Concealed Carry

Review: Smith and Wesson 686 Plus

Smith and Wesson 686 Plus Revolver

Today, revolver shooters have a greater array of handguns than ever to choose from.

We have small-frame Magnum revolvers, five-shot .44 Magnum revolvers, affordable competition-grade revolvers straight from the factory, and the subject of this report.

The Smith and Wesson 686 Plus is a seven-shot revolver chambered for the powerful .357 Magnum cartridge.

.357 Magnum: Excellent Wound Ballistics

The .357 Magnum has the ability to take deer-sized game at modest ranges. It is among our most proven personal-defense cartridges.

Properly loaded, the Magnum is a superb long-range target cartridge.

The Magnum may be loaded with rapidly-fragmenting loads that break up quickly in a body or hard-cast bullets that will drive deep into a boar, hog or even offer defense against bears and mountain lions.

Then there is the option of using the .38 Special cartridge. The shorter .38 Special works just fine in .357 Magnum chambers. A hard-cast lead bullet offers real economy.

A modern clean-burning powder such as Titegroup will provide a handloader with good economy and excellent accuracy.

The .38 Special is a reasonable choice for personal defense for those that cannot handle the .357 Magnum’s formidable recoil.

I don’t like firing the Magnum in lighter revolvers like the J-Frame. The L-Frame Smith and Wesson is ideal for the Magnum cartridge.

The weight is enough to absorb recoil well, while the 686 is light enough to be brought quickly from the holster and move fast in tracking targets.

Smith and Wesson 686 Plus and J-Frame Revolvers
The author finds the seven-shot Magnum, above, a great handling revolver. The much lighter five-shot Magnum, below, not so much.

Firing the 686 Plus

This dampening weight makes for good recoil control and also aids in balance.

There have been blue steel and stainless versions, short and long-barrel revolvers, and fixed-sight revolvers in the L-Frame line.

The L-Frame was the last of the purpose-designed police revolvers. The cylinder is larger than a Model 19 or K-Frame revolvers, at 1.559-inches diameter versus 1.446 inches for the K-Frame.

The L-Frame simply has more steel for added strength, the shortcoming of the small-frame Magnum revolvers.


The grip frame, however, isn’t the larger N-Frame size, but the L-Frame 686 has the same size grip as the K-Frame.

This makes for a revolver that fits most hands well. The new design firing pin is mounted in the frame rather than on the hammer, as was the case with older Smith and Wesson revolvers.

While safer in the mechanical sense, this design also tends to handle high pressures better than the older type.

A primer flowing back into the firing-pin channel has tied up Magnum revolvers, and the 686 combats this with a good modern design.

Smith and Wesson 686 Plus Heavy Barrel
Smith and Wesson offers several heavy-barrel options.

Other Features and Specs

The six-shot revolver has long been a standard in .357 Magnum. Smith and Wesson redesigned the L-Frame to a seven-shot cylinder.

The L-Frame cylinder is just larger enough than the K-Frame to make this redesign viable.

Another advantage in my hands, is that the new geometry seems to make for a faster action and lock time. The action must be tried to be appreciated.

One of my favorite 686 Plus revolvers is a three-inch version with recoil-absorbing grips. This is a great all-around carry gun.

I often carry it in a Wright Leatherworks crossdraw holster when hiking, or a Wright Leatherworks strong-side holster when concealment is needed.

This handgun features a fully-adjustable rear sight and post front with red insert. This custom shop revolver has an unfluted cylinder.

While modern heat treating is plenty strong, the unfluted cylinder is even stronger.

For about 90 percent of the shooting I do with this revolver, I use the Hornady 125-grain XTP bullet and a carefully worked up charge of Titegroup powder.

I don’t use a maximum load, but one that breaks about 1,250 fps in this revolver. This is useful power with a bullet that has the proven performance of the XTP.

In factory loads, the Hornady Critical Defense is a fine choice. The Critical Defense breaks over 1,300 fps in the three-inch barrel.

This revolver is an ideal packing revolver for long treks in the wild and for defense in the wilder urban sprawl.

