A chest holster for hiking

Chest Holster For Hiking, Backpacking, Outdoors

A Chest Holster for hiking, backpacking, and other practical reasons. It’s one great way to carry a firearm when outdoor activities make it inconvenient (or impossible) to hip carry.

(image: GunfightersINC)

Activities including hiking, back country travel, hunting, fishing, riding an ATV, backpacking, etc.. may be more comfortable while wearing a chest holster if you choose to carry a firearm.

Disclaimer: Know your local laws if carrying open in this way.

Depending on where you live, venturing out to hike, fish, camp, scout game trails, etc.. can put you at risk. Whether it’s protection from teeth and claws of 4-legged predators or life-threatening encounters with 2-legged predators, it may be smart to include a sidearm as an important part of your gear.

I read an article from Concealed Carry magazine which stated the following:

“Sadly, in some areas of our country, illegal human activity might be more of a threat than wildlife, and it could require serious defensive action on your part. For even the non-hunter, carrying a sidearm into those wilder regions of our outdoors provides a sense of security.”

A problem is this:

For those of us who get out into the woods, back-country recreational areas, along hiking trails, in fishing streams or at campsites, everything we have is attached to various parts of our anatomy and must work together with all other gear strapped to our bodies. Adding the mass of a sidearm makes it more inconvenient if not impossible to deal with.

This is where a chest holster comes in…

Advantages Of A Chest Holster

  • Comfort
  • Accessibility
  • Protection

While a hip holster (IWB or OWB) might work okay for a casual and relatively short walk in the woods or trail with a light-small backpack, this will not be the case for a longer or more strenuous hike especially with a larger backpack and other gear that you may be wearing.

A chest holster will be more comfortable. Shoulder and sternum straps across your torso distributes the weight of the firearm to your body core rather than hanging on your hip.

A chest holster allows you to carry a larger backpack. Carrying a sidearm on your hip will likely interfere with the carry of a larger backpack.

A chest holster provides quick access to your firearm. Seconds count. A chest holster will carry your firearm up higher on your chest (hence the name!) which makes it uniquely ready and quickly accessible for draw when shouldering a backpack, fishing with waders, etc.. during times when other methods of carry may be prohibitive, difficult, or not possible.

A chest holster that fits snug eliminates snags and a floppy gun. Hip carry will more likely snag on things while traversing the woods. A chest holster enables a snug carry right in front of you and the firearm will not slap around as you move about.

A chest holster could be critical during a bear attack. Front access to your firearm, even during a fetal position could save your life. I live in bear country. When I’m out roaming my property, or in the forest, this is one way that I may choose to carry.

Wearing over a winter coat or jacket. Similarly, if I’m out and about on the property, I may choose to wear a chest holster over my jacket. Sure is convenient. You just have to adjust the straps to fit.

 

image: GunfightersINC (chest holster hiking with backpack)

Best Chest Holster

There certainly are a variety of manufacturers of chest holsters. One company that I highly recommend (they are not an advertiser) is GunfightersINC. I say this because I have a number of their holsters and have been 100% satisfied.

A commenter on Modern Survival Blog said, “I’ve got the Gunfighter’s Kenai chest rig with holsters for several of my handguns. Very comfortable, very accessible when wearing a pack. A little on the pricey side, but worth it.”

You may find a chest holster that fits your firearm here:

Chest Holsters from GunfightersINC
(view their storefront on amzn)

Are There disadvantages of a Chest Holster?

There’s no perfect holster. Each has their pros and cons.

A commenter on MSB said, “The biggest disadvantage I found with a Chest Holster (I actually tried one) was the draw length. Meaning the distance from gripping the firearm to the point the barrel clears the holster. This action brings the ‘draw’ quite high to the shoulder.”

However, another perspective…

A former LEO on MSB said, “I have used chest carry for years, but had to fashion my own rigs. Other than the concealment factor, chest carry is far superior to all others in accessibility, comfort, and being able to maintain control of the weapon being snatched from your person by an attacker.”

So a question for you reading this…

What has been your own preference for carrying a firearm while out in the woods, on the trail, or places such as this?

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34 Comments

  1. For hiking I once tried a thigh carry rig for my sidearm. It did not take long to discover the disadvantages of it. Switched to hip carry after that.. Chest carry has been something I wanted to try. Thanks for the article.

    1. Minerjim,
      last year i bought a padded “battle belt”. i have my holster a hatchet a belt knife and a boo boo bag/ fire kit on it.
      now when i go out into the woods checking on things all i have to do is throw it on, grab my old 94 and hit the woods.
      it’s been a great setup for me.

