Should I Use Hiking Sticks? | Hikers University

Hiking sticks provide stability and comfort while you’re on a hike. However, should you use hiking sticks throughout your hike?

If you're thinking of using hiking sticks, there are a few things you need to consider first. Hiking sticks can be extremely helpful when you're hiking, but only if you use them correctly. If you’re going to use hiking sticks when you’re out on the trails, you need to ensure that you have good quality sticks.

Hiking sticks provide support and stability on difficult terrain. They can also be used to help clear a path of obstacles or to prod at suspicious animals from a safe distance. However, on easy trails, hiking sticks can also get caught on branches and bushes, and they can be difficult to carry.

Hiking sticks help take some of the strain off of your legs by providing an extra point of contact with the ground. This can be especially helpful when hiking uphill or on uneven pieces of land. In addition, hiking sticks can help you maintain your balance and avoid falls.

As experienced hikers, we’ve used hiking sticks on difficult-to-maneuver terrain, and they’ve definitely helped us on a few hikes. However, you don’t always need hiking sticks, and here, we’re going to tell you when you should be using hiking sticks on a hike.

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What Is a Hiking Stick

A hiking stick is a long, straight stick used for hiking (pretty self-explanatory). It is usually made of wood or metal, and it has a point on one end and a handle on the other. Hiking sticks help hikers keep their balance when walking on uneven terrain.

They can also be used to help hikers climb hills or stairs. Hiking sticks are usually about three feet long, and they weigh about 1-2 pounds. Most hiking sticks have a strap that goes around the hiker's wrist so that they can't drop the stick while hiking.

In addition, many modern hiking sticks may also have built-in features such as compasses, cameras, and GPS units. Hiking sticks can be purchased at many outdoor retailers or made at home with a few simple supplies.

Regardless of where they are acquired, hiking sticks can provide hikers with the extra support they need to safely enjoy the outdoors.

Types of Hiking Sticks

There are various hiking sticks available in the market, and each type has its advantages. Here are three of the most popular types of hiking sticks:

Standard hiking sticks:

Standard hiking sticks are the most basic type of hiking stick. They usually have a simple design and are made from inexpensive materials. However, they can still be very effective in helping you maintain your balance on rough terrain.

Telescoping Hiking Sticks:

Telescoping hiking sticks are designed to be adjustable so that hikers of different heights can use them. They are usually made from more expensive materials than standard hiking sticks, but they can be worth the investment if you plan on doing a lot of hiking.

Folding Hiking Sticks:

Folding hiking sticks are a good option for hikers who want a compact and lightweight stick. They are easy to carry when not in use and can be deployed quickly when needed. However, they may not be as sturdy as other types of hiking sticks.

How to Choose a Hiking Stick

There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing hiking sticks. First, consider the material. Hiking sticks are typically made of wood, metal, or composite materials. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. For example, wooden hiking sticks are lightweight and inexpensive, but they can break more easily than metal or composite sticks.

Metal hiking sticks are strong and durable, but they can be heavier than other types of hiking sticks. Composite hiking sticks offer a balance of weight and strength, making them a good choice for hikers who want the best of both worlds.

Think about the size of the hiking sticks. They should be long enough to reach from the ground to your armpit when you're standing upright. Choose hiking sticks with wrist straps or handles that will make them easy to grip and carry. Finally, consider adding tips to the ends of the hiking sticks to help protect against wear and tear.

How to Use Hiking Sticks Correctly

Hiking sticks, or hiking poles, can provide much-needed support and stability on rough terrain. But using them correctly is key to getting the most benefit from them. Here are five tips to use hiking sticks:

  1. Hold the hiking stick in your opposite hand from the one you'll be using to grab onto rocks or tree roots for balance. That way, if you do slip, you won't be pulled down by the hiking stick.
  2. Use the hiking stick to help prop up your tent or tarp when setting up camp. It'll save you from looking for rocks or fallen branches to use as support.
  3. On steep inclines, plant the hiking stick in the ground a few feet ahead of you and use it as a support to help pull yourself up.
  4. If you're bushwhacking through dense vegetation, use the hiking stick to help push branches out of the way.
  5. In areas with lots of loose rock, use the hiking stick to test each step before putting your full weight on it. That way, you'll avoid unpleasant surprises like hidden holes or sudden drop-offs.

