – will answer the mail for most of my carry tasks. But for some jobs these carry positions may be less than ideal. When carrying a backpack with a waist belt it can be difficult to find a belt holster that doesn’t rub you raw. I’ve personally stopped a mile into a hike to take off an uncomfortable holster and throw it in my backpack.
Plenty of other outdoor activities require gear that renders belt carry inconvenient, uncomfortable, or impossible – like wearing chest waders. Doing a lot of uphill climbing can make appendix carry unbearable. Coincidentally, activities like these also sometimes put us within the reach of four legged predators, and the threat of ill-intentioned humans is never eliminated regardless of the remoteness of our venue. The pursuit of one’s preferred activities shouldn’t eliminate access to defensive tools.
The Kenai Chest Holster
The Kenai is designed to address the problems of belt carry by getting the gun off the belt. As the name implies, the Kenai chest holster places the gun center chest. When unpackaging it, the Kenai looks like a holster and a huge tangle of nylon webbing. Though it can look a little daunting and takes a bit more setup than just slipping it on your belt, it’s not difficult at all to set it up.
The heart of the Kenai is the holster. Gunfighter’s Inc. offers holster fits for a huge array of revolvers and semi-auto handguns. The fit on my exemplar is excellent. The two-piece holster is molded tightly to the contours of the revolver, covers the trigger guard, and offers a generous sight channel. At a glance it looks like a typical, wide Kydex holster, until you note the three Fastex buckles riveted to it.
Though there are three buckles, there are only two straps that hold the Kenai to your body. The first goes over your support shoulder to provider vertical support, while the other wraps around your torso to keep the gun held tightly to your body. Each strap is adjustable via M-buckles, and the holster comes with plenty of material to fit bulky builds or bulky clothing.
The Kenai is designed to be backpack-friendly and comfortable for all-day wear. Instead of placing the weight of the firearm on one point on the body, the Kenai’s harness has three points of contact that distribute the weight more evenly. The harness yoke (the “T” holding everything together) is a strong elastic material that gives the harness a bit of stretch. Another piece of elastic is found connecting the holster and the buckle of the vertical strap. Additionally, all buckles are thoughtfully placed so they aren’t under your pack frame.
Setup and Wear
After taking it out of the package, the first thing you’ll want to so is adjust the straps to your body. Though I found I could reach around and adjust them while wearing the holster, it was easier to have someone else help me out. If you don’t have anyone to help you out, an iterative process of taking the holster off, making gross adjustments, trying it back on, and making refinements may be easier.
I managed to get the holster correctly adjusted in relatively short order. Before you jump in, I have just one quick note of caution: as much as you may be tempted to, don’t over-tighten the harness. I wanted the holster extremely snug, but found that when I got gassed, heavier breathing made the harness uncomfortable, but backing off the tension just a bit corrected this problem. Before making a permanent modification to the harness like cutting the straps, you may want to do some physical exertion to ensure it’s where you want it.
After I had correctly adjusted the harness I wanted to preserve my adjustments, so I routed the excess nylon back through the M-buckle. I found I was left with a ton of excess nylon. In the future I may cut this off in the interest of keeping the straps flat and comfortable under a backpack. For now I folded it and taped it down with a strip of Gorilla tape.
It took a few repetitions, but I finally figured out how best to put the Kenai on. I decided on unsnapping the right-side buckle (the one closest to the trigger guard). With the other two buckles snapped the straps form a loop through which I extend my left arm. All that is necessary to close the Kenai is to fasten the strap that wraps around the torso.
Using the Kenai Chest Holster
Though I haven’t done any serious backcountry trekking with the Kenai, I did wear it while working around the farm. I wore the Kenai for several hours as I turned compost, dug fence post holes, and performed some other manual labor.
I also wore the Kenai with a ~25 lb. backpack for a bit. The holster and it’s harness didn’t interfere with the backpack at all. I was worried the pack’s back panel would press on the harness and render it uncomfortable, but it didn’t on this short little hike. Overall, I found it extremely comfortable to wear and will definitely consider it for hiking, hunting, and other outdoor endeavors.
Although I’ve never encountered a Kenai in the wild, I have seen some chest-carried handguns on busy public trails. I’m always a bit put off by this on the types of trails I’m talking about – those trails that are packed all weekend long with refugees from the big city, trying to cram a little nature into their lives. Open carry is just not my thing. Having the gun on prominent display in the middle of my chest even less so.
In true backcountry/wilderness area I’d be fine with open carrying the Kenai. Unfortunately, bears inhabit some of these busy public areas, so I wanted to see if I could put the Kenai under a light jacket. Though this obviously slows the draw stroke down it worked pretty well. It certainly isn’t “deep concealment” but it takes more than a casual glance to notice the gun. In cooler weather I’ll be packing my GP100 under a light jacked or flannel shirt.
Drawing From the Kenai
I requested a S&W N-Frame holster, and through a stroke of serendipity, this also happens to fit my Ruger GP100. Being open-ended, the Kenai is barrel length-agnostic. I wondered if this would impact draw at all, but on my 4″ guns I didn’t even notice it when drawing. I’m not a fan of exposed-barrel holsters for belt carry (sitting down can cause the gun to be driven upward and out of the holster) but it seems acceptable for this style of carry.
As mentioned earlier, the Kenai provides pretty darn good passive retention. The fitment of the holster is precise and there is little chance of the gun coming out of its own accord. The tight fit coupled with the elastic in the harness can create some problems with the draw if you aren’t using the correct technique. The holster doesn’t want to give up the gun, and elastic will stretch before the pressure against the holster overcomes the tension of the elastic and the gun is released. A slow draw is not recommended with the Kenai.
Drawing requires a firm “snap” out of the holster. The gun easily overcomes the holster’s tension when drawing in this manner, and comes out with ease. I didn’t find this detrimental to a clean draw at all. I was curious about the draw from such an unorthodox position but again, found myself able to draw smoothly with a full firing grip.
There is but one complaint I have about the Kenai, and I imagine it is unique to variants made for revolvers. As with some other revolver holsters, the Kenai suffers a radical angle at the leading edge of the cylinder. Some edge is necessary here to hold the gun at the correct depth in the holster. However, the sharp edge on the Kenai provided the only discomfort I experienced.
This edge seemed to sit right on my sternum. After an hour or so of wear this became tiresome and found my bunching up my shirt to provide some padding under it. I will likely pad the backside of this holster as I did my Dark Star Gear J-Frame holster. This is probably a non-issue on flat-backed autoloader holster.
The Bottom Line
Unlike many holster manufacturers, Gunfighters Inc. offers excellent revolver support. Fits are available for some Colt revolvers, the Chiappa Rhino, Ruger Blackhawk/Super Blackhawk, GP100, LCR family, Redhawk/Super Redhawk, SP101, and Security Six, S&W J-Frame, K-Frame, L-Frame, N-Frame, X-Frames, and TRR-8, and a number of Taurus revolvers. In all the Kenai supports over 200 firearms, and can be custom-ordered in different colors, and to support sights/lights/lasers.
The Kenai chest holster isn’t exactly inexpensive. It runs $150 directly from Gunfighters, Inc. or on Amazon. It is an extremely high quality holster, and it is manufactured in the United States. Though this isn’t replacing my Precision Holsters Ultra-Appendix, it isn’t intended to. If you need a holster for outdoor carry that makes belt carry less than ideal, check out the Kenai Chest Holster.
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†That review has been delayed for technical reasons. We are still working on it, and we will publish it as soon as possible.