  2. I don’t not like the “advertising” aspect as I don’t everyday open carry (it is legal in my state) because I prefer no one to know what or if I am carrying. When I was hiking parts of the AT (in States that recognized reciprocity) I used a quick opening fanny pack made for firearms worn in front of my waist as it kept my pistol concealed and could easily be accessed if needed and that is what I still use today. The only creatures I have ever had a problem with are two legged so I don’t need to carry a 8” barrel hand cannon. My wife carries the same set up when hiking and it also has room for two spare magazines, cellphone and a flashlight which is convenient.

    1. As one of my favorite authors says, even a dog pack knows the sound of a gun clearing a fanny pack.

  3. Years ago, i found a tanker holster for my Ruger mark 3 pistol. Wearing one beneath a layer of clothing is relatively low profile when spotted from far away. I carry that when walking with my dog in rural areas. If I carry my Ruger single six, it is in a holster on my dominant side hip. When working with horses, I carried a 44 magnum on my dominant side hip. (a very real aspect is you may have to shoot a horse when working with them). When working with nervous and/or green-broke horses, things can go bad quickly. Kicking out of the stirrups and getting off the horse is the smart move most of the time.

    When working in a city, the uniform and badge took away any element of surprise you may hope to have. Weapon retention becomes a big factor when selecting a holster along with department regs. In Socal, I used a lot of Safariland holsters back in the day. Off duty, I carried a fanny/bum pack until those became associated with off-duty cops and agents. I went back to carrying in a backpack, small daypack with zipper closure on dominant side that I stitched in myself. I was young and clean-cut back then so carrying a backpack with a newspaper or book made me look like a dweeby college student. CCW’s in hot weather are pretty easy to spot. I carried a daypack like ladies carry a purse. It never leaves my side and even goes with me to the bathroom stall.

  4. Calirefugee,
    my EDC is a colt 2″ lawman detective special in .357 . it’s small enough to fit in my pocket, six shot and somewhat easy enough to get out quickly.
    for years i have been thinking about having the hammer spur removed but i haven’t done it yet. there are pros and cons to that.

  5. The pictures make it appear the actual holster is center of the chest. Can these rigs be adjusted to carry off side? For example center of left side of the chest. A shoulder injury makes makes drawing from the dominant side less than comfortable. In other words I need to reach across. Did not want a shoulder rig under the arm pits however.

    1. Deep,

      I think you could offset it from your center line, but based on the one I have from them, I do not think it has enough flexibility to use in a shoulder holster configuration.

      1. I have a Diamond D for my .44 mag. It carries to the left a bit to give room for the draw on the long barrel. I carry that when need of bear protection, otherwise even hiking I carry the .357mag snubby on the side. It can always go in a pocket. My wife actually got a chest carry for her .357mag snubby. I “kinda” like it. But the chest holster is a pain if you have to layer up or down. I can do that easier with the snubby on the side. But for real bear protection I suffer and throw on the Diamond D over everything. You can wear them under a coat too which actually gives you the first layer to “easy off”. Sometimes I wear my one piece Carharts. I’ve carried Chest over, but will throw it on under if its snowing or raining really hard. Carrying under makes it a little harder to get to but more protected. Carrying over subjects it to every snow berm you have to trudge through without snow shoes. They have pluses and minuses. But we have them, along with all our other side carry holsters.

        1. Prepared,

          I think you point out something important! Having more than one holster, so you can adjust to the environment you are carrying in.

  6. The UM84 holster;
    Models for revolver and semi auto.
    Ambidextrous.
    Use with or without the flap.

    Padded nylon construction.
    Contains a cleaning rod.

    Wear on a belt.
    With optional strap wear under the arm,
    Or across the chest — Tanker fashion.

    When worn across the chest, can add a nylon knife-pistol magazine pouch to the shoulder strap.
    Convenient to carry under insulated coveralls in winter. Keeps the firearm warm in sub-zero temps.

    1. Oh, there is no horizontal strap that goes around your back. I find that this strap if snug enough to hold the holster in place while drawing the firearm makes it hard to breathe deeply (expand your chest) when breathing hard under exertion.
      The M 84 uses a strap that attaches to your belt. Yeah, you have to wear a belt…

  7. How does a pistolero accumulate so many holsters? Context which cannot be shown by one picture in a catalog. Picture #1 in this article shows a person, adult male standing on dry ground in the woods somewhere. The featured holster comes into its own when wearing insulated waders like the salmon fishermen and guides do in Alaska.
    The only time I wore waders was on a body recovery and my coworkers were on the bank with their gunbelts on. I drew short straw and wsa given the task of loading the body bag that day.

