Stan and Dena: We use walking sticks for a variety of reasons.
1) For an assist on hills.
2) For stability on difficult terrain
3) For protection--Stan carries a walking stick on every single walk. A walking stick is an excellent deterrent to an attacking dog. After being attacked by five German Shepherds on an evening summer walk in the Baltimore area, Stan decided to be prepared. He has never used the walking stick on any dogs. It seems they see the stick and back off. This is true of people also. On some city walks, ones where there are unsavory characters loitering, just seeing a stick makes these people look the other way.
Darwin: I used to sit back and watch people walking with walking sticks and wonder why? I had tried using one myself, but it always felt awkward and ungainly. I spent as much time banging my shins as I did hitting the ground. Seeing these other folks come whizzing by with their stick seeming to be almost a part of them frustrated me greatly.
Today, I feel almost naked without my staff. Learning to manage the stick has made my walking experiences much more enjoyable. I think everyone should try using a stick at one time or another.
The first thing is choosing the stick that is right for you. There are lots of choices available. You can get get composite fiber, wood, aluminum and plastic sticks. I prefer the wood. Like pro baseball players, I believe that aluminum is best suited for cans and transportation. There is nothing quite like the feel of a good piece of wood in hand.
There are many woods to choose from; oak, hickory, sassafras, mesquite. I think my own stick is sassafras. Whatever wood you use, pick something light and strong. Light because you will have to carry it and the difference between 5lbs and 10lbs over a long hike is considerable. At least strong enough to not break when you put your full weight on it. That stick could be the only thing between you and a nasty fall.
Length is also important. A good walking stick should be at least as high as your shoulder. Longer and it could become an exercise in annoyance. Shorter and it may not be much help when descending a hill or steep incline. A short stick, at least to me, is harder to use going down. With the longer stick, I can use it as a support when stepping down and grip it so that I am using my arms and back to take some of the weight off of my knees. If you have had any sort of knee problem you will understand the value of this.
Another consideration is the diameter of the stick. For most folks you want something around the size of a Susan B. Anthony dollar. You should be able to comfortably grip the stick without overlapping your thumb. You also do not want it too large. Your fingers should be able to curl around the stick. This will also help prevent your fingers from swelling after exercising.
When walking with the stick it is good to alternate hands ever so often. This will prevent circulatory problems.Not everyone will use it the same. I have found that the stick feels most naturall when I grip it lightly and let the natural movement of my arms move it. Once settled into a rythym , the stick actually helps me to maintain a pace, It's tapping keeping time with my footfalls. I particularly enjoy walking on a good earthen trail, listening to the drumming sound the stick makes when it hits the packed earth.
Other than a useful tool, the stick can also be a good identifier and logbook. I place cane shields on mine as a record of places I have been. There are a few people around here that I readily recognize by their sticks. Sometimes I recognize that my friend Jan is present at walks before I even see her, because I know her stick.
As for care, an occasional wiping down with a soft rag and some Old English furniture polish is all the care my stick needs. And maybe a replacement rubber tip.