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Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle

By: Mark Camoccio

Explosive stuff? Mark Camoccio tests the Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle

If one design deserves credit for standing the test of time, it has to be the classic break-barrel configuration. Many shooters ‘cut their teeth’ with this type of rifle, so unsurprisingly these fast-fire sporters are still regarded with much affection.

The British company, Theoben Engineering gave us a new take on the theme, when they introduced their highly innovative gas-ram system, back in the early ‘80’s, but now, as a brand new decade beckons, several other companies are jumping on the bandwagon, incorporating variations on the gas-ram concept into their own products. One such company to adopt the system is Crosman, who have really expanded their range of airguns over the last few years. This major American manufacturer now sports the famous Benjamin brand in its product portfolio, and with their new Trail NP (Nitro-Piston) model catching my eye a while back, I knew it was only a matter of time before I put one through its paces. As it panned out, an extended loan period has allowed for a thorough evaluation, so let’s take a closer look.

It’s a gas

For those unfamiliar with the idea, the gas-ram or gas-strut (something like the shock absorber on a car) as it’s sometimes known, is a power plant which completely replaces a conventional mainspring. Instead of the spring, an internal chamber/cylinder, contains air or gas of some sort, which is compressed when the rifle is cocked. On firing, the compressed air/gas is allowed to expand rapidly, (but not escape) powering the piston, which compresses air ahead of it and propels the pellet, in the usual way. The internal chamber is a self-contained unit, and as such, shouldn’t need topping up.

Looks and build

The Trail NP is a slickly presented rifle. Unusually, it comes supplied as a package, with a ‘Center Point’ 3-9X40 telescopic sight and mounts all included. The scope includes Mil Dots in the spec which all adds to the usability of this combo. My test rifle even came with an attractive Benjamin padded sling, although the packaging claimed this to be a ‘bonus’, so maybe a case of ‘whilst stocks last’.

Crosman’s ingenious Crosblock safety gadget comes fitted to the Trail too, which is a simple plastic device which effectively safely locks the trigger. A small ‘key’ is used to remove it, and Crosman deserve praise here for taking a lead in assuring our sport’s safety record is upheld.

A sleek thumbhole stock, integral sling swivels and fully shrouded barrel, all add to the Trail’s purposeful look, and once handled, it becomes clear that some serious thought has been applied to this rifle’s design.

That thumbhole stock is fashioned from hardwood (probably beech), and whilst rather bland with little graining, the pleasant light shade is most acceptable. Ergonomics wise though, that blissfully sleek fore-end reminded me of my old Airmasters ’77 sporter stock; with the palm of the hand able to cup the tip of the stock perfectly, when in the aim.

Subtle finger grooves and a fairly upright grip also assist control, and the overall handling is impressive. A soul-less black synthetic option is of course available, but my advice would be to plump for this hardwood version every time. With the butt capped off with a supremely soft, ventilated pad, this fully ambidextrous woodwork certainly gets the thumbs up from me, as a general sporting configuration.

Finishing touches

Metal finish on this Chinese made Trail model, is not quite up to European standards, being a little lack lustre and patchy in places, yet to be fair, you have to look very closely to really pick up on this.

With the full-length barrel shroud comes an expansion chamber, incorporated into the last few inches at the muzzle. The near seamless construction of the shroud itself adds to the sleek profile, whilst the raised Picatinny scope rail brazed to the cylinder is further evidence of attention to detail. This rail, coupled with the interlocking scope mounts provided, makes scope creep a thing of the past, and adds confidence where it matters.

Nitro Piston

With ‘NP’ as previously stated, standing for Nitro Piston, this Trail model clearly has some interesting technology onboard, so I was keen to see just how it felt in use. Where Theoben toyed with a contained chamber of Argon gas, and latterly, just plain air, Crosman/Benjamin use Nitrogen in the case of the Trail.

Cocking the action requires the shrouded barrel to be snapped down, and initially, just jolting the barrel free from its solid, spring-loaded détente, proved to be quite demanding. That initial stiffness seemed to ease though, and with added technique applied i.e. a swift jolt downwards, the procedure soon became second nature.

