Fundamentals of Orienteering – The Pace Count

Over the next few weeks I’m going to do a series on map reading.  Today I’m going to talk about one of the fundamentals of orienteering without actually touching on the compass itself.

When you’re out in the woods with your map and compass and you’re moving from point A to point B how do you measure distance?  You can’t glance down and check your odometer, so there has to be some method by which you can keep track of the distance you’ve covered.

The answer to that is the pace count.  Since I was military trained I like to work in meters.  Probably the easiest way to measure it is to find a high school or college track and walk 100 meters or a football field, which is 100 yards, and add a few extra steps.  If you like measuring in yards then you’re all set.  100 yards =91.44 meters.CIMG5974

Once you’ve found your area go ahead and walk it at a natural relaxed pace counting your steps as you go.   Don’t take large strides and don’t take little mincing steps.  Just a regular step.  Once you’ve done this turn around and do it again.  And again.  And again.

Some people count every step and others count only every time their left foot hits the deck.  I fall into the latter category.  I’ve found through experience that my pace count is 63 steps for 100 meters.

Once you’ve figured out your pace count start measuring distances as a way to practice.  How far is it to the bus stop?  How far is it down to the store?  How far to the intersection down the road?

After awhile you’ll start to get a feel for it.

Now, what about when you go out in the woods?  You almost never walk a straight line and you’re going up and down and stepping long to go over logs or streams and taking little mincing steps to walk under trees or through thick brush.  I might count 63 steps and only move about 90 actual meters over the ground.  How do we compensate for that?

Stay tuned for the next episode!  That’s enough for today.  Let’s start easy and get some practical application in.  Go find yourself a nice easy 100 meter track and go for a walk.  Count your steps.  Do it again.  And again.  If nothing else you’ll get a littler exercise today.

Those of you experienced with pace count how many steps do you take for a 100 meters?  Those of you who got out there and did it what did you get?

Next we’ll discuss averages in the wilderness and how to keep track of distance traveled.  For you over achievers Google Ranger Beads and get a head start.

Questions?  Comments?

Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor



19 comments… add one
  • JL February 15, 2013, 3:17 am

    I am learning to read maps. Unfortunately I am direction stupid. My husband bought me a GPS because he was tired of me calling him and asking him where I was. I’m getting better, but it’s taking a little time to learn. I can always find my way home at least. Even if I have to backtrack. :)

  • Ray February 15, 2013, 8:10 am

    Jarhead ! Very Timely ! In the last few years I don’t think I’v met more than ten people who know how to orienteer, and none of them were unde 25. The GPS has ruined the map skills of two Gen.

  • javelin February 15, 2013, 8:56 am

    great subject! orienteering is a lost art. The last time I used pacing to measure distance was last fall after I shot my 2 deer to see if my distance estimation was close. It was 96 paces/ 89 yds, I had estimated a about 85 yds.
    I love my GPS but ya gotta know how to use a map and compass!

  • Charles,,,, February 15, 2013, 10:02 am

    Good day all, logging into SHTF is as a present, you know the shape and weight of the box but not the conten, so the only way to recieve is to open up….and knowing how far you have gone is important to know how far you have to return. Some concern’s I have had with bead counting is in the south one comes unexpectingly across waterways that you have to ford or go around, swampy areas where the only answer is to just go through them or find a really long way around…. I’ve tried different venues to handle the wooded areas, notches on branches, in a patteren, all notches on the first/second branch on the right going which puts them to the left returning, reflective push pins for nightfall, so this learning curve will be a delight to learn…. and to think of all the discovery along the way as you head out and about, looking over the streets and neighborhoods, notice any fire escapes one can climb as a means of escape…. so bring it on, and thank you for always challenging our knowledge base, we are only as good as we practice. “C”

  • Jason February 15, 2013, 10:36 am

    This is a very, very cool topic Jarhead.

    Right now I use 100 yard increments pretty well when sighting distances but it is hard to do in an open field with distances greater than 300-400 yards. What I do is imagine a football field & start stacking them but as the distance increases, the perspective changes & gets all screwy fro me.

