Ultimate bugout showdown: Ruger PC 9 vs Kel-Tec Sub2k


In the world of pistol caliber carbines, few guns look more different than the traditionally-styled  Ruger PC9, and the futuristic, folding Kel-Tec Sub-2000. Yet, these guns have more aspects in common than not – plus, they’re both designed for a very specific role – survival.

Even if neither company directly markets their large-bore, low-recoil blasters as survival guns, their features are irrefutably those of bug-out, or survival weapons. So, despite their aesthetic differences, the two firearms share a tremendous amount of operational, and thematic design elements. As such, let’s put the two guns to the test, and see which one shooters should spend their hard-earned dough on.

Common Elements

While externally, the Ruger PC9 and Kel-Tec Sub2k are diametrically different, their core method of operation is actually identical. Indeed, the two guns are both semi automatic, magazine-fed, direct blowback firearms. Meaning, neither firearm’s action locks or delays the release of expanding gas escaping from a fired round.

Instead, the bolt is held in battery purely by the force of the recoil spring and the weight of the bolt/carrier itself. This is the most simplistic method of operation for any auto-loading firearm, and is extraordinarily reliable – but this method does have its drawbacks.

For starters, because the breech isn’t locked or delayed (and you’ll often see in older texts, this delay referred to as, “retarded” FYI) the recoil impulse tends to be disproportionately stouter than a carbine of otherwise identical stats whose action is delayed or locked.

Secondly, because direct blowback needs the bolt and carrier to be sufficiently hefty enough to reduce the cyclic rate or carrier speed to a more reliable velocity, this method of operation tends to make these guns unnecessarily heavy.

Not All Doom and Gloom

Which isn’t to say that firearms utilizing direct blowback don’t have their advantages. Anyone familiar with Ian Fleming’s world renown super-spy James Bond, could guess that his direct blowback Walther PPK must be well-suited to clandestine activities, and dispatching bad-pun-named-villains.

Threaded barrels on both Sub 2k and PC9.

Both carbines played well with this Innovative Arms 9mm can provided by Silencer Shop

Indeed, one of the best attributes of direct blowback firearms is their compatibility with sound suppressors – something agent 007 wouldn’t be caught without. This is because direct blowback guns aren’t as sensitive to changes in operating pressure or internal velocities changes as say, a locked-breech design like an MPX, AR-15 or even a 1911.

Additionally, in the case of handguns, the barrel of direct blowback-operated designs doesn’t tilt or move. So the addition of a sound suppressor at the muzzle won’t affect the movement of internal parts.

Lastly, direct blowback firearms are usually very simplistic. This means there are fewer parts, and thus fewer areas that could experience malfunctions. Simple is good. Simple is reliable.

Stats, Numbers and Other Fun Stuff

Let’s get down to brass tacks. The Ruger PC9 carbine features a fluted, 16.12” bull-barrel, whereas Kel-Tec’s Gen 2 Sub2k ships with a 16.25” standard-profile barrel. Does the extra tenth of an inch matter?

Probably not.

There’s no measurable gains in muzzle velocity of one over the other, and in testing both carbines were effectively as accurate as one another.

The overall length of the Ruger is just over 34in, while Kel-Tec’s folding firearm is a stubbier 30.5in. Personally, the difference seemed greater than it felt, but neither gun felt exceptionally long or unwieldy.

A more appreciable difference between the two is weight. The Kel-Tec tips the scales at 4.25lbs, where as Ruger’s carbine is substantially heavier at 6.8lbs. Neither carbine is exceptionally heavy, but the Kel-Tec both weighs less, and has a more centralized point of balance. This in turn makes the gun feel lighter. And when it comes to bugout guns, lighter is always better, since shooters will likely carry it often, and shoot it sparingly.

But the extra weight of the Ruger isn’t a design flaw. The gun’s receiver is railed from the factory, and both the rails and receiver are milled from 70757-T6 aluminum billet. This means the Ruger is damn near indestructible.

Feed me, Seymour!

Here’s another point where both guns are designed with both thrifty, and survival shooters in mind: magazines.

