THE KENAI CHEST HOLSTER
Spending countless days and nights traversing the backcountry of Montana, I always find myself carrying some sort of sidearm for defensive purposes. Whether camping, backpacking, fishing, or hunting, I find peace of mind by having a sidearm with me. I carry an array of firearms, from my EDC of a Kimber Solo or Glock 19, to my woods carry setup of a Ruger Redhawk in 44 Magnum. More often than not, the EDC guns would find their way into the woods on my hip rather than the big bore revolver simply due to a lack of good, comfortable carry options for it. When I have my pack on, I prefer a low ride hip holster so it will not interfere with the packs’ hip belt and vice versa, but low ride options for a wheel gun are few and far between. A friend mentioned the viability of a chest holster, and I began to research it. I didn’t want to have a chance encounter with a grizzly with my 9mm. Regardless of your stance on ballistics and energy; I think we can all agree that the 44 Magnum would have better terminal ballistics on a four-legged predator.
This fall, I had the amazing opportunity to pick up a Kenai for my 5.5” Redhawk. I opted for the open-end, black kydex, and coyote straps, but we will get more into the available options later. My goal was to put the Kenai through the paces while chasing deer and elk through the backcountry of Southwest Montana. Over the last 6 weeks I have gone on 18 different hunts, ranging from 2-mile walks on relatively flat trails, to 14-mile days traversing 2000’ of elevation gain, and the Kenai came along for every single one. I took the Kenai through the snow, rain, and fog. It fell in the mud and water on more than one occasion, and so did I. We slid down snow-covered mountainsides together, and warmed up in camp after long days too. Never once did my confidence in the Kenai fade, and the longer I had it on my chest, the more I enjoyed its company. The Kenai truly felt as though there was no downside to packing my large frame revolver around – not even its size or weight.
Researching a chest holster began right where you would guess – Google. It did not take me long to find GunfightersINC and have them on my radar as a solid option. If you search for chest holsters, you will undoubtedly find more than a few options, but I was surprised to find kydex options to be virtually non-existent. A semi-local company here in the PacNW added some good-guy points to the company too. They are located in Leavenworth, Washington, a small Bavarian town I remember passing through frequently as I drove between eastern and western Washington to visit family and friends. In 2010, a US Army veteran founded the company. What initially began as a hobby and small gig eventually turned into enough people wanting his gear that the company was created and is pumping out both custom and ready-to-ship gear to this day Having both options allows you to get a piece of custom quality kydex in just a few days, but still affords the opportunity to create a truly one of a kind piece of gear with any options you could want through their build-your-own features.
Why the Kenai?
So, if there are multiple chest holsters on the market, why is the Kenai from GunfightersINC at the top of the list? For me, the answer is simple – kydex. Every other chest holster system I found in my research yielded only leather designs. While many enjoy leather holsters (I am still one of them), I do not feel as though it is a good fit for a system with this function. Kydex in this role proves to have many advantages over leather.
The fit for the gun is perfect. Since the Kenai is made specifically for the handgun of your choosing, the fit of the holster is conformed to the firearm shape just like any other kydex hip holster. You will not have to worry if your handgun will truly fit the holster, or how tight or loose the fit will be. Additionally, since the kydex is form-fit to the handgun, the Kenai eliminates any excess bulk, size, and weight that you may find yourself stuck with in a leather chest holster. The Kenai also eliminates any need for leather reconditioning or a break in period to acquire a good gun fit.
Kydex is unaffected by sweat and other elements. I wanted a chest holster to keep my armed during outdoor activities, which usually take place either in the summer heat or fall where I am exerting a fair amount of energy and sweating. A traditional leather holster can stain and become warped both by the sun and by the sweat that I inevitably produce when hiking. If I am hunting in the late fall and winter months, I do not need to worry about any rain or snow soaking my Kenai either.
Retention and ease of draw are important factors to consider. Since the kydex is form fit to the gun, you gain incredible retention without the need for any additional hoods, straps, or buckles. These are all things that could fail, add weight and bulk, or could also inhibit a fast draw when you need it most. My Kenai has the perfect blend of tight retention so there is absolutely no slop between the holster and gun while allowing for a smooth draw and fast deployment of my sidearm. I am able to draw the weapon easily while still being able to bend over and not fear for the weapon falling out – I even did jumping jacks with this on, and it stayed rock solid, the only down side was the weird looks I got from my hunting buddies. I chalked it up to trying to warm up.
