Gun Review: Kel-Tec SU16

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The Kel-Tec SU series of rifles have been on the market for a long time, but it is quite rare that you actually see one at the range, or even hanging on the walls of your local gun store. Kel-Tec is a very innovative company that makes some very interesting, if not obscure products but they do not seem to be able to produce them in sufficient numbers. I have known about the SU rifles for quite a while but I have never so much as seen one until one of my good customers mentioned he had one and suggested that I try it out. Of course I took full advantage of the opportunity and was anxious to see how the rifle performed.

Perhaps the greatest feature of the SU-16 is its ability to fold into a compact and capable centerfire rifle and stow it away in your pack. This is done by pushing out a single pin:

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I have had this backpack for five years, and it has been on four continents.

This fold and stow feature alone makes me want to purchase one for my adventures into the wilderness.

My customer threw a red dot sight on it to aid in shooting, but I am an Iron sight guy:

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Two ten round mags or one 30 round mag stow away in the stock:

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And the rifle looks pretty mean with a standard capacity magazine:

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I took 5 magazines out for a quick 150 round test and could not resist pulling the trigger a bit quickly to get a feel for her:

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The gun is rather easy to keep on target and has a very unique feel to it. Recoil is snappy but it is very controllable:

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Of course the unique forend that doubles as a bipod is very neat as well. I tested this out and managed to pull off a “minute of hog” 10 shot group from 40-50 yards:

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My friend Patrick also enjoyed shooting the rifle and I managed to catch a spectacular muzzle flash on film. Sometimes I forget how effective even the most basic flash hiders are:

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When we were killing off the remaining ammo we did have a malfunction, which was just a typical stovepipe that was easy to clear:

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Patrick also took the time to get a quick accuracy test:

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Wish just a few rounds remaining he did pretty well:

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The gun’s front sight post was loose and began to shift.

As for my list:

The Good:

  • Very unique folding feature
  • Integral bipod
  • Accepts AR15 mags
  • I am confident that I could pull off 2 MOA with this gun with a good optic and good ammo
  • Trigger feels better or at least on par with an AR15 standard trigger
  • Storage space for magazines
  • Affordable and can be seen for under $500

The Bad:

  • Difficult to find locally
  • Crude iron sights
  • Disassembly and reassembly are a bit tricky
  • I expect most guns to be able to go through 150 rounds jam-free

The Ugly:

  • It isn’t the prettiest rifle, but form follows function
  • Lack of a threaded barrel
  • Reciprocating charging handle

All in all, I am pleased with this rifle and I will be on the lookout for one in the sub-$500 range. While there are a few things lacking, the good outweighs the bad.



Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


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  • Y-man

    Good one Alex C.!

    This is one rifle I have been very fascinated about! Especially with the Take-down usability…Great review… Does the forearm/ bi-pod rattle in any way? Is it firm/ strong?

    • Mike A

      The bipod on mine is very solid when folded up. The assembly for the bi-pod is a sliding ring/catch kind of thingy, and it is very stiff. When it is down, it does have some “give” if you twist the rifle side to side or push it forward. It still adds an appreciable amount of stability, on the whole.

  • Mike A

    I have one these, (though, specifically, the SU-16CA) which is probably 90% the same rifle but with a few differences that make it legal in the People’s Republic of California. (One of which, that I find to be somewhat ironic, is the inclusion of a threaded barrel.) I have never had a feeding issue with it, using mostly Federal and PMC brand rounds.

    Be aware that Kel-Tec makes a number of variants on this rifle. For my money, I’d love to get my hand on the SU16C version, which has a different under folding stock that still allows the rifle to be used while folded.

    • Mike A

      Also, I have to agree wholeheartedly about the stock iron sights. They’re plain awful, and such a hassle to adjust. I’d love to stick an EOtech or something on there, but I can hardly justify spending more on the sight then I did on the gun, as purely a recreational shooter.

      • sauerquint

        A rule of thumb is that you will always spend more on good quality optics than you will on the rifle. I hear this alot when referring to kel-tec or mosins, and it’s just kinda silly.

        • Fred Johnson

          I thought the rule of thumb was to spend as much on the optic as the rifle? Even that is not absolute, IMO.

          Still, if I had that KelTec (which I would like to have) I wouldn’t be putting on an EOTech, Aimpoint, or the like. A lower end Nikon or Vortex would probably be plenty good.

