Can You Metal Detect Without a Pinpointer?

Many metal detector enthusiasts have a list of essential gear they need every time they go out metal detecting: the detector itself, a finds bag, extra batteries, and for some, a pinpointer. However, is a pinpointer absolutely necessary? 

You can metal detect without a pinpointer. Having a pinpointer is helpful, but you can make do without one if you have a lot of patience, use a high-quality metal detector, use a good shovel, use a sifter, and dig extra carefully. 

In the rest of this article, I’ll walk you through your options for metal detecting without a pinpointer. I’ll also discuss the benefits of using a pinpointer so you can decide whether to use one. 

How To Metal Detect Safely Without a Pinpointer

Having a pinpointer is not necessary for metal detecting. Pinpointers are additional tools that are extremely helpful and can save you lots of time and energy, but you can have a successful metal detecting day without one. Here’s how: 

1. Have a Lot of Patience

I’ll start by saying that if you’re impatient, metal detecting with a pinpointer probably isn’t the best idea. Without a pinpointer, you’ll have to spend more time and energy digging larger holes and searching for your targets, which can be especially frustrating if you dig for an iron nail or another undesirable object. 

However, if you are a patient person and love metal detecting for the practice and not for finding as many objects as possible in a short time, you’re an ideal candidate for metal detecting without a pinpointer. You may also want to forego a pinpointer if you’re a beginner, just so you can focus on learning how to metal detect without worrying about that additional step and tool. Carry on to step two! 

2. Use a High-Quality Metal Detector

Because you won’t need a pinpointer’s additional help, I recommend using a high-quality metal detector. However, the catch with this is that many of the best metal detectors come with pinpointers built-in! 

The main purpose of using a pinpointer is to narrow down the area of interest once your metal detector alerts you to some object within the vicinity. Because you won’t have a pinpointer to narrow down the area further, it’s best to start with the most precise and accurate reading possible, and only the best metal detectors can do that. 

3. Use a Good Shovel

Using a good shovel is one of the best ways to reduce the time you spend digging for a target. Without a pinpointer, you’re probably going to spend lots of time digging, so you want to make sure your shovel can get the job done and get it done well. 

4. Use a Sifter

One of the advantages of using a pinpointer is that you can search through the dirt you’ve uplifted by digging quickly and accurately. Of course, you can search through that dirt by hand, but you may miss things this way and have to get dirty, especially if you’re digging in mud or a trashy area. 

I recommend using some sort of sifter. Some scoops have holes in them, so they act as sifters, so you can search through the uprooted dirt with the scoop itself. A sifter is a thorough way to look through dirt, and although it’s not as quick as a pinpointer, it can be just as effective. 

5. Dig Extra Carefully

One of the biggest disadvantages of metal detecting without a pinpointer is that you might damage your target object through quick or careless digging. Understandably, you may be excited to see what you’ve found, so the temptation to dig quickly will be difficult to overcome. However, it is much better to dig carefully and take your time so you don’t end up scraping the object with your shovel. 

One tool at your disposal for retrieval is a probe, which is especially helpful for coin hunters. Metal detecting probes are usually made of brass, a softer material that is unlikely to scratch coins. Here’s how to use a probe: 

  1. Use your metal detector to find the general area of a target. 
  2. Locate the target using the probe by inserting the probe into the ground where you think the target is and feeling around for the target.  
  3. Rotate the probe slightly to uproot the dirt and open the ground. 
  4. Insert the probe underneath the coin and lever it until it is at the surface. 
  5. Close the hole by filling in the dirt. Because you used a probe, it will be a small hole, so this part of the process won’t take very long. 

What Is a Pinpointer?

A pinpointer is a device that is either handheld or built into the metal detector. The pinpointer helps narrow down the location of the signal. They have a probe at one end that alerts you the closer you get to the metal object underground. 

Pinpointers are miniature metal detectors with much smaller and narrower search coils. This smaller coil allows the pinpointer to locate a target more accurately. This way, when you’re metal detecting, you can use your detector to search a large area and narrow down a smaller area of interest, and then you can use a pinpointer to narrow down the specific target within that area.  

Many pinpointers come with additional features that are lacking from a metal detector. For example, the audio usually increases or decreases speed based on how far you are from the target object. You can also usually adjust your pinpointer so it gives vibration feedback, so you don’t have to rely completely on audio. 

When it comes to acquiring a pinpointer, you have two options: you can get a handheld pinpointer that is separate from your device, or you can purchase a metal detector that has a pinpointer included. 

The following table outlines the pros and cons of these different types of pinpointers: 

Type of PinpointerProsCons
  • Handheld pinpointers are often more precise than built-in versions
  • You can use the pinpointer itself to dig through already-shoveled dirt
  • Most pinpointers are extremely easy to use
  • Handheld pinpointers are lightweight and easy to carry
  • Some handheld pinpointers come with an LED flashlight
  • You may forget to bring your pinpointer with you when you go metal detecting, and then you’re out of luck
  • You have to purchase a separate tool, which means extra time spent researching and money spent
  • Budget-friendly pinpointers don’t work very well
  • You’ll have to buy and carry extra batteries
  • You don’t have to make an additional purchase
  • You don’t have to remember to bring the pinpointer with you when you go metal detecting
  • Some built-in pinpointers aren’t as precise as handheld ones
  • Built-in pinpointers slow down the digging process

Ultimately, the best pinpointer for you depends on your priorities and preferences. In many cases, if you’re investing in a high-quality metal detector, it will come with a pinpointer built in, and the decision is made for you. Many cheaper metal detectors don’t come with this additional tool.