686 Plus Cylinder
A seven-shot cylinder is a marvel in engineering. Not only does it function properly, the action seems sharper and faster due to adaptations to the new cylinder geometry.

Conclusion: S&W 686 Plus

I have used several custom shop revolvers. The 686 Plus with a five-inch, heavy-underlugged barrel is among the finest-balanced revolvers I have handled.

The action is smooth, very smooth. The heavy barrel makes firing the Magnum cartridge very pleasant. The overall geometry makes for great comfort.

When you consider the price of having a heavy barrel added to an existing revolver or having an action job done, the Smith and Wesson 686 Plus custom shop revolver is an excellent choice.

I have enjoyed firing this revolver for accuracy from 25 to 100 yards with excellent results. This is a challenging revolver, as it is more accurate than I am able to hold.

I know there are better shots than I, and they will find the 686 Plus revolver compliments their ability.

Have you ever shot the Smith and Wesson 686 Plus? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (37)

  1. I’ve purchased my S&W 686+, 4-inch barrel back in 2015. I also own a few semi-automatic guns, among those competition-level pieces. I fired a few of different .38 special and .357 magnum ammo, a total far exceeds 1000. My experience is limited to 25-50 yards, on the open and in-doors ranges, and a few competitions.
    So far, the 686 outshoot most of my guns (like 1911 Sig Match Elite in 9mm, Sig -226 Legion, and more, except for Walther Q5 Match). It’s tremendously accurate, while on SAO mode, and easy to handle, despite its’ substantial weight. On DAO mode, I cannot really achieve that level of accuracy, even with two-handed holding.
    This is an outstanding gun, and I don’t see any flaws or disadvantages – but that just me. I keep my 686 in the upper drawer of my night stand, loaded with Self-defence .38 ammo, and most certainly would trust it with my own life, should the need for self-defence ever arise.

  2. Never shot a 686. I will put it on my list. My Taurus 608 – 8 rd 357 Magnum – shoots like a dream. Even with 158 grain 1600 fps loads there is no pain at all. Superb grip and 4″ barrel on this 45 oz revolver can mitigate any load on the market with comfort and ease. Even at 45 oz, I do carry it on occasion.

  3. Ahhhh….the ol 686. I carried the original 686 in the 90s. Excellent weapon. I carried a model 27 for a time too as well as a 4in 19, 2in 19 off duty and a model 65. Magnums don’t bother me at all so I enjoyed every one of them during my time with them. The 686 had the heavier frame than the K frames but didn’t feel as good as the N frame 27. I eventually carried a King Cobra in the end and quickly fell in love with it over the Smiths.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the 36PD My wife carry’s the 4″ S&W model 60 in her purse fanny pack or ankle holster She is 6′ and 160 and can handle any caliber but prefers the model 60

    I absolutely LOVE my 6″ Python cannot ask for a more well built, balanced and accurate weapon. but due to the fact I want to keep the finish as pristine as possible it looks just like it did when I bought it five decades ago. MY EDC is the S&W model 411 in .40S&W

  5. I own a 7 shot 5″ barrel 686 Pro Series with tapered lug & rubber grips, I keep it and two speed loaders loaded with red tip Hornady police ammo.

    I am a 6’4″ 260 pound male and have no problem with any ammo. When I hike I use heavier 180 grain ammo S&B ammo that kicks like a mule.

    The gun feels perfect and light in-hand; I practice double handed at 25 yards and 10 yards. I have never experienced a more perfect trigger. Accuracy is impressive. Handling is easy. The wrong end of this gun is where no one wants to be as the injuries are magnified greatly via the largest elliptical cavity possible in this diameter sidearm bullet.

  6. Have had one for years and it is the best balanced most accurate handgun I own. Very versatile with light .38 loads up to 180/200 grain hardcast magnums. It is an elegant weapon that’s the one handgun I would own if I could own only one and, hey, those days are right around the corner.

