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How to Select the Best Gold Pan

Gold pans come in a variety of sizes and colors. For those learning to pan for gold, the option can seem overwhelming. But, picking the right gold pan has a lot to do with preference and will become your first piece of gold mining equipment.

For thousands of years, miners have used something similar to a gold pan to find gold near water. In the not too distant past, most gold pan were made out of steel, but today, most gold pans are made of various plastics. The transition to plastic meant gold pans could be mass produced and provide far more option than were present just a few decades ago. But, with so many choices, finding the best gold pan may seem impossible. No worries, here at Sunny Mountain, we're active small scale miners and have used just about every pan imaginable.

Three Types of Gold Pans

There are thousands of options when it comes to gold pans. Color, size, shape and the list goes on. But, let's look at gold pans from a function point of view. In general, gold pans have three functions:

  • Prospecting Panning
  • Production Panning
  • Finish Panning

Prospect Panning

Prospect panning is also know as test panning. It's what the gold prospector does in order to discover how viable the ground is to mine. The process usually involves sampling material from multiple areas/locations and working the material down to determine how many "colors", that is specks or pieces of gold, a sample has. Generally, you want at least a full shovel full of material to determine how much gold to expect when you decide to move more gold bearing material.  I generally recommend a large, over-sized, 15 inch pan like the Minelab Pro-Gold.

Production Panning

Once you found the spot you want to mine, it's time to get to mining. For the small scale miner this usually involves panning or using a river sluice. More serious miners will use a highbanker or suction dredge. If you don't have a sluice, a large gold pan, batea or Gold Cube's Banjo Pan will allow you to concentrate a decent amount of material for further processing. The point of production panning is NOT to get down to clean gold, but to get down to the heaviest material. If I'm production panning, I get the material down to black sand and toss it in a bucket to pan down later (finish panning) or process in a clean-up sluice. Pro Tip: if you're dealing with really find placer gold, production panning has the HIGHEST capture rate of any method I've used.

Finish Panning

Finish panning is typically the last step in order to get to clean gold. Regardless if you run sluice, high banker or suction dredge, you'll eventually have to deal with your concentrates, or "cons" for short. Finish panning is fun, but takes a good amount of time. The important thing to remember is this: your finishing pan has one job and one job only. 

Finding the Best Gold Pan

Okay, now that we laid down some ground work, let's get down to the nitty gritty.

Choosing the Right Color

Gold pans typically come in the following colors:

  • Green
  • Black
  • Blue
  • Red
  • Purple
  • Pink

First, let's talk about the colors to avoid, red and pink. Both colors offer a poor contrast, especially pink. Green and black are perhaps the most common colors. The difference between the two is preferential, but black tends to blend with magnetite, although gold really "pops" against a black background. Green on the other hand is a good color and offers a good contrast for gold and black sand. Certain shades of blue are opposite of gold on the color wheel and offers good contrast to black sand. In the end, color is a matter of preference, I happen to prefer blue.

Prospecting, Production and Finish Panning 

Your prospecting and production pans are your work horses. They will take a beating, you will lose them, they will break, you will give them away, your spouse may commandeer them for flower pots. Here is the important thing to keep in mind, size matters. If you're prospecting a new site, you want a decent sample size.  Using a pan that will accommodate a full shovel is ideal. Generally, we do not recommend anything less than a 14" pan. When it comes to prospecting, bigger is better. I like the 16" blue high contrast pan and more recently the Minelab Pro-Gold 15" pan.

A large production pan is also recommended, but weight needs to be considered. Production panning requires a lot of shaking and digging. It's hard on the joints and arms. Using a 14"-15" pan with deep riffles is the way to go, unless you're buying for someone with smaller hands, then go 10" to 12".  Personally, my go-to production pan is the Garrett Super Sluice Gold Pan. Another mention would be Gold Cube's Banjo Pan.

In terms of finishing pans, follow this Golden Rule: Thou shalt keep your finishing pans out of the field and use them only for finishing. Let me say this another way, your finishing pans are NOT field pans. Here's the reason: Field pans get abused and develop deep scratches and gouges which affect how water cascades on the gold pan's surface. A good finishing pan should be seasoned with a very fine grit sand paper and have enough room to allow for back-washing. Personally, I like a larger gold pan for finish panning. Honestly, just about any pan will do, as long as the bottom surface is smooth and water doesn't bead up. if water beads, then use a fine grit sandpaper to increase the surface area until your water cascades in the pan. Some gold miners like fine riffles, but it depends on your clean up method. The Falcon Clean Up pan has been a favorite for years.

Collecting Gold Pans

If you're looking for gold, in whatever capacity, you will own multiple gold pans. While we could offer specific recommendations, find the right gold pan is a matter of personal preference more than anything. The important thing to remember is buy the right gold pan for the right application. Secondly, have at least two pans, one for the field and one for finishing. Be sure to read our top gold pan recommendations.

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