The Kenai comes in a plastic bag with a printed set of both
information and directions for the Kenai. The bag is sturdy and held up well to
shipping, but don’t worry, these items all came within a shipping container
too. The Directions for how to properly fit and wear the Kenai are very easy to
follow. One major concern, and about the only one I could truly think of having
with a chest holster, was how it would interact with other gear such as a
backpack chest strap, or a pair of binoculars.
strap of my Camelbak, Mystery Ranch and Eberlestock packs have not been an
issue at all, as they conform to my chest very tight, and I put the Kenai on
over top of the pack strap. The Kenai allows for me to reach and unclasp the
chest strap without a need to remove the holster first, making it a breeze to put
on and take off the packs.
I use a
typical binocular strap that goes around my neck, rather than a full chest
harness system. I found my pair of binoculars, when the strap was adjusted to
my typical liking in length, would occasionally bounce off of the Kenai and
revolver when walking. Sometimes I would reach up to hold my binos to contain
their movement, but eventually I decided to loosen the binocular strap so they
would ride a bit lower. This alleviated some of the bounce and noise, but did
not completely solve the issue. This problem I think would be something any of
you would run into, with any chest holster on the market – it’s simply an issue
of having too many pieces of gear trying to occupy the same space at the same
time. If you opt to use a binocular chest harness instead of the chest strap, I
think it would fit fine over the Kenai and your firearm as both are made to
conform to your body very well. The only negative aspect of this type of system
I can foresee is whether or not your binocular straps may inhibit the draw of
your weapon. Let it be known though, that these issues are absolutely by no
means the fault of the Kenai, simply something to keep in mind when deciding
what holster system you may want to use.
An added benefit of a chest holster system is the ability to draw easily while sitting in elk camp or while in the drivers’ seat of your truck. The Kenai truly allows you to be ready for a situation in any place, at any time. The holster itself has functioned absolutely flawless through my hunting and hiking thus far. I could not ask for a smoother draw or better retention balance, even with a large frame heavy revolver like mine.
The holster is made of thick and durable kydex, which GunfightersINC has countless color and pattern choices ranging from grey to Kryptek camouflage. You can truly customize the holster to your liking if you choose to. You are even able to select different colors for the front and rear pieces of kydex that go into making the holster. They offer the Kenai to be made for hundreds of different firearm models from nearly every major manufacturer today. Some custom options GunfightersINC offers include whether or not you have an extended slide release, suppressor height sights, magazine release, threaded barrel, weapon lights, or a red dot like an RMR. You are also given the option to select whether or not you would like an open ended holster or not, meaning you can get the Kenai to let the muzzle of your handgun be exposed if you would like. “Why would you want that? Won’t it let crud get into the barrel?” I’m glad you asked. In all of the miles I have hunted, I have never once had anything find it’s way into the muzzle of my firearms, even my rifle as it finds its way scraping along branches I duck under. Nor have I ever had a problem with water getting down the barrel, but this would also only be an issue in a slung rifle and not a handgun pointed at the Earth, unless of course you went for a swim. A huge benefit I have found with an open-ended Kenai is the ability to house different firearms in that are the same frame size but different barrel length. For example, I own a Ruger Redhawk in both a 5.5” barrel and a 7.5” barrel configuration, and my Kenai works equally excellent with both. If you own a Glock 19, a Glock 17, and a Glock 34, the open end Kenai would be another great option to add to your custom order.