  7. I’ve fired the .357 in several varieties of frames. If you use one of the little pocket cannons, you know exactly what will happen. Your hand and wrist will ache afterwards. This cartridge was designed to be fired in a heavy frame. A longer barrel makes it even better. As for preference, that’s an individual’s choice. Colt, Ruger, S&W, even Taurus, (listed alphabetically, not to discriminate) It all depends on which action you prefer.

  8. I have owned and shot the S&W 686+p in a 3” barrel from the performance center for a number of years now and have absolutely found it a joy to shoot. .38 special is easy on the hand and a great way to get comfortable with this weapons ergonomics.

  9. The 2 1/2″, SS 686 S&W revolver is my CCW. It is easily handled at the practice range with either 38S or .357 mag ammo. Its empty carry weight of 39oz plus ammo along with its L-frame silhouette demands careful holstering that avoids printing and allows for comfort. Rob Campbell’s review is spot on describing this reliable, reasonably priced CCW option.
    For those who have “been around the block” or have “done their bit in ‘the rodeo’ ” the 686’s heft is reassuring both in its formidable visual presentation to any adversarially inclined threat, as well as useful even if empty as an adequate blugeon should the need arise. The latter use was legendary for the 1911 .45, as was it’s imposing presence brandished or pointed at a threat. One shot disabling fire from the .357 along with an extra round makes the 686 an excellent CCW for daily use. Litigenous indemnification can be assuaged by loading “snake loads” for the 1st shot, though many consider that a potential hazard in a fire-fight. But such a 1st shot should indicate a desire to avoid grevious harm?

  10. Mr. Campbell i appreciated the read on the 686 plus. I am relatively new to the revolver world but have always had an affinity toward them. I recently became the owner of a S&W Performance Center 686 plus in the 2.5in barrel. While the 357 magnum load is noticeable when shooting, i still characterize it as a complete joy to shoot. 38spc. even more enjoyable. The double action trigger pull is as smooth as butter and in single action, it is unbelievable! This is one that I keep readily available for home defense.

  11. I have owned the 686+ S&W since 2011. I bought it new and have not regretted the purchase. Mine has the 5 1/4″ barrel. I have shot factory loads but mostly shoot hand loads using Berry plated hollow points or flat nose both in 125 gr. Powders used were Alliant 2400 and Alliant Blue Dot. They both (bullets and powder give reliable results).
    In double action the trigger is heavy but smooth but long. Where this gun really shines is in single action. The trigger is much lighter and shorter than in DA and breaks consistently. The balance is very good, just point and shoot. Of all the handguns I own this one is the easiest to shoot accurately, The recoil is not a problem. I have had newbies fire this gun and none complained, rather , they wanted to shoot some more.
    I doubt you can find a better gun at twice the price.

  12. I’ve been an ardent revolver lover since before I became a cop in 1980. I carried many wheelguns on duty, including 6″ Pythons, 6.5″ and 4″ M-29 .44 Magnums, and my beloved 6″ 686 before our department switched to Berettas for 15 years and then HK USPs in .45 ACP. Still, I love my S&W revolvers. My most recent revolver purchase was the exact gun featured in this article: a 3″ 687 unfluted PC. Having an extra round of .357 Mag on tap (with speedloaders on the belt) is a formidable combination, for sure. I never feel undergunned with this revolver.

    The smoothness of the action is not as good as on vintage Smiths, but I promise that you won’t notice the difference in a firefight. Great handgun for personal defense.

  13. I like blued Smiths better than the stainless. Have the 586 .357/38 in 4 and 6 inch barrel lengths. Put Eagle Classic grips on. A pleasure to shoot in either .357 or 38 Special. Anyway, I like the 586 6 shots better than the 686 with 7 shots. Can’t beat either revolver, however.1

  14. Long time revolver shooter. LOVE my M28 from the ’70’s… TT, TH, TS and night sights (East Area Rapist working Sacramento). Also have an unfired M66. Bought the 686plus decades ago. TOTALLY comfortable to shoot with 357 (but not as effortless as my M28 6inch). I keep my 686plus as one of several ready service home defense weapons. I use a “real” gun for wild boar… X-frame 460mag using 454Casull. Bagged five boars with it. Anyway, back to the 686plus 4″, I see it as a perfect sized revolver. My female BFF liked mine so much, she has one now as her home defense and hunting sidearm.