        • nadnerbus

          I always figured that rule of thumb was when glassing up a decently accurate long range rifle. Quality close combat optics can usually be had for as much or less than the rifle, decent entry level ones for even less so. Personally, I’ve had enough bad experiences with the cheap stuff to just stick to Aimpoint and only cry once.

        • Cymond

          Yeah, I think that applies to nice precision optics. Under that rule of thumb, an Aimpoint Pro would be inappropriate for anything more than a nice rimfire.

      • sianmink

        A Primary Arms micro dot is easily good enough for this rifle, and barely 3 digits with mount.

    • Rokurota

      I had an SU16C, and I always regret selling it. The two downsides to it (when compared to the SU16A and B) are the folded length (longer than the Alpha’s and Bravo’s) and the looks — it’s way uglier due to the functional stock. On the other hand, being able to fire it while folded was a definite plus, and it had the improved metal front sight post on the fore-end instead of the red plastic post attached to the barrel. That allowed for a threaded barrel. Charlies are a rare sight indeed these days.

  • Nicholas Mew

    How is a reciprocating charging handle a bad thing?

    • Thracian Beast

      Was that a legitimate question?

      • iksnilol

        Yes it was. Some of us don’t mind reciprocating charging handles. Personally I prefer them over the non-reciprocating ones.

        The SU16 would be even better SBRed in 300 BLK oor 7.62×39.

    • Fred Johnson

      Good question. Unless takedown is hampered by that handle, I don’t mind bolt carrier mounted charging handles at all.

    • The less exposed moving parts a system has, the happier I am. I have always disliked slappers on guns and I consider non-reciprocating charging handles to be a positive feature these days.

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        You might want to consider the fact that the Czech vz.58 assault rifle has a reciprocating charging handle, yet is generally acknowledged to be one of the most reliable battlefield rifles available, with a minimal number of moving parts. The exact same applies to the venerable AK-47 / AKM ( and most of their derivatives such as the RPK LMG ), not to mention the Ak-74, Browning M1917 / M1919A4 / M1919A6 .30-cal. MMG’s, the M1 Garand rifle, and the M1 carbine, to name but a very small handful of highly-reputable weapons with impeccable track records for absolute battlefield reliability and mechanical simplicity.

        • Yes, well, the L85 is considered one of the worst, and it’s also one of the “slappers” family. 😉

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            True, the L85 is the object of a lot of opposing views depending on whom you ask.

            I don’t think the fact that a weapon has a reciprocating or non-reciprocating handle in itself makes that much of a difference in it’s overall performance outside of some relatively minor advantages or disadvantages. What is more important is how the charging handle is integrated into the design as a whole to maximize the former and minimize the latter.

            I happen to like both types in weapons that work well with them.

          • Mario AK

            A rifle that can easily break a man’s jaw when fired from the left shoulder is not a subject of any intelligent debate…

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            I don’t disagree with you, but I will reiterate that I specifically said that what is more important than whether a weapon has a reciprocating or non-reciprocating charging handle is how that charging handle is integrated into the design as a whole to maximize the former ( advantages ) and minimize the latter ( disadvantages ). Presumably, this would include designing the rifle so that the charging handle does not hit the firer when used in either the left-handed or right-handed positions ( most properly-designed rifles with reciprocating handles don’t ). The L85 has a severe weakness in this respect, but I was also simply pointing out that there are still some who swear by it as much as there are others who swear at it.

          • Shadow

            Even if you were completely bladed, your face still isn’t going to be covering the ejection port.

          • Mario AK

            What the hell is being bladed??? If that’s a word for cheek weld, you’d definitely get a nasty reciprocating surprise from any of the sa80 derivatives…

        • John Pate

          Having spoken to British soldiers with recent combat experience, the L85A2 is seen as very effective and in direct comparison with M4 carbine as superior overall because of the longer barrel.

    • dan citizen

      I prefer reciprocating bolt handles, my last AR build had a fixed RH charging handle.

      No FBA necessary, less parts, allows the operator more control.

      • Zachary marrs

        Well, if a gun cas a reciprocating changing handle, that is the forward assist, its just rolled into one package

        • dan citizen

          I love that feature.

          Why have a non reciprocating handle made of several parts, that necessitates a FBA, which also consists of several parts, all of which can break?

