Kel-Tec P3AT: On the Trail

Kel-Tec P3AT: On the Trail

In modern usage, the “Always bring a gun to a gunfight” adage means those who can legally carry a concealed handgun, should. In other words, be prepared by carrying regularly. This applies both in urban and rural areas ¾ any place that might have the potential for danger or the need for adequate self defense. It even applies in really rural areas ¾ in the backcountry, in woods, and on trails where danger may come in the form of four-legged creatures as much as those with two.

If the 9mm vs. .45 ACP debate will go on forever, the “Which gun do I carry in the backcountry?” debate will last an hour longer. “On the trail, you definitely want a .22,” said someone, some time ago. “When I head out to the backcountry, I always pack a .44 Magnum snub-nosed revolver,” said another. Very good reasons abound for these and other choices and sometimes ¾ the best gun? ¾ it just depends.

You’ve seen Part I and II in this series. I promised you a Part III to the Kel-Tec P3AT review and you’re reading it. It won’t be the range report; that’ll be Part IV. Instead, I wanted to drop 700 or so words here to report on the P3AT as a trail or backcountry gun.


Now that the chuckling about the little gun’s lack of backcountry prowess has ceased, here’s why I chose it for this role: because it’s a little gun.

Not all of the concealed carriers who frequent the hills and trails of this great country have a plinker or hand cannon, nor are they looking for unhindered target practice or concerned about encountering a grizzly. Moreover, some hit the trails intent on running or otherwise being fleet of foot. So, for them, the lightweight Kel-Tec P3AT is a great choice of a carry gun.

In Part II, I reviewed a couple of holsters for the Kel-Tec P3AT, one of them being a Galco Pocket Protector. I was using the Galco during a trail hike and, for the most part, enjoying it except for the reinforced mouth ¾ a leather-covered piece of wire that rubbed against my leg as it rode in my front right pocket. So I cut it off. Not my pocket ¾ the reinforced mouth of the holster.

In doing so, the holster lost a quarter inch in overall width but increased in comfort. Lacking the reinforced mouth didn’t seem to affect the holster’s ability to stay open for re-holstering but I wasn’t too concerned about this anyway. I trekked on, grateful for the easy customization job.

Hiking a trail or exploring the backcountry usually means wearing a backpack in order to carry a few essentials: extra socks, blanket, water supply, compass, knife, and so forth. You could carry a concealed handgun in your backpack ¾ in fact, with the right backpack you could carry, well, a lot of firepower. But the goal is to bring as little as possible, to keep the pack light, to only have essentials. As such, this is where the less-than-10-ounce Kel-Tec P3AT shines. With a capacity of six rounds of .380 ACP, the P3AT offers a reasonable defensive load that barely tips the scale. It’ll fit virtually anywhere in a backpack, too ¾ even the skinny side pockets.

But carrying the P3AT in a backpack, while easy, does not mean it is the best place to carry it. It’s still much better suited to pocket carry.

Spring in Michigan being what it is ¾ Winter, Round 2 ¾ outdoor activities including trail hikes still require merino wool baselayers, fleece mid-layers, and waterproof outerwear. I tried the Kel-Tec and the custom Galco pocket holster in the front pocket of my rain jacket. It rode fine there but depending on the backpack and the presence of a waist strap, it wasn’t always easily accessible.

Alas, like many of my trail hikes, I ended up back where I started: the Kel-Tec P3AT riding in the right front pocket of my pants. It barely printed (and if it did, looked like a wallet), rode comfortably, and couldn’t have been in a better location for a fast draw, should the need arise.

Thankfully, I engaged in a total of zero gunfights during my trail hikes with the P3AT, but I was ready.

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27 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Carrying daily requires thoughtful compromise. Most us can’t conceal a 1911 45ACP very well or very comfortably. I have. Ruger LCP for daily carry which is similar in size and capability to the P3AT. During the cold weather in CT an IWB holster does the trick for me but in warm weather I use a pocket holster and find that it conceals quite well even though a fast draw would be a bit awkward. It’s still there if it should be needed, God forbid.


    1. I agree Leadfoot, I carry the Kel-Tec PF-9, a little smaller 9mm in a Uncle Mike’s size 3 Sidekick pocket holster in my right front pocket. Light weight, rarely prints, comfortable, holster stays in pocket upon drawing. Thanks for the info in the articles. I have a AMD .380 Back-up but not a Kel-Tec.

  3. I go back and forth on trail carry. I hike in the National Forests and Wilderness areas of the SW and NEVER go unarmed. Too many critters and bad guys (mostly illegals and drug dealers), although further from paved roads fewer bud guys.
    I carry my Ruger SR9c in a Blackhawk carbon fiber holster or my LCP in a pocket sleeve, front right pocket. Generally the longer the hike the more I tend to carry the lighter LCP in my front right pocket.
    Thanks for the review.