It’s at this point that the contrast between this gas-ram and a conventional mainspring set-up becomes clear. The downwards compression stroke, when undertaken in one bold sweeping action, is both incredibly smooth, and fairly easy to complete. With no mainspring involved the Nitro-Piston is primed free from any ‘graunch’ and spring noise. The firing cycle is ultra smooth and slick too, completely free from any extended vibrations, sometimes associated with spring rifles.

Crosman’s marketing spells out the benefits of their ‘Nitro-Piston Technology’ over a conventional spring/piston set-up, with the major claim being that the Nitro-Piston power plant will produce 70% less noise than a conventional ‘springer’. I didn’t have the facility to test if this claim was born out, but what I can confirm is that the firing characteristics of this action are quite exceptional. The action is indeed pretty quiet, and the felt recoil characteristics amount to what’s best described as a quick snap, devoid of vibration.

Creepy

The Trail NP comes fitted with a two- stage trigger, but here lies my only reservation with this rifle. Having dabbled with the adjustment screw, I just couldn’t significantly reduce the amount of creep felt on the second stage; thus trigger operation remained somewhat disappointing. Taking up the first stage, then carefully pulling through the movement of the sears, is the routine that needs to be adopted, but this rifle deserves a crisper unit in my view.

Whilst shooting this rifle on the range, several other aspects become apparent. Firstly, it is not possible to de-cock the Trail (by holding the barrel against pressure, pulling the trigger, and slowly releasing the barrel upwards). In other words, once the action is cocked, it needs to be fired off at some point. As a technicality, the nature of the gas-ram also has other benefits, such as little or no torque when compared to a conventional mainsprings. That is to say the rotational twist effect when a spring moves forward, is absent from the gas-ram arrangement; in theory at least, aiding handling.

During the course of my testing, I checked for power shifts in different temperatures, and velocity remained stable, In addition, I also left the Trail cocked for several hours and then re-checked velocity readings at the end of the time period, with no distinct difference in power recorded.

The lock-time incidentally, feels phenomenally quick - another expected characteristic of the gas-ram system. [Editor’s Note: Lock-time in airgun terms is the time between operating the trigger and the pellet leaving the muzzle. This is significant considering the relatively low velocities involved in airguns, as the faster the lock-time, the less likely you are to pull off aim – ‘follow through’ is a lot more important than some people think]

Tighten up

Over 30yds, using a variety of pellets, the Trail printed some reasonable groups, with 3/4inch probably more representative. Once I really took the time with the trigger, however, the groups tightened even more, and Crosman Accupell’s just edged the tests, posting some, just better than half inch.

One point to note here regards the seating of pellets. With no chamfer at the breech face, tight fitting pellets can sit proud and run the risk of being damaged as the barrel is locked up. I soon found myself firmly seating pellets as part of the routine, which is good practise in any case.

From the kneeling position in particular, I found the thumbhole stock really came into its own, and some equally tight groups put a smile on the face. Standing however, was less decisive, and I had to work hard for results; but I reckon this would improve with more practise and familiarity.

Long term conclusions

Overall, after several months of evaluation, I’ve grown rather fond of this rifle. Whilst I don’t buy the marketing line that gas-ram equals easier accuracy over a springer, what it does bring is an extremely slick and pleasant shooting rifle. Combine that in the case of the Trail, with sleek woodwork and that all-inclusive package, and I reckon for a general purpose hunting combo or starter package, Crosman have come up trumps.

Technical Specifications
Model Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (Wood)
Manufacturer Crosman Corporation
Type Gas-ram (Nitro-Piston) break barrel sporter
Calibre .22 only
Weight 6.65lbs
Overall Length 43inches
Barrel Length 15.5inches approx
Stock Hardwood thumbhole sporter
Trigger 2-stage adjustable
RRP £295 approx
Options Synthetic stocked version

All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates

Gun Mart Shooters Forum - Get Involved in the Discussion!
User Comments
  • Theoben always wanted to see their design reach a wider market (hence the HW90) and this rifle could be the one to do just that, if it was better priced. To me, the price is too close to both Theoben's own Evolution and the HW90, and though this rifle comes as a package (both the other rifles come 'bareback') and appears to be fitted with a Weaver type rail (which opens up further sight options), it is obvious to most of us who this rifle is built by. And with that manufacturer introducing their own version soon, the price could start to look even steeper.
    The other problem I see, and this is not one with the rifle itself, is the UK's ridiculous ban on the sale of airguns by mail-order by traders, thus killing-off competition and increasing the cost of shooting in the UK.
    Rant over.....

