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Tips to Choose and Use a Walking or Hiking Stick

Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick


Updated June 24, 2014

Walking Stick with Cane Shields

Walking Stick with Cane Shields

Wendy Bumgardner © 2008

Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy was to "walk softly and carry a big stick." Those words of wisdom are useful for walkers and hikers to remember as well. When should you use a stick and how do you choose one?
More: Top Picks for Walking Sticks

George Barker of Whistle Creek Walking Sticks provides this insight:


"Man's second invention - the stick - 5,000 B.C." His first invention was the rock - as a tool, but some people debate that the stick was used first to uproot the rocks. So the debate goes on...
See illustrations of Moses and Shepherds using their sticks and staffs to heard their flocks -both people and sheep. The staff was the early symbol of leadership in the Church and in most organizations - the guy person with the big stick was the boss. Later in history -"Walk softly... and carry a big stick." And then the founder of the Boy Scouts, Lord Baden Powell, never seen without his trusty hiking staff. Today the stick is still a friend on the trail, always there to lend support, leverage or an advance "feel" of terrain ahead. Trekking poles are but one more attempt at variation on perhaps man's oldest tool - the stick.


Hiking staffs are being purchased by both new comers and seasoned walkers alike. Making a beautiful hand-finished walking staff is a lot of work, and many people prefer to let us do the labor so they can have the fun. We cut our staffs in the winter, when the sap is not running, then dry them in a kiln for 6-8 weeks while straightening them. Once dry, we hand finish each one, removing just enough of the bark to make the stick smooth to the touch while allowing nature's beauty to shine through. The stick is then "baptized" with a coat of lacquer and fitted with a steel-reinforced neoprene rubber tip and a leather thong.

More-experienced walkers have several sticks handy depending on the type of trek they are going on. Neighborhood aerobic "walk-outs" with a staff are normally conducted with a well balanced, straight and smooth no-frills wood staff. This permits use of the stick for stretching and upper-body exercise routines while on the walk. Simple neighborhood strolls suggest a comfortable handled stick for cadence, tempo and "critter" protection in today's neighborhood environments. Serious treks for miles through arduous terrain would call for a height-measured stick, six inches or more above the elbow, light in weight yet strong enough to meet the demands of the hiker on the trail.


Features include sticks with compasses in their tops, sticks with whistles carved into them for trail signaling, leather thongs and different types of tips. Sticks vary from a hand-rubbed high gloss finish to the rustic "bark" feel.

WARNING: We do not make sticks out of aluminum or other electrically conductive materials because of the thunder storms in the Rockies where we hike. More: Lightning Safety for Walkers

What Size and Weight?

When selecting a staff, it should be at least 6" above your elbow to allow for plenty of staff going down hill. Hickory is our "Man's stick" weight-wise because it is heavier and a little stronger. Sassafras or one of our Discovery Series Pine staffs are lighter in weight but plenty strong for most hiking needs. You can always shorten a Whistle Creek stick by removing the rubber tip and sawing off what you don't want, then putting the rubber tip back on.


Retailers who have provided customers with staffs have always done well with them. In the future, "boomers" are going to still want to be active, and a staff helps a boomer stay that way longer. Staffs allow a typical hiker to reduce the "foot-felt" body weight by as much as 20%. Since the hiker is leaning on the staff rather than his foot with each step he takes, the feet have less work to do. Try standing on a scale and leaning on a staff. When you lean over on the staff (that is on the ground), your body weight goes down. Switching from left to right hand with the staff balances this weight savings while evenly distributing the aerobic benefits of the upper-body exercise. You win big both ways. Some hikers are even using two staffs, although we recommend just one for safety. (Two staffs are hard for the average person to get used to.)
~ George Barker, Whistle Creek Walking Sticks

Dan Fry of "Raisin Cane" & Hiking Stick Company

Email: dafryz@hotmail.com
I make walking sticks and canes out of driftwood I pick up from the banks of the Columbia River and the Oregon coast. I carve animals, birds and mainly Indian style,(reproductions of petroglyphs, petrographs and Chiefs heads etc...), Sometimes integrating knots, natural twists and features of the stick. I use shells, agates and several other natural features. After intensive sanding I finish with several clear coats, or will just use water sealant to preserve natural beauty. I'm really not sure if I have any words of "wisdom" for you...... I think the closest thing I have is to tell you the process I go through in picking the right stick to carve.

I begin by finding a ready supply of driftwood. Heightens the odds of finding a worthwhile piece of wood. When I find an unusual looking piece, I look it over a few minutes to see if there is something already in the wood just waiting to be carved. Then if I feel it has potential, I will find a big rock or stump and hit it over it to see if it will survive actual usage, no matter what it's being used for. If the stick survives this test,(not many do!), then I carry it home and dry it thoroughly before I even begin to consider carving on it!

I spend a lot of time looking at and feeling the stick to obtain the best weight and ergonomics of each stick. It must be lightweight and the grip carved at the right length and angle. I will even go so far as to ask my customer to send me a print of their hand by gripping a paper roll and tracing the hand with a pen. These sticks are made to endure many moons worth of hiking!!!!
More: How to Make a Wooden Walking Stick

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