Gold Panning Tips and Techniques

One of the reasons why gold panning is so popular is because it requires very minimal equipment to get started. As long as you have a pan, a stream and the determination to find gold, you can hop into this fun and rewarding hobby with little effort. However, to improve your odds of finding any significant amount of gold, you must know the correct panning technique. The fact is that most beginners don't know the proper way to pan, and as a result, they leave behind huge sums of valuable gold. To ensure you get the most gold possible from your panning trips, you should use the following technique listed below.

Finding a Stream or River

Gold Panning StreamWhen you're ready to start panning, you'll need to find a stream or river that's likely to contain gold. We go over how to choose a location for gold panning on a different page of our site, and we highly recommend you read it before jumping into just any nearby stream or river. If you aren't careful, you might end up trespassing or illegally prospecting on someone else's claim, both of which are big no-nos that should be avoided. Thankfully, there are still plenty of legal areas where panning is allowed for little-to-no cost, but it's up to you to find them.

Ideally, the best place to pan for gold is on a slow-moving stream or river where there's a large rock or log on the bank for you to sit on. Trust me, your legs, knees and fit will grow weak after standing up panning for hours. Something as simple as a large rock will provide you with nature's very own chair to sit down and rest.

Now that you're ready to start panning, go look for some dirt and gravel to scoop up with your pan from the bottom of the water. One of the things I've noticed during my 10+ years of gold panning is that gold tends to settle at areas in rivers or streams where fast-moving water slows down. While you're probably eager to get in and start panning, you should first scout the waterway to look for pockets where gold and other heavy sediments may be trapped. These areas are going to be your best shot at finding placer deposits containing gold.

Gold Panning TechniqueFilling Up Your Pan

Okay, now it's time to start filling up your pan with sand and gravel deposits (hopefully gold too) from the stream or river. To do this, take your pan and fill it about 3/4 of the way full. Some people may find this is a bit excessive, but you'll quickly learn that the more dirt and gravel you go through, the more gold you'll find; therefore, it's in your best interests to get into the habit of panning gold in a fast and efficient manner.

While you're filling the pan up, go ahead and remove any large rocks, driftwood or other materials that were accidentally scooped up. These items take up valuable space in your pan that could be used for gold-containing mineral deposits. In fact, it's not a bad idea to clear the bottom of the river or stream where you plan to scoop up gravel and dirt of any large rocks.

Uncovering Your Gold

If you ask ten different experienced gold panners what the best technique is for uncovering gold, you'll probably get ten different answers. Like most things in life, practice takes perfect, and you may develop your own technique after getting some experience under your belt. With that said, you'll need to get the basic fundamentals of panning down first. When your pan is filled about 3/4 of the way up with sand and gravel, dip it completely underneath the water and shake it around in a clockwise motion. Unless you're familiar with gold panning and prospecting, you might be wondering what purpose this serves. Well, there are a couple different reasons for this, one of which is to settle the gold on the bottom of the pan. Gold is one of the heavier metals found in sediments; therefore, it naturally settles to the bottom.

Another reason for shaking the pan while it's submerged is to remove the lighter sediments and rocks. When you shake a pan filled with gravel and sand, the lighter dirt will float to the top and hopefully wash away. In order for it to wash away, you'll need to dip it in a part of the stream or river where the current is actively moving.  Don't make the mistake of trying to dip your pan in a stagnant pool of water, as the dirt and other light sediments won't wash away.

Your ultimate goal when swishing the pan back and forth is to remove everything except the gold nuggets and flakes. When there's only a couple of inches of dirt left in your pan, take it to the surface where you can dip some water in to help swirl the contents around. It may take some serious swishing to finally get there, but continue doing it and you'll eventually be left with a pile of black sand with gold mixed in. Some prospectors may use tweezers or other tools to pick out the gold during this step, but I recommend using your finger. You can pick through the black sand using your finger and move any gold you find off to the side.

Simple Gold Panning Tips:

  • Bring a pair of thick water boots or waders to keep your feet dry. Even if it's a hot summer day, you probably don't want to have your feet wet the entire time you're panning.
  • Keep a small glass vial on you for storing any gold flakes you come across. They may seem insignificant, but they will quickly add up in value.
  • A plastic sniffer bottle can be used to suck up flakes that are too small for your fingers or tweezers to get.
  • The black sand at the bottom of your band is highly magnetic, so you can use a magnet to help separate the gold from it.
  • While you'll need to use some force and muscle when swishing the pan back and forth, you don't want to knock any gold out of your pan. Keep practicing until you find a happy medium where the gold is settling to the bottom and the lighter sediments are floating out.