Sunday, October 26, 2014

10-Step Tracking Drill: developing your mantracking skills

This morning I was out of the house early. I went out to the park where I volunteer and perform trail maintenance and litter sweeps. I decided that since it was so nice out I would lay down some tracks and practice search tracking [also called mantracking or "tactical tracking", depending on your purpose]. I use a method called a "10 Step Drill"that can be done to improve your basic tracking skills. Here's how it works:

Early morning and late afternoon are the best times of day to track. the sun is at a low angle and thus casts shadows on the grounds surface. Prints "pop up" and become much more visible due to this contrast. As the sun climbs overhead, the trail becomes "washed out" by the light, making it much more difficult to perform tracking. A side benefit to morning tracking is that you get to see tracks left by animal activity the night before, before they are trampled by hikers. I saw several tracks this morning:

Raccoon Tracks
Deer Tracks, Indirect Register
To start, you take your tracking stick [a lightweight 4' long stick or hiking pole, marked in 1" increments with some bright colored rubber bands wrapped around it] and select a section of soil that you want to practice on. If you are just starting out or out of practice, select a clean soil surface and make a line across the trail or path. Your first step should be upon or just ahead of the line as a starting point for the training drill...just like you would "cut sign" [locate where the subject's track begins, as in a real search or fugitive tracking mission]. 

Next, walk nine more steps steps, and then make a second line across the path where the last track lands. Using your tracking stick, now set the gait [distance between steps from the leading foot heel to the trailing foot toe]. Place tip of stick at leading foot heel and roll a rubber band into place at the toe of the trailing foot. Then roll another rubber band to the trailing foot heel to set that foot length. Now you have a means of approximating the location of the next track even if it is not clearly visible:

Gait set, next track approximated
I like using the tracking stick because it gives me an *approximate* range of where next track should be. I say "approximate" because stride changes as one ascends [shortens] or descends [lenghtens] unless really steep and then REALLY shortens to control the descent....just like how pace counting changes depending on terrain]. A lot of this morning's drills were done on an inclined trail and in the photo's you may notice the heel cut is 6" behind the tip because I didn't re-set gait for the terrain changes from level.
[TIP: People tend to land their heel first when walking, roll the foot to the ball, then push off on ball of foot; often your best imprint is that initial heel impact].
Your goal is to locate and mark each step. this "Step by Step" method is the same used by the U.S. Border Patrol and a lot of other agencies that perform tracking. Using your tracking stick, locate each step, even partial prints and mark the heal. In the photo below I have photographed a 10 step section I practiced on:

"10 Step Drill" section of tracks 
A good method is to make a "U" behind the heel and make a "wing" on the left or right side to indicate whether a left or right foot. This will help ensure you are locating each step, and also help you know which step you should anticipate finding next. Some people use craft sticks [Popsicle sticks] and poke them into the ground to mark the heel.It may be that you are able to actually see each track, but be diligent and physically locate and mark each track using the tracking stick. It's important to build solid skills by consistent, proper practice:

Right track marked with a "wing"
When practicing, you should make a sketch of the track you are following for reference, especially if you are using a heavily-trafficked trail or path. The tracks of other hikers will contaminate the scene and make it harder to discern the track you are seeking. Even if you know the track well, there may similar treads that will confuse you and mislead you. Track report forms for sketching a track can be found online, as can actual tracking notebooks. Another method is using a crayon to make a rubbing:
Crayon rubbing; Tracking report form
When I practice tracking, I carry a small kit that I have assembled. I carry 2 tracking sticks, 3' and 4' lengths, a tape measure, a 3" piece of plastic ruler, mirrors, tracking reports for sketching prints, pens, pencils, notebook, and camera:

Tracking Kit
Often, tracks will appear and disappear on the trail, and a mirror can help tremendously to make contrast and cause an "invisible" print to appear. In the next photo, a backpack is used to shadow a section of debris-littered trail where a track is suspected to have landed. An inexpensive dollar store pocket  mirror is then used to make oblique light and cause details to appear:

Mirroring technique
Track "washed out" by sunlight
Same track, detail from mirroring
Some people do "side heading"...getting on all fours and looking at a print sideways with their head low to the earth. I have not had luck with this...maybe it is me, maybe I am doing something wrong, but it may work for you, so I mention it in passing. 
Everybody walks differently, so it's a good idea to enlist friends, using a shoe you are not at all familiar with, to lay down a track for you to practice on.

