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Which metal detectors actually work and how much should you spend?

Thanks to TikTok, metal detecting is surging in popularity. New and seasoned hobbyists are looking for the top metal detectors. If you want one that performs well, ZDNET did the work and found the best metal detectors you can buy -- including ones for under $100.
taylor-clemons
Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer on

Metal detecting as a hobby has had a major surge in popularity thanks to social media apps like TikTok where videos of exploration and metal detector finds have racked up almost 3 billion views. If you're interested in getting started, there are lots of options for great metal detectors. While a lot of models are designed for experienced hobbyists and can cost several hundred dollars, there are budget and beginner-friendly versions available with simplified controls and lightweight designs for introducing you to metal detecting. There are even starter kits for small children who want to start metal detecting. 

Experienced coin hunters and search and salvage professionals can spend thousands on high-end, very sophisticated metal detectors capable of finding objects buried several feet underground and even deep underwater. To help you figure out where to start when shopping for a metal detector, I've put together a list of the five best available to buy. I've broken down their features and price points to help you decide which is the right fit for your experience level as well as your budget.

Detection depth: Up to 2 feet | Weight: 4.2 pounds | Adjustable length: 44 to 51 inches | Power source: 2x 9 volt batteries | Coil size: 8 inches | Waterproof: Coil only

The Bounty Hunter Tracker IV is an excellent metal detector for both beginners and seasoned hobbyists. It has a very budget-friendly price of about $85, so if you decide that metal detecting isn't your cup of tea, you don't won't have wasted a lot of money. With its separate modes for ferrous and non-ferrous materials, you can hunt for everything from scrap steel and aluminum to gold jewelry and silver coins. The 8-inch detection coil is water resistant so you can search damp areas, streams, ponds, and beaches worry-free. 

The control box has simple dials and an easy-to-read meter for adjusting sensitivity and metal identification of objects buried up to 2 feet underground. It also uses different tones for different metals to help beginners understand what they're likely to find in an area. The Tracker IV features a ground balance filter to help reduce interference from minerals in the soil or sand and prevent false positives. It's powered by two 9-volt batteries and weighs just over 4 pounds, making it easier to use and maneuver. 

Pros:

  • Very affordable
  • Different sound tones for different metals
  • Simplified interface
  • Detects objects up to 2 feet underground

Cons:

  • Not great for meteorite hunting
  • No coil protector, cover, or headphones included

Detection depth: Up to 8 inches | Weight: 5 pounds | Adjustable length: Up to 51 inches | Power source: 4x AA batteries | Coil size: 10 inches | Waterproof: Coil only

The Garrett ACE 300 is a great metal detector for anyone who is just starting out in the hobby. It has a lightweight and telescoping design, coming in at 5 pounds and extendable up to 51 inches, so it's easier to handle. It also comes with a coil cover, an environmental protection cover, and a pair of headphones. The 10-inch detector coil is waterproof, allowing you to search for metal items in damp soil, streams, oceans, and lakes. It is able to detect objects buried up to 8 inches deep to help you search for coins, jewelry, and other small items. 

With its five different detection modes, you can search for everything from iron horseshoes and silver coins to aluminum scrap and gold. The simplified, push-button controls let you quickly and easily select detection modes, set sensitivity, and adjust detection frequencies to narrow down your search. The Garret ACE 300 is powered by 4 AA batteries, so you don't need to keep specialized batteries on hand or remember to charge your metal detector before you go out exploring. 

Pros:

  • Simplified controls
  • Covers and headphones included
  • Waterproof detection coil

Cons:

  • On the expensive side

Detection depth: Up to 18 inches | Weight: 2.96 pounds | Adjustable length: 47 to 57 inches | Power source: Rechargeable battery | Coil size: 11 inches | Waterproof: Submersible up to 10 feet

If you're a serious metal detecting hobbyist or a search and salvage professional, the Minelab Equinox 800 is an almost perfect option. It's a high-end, exceptionally precise metal detector that can sense objects buried up to 18 inches underground so you can hunt for everything from coins and rings to scrap iron, aluminum, and even meteorites. The entire unit is waterproof and can be submerged in water up to 10 feet deep, so you can search rivers, lakes, ponds, and oceans for relics. 

With its four different detection modes, you can accurately search terrain like sandy dunes and beaches, grassy fields, and rocky hills. You also can set up eight different detection profiles for faster gold, silver, and iron identification or for multiple users of the same unit. It's powered by an integrated, rechargeable battery that can give you up to 12 hours of use so you can explore all day, worry-free. The Equinox 800 also comes with a pair of headphones for more accurate and distraction-free listening to differentiate between tones for gold, silver, brass, and iron or steel. 

Pros:

  • 12-hour battery
  • Rechargeable
  • 8 user profiles
  • Waterproof

Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Steep learning curve

Detection depth: Up to 6 inches | Weight: 1.4 pounds | Adjustable length: 24 to 39 inches | Power source: 3x AA batteries | Coil size: 7.5 inches | Waterproof: Coil only

If you've got young children who are interested in getting into metal detecting as a hobby, this starter kit from National Geographic is a great option. It features a very lightweight design to be easier for little ones to carry. It can be adjusted up to 39 inches in length so your kids can continue to use it as they grow. The 7.5-inch detection coil is fully waterproof, allowing kids to look for coins and other treasures in sand, dirt, and streams; it can detect metal objects buried up to 6 inches deep. The starter kit comes with the metal detector, guidebook, and even five gold doubloon replicas to bury and find. It also includes a small trowel shovel to help dig out found objects. The Junior Metal Detector is powered by 3 AA batteries, so you won't have to worry about keeping special batteries on hand or your kids remembering to charge the metal detector.