Reasons to Use Hiking Sticks

Here are nine reasons why you should consider using hiking sticks on your next hike:

  1. Hiking sticks can help to improve your balance and stability when hiking on uneven or slippery terrain.
  2. They can help take some of the strain off of your legs and knees, particularly when hiking uphill or downhill.
  3. Hiking sticks can help you maintain a good hiking posture, which can help improve your breathing and prevent back pain.
  4. They can provide extra support when crossing streams or other obstacles.
  5. Hiking sticks can help you defend yourself against attacks from animals or other hikers (although hopefully, this will never be necessary).
  6. They can be used as makeshift tent poles, splints, or even crutches in an emergency situation.
  7. Hiking sticks can help you gauge the depth of puddles or other water hazards before crossing them.
  8. They can be used to clear away obstacles like branches or spider webs from the trail ahead of you.
  9. Hiking sticks can be used to test the hardness of ice.

Drawbacks of Using Hiking Sticks

Hiking sticks, also known as trekking poles, hiking staffs, or walking sticks, can be a great addition to your hiking gear. However, there are also some potential downsides to using hiking sticks that you should be aware of before hitting the trail. Here are eight of the biggest disadvantages of hiking with sticks:

  1. They can be cumbersome to carry, especially if you're not used to hiking with them.
  2. They can be expensive, and you may need to replace them frequently if you use them often.
  3. They can be slippery on slick surfaces like rocks or roots, leading to falls.
  4.  They can get caught on branches or undergrowth, leading to tripping or entanglement.
  5. They can be noisy, particularly if they have metal tips, which can scare away wildlife or disturb other hikers.
  6. They can damage delicate trail surfaces, particularly if you use them carelessly.
  7. They can be a distraction from enjoying the scenery and sounds of nature. They can create an artificial sense of security that might lead to taking unnecessary risks.
  8. They require some extra care and maintenance, such as regularly tightening screws and cleaning mud.

When Not to Use Hiking Sticks While Hiking

Hiking sticks give you extra support on uneven terrain. However, there are also situations where hiking sticks are not necessary. For example, if you're hiking on well-maintained trails with few obstacles, you probably won't need hiking sticks.

In addition, if you're hiking in snow or ice, hiking sticks can actually be more of a hindrance than a help. They can also be cumbersome to carry if you're hiking in an area with a lot of vegetation. So, before you hit the trail, consider whether hiking sticks are really necessary for your hike.

Things That Damage Your Hiking Sticks

Just like any other piece of hiking gear, hiking sticks can be damaged if you're not careful. Here are some things that can damage your hiking stick and ways to prevent the damage.  

Setting It Down Too Hard:

When you set your hiking stick down, be careful not to slam it into the ground. Over time, this can damage the hiking stick's tip or even break the hiking stick itself. Moreover, don't use it as a lever to pry hard rocks.

Straining It

Your hiking stick is designed to take some of the strain off your legs and back while you hike. However, if you lean on it too much, it can break. So be sure to use it as intended, and don't put all your weight on it.

Getting It Wet

Most hiking sticks are made of wood or composite materials, which means they can swell or warp if they get wet. So be sure to keep them away from streams and puddles, and keep them as dry as possible.

Improper Storage

Some people wrap a hiking stick in an electric tape too tightly, while some of them leave them out in the open. The best thing to do is wrap them up in soft fabric and store them in a clean and dry place.

By doing so, you can prevent the harshness of the electric tape while protecting it against external elements like humidity.

Signs Your Hiking Stick Needs to be Replaced

Believe it or not, your hiking stick has a lifespan. Just like any other piece of gear, it will eventually show signs of wear and tear and need to be replaced. Here are a few signs that your hiking stick is reaching the end of its life:

  • The tips are worn down. This is especially common if you use your hiking stick for stability when going up and down steep terrain.
  • The paint is coming off. This can be a cosmetic issue, but it can also lead to the hiking stick becoming stained or faded over time.
  •  There are cracks or splits in the wood. These can result from impact damage or just general wear and tear. If left unchecked, they can cause the hiking stick to break entirely.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to use a hiking stick is up to you. Consider your individual needs and abilities when making your decision. If you choose to bring along a hiking stick, be sure to practice with it before hitting the trail. Knowing how to use your hiking stick properly will make your hike safer and more enjoyable.


Peter Brooks

Peter Brooks

I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.

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