Another point...though I've used the 10-step drill here for demonstration purposes, you don't have to use only 10 steps. You can use 20, or 30, or even a random distance like 30 yards. the point is, pick a distance and use it for your practice sessions. As you become better, you can change it up and go longer if you wish, perhaps an entire an example: You can also just find some stranger's tracks on a path and use them for practice. Once, I watched a man stop and rest on a trail. After about 20 minutes he left, so I walked over and noted his shoeprint pattern and then "Hasty tracked" [a fast moving way of visually tracking, not the slower step-by step method] him down the trail until I located him. He was a very large man and consequently walked extremely splay-footed, which was distinctive and helpful. More interesting to me was how his tracks vanished and reappeared on various sections of trail, even in medium that I would have sworn would retain a track. One instructor has said, "It's the tracks that you don't see that have the most to teach you." 
I've written another post on tracking on this blog, and mentioned some book titles I recommend. Either way, it's important to get outdoors and practice on various mediums. A lot of tracking is training yourself to be "track aware", training your eyes to not just "kook" but to "see" alert to and pick out minute detail in the dirt and see what is a disturbance versus that which is natural [Note, while this blog mainly deals with "mantracking" the skills and awareness it builds certainly enhance and develop your nature observation of wildlife tracks and spoor].

As you get better you can try the 10 step drill on more challenging surfaces, such as rocky or harder soil [less track retention], sand [less definition/faster decay of print], debris littered paths, grasses, or leaf litter beds [more focus on disturbance in the litter material than actual print impressions], and across rock [true experts].
Happy Tracking!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Neolithic Morning

This morning I returned to the El Chorro to explore further. I've been reading Tom Brown Jr.'s  book, "Tom Brown's Field Guide: Nature Observation and Tracking", and have been wanting to do practical application of some of the lessons it gives. Today I wanted to find a hide. Brown recommends finding a hiding place and waiting for an opportunity to observe animals.

I started about 8 am, hiking as silently as possible up the Eagle Rock Trail. Going up the trail I watched the ground for tracks and sign of wildlife, oddly enough, noticing what I thought to be a human hand-like impression on one side of the trail. A friend saw the photo and gently corrected me that it was likely a bear and comparing it to a tracking manual, I would agree:

A bear on Eagle Rock Trail?
I also observed some scatch marks, probably made by some animal, likely a wild cat or dog:

Scratch marks in the soil
Presently I arrived at an area I'd noticed the previous week; some oaks with branches that dipped down to the ground and there were met by the sagebrush and chaparral, creating an effective cover from which to sit and observe and listen to nature. I slipped under the limbs unobserved. 

Once inside the canopy, I climbed up a large branch of the oak and sat silently. The wood was alive with calls of birds and they flew in and out of the tree, apparently in pursuit of one another. These were the only wildlife observed that morning, but it was very tropical, humid at about 68 degrees, and often wildlife will shelter up if the weather hints of rain.

An interesting event occurred while sitting in the tree. A *hiker* came up the trail and stood about 30' or so from me. Apparently he thought himself alone, for he engaged in several coarse behaviors and then moved off. I'll say it again: BE AWARE of your environment! 

After a while I decided to move on and explore the area further on foot. I'd found Indian grinding holes on a volcanic boulder pile on my previous visit [photo below] and decided to look for more.

Acorn grinding site
I stood in the grey overcast morning light and surveyed the valley. I could visualize the aboriginal peoples gathering acorns, grinding them and talking, the children running about playing, and the men stringing their bows and preparing for a hunt. Nearby, I found more grinding holes on some smaller rock plates. I found a Hawk's feather and placed it on this stone, to show my respect for these ancient peoples who undoubtedly saw this land and held it as a sacred gift that provided the necessities of life.

 Ancient Altar of Stone
As I walked up the side of the canyon I saw two trees that had been misshapen by years of winds blowing against them. They were so stark against the dark grey sky, and yet they have persevered over time. 

