N scale or N gauge trains are the third most popular train model after the HO model and O gauge trains. In fact, it is widely accepted that many enjoy building N-scale model trains as a hobby. And these hobbyists can spend a ton of hours of enjoyment in creating the train track they love. because there are so many individuals looking for information and reviews on N scale trains, we have decided to put together the most comprehensive and in-depth article about N scale models.
5 Best N Scale Train Sets Reviews in 2023
- #1. Bachmann Trains – Thunder Valley N Scale – Best Overall
- #2. Kato USA Model Train N Scale Set – Best Starter
- #3. McKinley Explorer N Scale Train Set – Best Ready To Run
- #4. Bachmann Yard Boss Ready To Run N Scale Train Set – Best For Experienced Hobbyists
- #5. Empire Builder Ready To Run N Scale Train Set – Best Detailed Scale
Why choose an N-scale train set?
N-scale model train sets are small and compact. This makes them great for those who don’t have a lot of space. You can fit more tracks and trains into a smaller area. With this in mind, you can create a more intricate and detailed model railroad at home or in a small garage. Plus, N-scale track layouts often have tighter curves and sharper corners, which adds to the realism of your model railroad.
What is meant by scale in N Scale model trains?
This really depends on the manufacturer. However, in the vast majority of cases, an N-scale train will have a scale that varies between 1:148 to 1:160.
It’s worth noting that the majority of N-scale trains will be 1:160. That does not preclude the fact that some manufacturers create slightly larger locomotives and cabs.
You need to add to the above another fact. The rail height differs from manufacturer to manufacturer. This can vary based on the layout you want to build. And based on that you can choose the rail height that will work for that particular situation.
Now you know that when it comes to buying the best N-scale train set, there are plenty of options to choose from. And it is not easy to find your way and select a great train product. However, what’s most important is to look for a set that includes everything you need to get started. As such, any good N scale set includes most of the following:
- Power supply
- The set should also include detailed instructions and tips on how to set up your model railroad.
But you can also look for a set that has more accessories, or at least, a set where you can add accessories at a later stage.
#1.Bachmann Trains – Thunder Valley N Scale – Best Overall
For those who are interested in the best N scale train set, we highly recommend that you try out the Bachmann Trains Thunder Valley N Scale trains. This is a ready-to-run freight N-scale train set. Bachmann is one of the main players in this industry and they definitely make some solid model trains and tracks. The quality is good, not the best, but good enough for most people.
In terms of operations, these Bachmann trains are powered by the EMD GP40 Diesel Locomotive and come with operating headlights. You also get a 24″ circle of nickel silver E-Z track. It is nice to know that Bachmann is pretty much the largest distributor of model train sets, so rest assured that you will get a nice customer service experience if anything goes wrong.
#2. Kato USA Model Train N Scale Set – Best Starter
Next up, we have the Kato USA Model Train N Scale Set, which is certainly the best N scale starter set if you want something that is incredibly easy to snap together. Perhaps the real standout feature of this n scale train set is that it just installs easily without any need for instructions. Basically, everything is just intuitive.
We really can’t say the same with some other brands, including Bachmann, which can be a bit harder to set up. Also, we really like that the DC power is pretty consistent throughout the line. And finally, this is actually a pretty overlooked feature for many people, but we find that it is quite easy to take apart as well. Believe it or not, this is actually useful to know.
#3. McKinley Explorer N Scale Train Set – Best Ready To Run
The McKinley Explorer by Bachmann Trains is yet another really nice brand when it comes to the best N-scale train set and one we gladly recommend. First and foremost, we really like it because it strikes the perfect balance between realism, quality, ease of installation, and price. Few other brands can really achieve this.
So being a more affordable and mass-produced brand, we are really surprised that Bachmann has not compromised much on quality. The paint stays on for a long time and just the level of detailing is pretty insanely at each and every level. If you like the look of the McKinley Explore, rest assured the quality is good.
