You may or may not have heard about Ranger Beads. They are not a religious/devotional item, not Middle Eastern/Greek ‘worry beads’ to keep your hands occupied (though I suppose the could serve as either) and have nothing at all to do with keeping track of ‘confirmed kills’, despite the fact that most commercially-available versions seem to use flashy (and noisy) chrome-plated skull-shaped metal beads.
What they ARE for, is keeping track of how far you have walked. A low/appropriate technology pedometer. All of us have probably have had occasions where our offhand estimate of a hike was just flat-wrong. I know I have said “I guess it was about 8 miles…” and then checked a map to discover it was actually 3.5.. It happens.
To build your own for about a buck or so ( as opposed to $5-20 commercially ) you need :
1) 14 beads – these can be any material, as long as they have a hole in them, and large enough to move easily with your fingers. Generally about 75 cents at your local craft store. Wood is generally quieter than metal/ceramic, but less useful as emergency slingshot ammo.
2) Something to string them on – a paracord loop, some round-braided bank-line , a leather thong, as long as it fits through the hole and offers a bit of resistance to moving the beads. You don’t want gravity messing up your ‘abacus’ count.
Tie a knot in your string. Add 9 beads, leave some space and tie another knot. Add 5 more beads, more space. Tie another knot. Leave enough to attach it to something. That’s it. You’re finished.
To utilize the beads best, go to your local high school field, that usually has a 1/10th mile track. Walk it 3 or 4 times, and take an average of the number of steps per circuit. (If you prefer metric, count # of steps per 1/10 kilometer). The ‘common average’ is 243 steps per 1/10 mile, if you’re kind of lazy, like me.
To use the beads when hiking/orienteering/etc., start with all the beads in the ‘down’ position. Count your steps. When you hit 243 (or your personal number), raise 1 of the 9 beads, and start counting again. When all 9 are raised, lower all 9, and raise one of the 5, and repeat. When all 5 of 5 are in the raised position, you have gone real close to 5 miles, and you can check/update your map. (or create your own patrol map, knowing pretty well that “the stream is about 1.3 miles northeast from basecamp”)
It is a very useful navigation tool that:
1) Costs almost nothing.
2) Weighs almost nothing.
3) Takes up nearly no space.
4) You can attach almost anywhere convenient. (hang 1 from your belt, or the back of your hat)
5) Needs no batteries, etc., no mechanical moving parts.
6) You can teach a 10 year old to use it in about 10 minutes.
7) It can make your survival prep easier with minimal ‘investment’ of cash or time.
Give them a try. Might just make your life a little easier. We’re all in this together.