Pace Counting

Pace Counting

When you're having to navigate in poor visibility, you may have to pace count

Pace Counting 

Pace Counting

Pace counting is a step up from measuring distance by time alone, and works by you counting and recording how many paces taken, and translating that a distance by multiplying paces by the typical length of your one of your paces for the type of terrain over which you are travelling. A pace starts when one foot is lifted and finishes when the same foot lands back on the ground, i.e. two steps.


The following video explains the method well. (Although it would seem that normal navigation for the presenter is by GPS... Not recommended!)

Distance Covered

As the video says, for pace counting to be any use, you need to know the length of a pace over different types of ground. 

In the video the presenter measured the following:

  • flat ground - 65 paces
  • wooded area - 71 paces
  • slight hill - 75 paces
...each of which covered 100 metres.

For UK hill & mountains, you'd be advised to measure and pace a more steep up hill path, and maybe rocky terrain to understand the variation. 

Rather than using a GPS to measure distance as in the video, see if you can borrow a climbing or walking rope. Lay it flat on the ground over the path or line you'll take, then walk close to the rope, taking a natural walking line rather than trying to walk exactly to the rope's position. That way, your paces counted are more realistic when compared to the straight line measurement from a map.

I did this exercise recently, with a 30 metre walking rope, and measured 21 paces for the 30 metres over a good straight path with slight up hill, which equates to 68 paces for 100 metres. On a grass/heather slope, which was quite steep with no distinct path, I took 33 paces to cover the rope's length, making 110 paces for 100m. That may see a lot, but there were some small steps in there to walk efficiently over the terrain, which also involved a bit of zig-zagging.

Once you've worked out your 100 metre pace counts, remember them, or better still write them down and have in your rucksack for reference.

Keeping Count

Counting paces is one thing, but keeping an accurate count of paces taken is another issue. There are various theories about how best to do this, but most people seem to agree that using memory or fingers alone is not accurate, as counting becomes monotonous and we lose count.

Keeping track of each set of 100 paces is a nice round number, and using an external counter every 20 paces is a small enough number to cope with, thus one counter for every 20 paces. (Some people recommend every 10 paces.)

Counting methods include:

  • pebbles, moved from one pocket to another 
  • beads on a string, moved from one side to the other 
  • cord grips, similar to beads - see picture

How you do it is not terribly important, but keeping track of paces is key to working out distance travelled.

Practice Game

The next time you're out walking, take some sweets with you (jelly babies are a favourite). When you stop at a safe piece of ground, maybe for a lunch break, take a few minutes to practice pace counting. The game is simple:
  • two (or more) people start from the same point
  • decide on a direction in which to travel
  • take a compass bearing of that direction (just point compass direction of travel arrow to intended direction, then turn the bezl so that the red needle is inside the orienting arrow. There's no need to take account of magnetic variation as you are not using a map in this exercise)
  • walk on the exact bearing - taking care to pick an object in-line with the bearing, and walk to that object, rather than trying to walk directly on the bearing
  • count out how many paces (two steps) as you go, and when you get to a convenient point, stop and make a mental note of the distance travelled to get to that point. Remember, it's distance travelled, not paces that you need to remember
  • drop the sweets at that point
  • go back to the start point and tell your friend, a) the bearing on which to walk, b) the distance they have to walk
  • then go try and find your friend's sweets!