Windswept trees on the ridge line
An important aspect to nature observation is to let go of time...the feeling that you need to be somewhere at a certain time. Brown suggests that you, "...let the terrain and your interests dictate your schedule." I don't recall looking at my watch, but rather, just immersed myself in the natural beauty around me and concentrated only on stalking quietly, listening, and observing.
On the way out I went ahead and did a litter sweep. Show respect for The Gift and leave it better than you found it if you can:
I collected a fair amount of litter
In closing, I would highly recommend "Tom Brown's Field Guide: Nature Observation and Tracking" to anyone wishing to become more skillful at woods stalking and tracking. His courses are very expensive, but the book contains many useful lessons that can be practiced by a dedicated individual.

Safe Hiking Outings!

Goblin Ranger



Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Dark Side of the Trail: Awareness, Avoidance, and Preparation for Personal Safety


Hiking and exploring outdoors is a safe and enjoyable activity, and there is no reason not to do it. But like any sporting activity, knowledge, training and preparation are required to reduce risk of injury. One aspect that many people do not consider or prepare for when hiking is dealing with a violent confrontation, i.e., a criminal assault. While few in number, such events do occur and it is therefore important to practice situational awareness and to develop personal safety strategies and skills should one find themselves encountering such an event.

Hiking with other persons makes you less
Likely to be assaulted on the trail
Nature of Violence
Violence is a fact of life. As trail hikers we often observe this in the natural world when we witness predators and prey engaged in their fight for survival. Violence, and the roles of predator and prey, have also existed in man since his earliest beginnings. Man’s cunning and Binocular Vision  [Predators have eyes on the front of the head to permit calculation of range to prey] have allowed him to become the ultimate predator, able to plan and hunt game animals [prey animals have Monocular Vision – large eyes on both sides of the head for greater field of view to detect a predator-threat, as they are less well equipped for defense].
Absent game animals, some modern predator-men hunt their fellow human beings. Often we see news reports detailing acts of violence in our society; some by design, others random and unanticipated. Sometimes these events occur on trails and in open space areas where hikers become the victims. Two situations come to mind for me. In October 2011 a man was murdered while hiking a trail on Cerro San Luis a popular local mountain. Robbery appeared to be the motive. Another trail murder occurred in April 2014 on a trail near Red Bluff CA. A robber shot both men near the trail head, one of whom died from his wounds. 
Preparation for Conflict
Preparation, not paranoia, can help greatly to minimize our exposure to potential assault and injury. Being aware of people and situations that may put us at risk, learning to recognize and obey our natural instincts, and developing avoidance and self-empowerment skills to protect ourselves is critical.  Avoiding paranoia [a constant state of anxiety] is critical, because over time, paranoia degrades and exhausts our body’s natural systems for awareness and response to threats.   

Basically, threats fall into 2 categories: Expected and Unexpected:
Expected threats  are those situations we have some forewarning of: Threats directed against us [an angry neighbor, co-worker, or employee] or we may encounter situations that give concern for the safety of our loved ones [a hostile former son-in-law threatening a daughter who has moved home]. These are situations that we can better plan for; we know the threatening party, can obtain a Stay-Away Order [TRO], and we can work with Police to minimize our exposure. It is possible that someone familiar with your outdoor hobby could spot a "routine" and lie in wait for you. 
Unexpected or “random” threats are the more difficult event to prepare for, as we cannot know the time, place, location, or nature of the conflict. It can evolve from any number of issues such as a dispute over a “fender bender”, a parking space, or even something as abstract as a perceived look of disrespect. In these situations we are caught off-guard and have to scramble to form a defense. On the trail, you are especially vulnerable, as there are side trails that an assailant can watch and wait for an opportune victim to pass by. 
Another kind of random threat are persons with personality disorders who live in open space/wooded areas because they cannot abide living in close proximity to their fellow human beings. A good many people in our society suffer from personality disorders such as schizophrenia. They may experience auditory or visual hallucinations and consequently may try to harm you.  Many need medications; medications that are expensive, and patients frequently refuse to take them due to adverse side effects. Others have drug and alcohol issues, and may be violent when under the influence. Many of these ill people are homeless; even though they receive SSI, they choose to live in woods, creek beds, parks, and under bridges, etc. because they “don’t play well with others” so to speak. Use caution when encountering persons raging or talking to themselves and don't crowd them.
Building a set of skills
You should seriously consider attending training courses that will help you to develop skills for dealing with hostile encounters. These are equally useful on the street in your community as they are on a trail. Many law enforcement agencies offer free victim awareness and avoidance training. Some involve rotating through “stations” where various situations will be presented you. You’ll learn about simple steps such as parking in well-lit areas, having keys in hand and ready as you arrive at your vehicle, locking the door behind you as you enter the vehicle, and driving directly to a police station if you think you are being followed.
I am not aware of any trail safety-specific courses, but the principles are essentially the same. I have previously written a post with some safe hiking tips, which can be found here: Personal Safety for Trail Hikers .

