Near infrared optical tomography (NIROT) is a non-invasive imaging technique to provide physiological information e.g. the oxygenation of tissue. For image reconstruction in clinical and preclinical scenarios, models to accurately describe light propagation are needed. This work aims to assess the accuracy and efficiency of different models, which paves the way for an optimal design of model-based image reconstruction algorithms in NIROT for realistic tissue geometries and heterogeneities. Two popular simulators were evaluated: the Monte Carlo (MC) method based MCX and the finite element method (FEM) based Toast++. We compared simulated results with experimental data measured on a homogeneous silicone phantom with well-calibrated parameters. The laser light was focused on the center of the phantom surface and images were captured by a CCD camera in both reflection and transmission modes. For transmittance measurements, the two models showed good agreement. Both achieve a cosine similarity of ~99%. In contrast, for reflectance measurements, FEM results deviated more from the measured values than MC, yielding similarity values of 86% and 94%, respectively. This study recommends the use of MC for NIROT in reflection mode and both MC and FEM yield excellent results for transmission mode.