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Updated November 2021
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Buying guide for best handheld metal detectors

If you’re someone who enjoys hunting for treasure in your spare time, you probably have a metal detector to help you uncover coins, jewelry, and other goodies in the ground. But traditional, full-size metal detectors often aren’t sensitive enough to show you exactly where your next treasure is located, which can mean lots of unnecessary digging. That’s why you should consider adding a handheld metal detector for your next treasure hunt.

A handheld metal detector is a small, compact device that can fit in your pocket. It runs on batteries and can pinpoint the location of an item once a larger metal detector has indicated its general area in the ground. Some handheld metal detectors are also effective for scanning drywall, wood, plaster, concrete, tile, paneling, stucco, and other non-metallic surfaces for studs, rebar, plumbing, ductwork, screws, and nails.

If your handheld metal detector is going to be as effective as possible, you have to choose the right model. That means figuring out the best size, what metals it should detect, how many sensitivity levels you need, and what other features will help you identify the items you’re looking for.

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If you use a handheld metal detector to pinpoint the location of an item, you usually don’t have to do as much digging as you would with a full-size metal detector.

Key considerations


A handheld metal detector is meant to be lightweight and compact, so its size is a key feature to consider. Some models are as small as five inches in length, while others can be as long as 15 inches. Depending on how you plan to use your handheld metal detector, one size may be better than another — but nearly any model will fit in a bag for easy transport.

Metals detected

All handheld metal detectors can detect ferrous metals, which are metals that contain iron like carbon and alloy steel. These metals are magnetic, so a detector is able to use electromagnetic induction to detect the items.

However, some handheld metal detectors are also able to detect non-ferrous metals, though they aren’t magnetic. Common non-ferrous metals include tin, brass, aluminum, copper, and zinc. For the most versatile handheld metal detector, choose a model that can locate both types of metals.

Sensitivity settings

When you’re searching for specific metal items, it may be necessary to adjust a metal detector’s sensitivity. A higher sensitivity setting allows you to pick up even the weakest electromagnetic fields, so you’re able to locate extremely small or deeply embedded items.

In some cases, a higher sensitivity setting may cause you hit on too many metals in the ground, such as minerals in the dirt, so it’s harder to locate worthwhile items. Turning down the sensitivity allows you to zero in on larger metal pieces you may be looking for rather than junk.

Some handheld metal detectors offer up to 50 sensitivity levels to help you find the perfect setting for whatever item you’re looking for and in whatever soil you’re searching.



A handheld metal detector usually has an audio alert to let you know when it’s detected an item. Some models also have a vibration alert and allow you to choose between using both alerts or just one, depending on which will work more effectively in the location where you’re looking.


If you often go treasure hunting in low-light situations, it can be difficult to see what you’re looking for. You can obviously bring a separate flashlight with you, but it can be tricky to hold the light and the metal detector at the same time.

Some handheld metal detectors are equipped with a light to provide enough illumination in low light without having to hold a separate flashlight. Opt for a model with an LED light, which tends to be a brighter, more durable option.


When you’re looking for buried treasures in the soil, you may need a tool for moving dirt aside as you pinpoint precise items. You can use a spade or trowel, but as with a flashlight, it can be difficult to hold your metal detector and digging tool at the same time. If you’re working in low lighting, it can be even more of a challenge since you may need a flashlight as well.

Fortunately, some handheld metal detectors feature a built-in scraper in addition to a light. The scraper allows you to move dirt out of your way as you locate a specific item, while the LED light illuminates the area.

Waterproof construction

Depending on the types of items you’re trying to locate, you may need to use your handheld metal detector in an ocean, lake, river, or even a puddle. As such, it’s important to choose a model that is waterproof. Most handheld metal detectors are waterproof up to a certain depth, so make sure you’re aware of how deep you’re able to use it.

It’s also important to note that not all “waterproof” models are fully waterproof. The probe tip typically is, but the handle may not be, and water could damage the inner workings of the detector if it were to get inside. Fully waterproof handheld metal detectors, on the other hand, are able to be completely submerged up to the designated depth.

Carry clip

Since you may be using your handheld metal detector in conjunction with a full-size metal detector, it helps to have a convenient way to carry it. Some models have a clip that allows you to attach the detector to your belt loop for easy access. Other models include a holster or holster belt, so you don’t even need belt loops on your pants to carry the detector.

Battery-saving features

Handheld metal detectors usually run on batteries that must be replaced. To make sure your battery doesn’t die in the middle of a treasure hunt, opt for a model with a battery-saving mode. In addition to an indicator light that alerts you when the battery is low, the detector may have an automatic shut-off feature that turns it off if the device hasn’t been touched in a certain amount of time to conserve the battery.

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Did you know?
Some handheld metal detectors with a battery-saving feature will sound an alert if the detector is left on but not used for a certain period of time.

Handheld metal detector prices

Handheld metal detectors vary in price based on how waterproof they are, how many sensitivity levels they offer, and the other features they include. Models range from $25 to $160.

The least-expensive handheld metal detectors are probably not waterproof. In addition, they likely offer just two sensitivity levels (or less) and don’t include a light. They typically cost between $25 and $40 and work best if you plan to use the detector around the house for detecting metal screws, nails, and other items in wood, tile, drywall, stucco, and concrete.

Handheld metal detectors that are partially waterproof, feature an LED light, offer up to three sensitivity levels, and feature a clip or holster are slightly more expensive. They cost between $40 and $80 and are ideal for most outdoor treasure-hunting expeditions.

The priciest handheld metal detectors are likely to be fully waterproof with three or more sensitivity levels. These tend to include an LED light with multiple brightness levels as well as a clip or belt holster. They typically range from $80 to $160 and are great for finding even the smallest of items in an outdoor setting.


  • A handheld metal detector works well in tandem with a traditional full-size detector. When you’ve dug out the area where the large detector has indicated, you can use your handheld detector to pinpoint the item of interest.

  • Handheld metal detectors can be an ideal way to introduce children to metal detecting because they’re lightweight and easy for small hands to hold.

  • Make sure you only use your handheld metal detector on your personal property or public lands where metal detecting is permitted. You could run into legal trouble if you go hunting for treasures on land where you’re not allowed.

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You’re less likely to damage an item that you’re uncovering if you use a handheld metal detector because you can determine its location more precisely.


Q. What type of batteries does a handheld metal detector usually run on?

A. Most models require a single nine-volt battery. Some products include a battery with your purchase so you can use it as soon as you take it out of the package. If your model doesn’t have an included battery, you can find nine-volt batteries at many stores.

Q. Can I use a waterproof handheld metal detector in saltwater?

A. Many waterproof models are suitable for use in the ocean and other saltwater bodies. However, some detectors may only be used in freshwater. If you do a great deal of metal detecting at the beach, opt for a model that specifically states it can be submerged in saltwater.

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