Whether you are looking for a walking stick or cane to assist in day-to-day walking or looking for a trekking pole to give you support when out hiking, we will have a review for you. There are numerous brands and styles of sticks, canes and poles that all have different attributes and suitability and here we seek to give you as much information as possible to allow you to make an informed decision.
Walking sticks came about in the 17th century when a rigid stick began to replace the sword as part of the gentleman’s wardrobe in Europe. They were originally made from rattan with a metal grip or made from wood such as hickory.
As the walking stick spread, different types came about, usually made in different places and with specific materials. The Devil’s Walking Stick was made from the Hercules plant while the Supplejack was made from the tropical American vine. Dr Mortimer from the Hound of the Baskervilles carried a Penang lawyer – this was made from the Licuala and was stripped of bark by a piece of glass and finished in a fire.
Walking sticks still doubled as weapons in many cases; the Ziegenhainer was a German stick made from European Cornel that was used as a melee weapon by a duellist’s second. The Makila was a Basque walking stick and often had a concealed steel blade with a gold or silver foot and handle.
Other parts of the world also have ancient traditions in walking stick. A Whangee was a stick from Asia that doubled as a riding crop and was made from bamboo while a Waddy was a walking stick or war club of the Australian Aborigines that was a metre in length with a stone head affixed to it.
There are a few key points to consider when buying a walking stick and the foremost among these is that it is the correct height for the person using it. If it isn’t then this will mean the support received won’t be the best and can actually make things worse. The correct way to measure the height of a stick is for the person to stand in their normal footwear with their hands at the sides. A measurement should then be taken from the floor to their wrist bone and this is the correct size of the stick.
The next important thing to choose on a stick is the type of handle. There are a lot of different choices and each has its benefits:
Anatomic handles – these are hand-shaped which means the pressure from them is spread across the hand and gives great grip and comfort. These are recommended for people with weak or painful hands. They are often made from plastic or wood with a metal or wood shaft.
Crook handles – these are less comfortable than anatomic handles but are useful for hooking over an arm or the back of a chair when they aren’t being used. They tend to be made from wood.
Right-angled handles – these are ridged on the underside of the handle with the lines to match where the fingers would be placed, making them more comfortable than simple crook handles.
Swan neck handles – these are offset to allow the weight to spread centrally and evenly.
The other main choice is the construction of the stick itself. The most common options are:
Wooden – widest range available and usually with all of the different handle types. They are cut to be the correct height for the user
Metal – these are stronger than wood and can be either at a fixed height or adjustable for each user.
Carbon fibre – virtually unbreakable and cannot be bent, these are at fixed height and can be cut like wood to the height or have the option to be adjustable.
Folding sticks – these are made from lightweight metal formed into sections. They are easy to store and the shafts are connected with strong elastic through each piece that snaps them together when unfolded.
Telescopic walking sticks – these tend to be made from aluminium, carbon fibre or even steel and can be adjusted to the correct height as well as being available with a wide range of handles.
A walking cane is a bit like a walking stick and has some similar traits but also has others that are different. They are made from wood, metal or plastic and are usually adjusted to be the correct height for the individual. They also tend to have a non-skid rubber tip on the bottom to stop slipping when impacting the ground.
Standard canes have a rounded crook handle and can have a plastic grip as well as the wood. There are some with metal grips but these can be difficult to use in the cold and hard to grip if you have weak hands.
Straight handled canes are also known as T-handle canes and are ideal for people with weak or fragile hands.
Broad-based canes are the most lightweight option and have three or four stubby legs on the bottom to get the maximum support. These are the best for those who have problems with their balance.
In the opposite way to sticks, canes are used in the hand opposite the one where the injury or the weakness is. This allows the user to shift their weight away from the weaker side of their body when they walk. However some people find using it in their dominant hand, regardless of which side the injury is, is their preferred method
Canes have also been seen as an accessory and have a lot of history. US presidents have often carried canes and been given them as presents, including one in the Smithsonian given to George Washington by Benjamin Franklin.
At one time, a cane was part of formal attire and novelty items included hidden compartments and even blades. Canes were a popular part of the top hat and tails routines of stars such as Fred Astaire.
Trekking poles, or walking poles, are the type of stick which are used when hiking or walking to give yourself more stability, rather than when just walking around the house or to the shops. They are designed to be used on trails and terrain that is uneven and come in either singles or pairs.