  4. We only differ on the choice of holsters. My P3AT rides very comfortably and, even with its extended 9 round magazine, nearly print free in its Remora Holster inside my right front pants pocket. The Remora’s material prevents slippage in my pocket during draw, and has conformed very well to the contour of the P3AT and its side mounted LaserLyte sight. Re-holstering is not a problem. I’ve never heard of any casualties resulting from slow holstering.

    My local seamstress at the neighborhood dry cleaner did a great job of adding a separate interior pocket to the left side of my pants, similar to a watch pocket. That holds my extra 9 round magazine. The regular pants pocket is still free for change, car keys, pocket knife, etc. A very key factor in your decision to carry is to make it easy and comfortable to do. If it isn’t, you won’t carry everyday. If my pants are on, I’m armed. And if they’re not, it is never far away.

  5. Sadly, we live in a time when hiking or hunting in a National Forest has it’s dangers. Meth cookers and pot growers are paranoid and seemingly everywhere in some areas. You must always be aware and prepared to defend yourself. No more wool gathering and enjoying mother nature. Constant alertness, almost like a combat patrol.

  6. The PRIMARY question is always WHY am I carrying a firearm?
    The answer determines the weapon. For just in case, a .380 is a minimal choice, though a .38 revolver is less susceptible to debris.

  7. Aloha Mark.
    I have greatly been enjoying your series of articles on the P3AT. Being a transplant living in Arizona, I have come to greatly appreciate the near Constitutional level of open and/or concealed carry options here. Trail hiking here presents some very different factors. Heat, harsh sun, dry and rocky terrain, harsher vegetation that seems to actively attack the unattentive……and potentially very dangerous animals, ranging from no legs to two legs to various multiples of 2 legs. Some of these threats are small, some can be very large, but any of them can leave you mortally in danger out in the desert. Sheer isolation can be a factor, no cell phone reception.

    Part of my EDC is a P3AT with Crimson Trace Laser, riding in a Uncle Mikes Size 4 Pocket Holster. It is very lightweight, comfortable, well protected, and prints more like a wallet than my wallet does. It rides in my front pants pocket. No matter where I go or what I am wearing, I 99.9% of the time have pants on of some sort, with a front pocket. Heck, even my surf baggies have a front pocket (not recommending carrying the P3AT while surfing, but perhaps with some testing, it might become EDC equipment for the Laird Hamiltons out there competing with ‘JAWS’ for the perfect wave).

    Are there potentially better guns to carry out on the trail? Yes, and I have on different occasions carried many of them. Taurus Judge Public Defender Poly, Glock, Ruger 10/22, AR7, PMR30, various shotguns, various AR or AK based guns. Quite a field there to drool over and pick and choose from…..hmmm, which is BEST for todays adventure in the wilds. What do they all have in common? They ALL were secondary ‘back ups’ to my EDC P3AT. Okay, so that covers carry choices. What about actual usage, guns meeting palms?

    Well, again, despite and irregardless of whatever other choices I made, I have reached for and drawn my P3AT more times than all others in the wild. The first time was hiking with a light camelback pack, along a desert wash among some steep hills. A noice rustled in front of me, just outta sight around the bend. Hand went into pocket, drew the P3AT, pointed straight down, double checked the laser. As I came around the corner, I was confronted with a doe and a bay deer that had just crossed the wash. Suddenly, a big huge buck crossed the wash in front of me, and stopped midway between me and the rest of his family. For a long couple minutes, no one moved. He was intently watching me, looking to see if I was a threat. I stood motionless, grateful to have the 6+1 shots of .380 ACP Corbon Ammo in my hand, ready to go if things changed…..and it would have only taken a blink of the eye to go from peaceful encounter to life threatening scenario. Eventually, the doe and baby moved on up the hill, and the impressive buck turned and followed them.

    That day, I had 2 other guns on me. A Judge Poly was carried in a 511 Tactical undershirt, riding nice and comfy under my armpit and held close to my side. The other was a Taurus PT-709 Slim in my Camelback, which I was going to shoot for the 1st time out in the desert. The PT-709 was not readily accessible without taking the Camelback off. The Judge was accessible, but would have been more difficult to draw than normal with the Camelback on. The most comfortable, lightest and quickest gun into action that day was my EDC P3AT in it’s EDC pocket holster configuration.

    I will continue to use the practices of ‘1 is none, 2 is 1, and 3 is better’, but no matter how I choose to do my math on any given day, my EDC P3AT is always in the equation.
    …..Until Recently……
    I am now getting familiarized with an NAA .22 Magnum/LR with the folding stock grip/case. I am not ready to replace my EDC P3AT with it, but that NAA sure is convenient to carry. Anyplace I could or would carry a Kershaw Pocket Folder Knife, even clipped to a pants belt loop…..that NAA carries just fine. I might not replace my P3AT with the NAA, but I find myself adding that NAA to my EDC. My math is getting better…..2 is 1.

