A Basic Prospecting and Mining Kit for Beginners (Part 1)

I can tell by your search queries and questions that many of you out there are newcomers (i.e., newbies or greenhorns) to the world of small-scale gold prospecting and mining. There's no shame in that so hold your head up. I too was once where you are now. So take heart. I'll get you started on the right track.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse

Perhaps you've already read one of the posts in Bedrock dreams where I go into a sustained rant about the foolishness of spending lots of folding green on mining and prospecting gear when you're just starting out. So I'll reiterate my point in this regard yet again. If you're new to the small-scale gold mining thing DO NOT lay out lots of money for fancy, high-priced equipment (dredges, highbankers, trommels, etc.) when you really don't know the ABCs yet. It's a costly example of putting the cart before the horse. Learn the ropes first, the basics. If you don't have that minimum knowledge or experience yet you're just throwing money away and chances are all that fancy gear will sit in your garage gathering cobwebs until you end up selling it for a loss. You see, how can you expect to recover gold with motorized equipment if you don't know where to find it or sample for it in the first place? Be smart. Start slowly with the basic gear that will help level you up. Then you can start thinking about buying that dredge or highbanker.

 (Nope...you got it ass backwards.)

What are the cheapest and most fundamental mining and prospecting tools at your disposal as a newbie? Read the following list and acquire these items. Why? Because they'll put you on the road to finding and recovering a bit of gold without forcing you to mortgage your home or causing you to push a grocery cart filled with all your earthly belongings underneath freeway overpasses. Here's all you need to get started:

Good gold pan: The gold pan is the most crucial piece of gear you can own. No, it's not a piece of mining equipment nor is it meant to be used as one. It's a prospecting, sampling, and clean-up tool. There are all sorts of colors, makes, models, and configurations out there you can buy for under $15.00-$20.00 (USD) but here's what I recommend: Garrett's 14" "Gold Trap" pan (it used to be called the "Gravity Trap"). It's made of high-impact plastic, has internal step riffles, and comes in a forest green color...the best background color for spotting gold. The rest of the colors (black, blue, purple, magenta, rose pink...whatever!) essentially suck in my view. Green shows gold the best. Don't believe me? Then get a different color pan and a Garrett and dump a bit of gold in each and see what's what. And don't come back telling me black or blue or rose pink are better colors as a background for gold because I'll get my hackles up and call you a damn liar right to your face. That's how I roll. You see, I've been at this mining and prospecting thing for just shy of four decades and I know my shit. End of story.

Garrett pans come in a range of sizes but all you need is the standard 14" pan size, nothing smaller and nothing larger. Garrett makes a really good larger pan called the "Super Sluice" but hold off on getting one of those until you can handle the standard size pan like a pro. Yours truly has been using Garrett "Gold Traps" since I first started mining and prospecting and I highly recommend them to you. I still have a Garrett standard pan in my possession that the wife bought me 37 years ago. It's pretty beat up but still usable even though I've retired it to a wall in my garage.You can purchase a Garrett "Gold Trap" from your local prospecting or mining shop or numerous places online. By the way, Garrett offers a panning "kit" with three different sized pans, a classifier, and a sniffer or "snifter" bottle (we'll talk about that and the classifier...no worries) for around $45.00. Check online prospecting sales venues and I bet you can probably find the kit cheaper than that.

Classifier: For you newbs out there a classifier is simply a sorting or sifting screen. Garrett makes a round classifying screen of high-impact, forest green plastic that fits nicely right into their standard sized gold pan and also atop a five gallon bucket. Usually the mesh holes are 1/2 inch in size for most commercial pan classifiers, although you can use whatever size mesh you think works best for the sort of gold-bearing gravel or dirt you're moving. The idea behind classifiers is simply to screen off larger waste rock to facilitate your sampling and panning efforts. As you become more experienced in small-scale gold mining and prospecting you'll come to realize how important classifiers can be out in the field and in cleaning up concentrates. Don't want to shell out good money for a classifier? Get some heavy duty screen, some scrap wood, and a few screws and make your own. That's how I made my first classifier. Oh...one more thing. Unlike your gold pan, the color of your classifier really doesn't matter, push come to shove.

(Garrett 14" classifier.)

Five gallon bucket: Whoever invented the humble, hard-plastic five gallon bucket should be inducted into the gold mining Hall of Fame. A handier tool never came down the pike as far as small-scale miners are concerned (old salts and greenhorns included). As you newbies will soon find out, those empty five gallon buckets in your garage or scattered around a construction site for the taking will become one of the most important mining and prospecting tools in your arsenal, next to your gold pan. You can screen (classify) gold-bearing gravel into them, lug that gravel to a stream or wash to pan or dry wash or feed into a sluice box, carry small prospecting tools around, wash concentrates into from your miner's moss into them, you name it. Hell, turn an empty five gallon bucket upside down and you have a place to plop your tired ass onto. And if you go out and buy a five gallon bucket from Home Depot or Lowes or wherever, you're just plain simple in the head. Freebies are everywhere...all you have to do is keep an eye open for them.

 (One of the best tools in your beginner's kit.)

There's more to come, so stay tuned.

(c)  Jim Rocha 2017

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. JR, Good advice. One thing you left out though,....Don't get discouraged when you don't find bean size nuggets. Tiny specks are more the "norm". At least in most areas.


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