Gold pans come in a variety of sizes and shapes with several different features. However, the purpose and function of these gold pans is the same. A gold pan’s primary purpose is to classify gold bearing gravel so that the heaviest materials (such as gold) end up in the bottom of the gold pan, while the ligher materials are washed out of the gold pan.
Though all gold pans can work, I have created this guide to help you understand why I prefer to use the Garrett Gravity Trap style gold pans. Along the way, you may discover a type of gold pan that will better fit your needs. This is perfectly ok. What is important is that you find out what works for you.
When I first got into gold panning, I was given a generic plastic gold pan and it worked. It had tiny bumps for riffles and it kept gold in the pan. In reading some articles from old-timers, I discovered that some of them preferred the traditional steel gold pans and each had their way of bluing the gold pan with heat to remove the oil film on the steel and to make it easier to see gold. I figured that if the oldtimers preferred steel, then I should give it a try.
Right away I noticed two main differences between the steel gold pan and the plastic. First, the steel pan was heavier and as a result, it was more tiring. Second, in cold water the steel gold pan felt like I was holding onto an ice cube. Yes the steel pan found gold and is stronger than a plastic gold pan (I have never broken a plastic one), but I think that die hard steel gold panners base their decision to use steel on ego or to be an old-timer more than on logic. Just my opinion. Regardless, I decided that plastic was the way to go.
With plastic gold pans, there are a few different shapes-typically round and a variety of rectangular shaped pans. Round gold pans make for an easy swirling motion or side to side motion rather than just the side to side motion of square pans. Two of the most common square pans are the Le Trap and the Grizzly gold pans. The Le Trap looks similar to a traditional pan, only square. It works well enough, but I like the flexibility of different panning motions provided by the round pans and I also like using the back of the gold pan for cleanups. Seems more natural to use a round pan.
The other type of square gold pan is the Grizzly gold pan. Looking from the side, the Grizzly gold pan is shaped like a “V”. It uses a strict side to side motion and the gold concentrates are emptied through a plug in the bottom of the pan. While this pan does process material faster than a regular gold pan (the advantage) it also has several disadvantages.
First, the Grizzly gold pan requires deeper water for use. You must be able to submerge the pan completely. This is not necessary with a traditional pan. Second, the “V” shape makes it awkward to set down. Third, the plug is easy to lose and only allows quarter inch or smaller material to pass through. Fourth, the Grizzly gold pan is made of a plastic that feels weaker than other gold pans.
Ultimately, I prefer to use a round style gold pan. With round gold pans, there are also some different styles and sizes to choose from. When choosing a size, I have found that the 10 to 14 inch diameter gold pans are just the right size. The 10 inch size is great for cleanup and the 14 inch is perfect for production. Smaller than these sizes and it is difficult to process much material. Larger than this size of pan and the weight of the gold pan with gravel becomes tedious and can actually slow you down and wear you out faster. Some 14 inch gold pans have a wider bottom than others.
I prefer a medium width bottom as too wide and the weight becomes too much.
Some round gold pans are completely smooth, some have small riffles, medium riffles, large riffles, and even recessed areas in the pan that can all affect gold panning outcomes. The Trinity gold pan is an example of a gold pan that has a recessed area.
I do not like this feature because I believe that it interferes with the classifying action and may result in loss of gold as the trap is in the back of the pan which is usually the higher side of the pan when being used. If gold pops out of the small trap, it can possibly ride down the top of the light material and out of the pan.
Small riffles can be effective for catching really fine gold, but they can also be more difficult to cleanup as the small gold and clay can really get stuck in the riffles. I do not like to waste time cleaning out the riffles regularly when panning and so I no longer use a gold pan with tiny riffles. Some gold pans like the Garrett Super Sluice pan have really big riffles that are supposed to allow you to process more material. Personally, I prefer the medium sized riffles as there are a enough riffles to catch the gold and even if a little clay builds up, they will still catch the gold, even the fine gold.
Now I have mentioned that I like the Garrett Gravity Trap gold pans over other available options. The reason for this is that their style of riffles appeals to me and the gold pan has been around for awhile. Some other manufacturers have made similar designs that will work as well. I simply purchased a Garrett pan before trying one of the very similar designs and saw no need to purchase a pan that was so close in design to one that I own.
So regardless of the brand, it is the Garrett Gravity Trap style of gold pan that I like, recommend and use most of the time. Sometimes I will still use the Grizzly Gold Pan when I cannot bring in a sluice.
What Gold Classifiers Sifter Should I Buy?
Now would also be a good time to mention gold prospecting classifiers. My favorite classifier is by Garrett. The Garrett Gold Classifier is constructed of solid plastic and is designed to work well with most conventional 14 inch gold pans. The 1/2 inch holes are large enough to prevent most gold nuggets from being tossed while getting rid of all of the large rocks. This speeds up the gold panning process.
Another advantage of the Garrett Classifier is that it stores easy will my other gold pans. Some of my other classifiers are wider and more awkwardly shaped.
At half the price of many of its competitors, the Garrett Gold Classifier is definitely one of my favorite buys. They are tough and really get the job done. The only downside to Garrett Classifiers is that they only come with the 1/2 inch holes. I also like to have a 1/4 inch and a 1/8 inch gold classifier on hand. But, if I could only choose one gold classifier, then it would be the Garrett Gold Classifier.
Another option is to build your own gold classifier from scratch, which is not too difficult nor expensive.