Many first-time hikers are often confused if they should carry walking sticks when on the trail. But why do hikers use walking sticks?
Whether you carry a walking stick while hiking depends on many factors ranging from the weight you are carrying, the terrain you will be hiking on, and flora and fauna present on the trail.
Hikers use walking sticks for several reasons, such as to help them maintain balance, ease the pressure on their joints, and even check for depth when crossing water. They offer assistance when hiking on steep slopes, through fast-flowing water, and even help keep up the pace.
Some hikers consider walking sticks essential equipment for their hiking adventure, while others believe they enjoy themselves more without them. Walking sticks for hikers have their fair share of supporters and adversaries.
Experienced hikers state that walking sticks are one of those hiking essentials that you do not want to carry around but miss when you don't have them. Walking sticks can greatly alter your hiking experience. They give you added confidence on tricky trails and help you when going up or down steep slopes.
How to Start Using Walking Sticks When Hiking?
Hiking is a hobby that can challenge your mental and physical abilities as a beginner. Adding walking sticks to your adventure can prove to be challenging at first.
It is essential to allow yourself to get accustomed to using the walking sticks before embarking on challenging trails. Many hikers consider getting used to them like breaking in a pair of shoes. You should be comfortable with the sticks but must also allow your body to adjust to them.
Beginners often find these walking sticks cause more fatigue than going without them. It is advisable to start on small trails and slowly build upon mileage. You can increase your mileage in stages until you feel comfortable using the sticks.
Posture plays a vital role in hiking. Slouching or stressing one area of the body can lead to unnecessary muscle fatigue. It is important to stay conscious of your posture when using these sticks. It is a good idea to plant the sticks in front of your step, and then follow the sticks naturally with your body and plant your feet before removing the sticks and planting them up ahead again.
Remember to keep yourself relaxed and allow the use of sticks to come to you naturally. These walks are not meant to amplify your hiking abilities and certainly do not turn you into a superhero.
Why Do Hikers Use Walking Sticks?
There are several reasons why hikers use walking sticks. Here are some of them.
They Support Your Joints
This is probably an important reason why hikers use walking sticks. When you take a step on the rough terrain of the trails, nearly all the joints in your legs undergo different kinds of stresses, especially if you are going up or down. For some hikers, these stresses go unnoticed. But for others, others begin to feel pain in their knees and ankles whenever they are ascending or descending a steep trail.
Adding a walking stick or a pair can help take the stress off your knees and minimize the pain.
They Put Your Arms to Work
Unless your hiking adventures include bushwhacking or boulder climbing, every day will be leg day when hiking. You might not use your arms except to help you balance or maintain your stride, which is almost no activity compared to what your legs do for the day.
If you let your arms dangle freely when you climb slopes too fast, poor circulation can cause your wrists, palms, and fingers to start to swell. Using walking sticks helps keep your arms elevated above your heart level, and the movement while using the sticks ensures improved circulation and can greatly mitigate swelling.
They Help Maintain Balance
The only thing better than having two legs while hiking is having four. When properly used, walking sticks serve as additional limbs and provide more stability and improved balance when trekking on challenging trails.
If you come across water, these sticks help you stay planted when walking through moving water, which can easily throw you off guard if you do not have some additional support. Similarly, walking sticks are a must if you are a fan of snowy or icy trails.
These sticks will also help you cross narrow ridgelines, descending steep hills with soft and loose surfaces such as sand or gravel. These walking sticks are also a great way to keep yourself stable during extremely windy situations.
They Help Maintain Pace
After only a short duration of usage, you get used to the rhythm of using walking sticks, and it can be quite enjoyable – stick, foot, stick, foot. This rhythm can help you maintain a consistent pace for longer periods.
Many experienced hikers claim that they trekked faster with sticks because the rhythm of using the sticks can be quite captivating.
They Help You Test Depths
Hiking on ice can be dangerous; you can encounter thin ice suddenly. Instead of guessing and assuming, you can use your walking stick to test the thickness of the ice and determine if it will take your weight.
Similarly, when crossing water, you can dip your hiking stick in first to ensure that the water is not too deep. As discussed above, make sure that these sticks are planted in the water bed before stepping ahead.
