Blending together the Gentoo Kernel Upgrade Guide with the excellent Gentoo/ZFS/NVME SSD installation articles by Guy Robot I synthesized the following set of steps, which I am well pleased to say went without a hitch first time :o)
Please note this is an upgrade article only and assumes you already have a working system that boots ZFS. If you’re starting from scratch please follow Guy Robot’s execellent articles linked above.
If you’re already there and genuinely only want to upgrade your kernel then please read on..

  1. Obvously enough, start with updating the relevant packages (sys-kernel/linux-firmware, sys-kernel/gentoo-sources, sys-fs/zfs, sys-fs/zfs-kmod; note that since v0.8 ZFS no longer relies upon sys-kernel/spl so this can be unmerged). In my case I just went for a complete emerge update @world:

    emaint -a sync
    emerge –update –deep –changed-use –keep-going @world

  2. Ensure that the file /etc/portage/savedconfig/sys-kernel/linux-firmware points to (or is) a file containing the list of only the firmware blobs to compile into the kernel (the remainder should be commented out or deleted). If you are not doing so already, I recommend setting the savedconfig USE variable for the sys-kernel/linux-firmware package so that future emerges retain your config; your set of required firmware is not likely to change from one kernel build to the next.
  3. The /usr/src/linux symlink points to the kernel source package directory. This needs to be updated to point to the location we wish to use for this build. Emerging the gentoo-sources package with USE=symlink would do this for us automatically, but there are other packages out there that need to know where to find our current source, so it’s best that we manage this manually. The Gentoo way is to use the eselect command:

    eselect kernel list
    eselect kernel set <the index number of the new source dir>

  4. We’ll now do some work in the kernel dir. Change into it explicitly to ensure picking the new location of the symlink:

    cd /usr/src/linux

  5. Copy the currently-running kernel’s config to the new kernel’s source dir to use it as a basis:

    cp /boot/kernels/<currently-running kernel dir>/.config /usr/src/linux/.config

  6. We already have the NVME support enabled from the original install (see Guy Robot’s article for details), so next we need to update the config to match the new kernel version (i.e. bring in options that are new since the last time we built it, selecting the recommended setting for each):

    make olddefconfig

  7. This step is probably unnecessary, but I ran the graphical menuconfig and saved, just to ensure any stray Gentoo-sepcific options got picked up:

    make menuconfig

  8. Right, we’re ready to build the kernel. FWIW this took ~1 hour on my Intel i7-7600U. Set the -j parameter to the number of processor cores you have plus one:

    make -j5

  9. Now we have the latest kernel sources we must emerge ZFS again so that it’s compiled against them (the same applies to any other kernel modules you use):

    emerge sys-fs/zfs sys-fs/zfs-kmod

    N.B. The following command might be enough to achieve this in one shot, but it was unclear to me whether zfs also needed to be rebuilt if zfs-kmod is rebuilt which is why I did the above:

    emerge @module-rebuild

  10. Install the kernel and modules (they aren’t actually used until we reconfigure grub to know about them so not to worry):

    make modules_install
    make install

  11. The kernel and it’s ancillaries will be installed to /boot. For neatness and the ability to roll back in case of problems we will keep the existing kernel alongside the new, so create subdirs in the form /boot/kernels/<kernel version dir> and move/rename vmlinuz, config and from /boot to there.
  12. Now we need to build an init ramdisk that’ll import our ZFS pools at boot time. First step here is to use Fearedbliss’ tool to create one that is Gentoo/ZFS-friendly (N.B. I’m assuming you’ve already added the necessary Portage overlay to your repos.conf, as explained in Guy Robot’s article) :

    emerge bliss-initramfs

    Select ‘1’ for ZFS and ‘n’ to enter your own kernel version. When it has finished, copy the resulting initrd-<kernel version> file from /boot to /boot/kernels/<kernel version dir>/initrd

  13. We now need to edit the configuration within the init ramdisk to have it mount our zpools explicitly. Folllow the instructions in Guy Robot’s article starting from “We now need to modify the initramfs.” and up until “Now you have a custom initramfs” :o)
  14. Next we need to let grub know about our new kernel so we can select it at boot. Edit /boot/grub/grub.cfg to set the timeout to 3 (temporarily until we’re happy with the new kernel) and add a menu item like the below, updating the kernel version number appropriately:

    menuentry “Gentoo – 4.19.52-gentoo-FC.01” { linux /@/kernels/4.19.52-gentoo-FC.01/vmlinuz root=rpool/ROOT/gentoo resume=/dev/nvme0n1p3 by=id elevator=noop quiet logo.nologo initrd /@/kernels/4.19.52-gentoo-FC.01/initrd }

  15. Some packages depend on your existing kernel source when building. To prevent it being unmerged when new versions are released, preserve the gentoo-sources package version by adding it to @world:

    emerge –noreplace sys-kernel/gentoo-sources:<version>

  16. Take a deep breath and test your work: