Gift Guide for Model Train Hobbyists

Model railroaders can be hard to shop for. For most of us, our model trains aren’t just a hobby but an extension of our personality. Yet to an outsider, every train looks the same. Here are some tips for finding the perfect gift for that train buff in your life.

These tips will help you when searching for ideas in any price range.

  • 01 of 10

    Know Your Modeler

    Model train going under an arch

    Ryan C Kunkle

    Shopping for someone who “just likes trains” is like trying to shop for someone who “just likes clothes.” You can usually pick up on your modeler’s taste and interest in one sentence, “I model the Santa Fe in 1952,” or, “I collect post-war Lionel.” Some modelers are more specific than others.

  • 02 of 10

    Size Matters

    Model train sizes

    Ryan C Kunkle

    Having a train on a different scale is like trying to wear clothes the wrong size. No matter how nice it looks on the shelf, it just won’t fit on the model railroad. If you don’t know what scale you need, don’t guess. Ask. If a product adheres to the standards for a scale, it should work regardless of the manufacturer.

  • 03 of 10

    Know Your Brand

    One railroad with many models

    Ryan C Kunkle

    You wouldn’t buy a Yankees hat for a Red Socks fan. If your modeler has a favorite road, that’s a good place to start. Fortunately, railroad equipment roams the country and can show up on other lines, even the competitors’.

  • 04 of 10

    Time and Place

    Buildings, vehicles and figures in a model train set

    Ryan C Kunkle

    A classic wood-burning steam locomotive may be beautiful, but it will look a little out of place if the layout is set in the 1960s. Even if you don’t know your modeler’s favorite road, you’ll score points if you get something that fits the era and locale of the layout.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10


    Model train multiples

    Ryan C Kunkle

    People often worry about buying something a modeler already has. Many modelers don’t mind multiples. It is not uncommon to see solid trains of nearly identical cars, distinguished only by their number. Road numbers are easily changed on models if desired.

  • 06 of 10

    Simple Things Mean a Lot

    Model railroad tools

    Ryan C Kunkle

    Sometimes a generic-but-useful gift can be as meaningful as a prized locomotive. A basket full of scenery supplies or hand tools will provide hours of enjoyment. Like a box of diapers to new parents, boy or girl they’re sure to get used. This is a great route to take if you don't know much about the modeler's specific tastes.

  • 07 of 10

    Its Not Just Trains

    Accessories for a model railroad

    Ryan C Kunkle

    A model railroad needs more than just trains to be complete. Structures, figures, trees, cars, lights, accessories all help complete the stage. Just keep scale and theme in mind.

  • 08 of 10

    Think Outside the Hobby Shop

    Hardware and craft store items

    Ryan C Kunkle

    The train shop isn’t a modeler’s only favorite hang-out. Think of what it takes to build a layout; hardware, electronics, and art-supply stores are filled with great gifts for a model railroader.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Think Big

    A steam locomotive

    Ryan C Kunkle

    It stands to reason that most people who like model trains have an interest in real trains. Gift a visit to a railroad museum or tourist line. Film (yes, many train watchers still embrace film photography) or digital memory cards are always in demand for an inspirational trip to the tracks.

  • 10 of 10

    When in Doubt, Ask

    Model railroader wish list

    Ryan C Kunkle

    Every modeler has a wish list. It shouldn’t take too much interrogation to get an idea.