    1. CR has the perfect sporting application nailed: for holding your bear defense gun high and dry above your wader tops while salmon fishing. There are other good applications however, like while outdoors: hunting, hiking, snowmobiling (aka “skidooing”), etc. And while driving or operating heavy equipment.

      The plusses: easy access up high (and no aches, pains, bruises or welts such as from a normally holstered gun while wearing seated), fewer snags (tree limbs, seat belts, equipment controls, fly line, etc.), quicker and easier draw.

      The minuses: crowded real estate on your chest if you also have a bino harness, or camera or other kit work on the front, or tangles with your ruck (backback) straps even if worn on top of them – especially if you have to dump your ruck quickly.

      Another issue is that even the really good chest holsters like the Diamond D have only one retention strap or cover, easily defeated. I prefer it this way. However, the flaw is that the gun is more easily stripped from you than from a holster with dual or higher retention. Any LEO will tell you of the importance of retaining possession – its of life or death importance.

      In general, my preferred carry for a chest holster is under an easily parted jacket, especially around two legged varmits, a much more likely scenario than in places where your only warm blooded company is going to be a bear…or three. There is little to be gained by showing you are packing, unless and until you decide otherwise.

      Be safe out there!

  8. I have their Kenai Chest Hoster for my Glock 17/22. Looking forward to testing it out when I am in Alaksa this summer.

  9. “A chest holster provides quick access to your firearm. Seconds count. A chest holster will carry your firearm up higher on your chest (hence the name!) which makes it uniquely ready and quickly accessible for draw…”
    Hmm… many a LEO would argue that hip (or even abdomen) draw out of the most rudimentary Kydex holster will have your sidearm out and pointed in the right direction faster than any chest or shoulder draw. I can understand tramping around through the woods with a pistol strapped around your chest for comfort’s sake and the danger of a large bear but for the average 2-legged predator you’d be a dead (or severely beaten) duck. Try the “reaction” test with a chest holster if you doubt any bona-fide LEO.

    1. To Arch Stanton,
      Here’s the rest of my statement:

      “A chest holster will carry your firearm up higher on your chest (hence the name!) which makes it uniquely ready and quickly accessible for draw when shouldering a backpack, fishing with waders, etc.. during times when other methods of carry may be prohibitive, difficult, or not possible.

      In other words, I’m certainly not suggesting that one method of carry or another is faster. Instead, the topic is simply suggesting the use of a chest holster (or chest bag) as a method of carry for hiking, backpacking, etc., when hip carry or other methods (for example) may be prohibitive (e.g. backpack frame in the way, etc.). That’s it.
      :=)

      1. Exactly, it’s about having the right equipment for the environment you are currently operating in. I carry on the hip everyday as a LEO, but I have bought one of these holsters, because I see the advantage it will offer me in a hiking backwoods environment.

  10. I have been using a ‘chest pouch’ as a open/concealed alternative to a typical chest holster. The nice thing is that the pistol is well-supported by a comfortable chest harness, completely covered from the elements — and is easily accessible. When encountering ‘gun-shy’ folks on the trail, you won’t alarm them since it is not obvious that you are carrying. Sort of like folks who use a fanny pack to carry concealed in public. There are several manufacturers of these chest rigs. The two I have (J-frame size and K-frame size) are “KIt Bags” from ‘Hill People Gear’. They are great for mountain biking, jogging and backcountry skiing…

  11. Why let it be known that you are carrying ?
    It really makes most people around you nervous. And a topic of conversation.
    I carry – always concealed, but easily accessible.

    1. ThruHiker,
      Your point is well taken. Additionally, it may even be illegal depending on one’s location.

      It’s a somewhat normal sight in the region where I live (open carry), so no big deal. When I used to do trail work, most all of the crew carried open in one way or another. Normal.

      Anyway, a chest holster is simply one additional way to carry, which may be a good choice under certain conditions.

      I personally wouldn’t go grocery shopping wearing my chest rig though (lol).

    2. Agree here. If one is concerned about comfort (understandably) while say, fishing in waders, then a shoulder-rig might be best. It would be more “hidden” in the proper sense of the word. All said, to carry while you’re in the woods is a good idea even on the left-coast where Mexican Cartels have a tendency to farm cannabis in our national parks.

  12. So im just curious, isnt that chest rig you show above for a hand gun with a much shorter snout? Typically the kydex encases the sight at the business end of the muzzle, not the end of the muzzle but definitely the whole barrel.
    Was just curious, friend has my old S&W and got a kydex and webbing rig similar to that but it covers the whole thing

  13. Can’t beat the Diamond D Guides Choice. I’ve carried my .44 mag in one for several years. I’m in bear country in Montana. It is comfortable, well made makes the gun quickly accessible. In the woods , at least around here, no one is going to have a problem with open carry. Everyone here is carrying some kind of firearm whether you can see it or not. Chest rig is definitely my first choice for outdoor carry.

