A new perspective on the numerical simulation of cone penetration in sand is presented, based on an enhanced critical state model implemented in an explicit-integration finite element code. Its main advantage, compared to similar studies employing simpler soil models, is that sand compressibility can be described with a single set of model parameters, irrespective of the stress level and the sand relative density. Calibration is based on back-analysis of published centrifuge experiments, while results of the methodology are also compared against independent tests. Additional analyses are performed to investigate sand state effects on cone penetration resistance, in comparison with empirical expressions from the literature. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.