Teddy Roosevelt may have been talking about foreign policy when he said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” yet, these wise words are also a great hiking motto. Speak softly so you have a greater chance of experiencing the wildlife around you and carry a big stick – a big walking stick – to help lighten your load.
I purchased my first walking stick in Glacier National Park almost twenty years ago. It was hand-crafted and has stood the test of time and use. Walking sticks come in all shapes and sizes and many hikers will have several options depending on the trail or type of hike they are completing. We’re VERY casual hikers so a shoulder-height wood walking stick is all I really need.
For a while, I wondered if walking sticks were really worth it. Did I really want to lug around something else when I was in the woods? After years of using one, I can honestly say, Yes! A walking stick is worth its weight in gold and here are 5 reasons I think you need to use a walking stick.
5 Reasons to Use a Walking Stick
1. Trail cred
Trail cred is a lot like street cred. Seasoned hikers can easily recognize those who don’t know their way around a trail. Lack of proper equipment is a definite red flag. I always worry when I see a hiker at the base of the trail with nothing but the clothes on their back. When I see a hiker with a source of hydration, a pack that probably contains food and extra clothes and, yes, a walking stick – I feel like that hiker has at least a little sense about them. They’ve got trail cred.
The most obvious reason for carrying a walking stick is stability. Even on well-groomed leisure trails, walking sticks are beneficial. A walking stick can ease stress on your joints as you ascend and descend hills. It can give you an added point of contact when navigating uneven terrain or crossing a stream. They can even help provide leverage to assist you on a climb.
A quality walking stick can help you hike faster, longer and farther especially when you have a heavy backpack on. It can take some of the load off of your back allowing you to walk in a more upright position. This helps to eliminate fatigue giving you more trail endurance. A walking stick basically gives you an extra leg. If you are inclined to use trekking poles as opposed to a walking stick you essentially become a four-legged animal which is much more efficient.
I like to practice situational awareness but when you are out in the woods it can be easy to let your guard down. Nature can be calming and the solitude creates a feeling of safety but there are still many dangers. A walking stick can prevent you from encountering dangers in the first place and it can also help to ward off pending dangers. A human threat is going to be less inclined to mess with someone who already has a weapon at the ready. You can poke the stick into piles of brush or overgrowth if you are unsure what lies beneath. The stick increases the distance between you and any potential dangers and serves as a weapon if self-defence is your only option. In addition to nefarious humans, snakes, dogs, a snapping turtle in your path and even bears and mountain lions can pose a potential threat in the wilderness.
I’m going to get real with you. I bought my first walking stick just so I had something to put my hiking medallions on. I didn’t really think a walking stick was a helpful piece of equipment so I purchased it to show off my swag. I pictured the walking stick leaning in a corner of my living room, adorned with medallions, where it would serve as a conversation piece when friends came for dinner. Somewhere along the way, maybe as I got older and my bones began to ache more than they did in my twenties, I realized this fancy conversation piece was actually beneficial. Since we’re being honest, I still think it looks cool and I love using it to show off all of my trail swag.
Do you use a walking stick?