Be alert in dark, wooded places.
The Primitive Brain and Threat Recognition
The human brain is an evolving work that began millennia ago. It has grown in size and evolved into the most marvelous and least understood organ of the Human creature. One of the components of our brain is the Amygdala, or “Primitive Brain”. This organ manages instinctive memory and recognizes potential threats to our personal safety. It reads human faces and perceives emotions such as anger.

Nature has hard-wired us for survival…dumping adrenaline to allow us the flee danger, constricting blood flow to extremities, and pooling blood in our core organs so they’ll survive an injury; the Amygdala acts as the brain’s “Alarm System” so to speak, conducting quick scans of our environment and initiating an immediate [instinctive/ thoughtless] response by creating a feeling of fear quicker than the physical body response; this is what causes the hair to stand up on the back of our neck….the brain is seeing something of concern in our surroundings that we have not registered on a conscious thinking level. It’s also why we jump and react to a crooked stick lying on the ground; for our safety, the amygdala defaults to caution and perceives a “snake” rather than a stick.

Several years ago, my Niece was assaulted one evening on a street in San Francisco. She later told me that she saw the man approaching some distance away and suddenly “felt the hair standing up on the back of her neck.” Rather than obeying this instinct, she dismissed it as “her imagination”. As the man came abreast of her on the sidewalk, he suddenly wheeled and punched her without any provocation. Fortunately she wasn’t badly injured, but she learned about the Amygdala the hard way.
The U.S. Marine Corps recognizes and teaches young Marines to obey their instincts, instructing them on "Mountain  Gaze"...recognizing their sixth sense and accepting the sensation that that they are under observation. I once saw a U.S. Marine interviewed on television and he stated, "The hair on the back of your neck doesn't lie."
One of the truths of personal combat is that it is often random, quick to occur, and rapidly evolving. It is for this reason we need to work to develop our awareness, avoidance, and instinctive personal protection skills to defend in the event of a sudden attack.
One Fight, Multiple Facets
When a person engages in a personal defense conflict, they have actually entered into a multi-faceted arena:
THE OPPONENT: There may be disparities between you and the assailant in terms of Age, Size, Strength, Combative Skills, Weapons possessed, Presence/Influence of Drugs and/or Alcohol in your assailant's system, Presence of more than one assailant [gang].
YOURSELF: Your MINDSET [Your WILL to survive/decision to use force]; Personal COMBATIVE skills [or lack thereof]; Physical CONDITIONING for combat [Can you fight?]; Resilience [Personal ability to cope with effects of disbelief, “This can’t be happening” and recovering from the reactionary gap]; HEALTH [illness or attitude that particular day, etc.]; WEAPONS [A weapon is anything that extends your defensive sphere].
THE ENVIRONMENT: Available cover and/or concealment; Weather; Low or “No” light conditions; Footing…slippery surface [mud, snow, wet]; it even safe to deploy/discharge a weapon? [such as in a restaurant full of screaming, running people].

THE SYSTEM: CONCERNS you have, real or perceived about defending yourself and later coping with: Law Enforcement Officers [Investigation/Arrest]; District Attorney [Case review and consideration of charges, and trial]; Courts [Civil and Criminal actions]; Media [Editorial Opinions/agitating community]; Community Response [Opinion/judgement by neighbors, friends, family], Criminal/Credit/Personal History [Future employment]; "The Mark of Cain" [How you will perceive yourself following an event].

It is important to be aware of all these aspects of a conflict. Advance planning and preparation will go far to alleviate some of the decision making that will need to be made in a crisis moment.
Mental Preparation for Combat
My favorite pastime is spending time outdoors camping and hiking. As such, I am aware of “Kit Mentality”. This is the tendency to make equipment the focus of one’s outdoor activity. When we become emerged in “Kit Mentality” we become dependent on gear. It ceases to be about viewing and experiencing nature. There’s a saying, “The more you know, the less you need.” If we know how to make fire, gather water, and build shelter using natural materials, we need not carry so much equipment with us to survive in the wild. This is especially true if we become separated from our equipment and need to improvise for survival.
The same is true of Personal Safety; sometimes we become so enamored with firearms, tactical knives, and holsters we forget the other aspects of personal protection [Awareness, tactics, verbal skills, combative skills, & etc.] and rely solely on a weapon to save us. The gear lulls us into a false sense of security and we forget about other [personal] aspects such as improving our physical condition, building our knowledge of tactics, and developing new combative skills [more on this later]. We can become over-confident, fail to train, and stop practicing. There is a saying; “Train like you fight.” For most people, I’d suggest the axiom should be, “You will fight like you’ve trained.” 