Glock 17, 18 and 19x magazines all feed fine in both guns.

Depending on the model, the Kel-Tec Sub2k feeds from several types of magazines. This includes Smith and Wesson M&P mags, SIG 226 mags Beretta 92 mags or Glock mags. Since we’re comparing the value of these two guns as bugout guns, the obvious choice is the Glock mag configuration.

Obvious, because Glock pistols are the more prolific in America. So finding spare mags won’t be difficult, or expensive, for shooters.

That said, the Ruger goes about this a little better. The PC9 ships with an adapter installed that allows it to feed from Ruger SR9 magazines, but also includes a Glock magazine adapter for free. This makes the Ruger PC9 a little more versatile out of the box.

Old Reliable

But affordable magazines, and lightweight construction are meaningless if the guns themselves aren’t reliable. So how did these two pistol caliber carbines stack up?

I’ve owned my personal Sub2k for a little over a year now. After more than a thousand rounds fired through it, I can count the amount of malfunctions on one hand. This even includes when the gun is suppressed. That sounds like an A+ grade to me.

But what about the Ruger?

While I haven’t had a chance to fire quite as many rounds through the Ruger, it has yet to encounter any malfunctions after roughly 550 rounds fired. Just like with the Kel-Tec, this includes all manner of ammo from 95gr frangible to 147gr +P defensive rounds. Again, that sounds like a damn-near perfect run.

Cogito, Ergo-nomics?

Yes, the human factor. With these guns being so different in their layouts, this issue was bound to come up. How do the two guns stack up in terms of being user-friendly?

The Kel-Tec and the Ruger take very different approaches to ergonomics. This holds true for general stock configuration, takedown, and controls.

The Kel-Tec folds so it can stored for quick storage and easy access.

Because the Kel-Tec’s magazine well is configured like that of a handgun, the gun has to use a pistol grip setup. The Ruger on the other hand, uses a traditional magazine well forward of the trigger group. Behind these, the Ruger uses a standard rifle stock like the kind found on hundreds of hunting rifles and shotguns around the world.

Which is better?

The Ruger feels much more solid, but the Kel-Tec has a very real advantage in terms of balance and handiness. Shooting the Ruger with one hand is feasible, but difficult. The Kel-Tec, however, would easily be used with one hand while the other hand opens doors, flips light switches etc.


The Ruger PC9 and Kel-Tec Sub2k both feature Picatinny rails for mounting optics and accessories. That said, they aren’t equal in this regard. The Ruger is much better suited to magnified optics due to the closer proximity of its rail to the shooter’s face.

The Ruger’s railed receiver makes mounting magnified optics a breeze.

That said, the Ruger’s rail ends fairly close to the shooter’s face as well. The Kel-Tec on the other hand, permits forward mounting of optics and accessories like tactical lights and lasers. And when dealing with carbines chambered in calibers with relatively limited effective range, the benefit of a magnified optic is questionable.


I have a soft spot for both carbines to be honest, but there is certainly a clear winner here. If I were discussing which of these two guns were better suited for hiking and backpacking, I think the two would be basically evenly matched.

While both carbines are excellent in their own right, the Kel-Tec is a better bug-out gun.

But since we’re talking about a bug-out gun where handiness, weight and ease of use are paramount, the Kel-Tec nudges out the Ruger by just a hair. Don’t get me wrong, though. Both of these guns are phenomenal, and shooters shouldn’t feel under-gunned with either in their prep pack. But if I had to choose a carbine cohort for my 9mm Glock pistol, the Kel-Tec is a lighter, more maneuverable option.

Want more? Read every Pistol Caliber Carbine article we’ve published; be sure to watch GunMag TV too.  

  • JAS

    Sub2K is faster into action. With a loaded magazine inserted, flip up and snap the barrel in place, rack the action, ready to go. With the PC9, align and lock barrel onto receiver, hope tension ring is as it should be.
    However, I personally have not had the great results of the author with my sub2k Gen 1. After about 150 rounds, I fired it and knew there was a malfunction. The bolt was locked in the closed position, unmovable, and it would not fold anymore. No amount of human force would clear the action. A call to Kel-Tec resulted in a free return label and I received the rifle back after a few weeks.

