To go gold panning you really don’t need much. Many people have stories of how they found gold while camping using a pie plate and nothing else. This also implies that the basic tools are fairly affordable.
Gold panning relies upon gravity and luck. When soil becomes permeated with water, it behaves much like water — meaning heavier things (such as gold) will sink to the bottom and lighter materials will rise to the top. This is also true for the stream where you are panning and why so much gold is on bedrock.
Shopping List For Panning Gold
Your shopping list for the basic gold panning supplies should be roughly as follows:
- A gold pan of good quality.
- A vial or snifter bottle.
- A small shovel.
- A bucket and classifier that fits it.
- A solid scoop.
- A pry bar.
- Beverages, snacks, bug spray, sun screen and toilet paper.
When shopping for a gold pan you may find yourself surprised by the variety in gold pans. You will want a plastic pan, as they are lighter and much easier to use than a metal pan. Your pan should be green and have very pronounced ridges molded into the sides.
The two most common shapes for gold pans are round and square. For common gold panning and starting out, you will want a round pan. A square pan cuts through gravel very quickly which makes it excellent for surveying, but is harder to learn to use and does not separate the black sand and gold from the gravel as well as a round pan does. Consider a square pan after you have started to find gold with a round pan.
A vial for holding gold is a common thing, but I have found a snifter bottle to be much better. Vials are better for storing and showcasing gold at home than in the field. They break easily (especially when frozen), may leak causing you to lose your findings, and are easy to lose.
A snifter bottle has a small tube that extends into the bottom of the bottle and an internal lid so that nothing comes out until you are ready. The bottle is plastic, so it won’t break, is bigger making it harder to lose or drop, and works really well.
The next most useful thing to have is a classifier or sieve, which will save you a lot of work. To use, simply place the screen in the bottom of your pan, add dirt and water to your pan and shake the classifier. As long as the soil is wet, all the gold will move to the bottom of your pan leaving only larger rocks to be discarded.
If you want to get a little more serious about panning, you will also want a shovel, bucket and pry bar with you. The classifier should fit on top of your bucket. Now you can filter your materials as you fill your bucket, thus saving time when panning the material.
Since gold is so dense, it often settles under rocks, hence the need for a pry bar. Many people have moved a rock in a stream to find a ring of gold around its base. I managed to find a pry bar that had a t-bar handle, so it doubles as a walking stick, really helpful when crossing streams.
The small scoop is something that can easily be overlooked. You will quickly discover that it is almost impossible to scoop dirt out of a stream with a shovel. With a good solid scoop you can reach in and retain the material that you wanted to pan. Look for something the size of a coffee mug but made of very thick plastic or metal, as it will take a beating. Some army surplus stores have thick plastic cup/bowl items. It has a tiny handle, pointed tip and a deep bowl, the perfect tool for scooping material up.
These basic tools will work for you regardless of where you are panning and the type of terrain. After you have gone out a few times, you may find that certain things work a little better for you or your area. The best way to know is to get out there, have some fun experimenting, and talk to people you meet there or at your local prospecting store.