#4. Bachmann Yard Boss Ready To Run N Scale Train Set – Best For Experienced Hobbyists
The Yard Boss Ready To Run N Scale Train Set is yet another Bachmann branded classic that has a rather easy track assembly and includes everything that you need to get started. First and foremost, we really like the fact that the power supply and speed controls are plug-and-play with no tools needed, making the assembly process much easier.
While the track assembly isn’t nearly as seamless as say the Kato system, it is easy enough for most people to put together without getting totally frustrated. Additionally, we just want to mention that everything on this train set just works well together and there are really no significant complaints. We can’t say the same with other brands.
#5. Empire Builder Ready To Run N Scale Train Set – Best Detailed Scale
Lastly, there’s the Empire Builder Ready To Run N Scale Train Set, which is a very nice 68-piece freight train n scale set that is ready to run. It is powered by a Northern 4-8-4 Steam Era Locomotive and has pretty cool operating headlights. We consider this a more professional grade N scale train set not for beginners and starts at 14 years old.
It includes a Wood Reefer Car, Single Dome Tank Car, Center-Flow Hopper Car, Plug-Door Box Car, Wood Stock Car, Wood Braced Gondola Car, Open Quad Offset Hopper Car, Off-Set Cupola Caboose, Railroad Signs, Street Signs, and Telephone Poles.
It is definitely a bit trickier than other model train sets to put together and requires a bit of previous knowledge on putting together model trains if you want a smooth experience. Also, we just really like the small highly detailed components which just makes it look a lot nicer than many other train sets in this price range.
How to Select the Best N Scale Model Railroad Train – A Buyer’s Guide
There are 4 criteria that you need to consider when buying an N Scale train set. These are:
1. Landscape and layout
The landscape of your N-scale trains can make all the difference in creating a realistic and captivating display. And when creating your layout, it’s important to plan for the landscape space early on well before you buy your model train. Any great N-scale train includes passenger cars, a controller, woodland scenic materials, animals, bridges, trees, cars, coaches, trucks, rivers, and intermountain model trains. Putting these together can create a stunning landscape for your railway system.
Note that your planning should consider the available space. This can save you a ton of headaches later on when you inevitably run out of space. Consider adding flats and studio apartments or a small town with unique features like a water tower or a railroad crossing. With the right materials, attention to detail, and a bit of planning, you can create a remarkable N-scale train landscape that will delight and impress all who see it.
You may want to ensure you don’t overspend. That’s why it’s important to define your budget. With the ease of buying mode and the desire to create the perfect layout, it’s easy to get carried away and spend more than you anticipated. To avoid this, it’s crucial to figure out your maximum budget and stick with it. Not only will this prevent overspending, but it will also ensure you don’t end up with financial strain due to train purchases. Don’t let the excitement of collecting N-scale trains get the best of you. Define your budget and make an informed decision about what to buy and what to leave for another time.
3. Model Trains Manufacturers – Select the Brand
Many think that only the top brands will do. And in some way, they are right as we all want to opt for the best manufacturers. The reason is simple. Top-of-the-line brands will provide you with high-quality freight cars and passenger cars, tracks, and accessories as well, all of which will last for years to come.
While there are some not-so-well-known brands out there that are good too, you need to do your research and read reviews to find out if they’re worth the risk. So if you’re serious about your N scale trains, choose from the top brands and enjoy the best quality on offer. At the same, there’s nothing wrong to go for a starter set of a lower brand just to see if you like model trains.
If you have children (and adults) around a model train, safety is of the utmost importance. Products must be designed and manufactured to adhere to the latest standards. They need sturdy construction, realistic details, reliable performance, and of the right size for the right age group.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions on N Scale Model Trains
What is an N-scale code?
N scale code is a term used in model railroading that refers to the standard sizes of rails used in N scale layouts. For instance, the two most used height codes for rails in the N scale include code 55 and code 80. These codes refer to the height of the rails, with code 55 being approximately 0.055 inches tall and code 80 being 0.080 inches tall. When purchasing rails for an N-scale layout, it is important to buy rails of the same height (same code) in order to ensure that they fit together seamlessly and do not require bothersome joiner lines.