    Looking forward to your next article in this P3AT series, and hope you try the KelTec Factory 9-round magazines for the P3AT at the range. They are great for your ‘reload’ carry options (I prefer to keep the 6+1 magazine in the gun for initial draw).


  8. I have a P3AT and I must say hang on tight when you fire it. I have a small hand and two of my fingers hang below the grip. If the bullet doesn’t stop the bear the noise will. LOL The holster I use makes the gun look like a wallet. It also makes the gun easy to handle when firing. I love the gun, only had one problem with the trigger spring and KEL-TEC fixed it right away, free… You have to get used to the trigger pull. My friend just purchased the P3AT after he saw me shooting mine.

  9. Hello Mark, et., al.,
    I never leave the house without being being armed with at Least one pistol, usually two & sometimes Three! The One pistol, that I Always have on me, reguardless of circumstance, is my little P3AT, usually in an ankle holster. (not easy to get at, true). But the ankle carried Keltec is basically my secondary weapon. I, once again, Ususally, carry a Colt Government Model 380 ACP, in a outside/inside/pocket clip type of holstering (either one or the other, of the three types). I Much prefer the outside the waist, belt holster, for the quickest draw, but then I’m a former Peace Officer & used to carrying a pistol on my belt.
    When carrying three pistols, the Keltec is on my ankle, the Colt 380 is under my armpit, in a holster ‘T’ shirt & whatever I have on my waist is my main carry gun. (.45 or 9mm)

    If it’s cooler out, or at least cool enough to justify wearing a vest, of some sorts, I’ll at times carry my ‘duty weapon’, which is a S&W M&P 9mm, in a shoulder holster, for the most ammo, availability.

    If I think that I’m going into ‘Harms’ Way’, though, I’ll be carrying my 1911 45ACP w/ extra/extra ammo, just for good measure ;~) As our military has found out, in our Middle Eastern Wars, a 9mm just doesn’t do the job, when confronted by someone who is intent upon doing you grievious bodily harm ! Best bet, for that, is the time proven .45. (I was weaned on the 1911, whilst in the Army, as an MP, back in the early 70s)

    Each unto his/her own, as far as prefered carry weapons, but I never go outside (I live in Upstate SC, now-a-days) without my Keltec P3AT ;~)

    Great article Mark, Thanks much !

    Be Careful out there, folks, it’s a Dangerous World, we live in…

  10. I carry a 4″ Taurus 92, 9 shot & a speed loader in a DeSantis #113, cross draw under a Hawaiian Shirt. Yes the it extends below the holster. But, it works for me. In my back pocket, I carry a Beretta 21in a special mask holster.
    Yes, they are 22LR. You would be surprised on how effective CCI stinger’s are.

  11. Both my wife and I carried the Kel-tec P3AT. Worst weapon that we ever owned! Even sent them back 2 times to the factory. They jammed and stove piped every other clip or two no matter what we shot thru them. They were traded in for two Sig’s P238’s. What a GREAT gun. A 300% improvement

    1. Did you try opening the clip mouth a little?, I had the same problem, little bit of thought go’s a long way. Was there any ramp polishing?. Just a few thought’s, because I own 2,same problem, but I worked it out. Both work like a champ. Also did you do the 500 rds before carry?.

  12. The pistol depends on the other things one is carrying, both in weight and location comfort, and I simply adjust accordingly. An auto pistol is my preferred EDC in urban areas, though I might as well carry a .357 Magnum revolver when “in the field” as postulated here. Mostly, I have an issue with calibers that are as miniscule as the .7.65/.32ACP, for either two- or four- legged critters. It might suffice, but it might not, so I will err on the side of (relative) power.

  13. I have owned a p3at for about 7 years now. Originally got it to be a pocket gun at work when i could not carry any other, ie-my 40 or 45. I had to have a shirt tucked in and it made my ccw print too much during warmer weather and while sitting. So I got the p3at 380 after alot of research. Almost every gun shop owner i talked to had one in their pocket when i asked about their opinion, so eventually this sold me on them. Thus far i can say I like it for what it is. IT is not pretty, it is not very powerful, it has a limited capacity, and IT is not a primary weapon for most. Mine does not like premium ammo or really any hollow point. But feeds any ball ammo fine. As others have mentioned, it does have a little recoil for a 380, comparable to a light 40. Im not sure i would carry it as a outdoors gun, I have a glock 10mm for that. But for every day pocket carry in a holster it has worked great. No real sights, just point, squeeze the very heavy trigger and bang. It is not the most accurate, nor the largest caliber, but when you need something better than a pocket 22 but cant reasonably carry anything larger, it has its place and that is about the only place I can honestly say that it shines. Though it has its negatives, and all guns do have them, I still like it enough to on occasion carry and still use. I have no reason to get rid of it, and cant really see replacing it with anything else. I would suggest to anyone wanting to get one to try before you buy, as the recoil for some may be a deal breaker and the grip is a little “rough.” But it isnt meant for all day target shooting, but as a back up or pocket piece.