  15. When it comes to the 686+ 3″, I have been in the choir for four years. ISO a substantial wheel gun, my research led me to that model and bbl. I placed my order on line the evening of Nov. 7, 2016, uncertain of what the election results the following day might be. Thus, I call it my Hillary gun. Surely the only thing I have to thank her for.

  16. My first revolver back in the 80’s was a 686. I have since purchased a 686+ and I shoot both of them today with as much affection and accuracy as any other handgun I own. I would recommend this wheel gun to anyone in the market as it is so well balanced as highlighted by the author. I have several 357’s and in my opinion, these handle the magnum loads the best.

  17. I have both a Smith and Wesson 686 and a Colt Python. To Etph trying to compare the two. I have taken both to the range and using the same loads fired them side by side. The Colt is a great gun but the Smith is a little heaver and the action is a little smoother. I also have a Smith and Wesson 627 that is just as good in all ways as the 686. Plus you get the seventh round in the 686 and the eight rounds in the 627. If you don’t mind the little extra size and weight the Smith and Wesson guns seem to be a little better. Want to by my Colt Python?

  18. Once we’re talkin’ full frame, as I’m getting a little old, I prefer my also old Rossi .357 Mag 6 inch stainless w/full solid ramp & shroud. Doughnut kick much as weighs up and only use 130 grain .38 Special FMJ ammo loading only 5 for same reason you state in article. Fact 6″ barrel gives longer sight radius and knowledge pistol’s not going to kick you gives great accuracy too. Also like cannon appearance that lets bad guys know “Yep….he’s packing”! Also like wheel gun assurance of “Hell yes I’m ready to fire Dad”, in case one day chips were down. Good for bad times when hungry as shot 14 bucks with it with only 15 shots (15th shot still buried in tree as 1st shot at buck running), but not pistol’s fault and more like operator error!! Nice article by the way and very informative…THANKS!

  19. I cannot agree more with EPTH. I bought my 686 plus the year it was Introduced. The accuracy and balance is unbelievably outstanding. I too have a .40s&w for carry. There is no comparison between the to guns. My only issue with the 686 is reload can be slow trying to align 7 rounds to the chamber with a speed loader. That’s why I carry the .40s&w around the town defense, but other than that I would use the 686 for any other use. Hiking, working on the farm (snakeshot), and home defense.

  20. Years ago my life was threatened. It was a very complicated situation, but local police suggested that I get a home defense weapon. I had no experience with handguns. A Sargent took me to a LGS and had me purchase two S&W 686 Plus revolvers. A 2 1/2” for the bedroom (could double for carry but I live in NJ), and a 6” for my living room. He taught me to shoot, clean and gave me safety tips. Thank God I never had to defend myself with them, but they introduced me to handgun shooting, and I truly enjoy my trips to the local range even almost 20 years later! I’ve tried other 357’s, but I’m very happy with my two 686’s, and have never had any problems with them. I also have a Ruger single action Blackhawk357…lots of fun too, but the S&W’s are better for home defense. Always practice with 38spl, with my last shots with 357…easier on hands.

  21. I shoot quite a few different guns, but when I purchased my Distinguished Combat 686 back in the 80’s I’ve always felt that S&W would have a very difficult time improving / topping on the revolver. I would have to call the 686 the “Perfect Revolver”. You can go on and on about the good things but you simply can’t say anything negative about it, at least I can’t. Had an excellent action job done and I shot pins competitively for years with it and did extremely well. And there’s the “Classic Hunter” 44 Magnum. A larger, heavier version of the 686. Has to be the easiest 44 mag. to shoot, again, because of the design. Hats off to S&W !! I have looked at the 686 Plus and I will definitely buy one. When I read your review it was as if I had written it

  22. Bought a blued 586 w/4” barrel while I was in the Navy during the late 80’s. Originally looking at a 19 but once I felt the balance of the L-frame I was sold on it. Love that gun. Nephew loved it too and held it hostage till I I found him a 686 at gun show that came from the U.S. Customs. Same 4″ barrel but in the stainless he likes, to shiny for me. Both guns are accurate. Not sure I would switch to the 7-shot now.

