Panning for gold is simple, fun, and often VERY rewarding. It’s also the least expensive method for extracting gold from the Earth.
All you really need to get started is a gold pan, which you can get for around twelve bucks!
Traditionally gold pans were shallow sheet-iron vessel with sloping sides and flat bottom. But modern gold pans are lighter, feature cheater riffles to help catch the gold, and are colored to help make it easier to spot pay dirt.
While you could get by with just the pan, there are also a bunch of gold panning accessories that will help make your life easier while maximize the amount of gold you take home.
If you’re new to prospecting I would recommend buying a Gold Panning Kit like the one offered by Black Cat Mining. It’s got everything you need to get started and an instruction book on how to use all the strange little devices that are included.
If you’re serious about becoming a prospector you should look at the most modern gold panning equipment, because even a FEW extra grains of gold every day will quickly make up the cost of the best equipment.
Other Stuff You Might Need
Gold panning gear is made from basic materials and the tools are almost unchanged, but you still need to think about the basics before you rush into gold country.
First, if you’re going out anytime except the middle of summer you’re probably going to want some hip waders, or at the very least a pair of rubber boots like the ones pictured to the right.
But remember if you are hiking any distance, more than maybe a half a mile, you will want to wear hiking boots and put your rubber boots or waders on at the river.
You also need a shovel and a plastic bucket. You can use a shovel you already own or buy one at any place that sells shovels, but, remember, a regular shovel can be a hassle to carry if you’re hiking any distance to where you are panning.
The packable shovel like the one on the left is a good choice, because it has a steel handle and it folds up small enough to fit into a pack.
Whatever else advice you take from this page, it is wise to use a shovel with either a fiberglass or steel handle, because it is extremely frustrating to break the handle of your shovel – like mind numbing primal rage sort of frustrating when you planned a panning trip for months, hiked five miles into the spot you wanted, and broke your shovel handle in five minutes.
Also if you are going to hike in your gear you need a good backpack, but you really want to look for a pack with a large main pocket, so you can fit in your pan, shovel, and other gear.
This Canadian Army model (pictured right) is a prime example of a great military surplus model that you can pick up pretty cheap at a good Army Surplus store.
Uncle Sam’s Army-Navy Outfitters is a great source for cheap, well built camping equipment perfect for gold mining. Remember, you need good well built gear.
Black Cat Mining carries a good selection of books about the basics and some pretty good guidebooks that explain where the best spots for prospecting are in your area. You can get them HERE.
Gold Panning Primer
All you’re doing when you are panning is washing the dirt off the gold. That’s it. The process is very simple:
Gold Panning Instructions
- Shovel some river sand into your pan until the pan is a little less than ¾ full. If you fill it anymore than that you risk accidentally washing away pay dirt.
- Remove the larger rocks and debris making sure that you do not accidentally throw away a GOLD nugget.
- Place the pan underwater and let the contents get totally saturated. Much of the lightest material will float away right then and that is exactly what you want. If there are still any larger lumps of clay you should break them up with your hands.
- Keep the pan underwater during this process. Greenhorns get worried about the material floating away, but remember the gold will not float away.
- With the pan still underwater, vigorously begin sloshing the pan left to right. This forces the heavier material, gold if you are in the right spot, to the bottom of the pan and the lighter material up. Stop periodically and sweep the heavier material away with your fingers and repeat until this procedure until you reach the bottom of the pan.
- It may take five or six times until you are left with a mass of black sand that hopefully is speckled with gold flakes. You can pick the flakes out right then or simply pour everything into a separate container for processing later, because picking out the gold flakes is a time consuming task that is often easier to do on a kitchen table in perfect light with a beer than squatting on a river bank.
Here’s a pretty good video that shows you the basics: