Choosing the Right Gold Pan

The gold pan is the most basic prospecting tool any gold miner will use. Choosing the best one for your particular tastes and needs is not always easy due to the fact that there are many different types, sizes and shapes of pans being sold today. Each will do the job, but like anything else, some will do it better than others.

Prospecting Tool

Let me digress here a moment to direct an important bit of information to those of you out there who are just starting out as recreational placer gold miners. A gold pan is a prospecting tool, not a piece of mining equipment. It's purpose is to sample and to clean up concentrates, not to process gold-bearing material. You'd be surprised how many prospecting novices can't figure this very basic fact out and then are disappointed or frustrated at the sparse returns they get after busting their humps all day panning. Use the gold pan to locate the gold first, take proper samples, determine where the best gold values are located, and then (only then) set up your rocker, sluice box, dredge, highbanker, dry washer, etc. to move greater amounts of gold-bearing material. Enough said.

Metal Gold Pans?

OK, back to choosing a good gold pan. One type of pan I do not recommend (especially for novices) is the old-timer style metal gold pan. At the risk of infuriating you traditionalists out there, I find these pans much harder to use. Your panning speed is greatly reduced and they are not as efficient at recovering fine gold as some of the newer pans. They are great conversation pieces though.

Non-Traditional Gold Pans

I have not tried some of the newer, non-traditional type pans such as the hexagonal and "scoop" type pans now on the market so I can't really comment on their capabilities. Both types are made of high-impact plastic and come in a variety of colors (overall, I find that placer gold shows up best against a green background). The hexagonal pan has six different-sized riffle traps built in and these could prove handy for some folks. But at the risk of sounding judgmental without actual experiential knowledge, I feel there is something a bit gimmicky about these.

Garrett "Gravity Trap"

For my money the best gold pan on the market is still the Garrett "Gravity Trap," a product of the Garrett Metal Detector Company. The "Gravity Trap" family of pans has been around since the early 1980s (or perhaps before that decade) and has proven itself in the field under all sorts of conditions, wet and dry. They are constructed of high-impact dark green plastic that is nearly indestructible, they each have "stair-step" riffles built into the pan, and come in at least 3 different sizes (with the 14" diameter pan the most commonly used).

I'm especially partial to the Garrett "Super Sluice" pan. It's larger diameter and high material capacity combined with its over-sized, more steeply cut riffles allows for quick, efficient processing of greater amounts of gold-bearing dirt and gravel than the more conventional, standard-sized pans.

So for what it's worth, that's my gold pan preference. You may disagree and find another pan that suits you better. More power to you, my friend.

(c)  Jim Rocha (J.R.)  2008