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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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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