          Also a nice solid bolt handle can easily be whacked down on a table or struck with any heavy object if you have a FTE. Try that with an ARs retracting handle and you’ll just break it.

          I will admit I’ve never had to actually use a FBA and usually build ARs without them.

          • Zachary marrs

            I actually have done that with a std ar charging handle, and it didn’t break. Ars are lot tougher than most people think.

          • dan citizen

            That is good to hear. I have never subjected an AR charging handle to more than a vigorous tug. It’s nice to know they can take abuse.

    • Zebra Dun

      Every time you shoot the handle moving makes you go cross eyed.

  • Geoff a well known Skeptic

    A non-reciprocating charging handle replaced the multi-part charging handle (4) and the forward assist (6), not to mention the additional work on the receiver. Cross reference AR-180 and Stoner 63. But non-reciprocating charging handles are the modern standard, AR-15, UZI SMG, and most designs running around Europe. Geoff Who believes it goes back to Browning Machinegun design, but doesn’t go back and forth.

  • BillC

    I domt know if it was a joke, especially in the context that you like iron sights, but the optic is backwards in couple of those photos.

    • Tim

      The optic is correct. It is a sight mark if I’m not mistaken, you can tell because the settings knob is in the rear.

      • AK™

        Yup,Tim is correct. My cousin has a sightmark similar to that on his AR-15. Personally I go with a bushnell TRS-25 aimpoint clone. If not that,the tru-glo with the 4 different reticle switch,and last but not least..centerpoint 1-4×24.

        If I were completely serious,i’d save up and go with an ACOG or something else. As it stands,my AR is just for HD and for plinking targets at my dirt range in my field.

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        Absolutely true and correct.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      The red-dot sight on that Kel-tec is a Sightmark SM14000-series UltraShot sight, and it is mounted correctly with the protruding section of the housing with its reticle selection lever facing to the rear. You are probably thinking about the EOTech holographic sight, which has the protruding section of the lower housing facing in the opposite direction ( forward ).

  • AK™

    This would be perfect for a primary arms red dot clone or one of their scopes.

  • Pete Sheppard

    Nice writeup! I have an SU16C. The underfolding stock only works with metal mags; polymer mags are too thick for the stock to fold around. It also has the front sight moved back to the gas block, making for a more streamlined appearance–at the expense of sight plane.
    Regarding that original stock, you can also stick 20rd GI mags into it, but they rattle and feel loose.
    I have close to a thousand rounds through mine with little trouble. Until my last outing, I had no trouble with steel-cased ammo, though the manual specifically warns against it. The last time though, I had a steel case stick and had to hammer it out. I also use the factory sights; one sighted in, they are fine for the 100yd range I shoot at.
    Last note; since the late ’00s, they come with chromed barrels.

  • MightyTwinkie

    What sort of red dot sight is that? Looks like an EOTech, but appears to be mounted backward if that’s the case…

    • Gregory Markle

      It’s a SightMark UltraShot…and it’s on correctly. I have the same sight on my Kel-Tec Sub2000.

  • Y-man

    Alex C. You need to complete the continents that backpack has been to! You know you are welcome anyday!

    • M.

      Y-man I have been following you for years now and you continue to impress me. You should come by Kansas some time

  • RocketScientist

    I personally have owned an SU-16C for several years now and LOVE it. The main difference that separates the C from the other models is that the C’s stock folds in TWO places. It collapses in the same way as the one pictured here (under the action, making the gun unfireable) but it ALSO features a skeletonized buttstock that folds under the gun, pivoting on a pin at the rear of the action. This underfolding portion has a cutout that allows it to fold over a (standard GI) 30-round magazine (so can be folded/unfolded with a mag in), and does not deactivate the action, meaning the gun can be fired in the folded condition. I mounted a rugged tru-glo red dot sight on the top rail and it is a super-handy gun that goes on the trail with me, in the truck/car with me, lives under my bed, and folded or unfolded is super fast to acquire a target from 5 to 75 yards with the red-dot. Not only that, but when its folded up it fits perfectly inside a soft-sided tennis-racket bag. I can carry it anywhere anytime and no one will ever give it a second look. If you can’t tell, this is one of my favorite guns. Also, it has run flawlessly despite throwing a wide range of ammo at it (nothing steel cased though, as a reloader I never really shoot steel).

    • MULDRID

      I have the same gun with the same experience. Love everything about it.

