Ranger Beads are sometimes referred to as Pace Beads or SAS Beads but regardless of the name, the purpose is the same. Whatever you wish to call them, they are used to embrace an ancient technique known as pace counting, or tally stepping as it is sometimes called. These have been used for centuries by militaries, hikers, and mountaineers to judge the distance they have traveled. Legionnaires in the Roman Army used it on the battlefield just as modern elite warriors do. They were also widely used in Vietnam. Sets of ranger beads continue to be popular with Army Rangers, Army Special Forces units (such as the Green Berets and Delta Force), Navy Seals, and the British Army SAS (Special Air Service).
Why Use Ranger Beads?
They are simple, effective and almost impossible to break. There are no batteries to replace. There is no maintenance needed to keep them working. In any outdoor and in many urban situations a set of ranger beads make a great companion and back up to assist you in your land navigation. They can also double as interesting key chains, gear holders, key fobs on your pack, etc.
How to Use Ranger Beads
There are varying ways to use ranger beads and you will probably develop your own preference, but here is a common method. You have 14 beads in two sections, an upper section with 5 beads, and a lower section with 9 beads. There will be three knots-top, center, and bottom. Start your trek with all beads, both in the top and bottom sections, against the center knot. Then, for every tenth step you take, slide a bead in the lower section towards the bottom knot. After the 90th pace, all 9 beads are against the bottom knot. On the 100th pace, move all 9 beads in the lower section back to the center knot and move a bead from the upper section towards the top knot.
This allows you to judge distance hiked over a flat surface to about a 10% error ratio. Mountains or hills, however, are a different story and thus ranger beads are not as accurate or effective in that realm. In order to utilize ranger beads, one must know the relationship between the paces walked and the distance traveled in that the user must know the length of his pace to accurately calculate distance traveled. In addition, the number of paces to be walked must be pre-calculated, or the distance traveled has to be calculated from the walked paces after the fact. The trick lies in knowing how many of your individual paces make up 100 feet, 100 yards, 100 meters, etc. enabling measurement of miles and kilometers traveled over land.
How to Make Ranger Beads
Start out with a piece of paracord that is approximately three feet in length (while shorter lengths will also work, it is better to start with too much and have to cut it than not enough). Depending on the type of bead you use, you may want to gut the paracord by removing the 7 inner strands; you want the beads to fit snugly but you need to be able to force them onto the paracord. Also, be sure the hole in the beads is large enough to go over the paracord--pony beads work great as do skull beads. Fold the cord in half and tie a knot a few inches from the top, setting a loop of whatever size you desire, thus creating what will be the upper bead section.
Five beads need to be placed in the upper section of your ranger beads. Doing this sounds easy enough, and may be based on your bead selection, but to make things easier, creating a slight burn on the ends of your cord and having something to push the cord through the center of the bead (such as a bead reamer) is helpful. Once you have your first five beads on, leave a gap of a few inches or whatever you feel is an adequate sliding distance and tie a second knot.
After the second knot, place 9 more beads on your cord. Once this is complete, give yourself a few more inches of adequate sliding space and tie your third and final knot. Any slack you have beyond that knot is optional-simply trim it to a length you are comfortable with and seal the edges with a quick burn and you are done. All that is left to do now is get busy hiking in the great outdoors with your trusty pace-counting device!