They Can Keep Animals Away
We have never encountered a wild animal while out on a hike. But if we did, you can be sure that we will be better off with walking sticks than without them.
When trekking in animal territory, it is important to stay extra aware of your surroundings. The best way to save yourself from a wild animal is not to see them in the first place. Make sure you do not go too far into the animal territory and do whatever you can to stay as far away as possible from them.
However, if you encounter a wild animal, you can bang your sticks on the trees or clap them together to scare the animals away. If you wave your sticks above your head, you will seem much larger than you are to the animals, and they will refrain from approaching you.
They Let You Hitch Free Rides
Car drivers are more likely to give you a ride if you have your walking sticks out. Most drivers will understand that you are a seasoned hiker and need to be somewhere.
Although you would not purchase walking sticks solely for hitching rides, they provide an additional benefit for hikers who have them.
Why Do Some Hikers Avoid Walking Sticks?
Walking sticks are optional hiking accessories that are preferred by many. However, some hikers prefer not to use walking sticks for various reasons. Some of them are listed below.
They can be Burdensome
Hiking sticks provide a lot of assistance in many situations. But in some situations, such as when you require rope assists or have to climb using your hands, they can be more of a burden than a blessing. It can be quite annoying to store them on your backpack, and then pull them out again repeatedly.
Similarly, if you are a fan of photography, the sticks can be quite a nuisance in keeping your hands occupied and will often get in the way of the lens in several photos.
They Add Weight
Some hikers use walking sticks only when going up or down steep slopes and prefer to keep their sticks stowed in their backpacks. As if your backpack wasn't a big enough burden, now you have to deal with the sticks' weight.
They Are Expensive
Many other accessories are more important than a pair of walking sticks when compiling your hiking backpack. The price of these sticks can be hard to justify, and you may wonder if they are even worth their price tag. Hikers who are tight on a budget often have to skip adding walking sticks to their hiking kit.
What Types of Walking Sticks are Available for Hiking?
There is a broad range of walking sticks available. Small differences can be hard to spot when starting initially. But let us look at some categories to help make your stick shopping experience easier.
Carbon fiber sticks are among the lightest walking sticks for hiking. They are ideal for hikers who mostly keep their sticks stowed away on their backpacks and use them only when necessary.
Although carbon fiber is quite strong, it is not as strong as aluminum or other metals. When carbon fiber fails, it does not bend; it simply breaks apart. If you rely on your sticks to help you maintain balance, carbon fiber sticks have a higher chance of giving in than their metallic counterparts.
Aluminum is also lightweight, but it is much more durable than carbon fiber and can withstand significantly more abuse. Aluminum sticks are more affordable than carbon fiber ones, thanks to the simple manufacturing process. A failing stick of aluminum will bend rather than break into two. This feature gives you a better chance of regaining balance when the stick fails.
However, aluminum is heavier when compared to carbon fiber. If you keep your sticks stowed away mostly, aluminum walking sticks might not be the best option due to their added weight.
Cork grips are favorites of most hikers. Cork is a lightweight and porous material that can take the sweat away from the palms and prevent blisters from forming. However, it is quite expensive, much more than other materials.
The most comfortable to hold in your hands is a foam grip. However, it is the least durable and will begin to break down faster than any other grip material on this list.
Rubber grips are the most durable and affordable option. However, they are probably the least comfortable to use and can cause problems if your palms become sweaty. These grips are most likely to cause blisters on your palms.
Telescoping sticks offer the highest level of adjustments. They are an excellent choice for hikers who prefer adjusting the height of their sticks according to the terrains. If you require tent poles, telescopic sticks can work great as a makeshift solution.
These sticks usually weigh more than fixed poles due to the additional height adjustments and the added length.
These are usually the lightest and most compact walking sticks. They are three smaller sticks connected using a tension cord. The pieces lock into each other and stay in place through a push-button locking system.
These sticks are preferred by those who like to travel by air, as they are the easiest to fit into the luggage.
These poles are not very common due to their inconvenient size and difficulty in carrying them around. They are difficult to stow away and can be quite a nuisance when hanging from your backpack. They are more like ski poles rather than hiking sticks.
About THE AUTHOR
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.Read More About Peter Brooks