Turning a Hike into an Adventure

“How far have we gone?” “How many more miles before we get there?” “Do we know where we are going?”

We have all heard these statements, along with the inevitable “Are we there yet?”,  when taking youth on a wilderness camp or even a day hike. This is a fun project that you can do with your group during a meeting prior to the outing as a hike preparation activity. The youth can be working on making Ranger Beads while you, or the hike leader, talks about other ways to prepare for the trip. When you are on the hike and someone wants to know when, where, or what is going on, you can refer them to their Ranger Beads for the answer.

Ranger Beads are pace count beads that help you track the number of paces you take while walking or hiking to your destination. This is a very old technique used to measure distance. Roman soldiers were said to use beads to keep track of how far they marched. In Rudyard Kipling’s book Kim, the young boy Kim is asked to watch what the enemy does and report to the British troops anything he finds out. He is taught how to measure the distance he has walked by using knots tied in a piece of rope.

If you know the length of your stride and are tracking the number of strides (or paces) you are taking with your Ranger Beads, then you will know how far you have gone, just like Kim.

This tutorial shows an easy way to make your own set of Ranger Beads.


 IMG_6669 To begin, each person needs about fifteen inches of paracord (parachute cord or “550” cord) and twelve beads. Wooden beads seem to work best because they are more difficult to break than glass or plastic beads. The hole in the beads should be just big enough for the paracord to pass through, but still be snug enough so that the bead will stay put when you move it. I used Bead Landing™ Wood Beads, Natural  available at Michael’s Crafts to make the Ranger Beads in this guide. Tools that you will need include something to cut the cord (scissors, knife, wire cutters, etc.) and a lighter (or matches) for fusing. These can be shared.
First step is pulling the core nylon strands out of the paracord. If your beads have a smaller hole, like mine did, the first step is to pull the core nylon strands out of the paracord. This step is required when using the Bead Landing™ Wood Beads because the hole is too small to allow the full paracord to pass through. By removing the inner core it allows the beads to fit on snugly. Test the cord on your beads for the proper fit. The bead should be able to slide up and down the cord when you pull it, but stay in position when left alone.
 With the core removed, we now need to fuse the ends. With the core removed, we now need to fuse the ends. We fuse the ends of the cord to keep the individual threads from unraveling and ruining our project.
Start the bowline loop. Now that both ends are fused, we’ll create a bowline knot at one end of the cord. The loop of the bowline knot should be just big enough to fit your thumb in. I like to start by putting the cord across my hand and then pinching with the forefinger and thumb of my other hand where I want the knot to be. 
 Rotate the right hand to make a loop in the cord. Now rotate the hand that is pinching the cord clockwise to make a loop in the cord.
 hold where the cord crosses itself with your thumb. Hold the cord with your thumb where it crosses itself.
 Feed the end of the cord through the loop that you made. Feed the end of the cord through the loop that you made.
 Take the cord around the back. Take the end of the cord around the back of the long piece above the loop.
 Then feed the cord back down through the loop. Then feed the cord back down through the loop.
 Adjust the knot so that just a little of the end of the cord is exposed and your thumb will just fit in the loop. Adjust the knot so that just a little of the end of the cord is exposed and your thumb will just fit in the loop.
 Finished Bowline knot. This is what the finished bowline knot should look like.
Adding beads Now that the bowline loop is in place, you can begin adding beads. This is a little hard because, as we already said, the holes in the bead need to be small enough so that the bead stays in position when moved on the cord. The small hole makes pushing the cord through a bit difficult. I found that if I twist the bead with one hand while trying to push the cord through with the other, eventually enough cord will emerge on the other side of the bead for me to grab and pull through.
 Distance beads Keep adding beads until you have five beads on the cord. These will represent distance markers and each bead will track one half mile. (If you want to measure Kilometers “Klicks”, then put on four beads as I have done here. Miles are more convenient in the U.S., but most of the rest of the world uses Kilometers.) I like to use different colored beads for the two parts of the Ranger Beads, but it is not necessary.
 Adding the separator knot. Now we will add the separator knot. This knot keeps our distance beads separate from our pace beads (which go on next). I like to use a figure-eight knot here rather than an overhand knot because it is a little bit thicker and looks nicer. Start the knot by crossing the free end back over the cord near the beads, making a loop.
 Figure eight knot. Next, wrap the free end behind the cord, but keep the loop in place.
 Finish the figure eight knot Finish the figure-eight knot by running the free end back through the loop.
 Cinch the knot up near the beads. Cinch the knot up near the beads, but make sure to leave some room, two or three bead lengths, so that the beads can be moved away from each other.
 Add the pace beads. Add seven pace beads (nine if you are using kilometers) just like you added the distance beads.
Finished Ranger Beads. Finish the Ranger Beads by adding another figure-eight knot at the end after you have strung all the pace beads.

How to use your new Ranger Beads

First, each person needs to determine his or her pace count. To do this, you must know how many strides you will take to cover 110 yards. A stride is the length your foot travels while you walk. To measure your stride, start walking with one foot and then count how many times the other foot takes a step. For example, if you started walking with your left foot, you would add one to your count every time your right foot touched the ground. (110 yards is 1/16th of a mile).

Next you need to count this for a specific distance: 110 yards. The easiest way to do this is to go to a local football field and have your group members count their stride from goal line to goal line, then multiply each stride count by 1.1 to determine their stride for 110 yards. This is the pace count that they want to remember for measuring the 110-yard distance.

Measuring distance with your Ranger Beads

Bead measuring one 110 yard distanceTo measure distance with your ranger beads you keep track of your strides as your walk or hike. Set your Ranger Beads to the initial position with every bead moved to the top (closest to the loop). Every time your count matches the stride count you determined was your number for 110 yards, you move a pace bead (one of the seven) from the top to the bottom of the pace section of the cord. This tracks every 16th mile that your have covered. Start your count over again, and move a bead each time you reach your pace count number.

When you have moved all seven of the pace count beads, don’t stop. Keep counting until you reach your pace count for the 110-yard distance an eighth time. Now you can move all the pace count beads back to the top and move one distance bead down. You have just walked 1/2 mile.

Continue this way to measure how far you have traveled. Remember that when you move the last distance bead down, you keep counting until it would be time to move another distance bead. Then you reset everything back to the top and you have now covered three miles (assuming you put a fifth bead in the distance group.)

This works the same way for kilometers, but you need to have nine pace beads and, typically, four distance beads. Once you know your stride count for 1/10 of a kilometer, every time you hit that count you move a pace bead down. When you have moved all nine you continue counting your stride (just like with the mile beads) and when you get your 1/10 kilometer stride count number, you move a distance bead down. You have now covered one kilometer. A configuration of four distance beads and 9 pace beads will allow you to measure five kilometers before starting over from the initial position.

Now that you have your Ranger Beads and have determined how to measure distance with them, it’s time to put them to good use. Take the group out on a hike and have them measure how far they hiked. If you know the distance beforehand, you can have small prizes for those that measure closest to the actual distance.

Understanding and awareness of distance and how far you have traveled are good skills for anyone to know. Ranger Beads are a fun way of helping grow that skill in youth.

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