Making a Better Pace Bead

Pace beads are junk.

The concept is great, and as part of all the land nav stuff I do, I encourage them strongly. Everyone should carry several things like a compass, but pace beads are on my list of every-rig, every time.

But the actual beads that are available today are totally hobby grade, so are brittle and break, especially in the cold. Yes, even the snazzy "ranger" beads with the cone shape are no longer rubber, but the same chintzy acetate bead material that can break way too easily.

I have seen this numerous times. I have had it happen to me—a bead shattered and fell off—and only because we had more than one distance measuring function going on did I not get lost because I had 8 instead of 9 beads on my 100m counter.

Cheap pace beads are dangerous.

So for a few years now I have slowly messed with other ideas. I've made a few, given away a few, and they work but there have been issues of cost, complexity, availability, labor, etc. But now I have one that you may all be interested in.

Some of the pace beads I have made over the years, left to right: emulation of store-bought beads a tween kid made to my specs years ago, custom silicone beads, two sets of Neoprene beads on nylon, Neoprene beads on Kevlar.

First, the beads. You can make the beads just like normal, but use these:

Lasco is just the easy to find brand sold everywhere, but any of that spec will do. The spec is 00 size cone shaped Neoprene washers. Amazon only carries 100 packs, but Home Depot and Lowe's have things like this 10 pack for $1.99: So you can drive over and buy them there, or probably from your local Ace or True Value.

They are, as you see above, the right size for normal assembly on two strands of cored paracord. I suspect that if you like them super stiff you can shove them onto core-included complete paracord, but haven't tried because I like them like this.

Because I find some other dumbness about pace bead assembly, I have gone way, way over the top and done two other things, both of which (at the risk of being told to stop promoting myself, I will make you and sell through our little company website:

They are further improved over normal pace beads:
  • Crimped instead of knotted, so they hang straight down instead of twisting, etc.
  • Slightly weighted, especially at the bottom, to hang straighter yet
  • Longer, so it's easier to tell the beads moved, and avoid small accidental movements causing miscounts
  • With larger spaces between two bead stacks, which are also thin and smooth so (unlike knots) they cannot be mistaken for a bead even with gloves on
All these features are based on heavy use of them in shitty conditions, with cold hands, gloves, and being entwined in brush and grass while trying to move or count them.

And since I said indestructible, I also make one version of the set on Kevlar paracord (that took a while to find). Because why not go entirely over the top when you've started?

If anyone really wants to know, ask and I'll share some more about how they are built. It's a 23 step manufacturing process, so I bet you don't actually want to know and would rather just tie in a knot.

What clever ideas may I have missed so far, or what awesome secret source of original 60s rubber cones does someone have out there?
Is this a problem people are widely facing? I still have the Ranger beads I used for years as a young Infantryman. They are the hard ones you mentioned and are completely intact. Short of hitting them with a hammer or fire I can't see them getting damaged. In recent years I do very little dead reckoning of any distance. Moving expeditiously to the nearest known point then dead reckoning for a short distance to the point seems to work better. YMMV.
Since I've seen several broken ones, and I know those from several countries who have come up with bead replacements (clever knots, wire ties, etc) I say: yes.

If yours work, it's all good. Carry on.