Kel-Tec P3AT: On the Trail

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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.