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


1 comment:

  1. POSTSCRIPT: The beads used in the construction of this pace counter are 19th century glass "Trade Beads" which I picked up at a Mountan Man Rondy a few years ago. The blue color was especillay prized by the Native Americans.