Relying solely upon "technology "[a weapon] exclusively  for our defense is setting us up for failure. For example; it’s highly advisable to have local law enforcement agencies phone numbers pre-programmed into our cell phone's directory. In some areas, 9-1-1 calls goe through area CHP who then has to identify what specific jurisdiction you are in, then transfers you to that agency. Technology often failure [battery/loss of signal] or the call gets dropped during the transfer.

Earlier we spoke about the Amygdala and how everyone possesses a rudimentary [natural] defensive system. Whether we choose to hone and develop our instinct and fighting skills is entirely up to us.
One of the most famous fighters in world history was Miyamoto Musashi [1584-1645]. A master of the Japanese art of the sword, he became so proficient he eventually ceased to use live steel and began using a wooden training sword in combat. Being a Samurai warrior, Musashi knew the Code of “Bushi-Do” [The Way of the Warrior”]. Thus, he understood that the warrior is the weapon and the sword is ancillary to the warrior. It wouldn’t matter whether the warrior had a sword or a rock; the warrior brings their heart, mind, and soul to the fight.

Likewise, it is interesting that people in the present day do not make the connection that ultimately, they are the “weapon”in a Use of Force [UOF] situation. Whether a handgun, knife, impact weapon, or any other object, all are inanimate objects completely dependent upon the actor to manipulate and apply the force, pursuant to the situation and their will [i.e. fighting spirit or desire to survive and prevail in combat] and it is the actor who will be held to answer for deploying force. "Weapons" are just "tools": inanimate objects and just an extension of the possessor's fighting spirit [will to prevail, survive]. So the big question is, lacking a weapon, can you function in other venues in the combat arena, such as hand-to- hand combat if necessary?
Perhaps the larger question is, “Will the actor function?” or will they be caught in the reactionary gap or paralyzed by disbelief [“This can’t be happening to me!”] into inaction? Trainers in UOF are aware of the “Survival Triangle”; Physical Conditioning – Weapons Manipulation Skills– Tactical Knowledge/Mental Preparation. Like the “Fire Triangle”[Fuel-Oxygen-Ignition Source], take away any one side of this triad and the system fails altogether. 
Physical Conditioning for Personal Safety
Consider physical conditioning. I think we can all agree that *some* degree of physical ability is essential for a self defense situation. It would be tragic to survive a violent fight with an assailant only to die from a heart attack immediately afterward due to stress to the cardiovascular system. Most hikers are fairly well conditioned, but some may not be. Even walking 30 minutes a day is better than *no conditioning* whatsoever. Often fights come down to perseverance…who can last the longest…and wearing down an opponents will to keep up an attack.
Relaxed Awareness - “Mind of No Mind”
Like Miyamoto Musashi, the Samurai of Japan were familiar with a Zen concept called “Mushin” which roughly translates to “No Mind” or “Mind Without Mind.” This is essentially a state of relaxed awareness in which the mind is free from the influences of fear, anger, or ego whether in day-to day activity or in a combat situation…an absence of thought or judgment…doing without having to think about it. By means of relaxed awareness, we are enabled to freely act and react toward an opponent without hesitation or undue influence from these emotions. The actor relies not on what they “think” should be the next move, but rather, by what is their trained reaction or natural instinct [“If we have to think about it, it is probably not wise to shoot”]…what is “felt” intuitively.
It is a fact that human reaction time is faster when we are not “keyed up”, and so avoiding the development of anxiety or paranoia is crucial, as it tends to erode and inhibit our system’s ability to react [hyper-vigilance]. Thus, when on the trail practice relaxed awareness; keep your head up and use "Splatter Vision" to take in everything in your field of view. We do not want our head down, watching the trail surface all the time. How many times have you done that only to be surprised by someone suddenly appearing before you? Likewise, watch your backtrail; look behind you periodically so you can detect someone [or something] coming up from behind you. Most predators attack from behind. If you stop to rest, choose a location that protects your back and affords a view of anyone approaching you. 
I was a peace officer for 34 years. In my agency, we performed advance planning for unusual incidents [robberies, active shooters, etc.] at high profile targets in our community, such as banks, schools, hospitals, etc.]. However, we couldn’t plan for every single business in our community because there were just too many. As part of our field training program, we familiarized officers with the community and instructed them to study different locations and visualize possible scenarios that could arise [such as an armed, angry ex-husband threatening his wife at a beauty shop] and to pre-plan how they would conduct a tactical response.
As a private citizen, you can also visualize possible scenarios and run “what if’s” in your head. For example, if a woman, how you would cope with an overly friendly man who has approached you on the trail and keeps trying to move inside your personal space. Or perhaps hiking and noticing a person who seems to be loitering on the trail ahead of you and is giving you a sense of dread [amygdala].
Try to visualize a variety of ways to deal with each situation that could be presented, such as verbal persuasion and calming the person, or using a barrier and shouting at them. Think about the aggressor’s possible actions and potential force options you could use; a hiking pole, rocks, or other field-expedient tool [weapon] you could use if necessary to defend against an attack.
Post-Confrontation Considerations
If you have had a confrontation with someone on a trail, it is important to notify the responsible law enforcment jurisdiction. The incident should be documented. It is possible that they have had prior reports or complaints about this person and your evidence will help move that investigation forward. Or, it may be the first efforts of some one planning a string of assaults, and your information my help to prevent it from occurring. 
 Be sure to ask for and obtain the investigating Officer or Ranger’s business card with either the report or dispatch call number written on it. Be sure to record the date, time and officers name, just in case the data is lost or the agency fails to create a documentation number [common].
Increasing awareness is a good skill for anyone whether in town on a public street or hiking in the wilds. Make “Relaxed Awareness” part of your trail routine. Be aware of suspicious or potentially violent persons or situations and report them to law enforcement immediately. Practice avoidance. Make tactical [advantageous] movement a part of your hiking routine. Obey the natural instincts of your “Primitive Brain” to avoid confrontation. Finally, prepare yourself and hiking companions for the possibility of violent confrontation. Develop an inventory or “toolbox” of personal defense skills including verbal persuasion and varying levels of combative skills. Preparation, not paranoia, is the key!
Happy Hiking!
Goblin Ranger/Woods Devil
Cerro San Luis rises from the fog