Benefits of Using a Pinpointer

After reading the information above, you know that it is possible to metal detect safely without a pinpointer. However, many metal detectorists choose to bring a pinpointer or use the one built into their metal detector every time they go metal detecting because there are many benefits. Let’s investigate the positives of using pinpointers: 

You Save Time

Using a pinpointer helps you narrow down the exact location of the metal object, which means less time wasted trying to determine the exact spot of the signal. Most of the time, if you receive a signal from your metal detector and dig out the area, the object isn’t going to be conveniently lying right where you started digging. The pinpointer helps you identify whether it is deeper underground or somewhere within the dirt you unearthed. 

This time-saving benefit is especially helpful in difficult terrains, such as hard or frozen soil or soil with lots of thick tree roots scattered throughout. 

Thanks to the pinpointer’s precision, you’ll also spend less time filling in your metal detecting holes because you won’t ever dig off-target or have to dig too deep. 

Finally, pinpointers save time if you’re metal detecting in the dark, underwater, or other difficult-to-see conditions, such as rain. If you can’t see the object and don’t have a pinpointer, you’ll spend lots of time trying to locate it. A pinpointer greatly narrows down the location, so you won’t waste as much time blindly digging and searching for the object.   

You Disturb Less Earth

Reaching your metal detecting targets always requires disturbing the ground and digging a little bit, but you can reduce the damage you make to the ground by using a pinpointer. If the pinpointer tells you exactly where you need to dig, you won’t be digging off-target or digging huge holes looking for the object. 

You’re Likely To Find More

Pinpointers are usually very sensitive, so they can detect smaller objects easier than larger metal detectors. They also don’t have any discrimination settings, so if you’re using those settings on your metal detector, your pinpointer will give signals for objects you would’ve missed otherwise. They may signal trash and undesirable objects, but now and then, you may stumble upon a treasure you would’ve left behind if not for the pinpointer. 

Another reason pinpointers help many detectorists make more discoveries is that some pinpointers don’t rely on audio tones to give their signals. Many handheld pinpointers also come with vibration settings, so even if you can’t hear due to excess noise, you’ll know when you hit a target because the pinpointer will vibrate. This feature is great for detectorists who metal detect around other people, around running water, or for hard-of-hearing or Deaf individuals.  

You’re Less Likely To Damage Your Find

When your metal detector gives you a signal, that means that your find could be anywhere within the coil’s circumference, which requires a lot of digging and time, and you’ll be digging blindly, which means you’re likely to hit the find with your shovel and chip it, break it, or scratch it. 

If you have a pinpointer, you can narrow down the object’s location and dig more carefully around that area. Therefore, you have less chance of ruining a potentially valuable find with a pinpointer than without one. 

Qualities To Look for in a Pinpointer

If, after reading this article, you’ve decided to invest in a pinpointer, you may wonder what you should look for before making your purchase. Let’s take a look at some desirable qualities in a metal detecting pinpointer: 

Good Depth Rating

Most pinpointers have a depth rating that you can look for before making a purchase. The average handheld pinpointer can reach up to ten inches (25.4 cm) underground, but some cheaper pinpointers can’t handle that depth. I recommend getting a pinpointer that can reach at least five inches (13 cm) underground for the most success. 


One of the best parts of having a pinpointer is that you can use it as your “eyes” in scenarios where you can’t see, such as when you’re searching in the dark or underwater. It would be a shame to purchase a pinpointer only to discover that it isn’t waterproof, so you still can’t search for targets in rivers, creeks, lakes, or oceans. 

One of my favorite pinpointers is the Garrett Waterproof ProPointer from This pinpointer is fully waterproof up to ten feet, and the bright orange color makes it easy to see underwater. It also features maximum sensitivity, so it can easily detect small gold nuggets or other small objects. I also appreciate that this pinpointer has an automatic power-off after five minutes of no button presses, which saves crucial battery life.     

Good Sensitivity

The best pinpointers have good sensitivity, so they can target objects that your larger metal detector may have missed, and so they can help you locate targets with greater accuracy. Therefore, you should ensure that your pinpointer has a good sensitivity range to adjust it according to your terrain and target materials.

It Has a Vibration Option

Not all pinpointers have a non-audio vibration option, but I highly recommend getting a pinpointer that does. There are many scenarios where it may be beneficial to have a non-audio signal, like metal detecting near a noisy body of water or in a busy public area, such as a park, where lots of people are talking and milling about. Having a non-audio signal is especially helpful for people who have difficulty hearing.  

If you’re interested in learning more about the structure of metal detectors, you should read my guide about the role of magnets in metal detectors. I’ll take you through the basics by discussing how electromagnetic induction is used in detecting metals: Do Metal Detectors Have Magnets in Them?


You can metal detect without a pinpointer, and you’re likely to succeed if you forgo discrimination settings and dig very carefully. However, if you have access to a pinpointer or are on the fence about buying one, I recommend getting one and using it because it saves you time and effort, and you’ll likely find more objects with a pinpointer than without it. You’re also less likely to damage your finds if you use a pinpointer.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to tips on finding and collecting precious items. Inspired by reading countless adventurer reports from the oldtimers, Alex is passionate about discovering hidden treasures and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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