Code 55 is the smallest size of the N scale track that is available. While this code works well for some N-scale model trains, it can present some challenges for others. The rails in code 55 are thinner and shorter, which can cause the wheels on the train to derail more easily. This is because the flanges or rims of the wheels on the N-scale model trains are larger than the rails. To avoid this problem, a model train layout that includes code 55 rails needs to be very stable and flat to prevent derailments.
Note that the true size of the N-scale is 0.040 inches. However, using this tiny size for both locomotives and cars would potentially result in instability and frequent derailments. Therefore, model railroaders typically opt for a slightly larger size that still offers a high level of detail.
What is the difference between Z-scale and N-scale?
While both scales are smaller than options like HO or O scale, there is a notable difference in size between Z and N-scale. Specifically, N-scale is the larger of the two, with a 1:160 size ratio. This means that it would take 160 model trains lined up from end to end to equal the length of a real train car of that type.
On the other hand, the Z-scale measures 1:220, making it one of the smallest scales available for model trains. This means that Z-scale locomotives and cars are incredibly tiny compared to their real-life counterparts.
So if you’re deciding between Z-scale and N-scale for your model railroad, consider this key difference in size. An N-scale is generally a great option for those who want slightly larger trains that still fit comfortably into small spaces, while Z-scale is best suited for those who want to create ultra-realistic layouts with tiny details and intricate scenes. Either way, these scales offer a fantastic way to enjoy the world of model railroading.
Which is better HO or N scale trains?
One of the biggest debates in the model train hobby is whether HO or N-scale is better. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and it ultimately depends on personal preference and what you want to accomplish with your layout. HO-Scale is one of the largest scales available, making it a popular choice for model railroaders who want to create detailed, bigger realistic scenes. With larger-scale locomotives and rolling stock, it’s easier to add fine details like weathering, graffiti, and other features that make your layout look more like the real thing. Additionally, if you have poor eyesight, the HO scale is a good option since it’s larger and easier to see and handle.
On the other hand, N Scale is smaller, making it ideal for model railroaders who want to run longer trains or have larger yards and industries on their layout. Because N-scale takes up less space, you can fit more track and scenery into a smaller area, allowing for more complex layouts and more realistic scenery-to-track ratios.
When choosing between HO and N-scale, it’s important to consider what you want to accomplish with your layout. If you’re interested in creating highly-detailed scenes with a wide selection of kit and ready-to-run models, HO-scale is a great choice. However, if you’re more interested in running longer trains and creating larger layouts with more scenery, N scale is the way to go.
Is n gauge cheaper than OO?
Well, if you’re a model railroader on a tight budget, you might want to consider going with the OO gauge instead of the N gauge. While both scales are great for creating a small layout, the OO gauge is generally a little different in terms of pricing.
For starters, many model train manufacturers tend to support the OO gauge more than the N gauge. This means that you’ll get more options when it comes to locomotives, rolling stock, and track (and possibly at cheaper prices too). Additionally, since the second-hand market for OO gauge is more mature than for N gauge, you’ll have greater choice and flexibility when looking for accessories and pieces to add to your collection.
Of course, the final choice ultimately depends on what you want to achieve with your model trains and the size of your layout. But if cost is a key factor for you, then the OO gauge is definitely worth considering.
Who makes the best N-scale trains?
There are three top names that stand out as the best N-scale train manufacturers in the business: Kato, Atlas, and Micro-Trains. These brands are known for their attention to detail, which is essential for a model that is smaller than usual train sets. They all provide realistic designs and superior operability that are enough to impress even the most serious of collectors.
For those who are budget-conscious, Bachmann and LifeLike are excellent choices. They may not be as heavily detailed as the top three brands, but they are still known for their good work. It’s important to note that there are other manufacturers out there, and while they might not be as popular, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they make inferior products. It’s always a good idea to do your research, read reviews, and check out their products to find the best N-scale train that suits your needs and taste.
Are N-scale trains AC or DC?
Most scale trains use DC current. This is true for many scales, including Z, HO, OO, and some O, and G scale locomotives. With DC current, the locomotive direction can be reversed using a switch on the power supply. This feature allows for greater control and flexibility in creating routes and designs for railway layouts.