  ©Manny Silva, 2014, All rights reserved 







Saturday, October 4, 2014

Making and using Pace Beads

Pace Counting Beads are an easy-to-make and handy land navigation tool that you can use to keep track of the distance you travel on foot when hiking or backpacking. You can accurately walk a specific distance by using pace counting beads. They are often referred to as "Ranger Beads", apparently named for that U.S. Army Light Infantry unit [I have no idea who invented them but I am fairly sure they are probably used by the other combat arms service branches besides the Army Rangers].

Store bought Ranger beads are available from a number of outlets. Given the military use, most commercial offerings I've seen are made with tactical O.D. paracord and black [non-reflective] colored beads. I have even seen some made with glow-in-the-dark Skull-shaped beads. These commercially made pace counters can be quite pricey and it is an easy enough task to make your own "Ranger Beads" using easily acquired materials. Here's how to do it:

You'll need get 13 beads and some cordage to string them on. Beads are readily available from arts and craft stores and sometimes even at dollar stores. If you know anyone who has attended a Cancer "RELAY FOR LIFE" event they may have beads which they received for doing laps and may be willing to give you a few. The cordage will have to be of a thickness adequate to provide resistance so the beads can be tugged up and down the string, but not be overly tight nor slide on their own from vibration or movement. Shoe or boot laces work well, as does paracord sheath [with the inner strands removed], but you could probably use other cordages as well.

Having gathered materials, pull about 20" or so of cordage, find the center, and tie a knot to form a loop. This is what will be used to suspend the pace counter from your pack straps [I like to place an inexpensive carabiner through the loop to facilitate easy removal in case I wish to transfer the pace counter to a different pack or bag].

Feed four beads onto the loose hanging strands and draw them up to the bottom of the loop knot. Allow adequate room for the beads to be pulled down and there be no confusion that they've been pulled down. Place another knot at this point.