    I want to learn orienteering look forward to this series!

  • Joe Dirt February 15, 2013, 10:59 am

    Thanks for a great article on an important part of survival. I use to drive a lot and one thing I did when I was on long open stretches of highway is check distances. Sometimes you can see three or four miles ahead and if you pay attention to your odometer and how large things like trees and buildings etc. appear it will help you in judging distances. Many times you will pass a one mile to exit sign and be able to see the exit. This won’t help much in the woods when you can’t see a hundred feet ahead but if you manage to get to a hilltop when lost it may help a lot.

  • sput February 15, 2013, 11:01 am

    Better Boy Scout troops do some orienteering

  • Dairy February 15, 2013, 11:47 am

    Looking forward to the upcoming series. In the 70’s I took a semester long Orienteering/Map Course in college taught by ROTC Instructor. Had the best time as it got me out of the classroom and into the woods learning new skills. Still have the course workbooks and my compass used in class. Guess it is time to pull them out and get a refresher course.

  • Vicky February 15, 2013, 11:53 am

    Can’t wait! We use a De Lorme, large-scale, state atlas for traveling and have no GPS, nor do we want one. We are transferred around frequently due to my husband’s job and have now lived in eight different states. We were raised in the Great Plains, grid states, and living in the Mid-West and East Coast has been an experience in several ways. We always knew where we were in Kansas and Oklahoma, but the roads in Ohio, Maryland and Kentucky must have been based on Indian trails following the water. They go in circles, like spokes of a wheel, and we never have that sense of direction we did at home. My husband will ask where we are and all I can tell him is after making two half circles, a wave or two and a sharp turn right, we’ll be headed NNW for half an hour and close to our destination. It’s frequently overcast here, so telling direction by the sun is difficult, plus the roads don’t go due west or due south, etc., so we’re driving blind. Thanks!

    • Jarhead Survivor February 16, 2013, 6:38 am

      That’s one of the best ways to travel in my opinion. Many people take off these days with nothing more than a GPS. Good luck!

      • Jason February 17, 2013, 8:39 am

        While I absolutely love technology, I love old school methods far more. Things like GPS’s makes people lazy thinkers & too dependent.

        What do you do if you drop it in water by accident, you get defective batteries or something internal fails while you are in the middle of nowhere? No thanks.

  • smokechecktim February 15, 2013, 12:19 pm

    and don’t forget to add a comment on using your wrist watch to find north. I agree with some of the comment about map reading and orienteering. Give a topo map to almost anybody under 30 and watch their I glaze over. Fortunately in my job orienteering is a basic skill that you have to know. GPS is fine but not something you want to bet you life on. Thanks for the line on ranger beads! Haven’t heard of those in a long while.

    • smokechecktim February 15, 2013, 12:21 pm

      meant to say eyes glaze over…bad keyboard bad!

      • Jason February 15, 2013, 3:46 pm

        Might want to check what your smoking Tim!

        • smokechecktim February 15, 2013, 4:54 pm

          wild sage!!

          • Jason February 15, 2013, 7:28 pm

            Yea ….. sure it’s not the Devil’s bush? Ha, ha!

  • des February 16, 2013, 11:01 am

    Im a summer mountain leader here in old blighty when im teaching young people to micro nav or orienteer i generally advise to keep their legs down to around 500 metres to avoid or to limit the margin of error.
    Im ex military too and i was used to 8fig grid references and we used mils as opposed to degrees as i was artillery observation.
    Cheers Des

  • ron February 19, 2013, 10:01 pm

    hey jarhead, thanks for tips and sharing your knowledge and
    the great advise you give to us. i [ probably most of us ] do need
    help and advise and yours is much appreciated.

  • ThatguyinCA February 20, 2013, 11:58 am

    Google Orienteering. I am sure there is a club in your area that even has meets. They always encourage newcomers and usually have a small how to before you do the meet. It’s really fun and you’ll be learning an excellent skill. Try just one meet and I promise you’ll want to do it again.


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