  23. I agree with your assessment. The 686+ is a great revolver. I liked it so much I bought a S&W 627 Performance Center which is an 8 shot version of the 686+ but in an L frame. I liked them both but the 627 is my favorite.

  24. I have an old 681, the predecessor of the 686 and love it! It is extremely accurate…I bought it from a friend many years ago-it was his first LE duty gun. Now that he’s about to retire, I’m going to dress it up and give it back to him as a retirement present…he has long forgotten about it. So I need a replacement! Thanks for the article…I’m certainly going to look into the 686 plus!

  25. I carry a 360PD as a backup and off duty in a pocket gun configuration, does is suck to shoot with magnums? Yes, but if I’m betting my life on it, it had best work, and this gun performs flawlessly. I have several other S&W revolvers, from model 36’s, 19’s, 29, 10, 686, I guess you could say I’m a fan. I just need a ES 500 with a 2” barrel.

  26. I have the 5” 686 plus and it’s everything the author spoke of and more. It’s amazingly accurate straight out of the box, but really hits its stride action-wise after the first 1000 rounds. If you’re thinking about a revolver I’d highly recommend shooting this one. I have the 629 deluxe and it’s a terrific shooter as well, but the 686 plus will always be my personal favorite. It’s truly a joy to shoot and the recoil is so manageable you can literally shoot it all day. S&W is the benchmark by which all other revolvers are measured.

  27. When I first started in law enforcement, my agency was still using wheel Guns. I bought a S&W stainless 686. With it’s fully lugged barrel it was easier to shoot and shoot accurately in the standard combat type shooting we did than a .357 without the fully lugged barrel. The action was solid and trigger smooth. As mentioned by varying the ammunition used I could use it for defense while hiking in Alaska, on the job and going to the range for proficiency maintenance. When we transitioned to Semiautos later (.40 cal Sig Sauer P229) I missed the 686 until I could get used to the Sig and get my scores back up to my usual level.

  28. We own a S&W 686 in stainless (top-rack dishwasher safe!) and absolutely adore it. The barrel is 4-1/8 inch and the balance is remarkable. At the range, 38 Spl keeps the costs down as you refine working the trigger and practice rapid reload drills. The mass of the pistol keeps the recoil easily manageable when stepping up to personal protection magnum loads. All-in-all, a nice pistol.

    It is not a small pistol however. Carrying concealed can be a challenge unless your a 3X kind of build.

  29. Back in the mid to late 70’s and early 80’s. The Mod 19 .357 mag. I carried on duty with .158 gr. HP rounds. Then hydro shocks came on the scene. Both were excellent for stopping the bad guys. I own a Mod 19 and a 686 stainless. Both have had trigger and action jobs done. They both shoot very tite groups. They are my favorites along with Colt Trooper I own. I love my wheel guns!!!!

  30. The 686 was the 1st revolver I ever shot after I rented it at a gun range. No words to describe the feeling. And I used .357 ammo, not .38. To this day it was the gun with the least recoil that I’ve ever handled. It felt more like shooting a .22 magnum than a .357. I was so astounded by how it handled that I was able to land all my shots on paper. I was a novice then. I ended up buying a semi-auto in .40 because of capacity. But years later I thought how a 686 is probably a lot better for home defense than a semi-auto because of the ease of handling. If you barely have time to defend your home after waking up to a loud sound in the middle of the night, I think you’re better off with a revolver like a 686. Then I heard and read about the famous Colt Python. I’d have to do more research to decide between a 686 and Python.

  31. I can’t comment on the 686 revolver but I can comment on firing the magnum cartridge in the 11oz 360PD that is beyond unpleasant. Anyone who might expect to become “proficient” in the use of magnum loads in the lightweight snub nosed offerings by Smith & Wesson might want to re-think that choice in my view.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.