walking sticks

Walking Sticks

Walking sticks, hiking poles, hiking sticks, walking poles or whatever else you care to call them depending on your country and preference.

For some there is a difference between hiking or walking sticks, because there is a difference between hiking and just going for a stroll.  If it is a medical necessity to having an aid for walking, it's generally called a cane or walking stick.  But for the intents of this article we are going to address sticks or poles for the outdoors.

On a personal note, my memory of walking sticks go back to a field trip to the National Park of Jasper in my High School days.  I probably used sticks before then, but it was on this particular trip, I had found a nice prize of a straight stick and very suitable for a walking stick.  The tour bus driver had tried to dispose of it, but it was recovered.  Eventually I brought it home, and varnished the thing.

On my travels through New Zealand, an opportunity of using a stick to aid in crossing a swollen stream arose.  I was retreating down Mount Ruapehu, from a night's stay at a beautiful cabin, there was a schedule to be kept, and a mild stream the day before was now a raging torrent.  Using a stick, I carefully probe for solid foot placements, and balance while crossing hip deep water.

A couple of years later, an article on walking sticks in a outdoor magazine jumped out at me.  It was counting the advantages of using not one but two sticks for hiking.  This was before hiking poles where thought of.  We're talking the early 80's.


Advantages of Hiking Sticks

So what are the advantages:

  • balance
  • traversing steep terrain
  • hill ascents or descents.
  • aids to stream, creek, river crossings
  • lightening the load on the feet
  • better rhythm or pace
  • arms exercised
  • Camera mount
  • a rest aid (leaning pole)
  • can act as poles for a lightweight tarp
  • defense (possible)

In lightening the load on the feet, it's been said a pound on your feet is five on your back. Now whether this is a fact or not, lighter foot wear does allow better travel and more weight to be carried. Well in using two poles consider when the pole/stick is planted that is about 8-14 lbs (4 - 7 kilos -approximate weight of your arms) off your feet.

By lightening your load, you increased your endurance ability, the distance you can travel, and lessen your fatigue. Also it gets your arms involved in the hike to, and can help propel you better much like in cross country skiing. This can help alter your stride, and how you walk. By this one can vary their stride, and in varying your stride use different muscles differently and reduce fatigue even more. Like a low vs high gear, long or short strides, ones using upper leg muscles more or lower leg muscles more.

To cap a benefit of this weight shift:

  • less fatigue
  • more distance covered
  • less stress on the rest of your body
  • better stride or speed.

The down side with hiking sticks is the additional weight. For a pair of Aluminium poles you are looking at a pound, but take the weight of your arms and getting your arms involved in the travel that is a minor downside.

Types and sizing.

Types:

Commercial or do it yourself?  On the commercial type you can get wooden or aluminum.  For wooden you prefer to obtain the hardwood variety as they are more durable than softwood.  In the aluminum there is fixed, adjustable twist, or telescopic.  For this fixed is a better choice, as adjustable ones can fail.

You also want to make sure there is wrist straps. these greatly improve the efficiency and usage of the walking sticks.  This aids in the usage, and the planting of the poles.

On the do it yourself:  broom sticks, ski poles, nice piece of straight wood on the trail.  Been there, used all these methods.  A good pair of old aluminum downhill ski poles works just as well as the commercial poles.

Sizing:

Here it's a matter of personal comfort.  For starters it can depend on what type of hikes you are going to do.  Easy trails or is it off trail and steep? A mix in between?

If just straight walking, than a stick height around the break of your wrist with your arm relaxed by your side, is appropriate.  In hiking: it is suggested 6-9 inches (12-22 cm) above your elbow.  From my experience in the backwoods, the longer poles serve better, especially for crossing steep terrain, or hill descents.  The reason for longer in hiking is that you get more reach in the steeper terrains and thus more stability.

Straight poles like broom handles or natural sticks found, is that you can slid your hand up and down them as needed for the terrain you are in.

My Walking sticks.  Just a pair of old ski poles, they've serve me fine.
My Walking sticks. Just a pair of old ski poles, they've serve me fine.

Finally

In using walking sticks a pair has always been preferable to me especially when carrying a backpack.  It's made it easier, for travelling.  One time in hiking the Gospel Hump area, with a party of five, I had to endure a slight ridicule at first.  But as I was the lead dog, or second for most of the trip it got some attention and notice.  Enough that the veteran backpacker in the group was sold on the idea.  A friend got him two hiking sticks for the following season, and his comment after a hunting season. "They helped tremendously in me carrying out my game and pack".

So do you use two or one?  Your preference.  I have found one even good for balance, crossing hills and streams.  Two though can be used more like the cross country skiing, affecting more your rhythm, stride, getting the arms involved, and more weight from the arms off your feet.  Plus in hill climbing, I have found two better.