Raw materials: Cordage, 13 beads, Carabiner

Now feed the remaining nine beads onto the strands, again allowing room for the beads to be pulled down. Place a third knot. The pace counter is now finished.

Beads fed onto cordage in 4 & 9,
Ready for knotting

Each of the bottom 9 beads will be drawn down for every 100 meters walked. The 10th bead is drawn from the top 4 to signal completion of 1,000 meters [1 Kilometer]. After 4K, reset the bottom 9 beads and begin again [You are certainly welcome to make a 5 Kilometer pace counter or any number you wish, but 4K seems to be the standard].

Having made your beads, you'll now need to determine your own personal pace count for 100 meters. This is easiest done by going to a local college or high school track and using their measured 100 meter distance, usually marked on the edge of the track. Walk that distance and count every other step as 1 pace; i.e., count 1 pace every time your left foot hits the ground. When you get to the end of a hundred meters, stop counting. This is your own pace count. You should do this 2 or 3 times and take the average [For example, my personal pace count is 70, sans a pack].

Finished pace counter,
Ready for trail!

If you usually wear a pack when hiking, it's advisable to pace this distance with the load to get an accurate count. Also, our stride shortens ascending [going uphill] and lengthens descending [going downhill] and this will affect your pace, so it is best if you experiment and ascertain your own pace under various conditions.

Having made your pace counter beads and determined your 100 meter pace count, you are now ready to try them on a trail and begin training for accuracy. Acquire a map for a measured trail and determine a starting point. Start with all beads pulled to the "up" [set] positions. 

Begin the trail hike in your intended direction and start to count your paces [again, every other step only]. When you reach your pace count, you know that you've traveled one hundred meters and will now pull down one bead from the nine (9) bead section. When you've reached your pace count again, you will pull down another bead, so 2 beads would mean you've traveled 200 meters, and so on.

Continue hiking until all nine beads have been pulled down. This equals 900 meters of travel and you should have no more beads to pull down from that lower nine (9) bead section. Continue to hike while counting your pace.   After walking another 100 meters, pull down 1 bead from the upper four (4) bead section. You have now completed 1 Kilometer of travel. Reset [slide] all nine lower beads back to the top. You are now ready to begin counting paces for kilometer 2.

Continue pulling down a bead from the 9 bead section every time you reach your individual pace count. When you get to 2 kilometers, pull a second bead down from the upper (4) bead section. 

Repeat these steps until all top beads have been pulled down (both the nine bead section and four bead section), this would be 4 kilometers. Some people slide the 9 beads back up, and then slide all 4 upper beads up to signify 5K, and that is fine. However, speaking for myself, with typical hiking fatigue and dehydration, I have gotten confused that way and thus prefer to K.I.S.S. [Keep It Simple Stupid] and re-set my pace counters after 4K.

The beauty of this device is in it's simplicity: it has no batteries and thus won't die on the trail, can't break in a trip-and-fall situation, works in all weather, and can be tailored to calculate distance covered using your own individual pace. It's also much cheaper than a GPS device.

As mentioned before, your stride will change depending on conditions. U.S. Army manuals state that you must learn to make adjustments. They state that headwinds can shorten your pace, while a tail wind will lengthen it [If you've ever walked with a strong wind at your back and felt it kick your legs out further you'll understand this]. Slippery or loose surfaces [sand, gravel, snow, mud] tend to shorten the pace, as does inclement weather [rain, snow, sleet, fog]. Also bulky cold-weather clothing or ill-fitted boots will shorten your pace. 

Practice [TRAIN] in all kinds of conditions and you'll be prepared when unusual conditions occur.

Be sure to VERIFY your own personal pace count before going onto any trail. REMEMBER: ONE PACE is EVERY time your LEFT foot touches the ground (i.e., every 2 steps/every other step).

It is important to stay mentally sharp when on the trail. This means keeping HYDRATED to avoid mental confusion and to CONSUME 100 calories for every hour of physical effort. Staying alert will help avoid navigational errors and mechanical injuries.  

Happy Hiking! 



100 meters = 109.3 yards                  100 yards =  91.4 meters                  

1 meter = 3.28 feet                             1 foot = .305 meters              

1 kilometer = .621 mile                       1 mile = 1.61 kilometer

1000 meters = 1 kilometer                  1 inch = 2.54 centimeters