Using a single pole gives you stability and is also great when crossing streams or on really loose terrain. It also helps to relieve the stress on the joints when you are hiking. As an added benefit it can also act as a security measure – someone with a stick is less likely to be attacked than someone without one.
A pair of poles not only gives you extra stability but, when used correctly, can give an extra walkout and let you burn more calories. Even walking on the streets or paths before you hit the trails, you can use the proper technique and get that extra benefit. These poles usually come with a removable rubber tip so you can switch between soft and hard surfaces easily. Many also have special gloves recommended to use with them to get proper grip and release.
How to walk with a pole
Most poles will come with an instructions booklet that advises you on the best way to walk with them. This may sound strange, walking is walking right? But to get the fullest advantage from the pole or poles you need to learn how to use them to take stress from lower body joints. Also, the grips and straps that are on most poles need to be mastered so you can use them to help you on the terrains but also how to release them properly if they get caught up on something.
There are three main techniques we will discuss later: Nordic walking, Exerstriding and hiking/trekking.
Gripping the pole
Experts says that the best grip is one with a positive angle as this relieves the stress on the wrist joint and prevents over-using it. Grips do differ between walking for fitness and trekking. Another part of the grip are the retention straps that will be different between poles; straps that use a half glove are designed for trekking while a simpler strap is used when just walking.
Design of the pole
One of the first choices about buying a pole is if to go with one which is a single piece or a telescopic one. One piece poles tend to be quieter and lighter and are recommended for those engaged in Nordic walking. The length can still be adjusted with these, as recommended for going up and down hill.
Telescopic poles can be ideal when you want to store them in luggage when not in use or in your backpack. They are also easier to take on flights as they don’t require as much room as a single piece pole.
The tip of the pole is the other area to decide upon. Some have a ‘paw’ for walking on asphalt that strikes the pavement at the correct angle others have a rubber tip like a walking cane, which can usually be removed. Under these will be a carbide tip to give grip when on the trail. There are also trekking baskets available for poles which stops them sinking into sand or snow.
We mentioned the different techniques for walking but what does it actually mean? Different walking styles help to work different parts of the body and are like a workout while having a walk out.
Nordic Walking is the style that uses two poles that are designed specifically for the technique and aim to work the upper body. It is similar to cross country skiing as the poles are used in tandem with each step. Nordic is great for increasing your heart rate without adding extra exertion but is not necessarily just for those who can walk quickly. it works the arms, shoulders, upper chest and back muscles through stretching and lengthening and aims to avoid the natural hunched position that many people acquire in daily life. It is also great for helping with stability for those with knee or leg problems or poor balance because it uses two poles.
Exerstriding is a technique developed in tandem with Exerstriding poles and differs from Nordic as the pole is planted at the beginning of the arm stroke and the pressure is applied through the stroke, as opposed to with Nordic where the poles are always diagonally behind you.
Hiking or trekking is more a series of techniques dependant on where you are; on the level, going uphill or coming downhill. It can be more complex for advanced hikers but is about using the pole to the best advantage for fitness and balance.
Single / Pair
|Leki Corklite Trekking Pole (Black)||Pair||Yes||4.3 / 5||$$$|
|Black Diamond Trail Back Walking Pole, 66.5-140cm||Pair||Yes||4.6 / 5||$$|
|Leki Super Micro Trekking Pole, Black||Single||Yes||4.6 / 5||$$|
|BAFX Products (TM) - 2 Pack - Anti Shock Hiking / Walking / Trekking Trail Poles - 1 Pair||Pair||Yes||4.3 / 5||$|
|Chinook Walkabout 3, Adjustable Hiking/Skiing Pole||Single||Yes||4.9 / 5||$|
Walking Stick Medallions
Walking stick medallions are a great way to personalise your stick and commemorate places you have been. They are usually made from metal and are marked with a whole range of things from national parks and trails to places and sites. They are a recent trend in the US but have been popular in Europe for a long time.
As a rule, they tend to be around two inches across and have pre-drilled holes so they can be fixed with nails or metal brads. They can even be added to metal sticks using a good strong adhesive.
Medallions are also produced as commorative pieces for special events and can retails from just a few dollars. At the other end are the collectors’ pieces that can be a lot more expensive! But they are a great way of personalising the stick and also keeping your memories with you at all times.