So find yourself a good stick and go for a walk.

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Comments 19 comments

Reynolds_Writing profile image

Reynolds_Writing 7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Good information.. I've seen hiking poles or walking sticks from a distance but didn't know the benefits or the number of types. Interesting Hub!


Camping Dan profile image

Camping Dan 7 years ago

If I am doing a hike where I know there will be lots of river crossings a hiking pole is essential. The extra leg so to speak can keep the water from taking your feet out from under you.


eaglegordon profile image

eaglegordon 7 years ago Author

Reynolds_Writing - yes there are benefits and a friend who I mentioned in the conclusion will testify more than I would on it.

Camping Dan - that is what I found when crossing the stream in New Zealand. It was superb in helping me keep my balance, finding the next step, and keeping me from "having my feet swept out from under me"


The Real Tomato profile image

The Real Tomato 7 years ago

.Nice idea for a Hub. I live in the mountains and half the people use walking sticks (poles) some are very rustic and others are ornately carved. I have never seen a synthetic one. One thing I like about life is that you learn something everyday - today I learned that there are many benefits to using a walking stick!


Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 7 years ago from West Virginia

Nice Hub. My husband made something like one while he was a counselor in a Scout Camp many years ago. It has a hook at the top and hase leather lacing wrapped around it. We use in the house when he open the skylight! We also use it outdoors too. There are many uses for such thing in the house and yard as well as for walking.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States

If your knees are a little iffy a walking stick is a must. Great hub!


eaglegordon profile image

eaglegordon 7 years ago Author

Tom - yes they do help the knees. Downhill can be the hardest on kness too, walking sticks can help bear some of the load.

Thanks Lady Guinevere for the input.

Real Tomato - life is a learning experience.


eightieslady 6 years ago

Thanks! I was wondering if I could just use my cross country ski poles instead of buying new poles for walking? Do I need to put rubber tips on them if I am walking on pavement? Thanks for the info.


eaglegordon profile image

eaglegordon 6 years ago Author

eightieslady

Out in the back country, there are no rubber tips on my ski poles.

Using it in an Urban setting on pavement could be a clicky, and rubber would soon wear away. If country pavement I wouldn't think twice about rubber and just use the poles as is, and put up with the click.

My steel tips are still good on my old poles. So I don't see a harm to cross country poles. However I have worn off the baskets over the years. So a visit to a second hand store and picking up used ski poles for 5 bucks or so may be worth it.


Tom @ Walking Equipment 6 years ago

Great Hub,

I've used a walking stick for years. Always used an "old School" wood one hand fashioned from tree branch. I walk in pretty rugged areas and the metal poles never seem to be sturdy enough. Any comments?


eaglegordon profile image

eaglegordon 6 years ago Author

Tom@Walking Equipment

Used to be when in my first hiking days - one would see me scrounging the woods for a good walking stick.

The poles I've pictured have been used for a lot of off trail hiking including some very rocky terrain (for several years). I've not tried or tested specifically designed walking sticks but used old ski poles. They've endured some pretty good abuse.


Terry 6 years ago

I've used a spiral carbon-fibre skiing pole for quite a few hikes in the last 3 years and it's saved me from a few spills. My biggest worry with it is when I jam it between two rocks and THEN fall over. I'me sure it'll break that way one day whereas a solid wooden one wouldn't. But it is very light and strong, at least in compression if not in shear.


eaglegordon profile image

eaglegordon 6 years ago Author

Terry:

Thanks for the comment and yes I have found that out about balancing especially with a heavy backpack on.

As to jamming, with the loss of my baskets on my old ski poles they jam more (on very rock terrain). So baskets do help.


johndwilliams profile image

johndwilliams 5 years ago from Essex England

Great information I love making sticks myself, one thing it teaches me is patience and a connection with nature - great hub!


eaglegordon profile image

eaglegordon 5 years ago Author

johndwilliams: Thank you for your input. Great in making walking sticks, there is an art form for that besides functionality. I tend to be spartan on mine, functional first, but my dad has made me a couple of sticks too (on the creative side).


walking canes for sale 5 years ago

What a great information, Very nice to read regarding of walking sticks. thank you for sharing this information.


eaglegordon profile image

eaglegordon 5 years ago Author

walking canes for sale ---- Thank you for you comment and I see you have a business in Walking canes --- excellent. I do make heavy use of my sticks (old ski poles). They are great for crossing spring snow slopes, and that extra balance when needed.


WalksAndWalking profile image

WalksAndWalking 5 years ago from London

Great article and very thorough - thanks for posting!


eaglegordon profile image

eaglegordon 5 years ago Author

WalksandWalking --- thank you for the comment

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