  • Mystick

    Not a fan of Kel-Tec. I owned a P-11, and was very unimpressed with the generally poor craftsmanship… the poorly executed Parkerizing, leading to rust spots despite regular oiling and minimal exposure to the elements, mold flashing present on the plastic parts which also abraded over time, poor cut of the extractor(leading to eventual failure after about 500 rounds), poor quality steel on the too-small slide release that you had to depress “just right”(which developed a crack), and an overly-strong mainspring(or overly cammed striker).

    I’ve been told that it’s hit-or-miss with Kel-Tec, and I definitely had a “miss” with mine.

  • david

    Its a cool concept, but its still a Keltec. I own 3 Keltecs. Great range toys, but I would never trust my life to a Keltec

  • Michael R. Zupcak

    Kel-Tec and jamming go together like Bob Marley and Jamming

    • Menger40

      I lol’d

    • USMC03Vet

      Such poetry.

    • Zebra Dun

      We be jammin’ I say?

  • Alec

    I have always liked the designs that have come out okf kel-tec, they differ from the norm in my mind. Sometimes it doesn’t work out for the best and the “hit or miss” theory applies with them. Wouldn’t mind getting my hands on one 🙂

  • K.T. Huskyberg

    Threaded barrels are available on the SU-16C & CA. The major flaw that I see in my SU-16C is the barrel that cannot be removed from the receiver. Other than that it’s the perfect weirdo AR/AK mashup.

    • DW

      It can, but it needs to be shipped back to factory for barrel replacement.

  • Phil Elliott

    Modified mine slightly, took the pin and drilled and tapped it, added a crimp on electric connecter and some vinyl coated piano wire put a connecter on the other end and attached to the stock, voila no more worry’s about losing the pin.

  • El Duderino

    I have an SU-16E. Yes, the E — when you take a C or CA and add the pistol grip/AR stock conversion it becomes an E.

    Mine is broken in and I can’t recall the last FTF. Yes it’s harder to take down than an AR. But an accurate piston driven rifle with a folding stock that takes AR mags and doesn’t weigh a ton (like the SIG 556 or AR-mag converted AKs), it is in its own niche for sure. Mine wears a Vortex Strikefire red dot.

  • Chad J

    Nice review. I’ve owned a Keltec PF-9, which was a decent pocket nine that never failed to go bang. I also own a 40 S&W Sub2000G, which has at least 1 FTE per mag. Idk if it’s the cheap Korean HiCaps or if it’s just not broken in enough. Also had to send it in once b/c front sight, same as SU-16, had come loose. Like another poster said, KelTec has some interesting designs, but are very hit or miss in their QC. Kinda wish I had sold it during the panic, but if I can get kinks worked out, it’d be perfect trunk/hd gun

  • erwos

    This article is making me recall my dream of buying a PLR-16 and turning into an SBR. No pistol grip and collapsing stock, just a simple folder

  • Panzercat

    Owned a 16c. Jam-o-matic, I kid you not. Maybe I would throw in for a sub2k. Don’t hear too many problems with them, but an SU16 product? Naaaaaah. Got over that pretty quick.

  • Beaumont

    It truly is an offbeat design with some good features and some questionable ones. I’ve owned one for several years; it’s been a BO bag gun (replaced now by, of all things, a Marlin 336), varmint rifle, and range toy. Still can’t decide if I like it well enough to keep it.

  • nb

    The c or ca models have a number of improvements and you should take a look at those

  • Rick

    Ive had mine for over six years now, the SU16CA model. It came with a threaded barrel and a thread protector. I removed the bipod and put on their solid handguard option and then use a bipod that attaches to the lower rail. Optics were an old Eotech 552 and now a Meprolight M21 (more money in the optic than the rifle LOL) Replaced the extractor soon after purchase, but hundreds of rounds later, less than a handful of jams.

    A perfectly CA legal rifle, gas piston driven too. And when you can get a dealer to look for one (seems the profit isn’t worth their effort usually), a decent SHTF rifle.

  • Zebra Dun

    With the shortage of .22 lr this would make a fine canoe gun.
    Now just make it float!

  • scaatylobo

    I own the more colapsable version that can fire with stock folded and mag in place.
    it needed a bit of TLC on the gas bolt face and that made it smoother AND more reliable.
    Its not a M-4,but for what it was designed for [ a few K ] rounds ] its perfect.