The second component of the holster is the harness. GunfightersINC offers two options for the harness; Standard, which is for someone up to 6’4” tall with a 60” chest, and Large, which is for someone up to 6’8” with an 80” chest. That is an absolute mountain of a human, but I digress. Since you have already chosen the exact combination of colors for the kydex holster, GunfightersINC also gives you four color options for the harness to be sure it looks great. The harness is made of waterproofed and UV resistant nylon. There are three attachment points to the holster, two of which connect after wrapping around your chest horizontally. These two kydex connections are made with a larger pivoting rivet, allowing the harness to be tightened easier and maintaining a more direct path for the strap to take around your torso. The third connection is at the top of the holster, where a piece of thick elastic is riveted between the front and rear plates of kydex. This elastic also dons the awesome GunfightersINC company logo, which I am personally very fond of. This attachment allows for the holster to be properly centered on your chest while comfortably being angled over your weak-side shoulder. I have found this piece of elastic also lets you tighten the harness down more, making it conform to your body better while also decreasing the felt load of the weapon by offering some bounce absorbing when walking and running. This shoulder strap connects to the horizontal strap with incredibly thick and strong stitching in the center of your back at yet another area of elastic.
All three straps have thick plastic buckles matching in color located at the holster end of the straps, offering you the ability to easily put on and take of the holster in whatever manner you find easiest and most natural. The buckles also allow you to remove the holster in a hurry, should the need arise, as all three buckles are right in front of you on your chest. I personally have used this feature a lot, as I have the easiest time putting the holster on if I have the weak side horizontal buckle un-clipped, slide my right arm and head between the other two clipped straps, and grab the un-clipped strap to buckle it under my left arm. Releasing the buckles also lets you tighten and loosen the straps on the fly if you need to. Finally, each of the three strap ends contains a strap keeper to help contain the extra webbing. GunfightersINC recommends you remove the excess webbing that you do not need to help reduce any chance of snagging, although be sure to leave some extra on there to let you loosen it over thicker clothing if you plan to use this year-round like me.
The shoulder strap is made of wider 2” nylon webbing than the 1.5” wide horizontal strap. GunfightersINC had comfort in mind when designing the Kenai. The wider strap distributes the weight of even the heaviest large frame revolvers. Many leather chest holster systems require an additional shoulder pad, which adds weight, size, and cost to the system. With my 5.5” Redhawk loaded with 320grn hard cast, the ammo carrier holding six rounds of 240grn JSP, and my speed loader carrier filled with six additional rounds of 320grn hard cast, I have had no issues with pressure points, tired, or sore shoulders. I have found to have my Kenai to not hinder my movements or mobility in any fashion. The gun and holster do not interfere with shouldering a rifle either. None of the three straps or their buckling systems interferes with the draw or inhibits you from finding and maintaining an immediate purchase on your weapon either. They all stay out of the way from the grip of your pistol, and seem to fade away and disappear into your clothing and body.
I chose to pick up one of the color-matching ammo carriers that GunfightersINC offers for their Kenai. It snugly holds 6 rounds of my 44 Magnum ammo. Installation was easy, you just need to take the appropriate chest harness buckle off, thread the ammo carrier on, and reattach the buckle. The carrier itself is made out of incredibly strong nylon, and your ammo is held in place with stout elastic bands. The stitching is top notch to boot. Additionally, I added a second carrier to my harness that gives me the ability to carry another 6 rounds inside of a speed loader. Perhaps this would be something GunfightersINC might offer themselves in the future! If you are getting a Kenai for a semi-automatic handgun rather than a revolver, you also have the ability to add on a magazine pouch rather than an ammo carrier too.
GunfightersINC stands by the idea that the Kenai makes you a hard target, and after my experiences thus far with it, I could not agree more. Conventional thinking of a “hard target” is usually that of presenting yourself as being intimidating enough to deter an attacker for their fear of failure and being injured themselves. The Kenai puts a new spin on that idea. Predators in the wilderness are of course unaware that having a sidearm on your chest means you might not be the easiest of prey and that they should go elsewhere. The Kenai is not a visual deterrent in that regard. Instead, the Kenai offers such an incredible combination of function and ease of use that you are harder prey to kill, making you a hard target. GunfightersINC has afforded the end user with so many custom options, color choices, and unmatched comfort at a competitive cost, that the hope is you will not ever be caught in the wild without a Kenai. I would normally say that I can’t wait until hunting season rolls back around so I can use the Kenai more, but since it is so versatile and fits over so many different combinations of clothing, I have the pleasure to take it snowshoeing, hiking, camping, and fishing while I wait for fall to return. Thanks to GunfightersINC and the Kenai, I am now a hard target.