  14. Kula, you brought up a really good point: The longer the barrel of the handgun, the more difficult it is to carry the weapon without it bumping into things, sticking out from your person, etc. My mentor used to carry his 6 inch Colt Trooper in a swivel based “hogleg” holster when he was on duty in uniform patrol. My first academy we were trained on 4 inch revolvers and we learned and practiced weapon-retention techniques with a weapon mounted on our gun belt without being low-slung. I also saw people lose their guns while rapidly exiting their patrol vehicle when it catches on the steering wheel. (no bueno)

    There is a big difference between looking at holsters and thinking: “that is cool” versus living and working with one for a year or more. Try using a smaller bathroom stall while wearing a kevlar vest and gunbelt for over a year and all the romance and “cool” factor go out the window.

  15. – You mentioned having multiple holsters. When I was a student in Denver, the military sent movers to pack up my stuff to send me to a new duty station. At that time, I owned only three handguns. The mover’s rep made me count all my holsters so he could list a number rather than the list of types and manufacturers. This was in the ‘70’s. At that moment, I had only 16 holsters!

    Yes, I do have two chest type holsters, intended for maneuvering around in the backcountry with more gear.

    – Papa S.

  16. I use a Kenai chest rig. It usually rides my 10mm Glock but will also carry my Glock 19. Have an extra mag pouch on the side in easy reach. I wear it when hunting or just beating around the property. We have a good black bear population. But more importantly I don’t want to be away from the house and unarmed. I live rural but no place is really that safe anymore. Its great when I’m on the four-wheeler, UTV, or on the tractor and not having to dig around beneath a coat or jacket for a hip holster. I can sit, stand, run, or walk and its very comfortable. I don’t wear it to town, but its a almost constant companion on my place… even on the lawn mower! Besides, everyone knows whats in one of those “fanny packs”. You aren’t fooling the predators.

      1. with a shoulder holster, say for instance if you’re right handed and have it on your left side in a cross draw type set up, the gun is drawn in one continuous motion towards the target.
        with a hip holster it takes an up and then out motion to get on target, two motions.
        milliseconds make a difference.
        i have an old tanker style leather holster sized for the 45 colt’s that i use from time to time when i’m on the tractor, target practicing on field rats with the 22 ruger, i don’t bother the snakes. it works well for me.
        but most of the time mine are either on my hip or in my pocket. just old habits.

  17. Whydah,
    no doubt the Glocks are very dependable hand guns. i had one for a while but i was scared to carry it in the field with one in the chamber because of the safety system. twigs, vines, anything could grab the trigger and discharge it when you don’t want it to.
    i finally sold it and got a 92 fs Beretta and haven’t looked back. it’s been proven grunt proof.

    1. nyscout,
      I carry my Beretta 92 f in either a shoulder holster or a chest rig. I carry it in a chest rig when I’m walking fences,around the homestead or in my greenhouses. Most times I CC with my shoulder holster. I always wear an open button down shirt over it. My glock doesn’t get out of the gun safe much these days. Like you I prefer the Beretta…

    2. A proper holster, especially one made for its utility, safely covers and protects the trigger from the hazards you mention.

  18. I appreciate the fact that Ken wrote “chest holster is ‘one’ great way to carry”…..rather than “the best way”…..

    I visit many “survival” and “prepper” sites with endless articles on “the best gun”, “the best cartridge”, the best anything….and if anything you learn from these, it is this…. they ain’t no “best anything” that will fit all scenarios, possibilities…..

    When it comes to guns, I’ve got the requirements figured out…it would be so small and light, my pockets won’t sag when I put it in….it will be powerful enough to stop any breathing animal in its tracks….no felt recoil…and find my hand instantly, on its own, telepathically….

    As of yet, I’ve not found that gun….and that’s why we continue the search……

  19. If I bother with a holster, it’s going to be a retention holster.

    Safariland makes a retention holster for pretty much anything. They have adapter plates to just about anything. Common practice is a mid-ride UBL to a QLS Fork/Receiver to a retention holster.

    I use a two piece belt. The inner belt is Velcro and is used to hold your pants up. The outer is what you put your gear on and is held to the inner belt with said Velcro. The good ones have a Cobra buckle. AWS SMU is my favorite. It has MOLLE on it for attaching things which you can use “one wrap” of double-sided Velcro to do it or use MALICE clips.

    For wearing on a chest you can get a proper load bearing vest and then use the aforementioned Safariland MOLLE adapter to the same QLS setup. You can now mount a QLS receiver to your vehicle or anything else. You just take the firearm in the holster wherever you go.

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