  • Not Getting Any Younger

    I have both: The SUB-2000 is more punishing in terms of recoil because of it’s light weight and hard plastic buttstock. I took a slip-on recoil pad and trimmed the front of it down so it fits on the Kel-Tec nicely when I take it to the range. The Ruger is much heavier and more comfortable to shoot. I like them both, but my SUB-2000 is not fun to shoot large quantities of ammo with. (But that’s not what I bought it for – I bought it FOR it’s light weight and ability to fold in half.)

    • evi1joe

      Once you add the MCARBO “recoiless bolt handle”, an MCARBO recoil buffer, and a small (shooters element) muzzle brake, the keltec feels more like a 22magnum.

      • Aaron Freeman

        I did that with my 40SW, and the trigger pull is much lighter!

  • gary_lankford

    Since this is the ultimate showdown for pistol caliber bugout survival guns, not rifles, another that deserves consideration is the “ARish” Extar EP9. Also, to soon be available in 10mm and .45 acp, the EP9 version is a 4.3lb pistol; with it’s fixed buffer tube and included SB Tactical SOB pistol brace and 6.5″ barrel it is ~23″ long overall. Feeding from Glock magazines it is, like the Ruger and Kel-Tec, pure blowback operated. $419 + $20 fixed rate shipping from Extarusa.com

    • David Higginbotham

      I’d forgotten Extar was still around. I never see their guns at the local shop. Why haven’t these caught on more?

  • PacksA9

    I have the Sub2k Gen2 in .40 to match my M&P.40 for bugout. Love the combination. I replaced the trigger guard and flat trigger with MCarbo but kept the factory springs in place. Still made a noticeable improvement in trigger function. I also added MCarbo’s aluminum rear sight and a buffer shock absorber. The rifle has about 200 rounds through it so far and no mishaps using S&W factory mags.

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  • eSildur

    I had older version of Kel-Tec Sub-2000 and it had one of the WORST triggers I have ever experienced. While not very hard it was squishy and I had feeling like it bend under finger. Lot of plastic parts made me seriously doubt this weapon reliability or durability. On short to medium distances it was less accurate than my CZ75 than, which completely beat any purpose of owning pistol-caliber carbine. I sold it and never regretted it. Perhaps they made some improvements in newer version, but I’m hesitant to give it another chance.

    I didn’t yet shoot Ruger PC, but after experience with 10/22 I’m more optimistic here.

    • Steven Vannucci

      Wall penetration is ultimately the main purpose of a pistol caliber weapon. If penetration isn’t a concern, the AR-15 platform is the best tool for the job. Pistols as a whole, require continual practice and are much harder to control in a stressful combat situation than any caliber in a long gun platform.

      • Mike

        Flip the penetration thing around. A faster, lighter, higher bc projectile will shed velocity and energy much quicker through mass than a slow, round, heavy projectile will.

      • Eursihca Cj

        AR15 is a plinker not a real defense weapon. I have used 5.56 in the army and was unimpressed. Additionally it lacks penetration compared to even a .40SW carbine. AR15 not a reliable man stopper.

  • Clint Cleavers

    I own both. I enjoy shooting the kel-tec more, because of it’s light weight, maneuverability, and fast target acquisition, but in a real bug out situation, or any situation that would call for longevity or robust reliability, the Ruger would be my choice, without question. One good but stroke would kill the kel-tec, whereas the Ruger could probably but stroke 100 zombies and still be totally fine. In a bug out situation the rifle in your hands may be the last rifle you ever own. Plus when you run out of ammo, the Ruger breaks in two, so you have two clubs.

    • Aaron Freeman

      Idk… my Sub2k may surprise you! With all the MCarbo mods done, it’s gained some weight, as well as having the frame partially glued… it got beefier!

  • Aaron Freeman

    The main drawback of a Sub2k, is the recoil, and the receiver tube… you need to modify the Sub2k with aftermarket parts, before trying to shoot!