Pros:

  • Great for small children
  • Waterproof coil
  • Starter kit includes replica coins

Cons:

  • Doesn't fold for travel
  • Can't differentiate between ferrous and non-ferrous material

Detection depth: Up to 3 inches | Weight: 11.4 ounces | Dimensions: 14.7x6x2.6 inches | Power source: 9-volt battery | Coil size: 5.5 inches | Waterproof: Submersible up to 100 feet

Not all treasures are buried on land, so if you want to do a little underwater exploration for coins and other relics, you'll need the Wedigout MD-790. This metal detector is incredibly compact and lightweight, weighing less than a pound and measuring just 14 inches long for easier travel and one-handed use. The 5.5-inch detection coil is filled with resin to protect the electronics from water damage and can detect objects up to 3 inches deep. The top of the coil also has a small LCD screen to show you battery life and signal detection strength. The MD-790 also vibrates to let you know when it has detected something; and with the built-in flashlight, you'll be able to use the metal detector in dim environments. It's powered by a single 9-volt battery, so you won't have to worry about remembering to charge it up before you go exploring, and the built-in lanyard keeps the detector from floating away if you accidentally drop it or lose your grip. The entire unit can be submerged in water up to 100 feet deep, so you can take it snorkeling or scuba diving, or even just search river banks and shorelines without worrying about water damage.

Pros:

  • Fully waterproof
  • Submersible up to 100 feet
  • Vibration detection alert
  • LCD battery and detection indicator

Cons:

  • Shallow detection depth

What is the best metal detector?

My pick for the best metal detector is the Bounty Hunter Tracker IV. It has a budget-friendly price for beginner hobbyists while still providing plenty of features for seasoned relic hunters to take advantage of. It detects objects up to 6 inches underground with the 8-inch, waterproof coil, letting you search in almost any type of terrain. It's lightweight, coming in at just over 4 pounds, so it won't be a burden or uncomfortable to use on long searches. The simplified interface makes it easy for beginners to learn with and for seasoned pros to quickly dial in specific metals they want to look for.

Metal detector

Price

Water resistant

Coil size

Bounty Hunter Tracker IV

$84

Yes

8 inches 

Garret ACE 300

$270

Yes

10 inches

Minelab Equinox 800

$999

Yes

11 inches

National Geographic Junior Metal Detector

$45

Yes

7.5 inches

Wedigout MD-790

$119

Yes

5.5 inches

Which is the right metal detector for you?

If you're looking to get into metal detecting as a hobby or upgrade your current setup for more serious treasure hunting, it can be difficult to know where to start. But you don't have to spend a fortune to get a great metal detector. Beginners and casual hobbyists should look for a metal detector with a decently sized coil for a wider detection range as well as different tones for different metals to help you understand what you're looking for and what you'll find in different areas. 

Seasoned treasure hunters should invest in more high-end and durable metal detectors that can handle being in the water, detect materials very deep in the ground, and allow for pinpoint accuracy when making sweeps with the coil. 

If your young child is interested in metal detecting as a hobby, there are several starter kits like the National Geographic Junior Metal Detector that introduces them to the basics and may even include fun "treasures" for you to bury and them to find.

Choose this metal detector...

If you need…

Bounty Hunter Tracker IV

An affordable and well-rounded metal detector for beginners and pros alike

Garrett ACE 300

An easy-to-use metal detector for beginners

Minelab Equinox 800

A high-end, heavy-duty metal detector for seasoned relic hunters

National Geographic Junior Metal Detector

An affordable and easy to use metal detector for kids who are interested in the hobby

Wedigout MD-790

A rugged and waterproof metal detector for underwater searches

How did we choose these metal detectors?

I did my best to provide a wide selection of metal detectors for both beginner hobbyists and seasoned treasure hunters alike. While most metal detectors can cost several hundred dollars, I tried to include a few budget-friendly options for parents with children as well as for adults who may be interested in taking up the hobby.

What are the different types of metal detectors?

There are three main types of metal detectors: the big handheld models you may see people using to comb beaches for coins and relics, pinpoint detectors for precision digging, and submersibles for underwater searching. While many metal detectors have water resistant detection coils and may be able to be submerged in water for a short time, submersibles are specifically designed to be used by divers to look for relics underwater. Pinpoint detectors are great to have on hand with your traditional metal detector to help you figure out exactly where you need to dig when you find something.

How much should I spend on a metal detector?

The price of entry to the metal detecting hobby can get pretty steep, pretty quickly. But there are some solid, budget-friendly options like the Bounty Hunter Tracker IV which sells for around $85 dollars. If you're more experienced, you can spend between $200 and $500 for a more advanced metal detector that can differentiate between gold, silver, brass, copper, and iron-based metals. Search and salvage professionals easily can spend thousands of dollars on exceptionally precise metal detectors for tracking down artifacts in dangerous environments.

How deep do most metal detectors go?

The vast majority of metal detectors can sense metal objects up to 6 inches deep in the ground, which is where you'd expect to find the most sought-after things like coins, rings, and other jewelry. The more advanced models can sense objects several feet underground, where things like gold and silver nuggets and larger relics may be found.

Are there alternative metal detectors worth considering?

Whether you're just starting out as a hobbyist or you're an old pro, there are a lot of different choices in metal detectors. Here's a short list of other options I thought were great:

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