A hiker must have certain essential equipment before attempting any type of lengthy walk. One simple piece of equipment which is an absolute must is the standard walking stick. Whether a commercial type or one simply hacked from a tree sapling or limb, the walking stick is as essential as a good pair of boots or walking shoes.
Those who do not trail walk or go on long mountain hikes may see a walking stick as more an encumbrance than a benefit to a pleasant stroll…not so! Try going on a long hike with one; and then without one, and you’ll make sure you’re equipped with it every time thereafter!
The uses of a walking stick are many and varied. But before going out, one needs to choose a type of stick. First, the height should be about 6-10 inches above the users elbow. The circumference of the shaft should be comfortable to the hand. There are commercial types which are usually made from aluminum and have a rubber grip and rubber tip. They can be solid, folding or telescoping. Those who want to save a few bucks can use a ski pole as a walking stick if one should be readily available. Going even more frugally, an old broom or mop handle will work almost as well.
If one chooses a homemade variety, cut from a tree, find one the correct height with a comfortable circumference for the grip. When cutting a green one, allow it to dry out for a few weeks before use; otherwise, it will be quite heavy and unwieldy. Removing the bark will allow the sap to evaporate faster and the stick to dry more rapidly. Too heavy a stick will become a burden instead of an aid. A hardwood stick such as oak, hickory or poplar will last longer and be more stable than a softwood such as pine or spruce.
Once the decision has been made on a type, which is better – one or two? Two can give better balance and traction on steep declines and inclines and can get both arms involved if loaded with a heavy backpack, thus taking a little stress off the legs and back. On long walks, two can even provide a better rhythm for the stride.
Whether one or two, the benefits of the walking stick become quickly apparent once the hike is started. A good stick provides the walker with better balance. Rocky terrain becomes less of a problem and using the stick as the third leg of a tripod lessens the danger of a turned ankle by shifting some of the weight to the arm and the stick.
When coming to a stream, the walking stick can not only aid the balance on slippery rocks when crossing, but can also be used as a measuring stick to determine the depth of the water. An end of the stick offered to a hiking partner can help pull a partner up the opposite bank.
A good walking stick can be used to hack away at thick foliage, move brambles, thorns and other obstacles out of the way, thus speeding up the trip. And when it comes time to take a breather on the trail, use the stick as a leaning pole if there are no ready areas to use for a seat. The walking stick can also serve as a method of possible defense in the event of walking up on a snake or some irate critter.
Walking sticks can be an indispensable friend and companion on long hikes. Their presence can reduce fatigue and get the arms involved along with the legs during the journey, making the walk more enjoyable. Once a walking stick accompanies the hiker on a trip through field and forest, its value becomes obvious. It will be one of the first things the hiker remembers to take along on the next trek.