    Comment by: Rob Pollock     Posted on: 25 Jun 2011 at 08:26 PM

  • I think we would all agree with your comments on face-to-face trading; it's undoubtedly one of the most nonsensical pieces of gun legislation ever drawn up.

    Comment by: Pat Farey     Posted on: 27 Jun 2011 at 10:33 AM

  • I was interested in buying a Benjamin trail in the uk, & soon I realised there seems to be a few misunderstandings about the power of these riles .but after some research i found that these gun come in some different power plants which were the: NPss (short stroke 750 ft/lbs), the NP (950 ft/lbs) NP XL (1100 ftlbs) and a 1500 FAC model .Also in synthetic all weather stock aw, NP XL (1100 ftlbs) and a 1500 FAC model. I would like to know which of these models are available in UK as some of these seem exclusive to the states.

    Comment by: andy belton     Posted on: 22 Oct 2011 at 01:09 AM

  • Had a 'test drive' with this rifle today, quite a kick on it for an air rifle but it was brand new, telescop sight superb and sling comfy. Will be popping up to the gun shop on friday to buy it, will look again at other competitors incl TX200 but im leaning towards this one for sure.

    Comment by: Mat brockbank     Posted on: 26 May 2012 at 01:29 PM

  • Just bought this today from Cabelas with the black synthetic stock. Shooting Cabelas .177 pellets through it and cannot get it sighted in for the life of me. Scope is on solid and tight, everything is being shot from a rest, and the pellets are all over the place. Have shot about 30 through so far and I've given up on adjusting the scope at this point. Anyone with similar problems?

    Comment by: Storm     Posted on: 21 Jun 2012 at 12:32 AM

  • Don't rest the rifle directly as the recoil will cause erratic grouping.

    Rest the back of your hand against a cushion (if necessary) if shooting whilst seated at a bench and allow the rifle to do its own thing when you fire it. This will allow the rifle to recoil naturally and you should get much better results.

    Try it and let us know how you get on.

    Comment by: Troll Hunter     Posted on: 21 Jun 2012 at 12:49 AM

  • Just got a np tonite and seen on other reviews that there have been lots of dudds out there i was on a permission yesterday and used a trail np and found it quite good to shoot and held good zero now i dread the arrival of my purchase to my local g/d

    Comment by: swayze.22     Posted on: 27 Sep 2012 at 10:26 PM

  • I just returned my 3rd Benjamin .22 Nitro Piston
    the first one was cocked when I opened the box and had no resistance when trying to cock it, called customer service and they said to take it back or send it in. My second replacement from WalMart was excellent for the first 1000 rounds then I started getting fliers all over the target; yes I tightened the stock screws, made sure the scope was secure and only used the recommended silicone oil. On my second call to customer service they suggested I do all the above. Took it back for a replacement, this time I swapped it for the synthitic stock version with the AO scope. The later two I had returned were the wood stock version. Well the same thing happened with this latest rifle, a about 1000 rounds I started getting fliers all over the target. Now keep in mind that the first month I had this rifle it was dead on. Again after doing all the recommended tightening its was no better, I suspect that the problem may be the internals of the scope. This time I took it back for a cash refund and will just continue to use my _ _ _ _ rifle in .177.
    The .22 Nitro Piston was deadly on squirrels, just wished it would have been better for the long run.
    Joey
    Cherokee County Georgia

    Comment by: joey soko     Posted on: 21 Dec 2012 at 02:29 PM

  • Fyi

    Comment by: Ron     Posted on: 27 Dec 2012 at 11:25 PM

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Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
Benjamin Trail Nitro-Piston (NP) air rifle
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