Forgotten Survival Tools #2 – Ranger Beads

By Wyzyrd

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.

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7 thoughts on “Forgotten Survival Tools #2 – Ranger Beads”

  1. I’m just an old Ranger and have never heard of Ranger beads. Looks kind of cute butt…., we used what was called a pace cord made out of 550 cord tied to one of the front loops of your LCE. It was app. 12″ in length and each 100 meters you put in a chain stitch(slip knot). If it got hung up you did not have broken beads all over the place it would just un ravel. Cost about 10 cents and the cord could be used as a tie down. I also recommend the use of a dummy cord for your weapon. Take 550 cord, measure arms length plus 6″ secure to butt stock and then to your utility/pistol belt. If weapon is dropped you still have it. This works great at night or if you are traversing ruff terrain. God Bless and keep your powder dry RGR 9-76

    • Thank you, sir. I should have & could have used a dummy cord night before last, when I seem to have misplaced my M3 field knife (last ditch bear defence & riff-raff deterrent) outside the grocery store. “What are you doing with a knife outside the grocery store? This is not normal”. Neither am I; I don’t step outside to collect the mail without a knife on me. When I go further afield, I’ll have 4-5 on me (including some sort of modest, haversack-sized machete/khukuri/golok type; and not some Bear Grylls product made in a Chi-Com sweatshop, or an industrial mass-produced, parkerized, Kraton handled machete or “kukri” manufactured in a unionized factory owned by English-speaking white folks, either. My preference is for blades made by people in developing countries, whether in a foreign-owned factory in a Southeast Asian or Latin American military republic with a narco-economy, or by a guy at his own forge in a Southeast Asian or Latin American kleptocracy with a “winner takes whatever he can stash away in an overseas haven before the next coup” economy. I just hope it’s found by someone who puts it to good use, and not nefarious purposes, and not by some mindless civilian who’ll take it to the local police station, where it will be destroyed.

  2. Watch out Wyzyrd – all of the pedometer manufacturers will try to sue you for damaging their sales.

    I was with the 2nd of the 75th in the mid to late 70’s. I think the current crop of youngsters are holding up the traditions very well.

    One suggestion, tie them to the button hole in your collar. Then you don’t have stuff dangling to catch on brush and fences when you are navigating through the rough.


  3. When I was in the Airborne Infantry and pace count was vital to land navigation, I used the bezel ring on my watch to keep track of distance traveled. If your watch bezel has distinct “clicks” or moves and stops one minute at a time, you can track distance with one simple rotation of the ring to the left. If the “clicks” do not match the minute markings, you can move the bezel to the first hour marker. On a diver’s watch, the 12 numbers (or circles representing 1 thru 12) are normally illuminescent. So is the arrow or triangle that points to the starting point when you are timing something. We used the metric system for dismounted navigation pace count. The maps were in kilometers, not miles. Anyway, I counted every other step. For me, 63 paces (126 total steps) was 100 meters. I felt that the watch method was easier than finding those beads hanging on my web gear. Of course, this will only work with certain types of watches. I don’t know if it was a status thing, or because they were waterproof and so durable, but many paratroopers bought either the black, Seiko diver’s watch with automatic movement, or the quartz Casio diver’s watch.

  4. Rourke,

    Having used “Ranger Beads” for MANY years, I would like to offer some end users observations on them if you will:

    1. I replaced them often as the plastic beads broke under impact, anything from being rough with my gear, which I was, or doing CQB drills and training.

    2. In cold, freezing temps, the plastic beads split and broke off the cord. Really sucks if you’re using them at the time.

    3. There is a small amount of noise generated as they swing and click against any metal near them. It’s not bad, just something to be aware of.

    4. If the end user does not know how to use MGRS – Military Grid Reference System – the beads are almost pointless. If you don’t use meters it makes keeping up with distance traveled a bit more work. You could use yards but it’s harder and LAT/LONG is a no go.

    Once I found Ranger Beads made of metal, painted black of course, I had not more problems with them breaking under impact or freezing and splitting. They work very well if used as intended and used with the MGRS maps.

    Your readers should learn how to use the MGRS and the tools that are needed if those maps and then have maps of the areas where they live or are bugging out to.


  5. Good post. I thank you for it. Never had a complete grasp on Ranger Beads. I was Air Force but did US Army light-fighter training at Fort Drum NY. Lucky me. Learned alot of Infantry skills.


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