Going hiking is one of the best activities one can participate in if one wants to get out and really experience the wilderness in its natural state, the way it must have been experienced hundreds of years ago before cars and trains and modern cities. Hiking is often cheap or free on government land, such as the Grand Canyon, and can be experienced by people of all ages and body types. However, some hiking can be rather challenging and aerobic. This is one of the draws of the sports, as it adds excitement and helps to keep one in shape, but sometimes a bit of assistance is needed or desired. Especially in steep terrain, a walking stick can be the perfect tool to help one through a long and challenging hike. There are many hiking sticks to choose from, from the industrial standards to the homemade designs. One should consider all the options and choose the best stick for their taste, weight, and height.
Some of the benefits of the hiking stick are well worth the time put into finding an appropriate stick. They can help to lessen the strain on the joints, such as the hips and knees, when fighting down a steep decent. This is sometimes harder on the body than going up, especially with very steep terrain, because so much effort is being put into fighting against the land and against gravity. Hiking sticks can also provide the feeling of having a third leg. This is very nice on uneven terrain, as one will sometimes want to be able to draw support from multiple points in order to stay up and going strong. Hiking sticks can help with unexpected animal life, clearing away spider webs that shroud the trail, fending off angry dogs or other wildlife — such as bobcats or coyotes — and probing the ground into holes and bushes that look as if they could hold snakes. If hiking on a desert mountain, such as the mountains in New Mexico or Arizona, finding the snakes before they are too close is quite desirable.
Hiking sticks help with straightening the body, which will improve posture and also take pressure off of the lower back, where many problems can occur later in life. This is a blessing, as the back can start aching unbearably if not properly taken care of during a long hike, but the very nature of a long hike means that the hiker may have to push on even through the pain, causing further damage. A hiking stick alleviates this to a large degree. As far as posture goes, having it altered by the walking stick can help a hiker with their breathing. This is very nice in steep terrain for two reasons. First, steep inclines always seem to take the wind from a hiker quickly, and they will be able to push on farther if they are breathing better. Second, if the steep terrain involves high mountains like the Rockies in Colorado, the air will literally be thinner. Breathing more efficiently can help a hiker make the most of the air and the terrain at the same time.
Size is of the extreme importance. If one uses a walking stick that is too long or too short, it will prove often to be ineffective or even to be a detriment to the hiker. Ideally, the stick should reach to just under the chest, or about six inches above the elbow. This allows some room for it to be extended if trying to find balance or probe holes for snakes, but keeps it short enough so as not to contort the body during use. One should make all effort to find a stick of this length, or cut it to this length if crafting on one’s own.
Metal walking sticks work just as well as handcrafted hiking sticks; as far as function, there is no real benefit to one or the other. Hiking sticks from a factory tend to be as straight as a ramrod, and some people feel this is the best. Others like the curving, twisting nature of a handmade stick. Either way, one would be smart to use a hiking stick the next time one is in steep terrain.