  14. P3AT… backup, at best. But, better than throwing stones! Those who are not constrained by a requirement to qualify at 25 yds with this little jem will soon see that those who are, will want a larger more controllable gun. If you have to go larger, might as well go bigger bullet as well. My P3AT is a glovebox gun that gets dropped into the pocket when I go into the quicky-mart and I’m not totin’ something bigger.

  15. I my self carry a Glock g-32, 357 sig, or a 40, The little mouse guns come out after the smoke clear’s.

  16. Wrap Velcro around the grip on P3AT to lessen recoil and have a better grip on gun. I can shoot mine all day with no jams, etc. Doug M.

  17. stv_rosenthal

    I’ve carried an shot the kel tec an after a lot of back an forth settled on the beretta nano in 9mm. In my testing. the p3at had the same feel as the beretta yet after shooting both the beretta was a little smoother.

  18. although I own a S&W 442 .38 cal. and a Ruger SP101 in .357 cal. I usually carry either my 1911 Colt Light Commander built in 1951 or my Glock 36 both in .45 cal. ACP. I favor the Colt Single Action, cocked and Locked because I am more familiar and comfortable with that method of carry. Besides that it’s a bit of nostalgia for me as that is what I carried overseas in 1968, along with my M-14. Which I also wouldn’t mind owning if I could find one in decent shape.

  19. I am new to owning a gun, and have never even held a hand gun until last year. I run two different kinds of businesses… one being Real Estate. I frequently have to enter vacant homes by myself or have to meet buyers (men) I do not know at vacant homes and feel better knowing I have some protection when doing so. I purchased a Glock 9 mm and have carried concealed a few times, but for me its hard to really conceal this weapon. Does anyone have suggestions on smaller guns for women? I wear alot of dresses in the summer and thought maybe a thigh holster would work with the correct size gun. would love some help…. thanks

    1. You might like to get a micro-gun and one of the bra holsters that are out there. That should be easy to conceal.

  20. I have carried a KelTec P-11 for about 10 years, both in belt holsters and a pocket holster. I looked at the smaller guns, but felt I wanted more punch than a .380. The P-11 will shoot whatever ammo I feed it, including my primary defense ammo, Carbon hollowpoints. It is reasonably accurate, especially since I added the Lasermax laser sight. Recently I decided to carry two guns when I can, so I have my S&W M59 on a belt slide holster and my P-11 in a pocket holster. Both are readily available and I can use the S&W mags in the KelTec in a pinch. Important to me is the interchangeability of the ammo!

  21. brickswilson

    Sorry to say this, this gun is cheap and dangerous[to the user]. I retired mine 4 years ago. I keep it as an emergency gun for our vacation home. I don’t keep it loaded. It was replaced with a bodyguard. much better gun. kel tech’s customer service is great. I still don’t like this gun. the 9mm shield is even better than the bodyguard. to each his own though.

  22. mculpepper1938

    I bought a KEL-TEC P-3AT/Crimson TraceLaser. Have fired over 200 rounds and only had 2-3 clips fired through succefsflly. The first problem was feading and I had the ramp polished and then the next problem was ejecting the fired round. It is now been at Kel-Tec repair shop for about eight weeks for repair. I like the gun but will not carry it for protection if I can’t depend on it.

  23. I used to carry a kel-tec -3AT and really liked the little gun,but decided I needed a little more. I bought the Sig. P 290. Not much bigger but shoots the 9mm and has the best double action trigger I have used. I put it in a Desantis pocket holster and hardly know I’m carrying it. I know it is a little expensive but you never have to worry about it going bang, and if it does it has restrike capability.

  24. I like my kel tec .380 but LOVE my kel tec P32. Under 9oz with 8 rounds. I’ve got a box of holsters you guys can have, I installed the “belt clip” and it is perfect. I clip it onto flimsy jogging shorts and it never moves. Grabs on like a Tennessee tick. Zero printing. As for pocket carry I know it’s best to cover the trigger but I read of an off duty cop being held up, gave his watch and cell phone and said cash is in his pocket as he slowly reached in and emptied his .32 into the muggers chest, couldn’t do that with a holster covering the trigger. He got to his pocket gun but couldn’t reach behind him for his .45 service gun.

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