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What Model Railroad Scale is Right For You?

Updated on September 8, 2016


I was involved in model railroading for twelve years. I started out with HO Scale, subsequently becoming involved with N scale, and even briefly with Z Scale. Each of these scales (or sizes) has there own advantages and disadvantages.

What is a "scale"?

In model railroading, scales, refer to the sizes of the models. The smallest scale is Z scale, and the largest is G scale. From largest to smallest, the scales are: G, O, S, HO, N, and Z. There is an even smaller scale T, but supplies for that scale is relatively limited. I'll go into greater depth with all of the scales below.

Scale Overview

Below is a brief overview of each of the model railroad scales:

G: This is the largest model railroad scale commercially available.

O: This is considerably smaller than G scale, but it is still relatively large. If you had Lionel trains growing up, then you had O scale!

HO: This stand for "Half O Scale". It is currently the most popular scale.

N: Smaller than HO scale, it is also very popular.

Z: The smallest scale commercially available.

Which Scale is Right for You?

Below, I'll list all of the scales, along with some of the common pros, and cons for each!

G: Pros: Relatively durable, easy to see, and work with. This makes is great if you have kids.

Cons: Expensive, and you need a very large space in order to have a decent size layout. Difficult to run very long trains.

O: Pros: Also very durable, and easy to see and work with. This is probably one of the best scales if you are building a model railroad with a kid. If you have Lionel O Scale trains (particularly the older ones), they are considered collectibles and worth a lot of money. Also O Scale is relatively inexpensive.

Cons: Some of the products have a very "toy like" quality to them, meaning they lack realism. Like G scale, it is also difficult to run long trains.

HO: Pros: Can build a decent size layout in a relatively small space. Wide breadth of high quality, realistic products, often at a decent price.

Cons: Can't fit as much into a small space as some of the smaller scales.

N: Pros: Ability to fit a large layout into a small space. Wide range of quality, realistic products at good prices. Ability to run fairly long trains.

Cons: Its small size means it is somewhat more delicate than some of the larger scales. Not the best option for kids. May be difficult to see and work with, especially for those who have vision problems, or have larger hands.

Z Scale: Pros: Ability to fit a large layout into a very small space, even a suitcase! Can run relatively long trains as well.

Cons: Less availability of products compared to some larger scales. Products are typically fragile and more expensive than larger scales. Like N scale, people with poor vision or large hands may find Z scale challenging to work with.


Choosing the right scale is really based on what your own individual needs are. If you have kids who will be helping you out with your layout, or you think you might find it challenging to work with small pieces, then a larger scale is probably the best options for you.

On the other hand, if you don't have any of the above concerns, and if you don't have a lot of space to work with, then a smaller scale (like N or Z), might the better choice for you.


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