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The Benefits of Hiking Staffs Vs Trekking Poles

Decades ago my Aunt Carol got some special hiking sticks, which looked like ski poles, for Christmas and at the time I was a teenager and thought they were silly and unnecessary. My mother later tried using them and also liked them and got something similar for when she goes on walks.

However as I have gotten older and done my share of hiking, I have determined having a walking stick of some kind is handy for really steep hill climbs (to help with balance, to hook onto trees to help pull myself upwards, etc) and have long since determined them to be very useful.

When I purchased snowshoes a few years back they came with 'snowshoe poles', which ended up being very useful for snowshoeing and staying upright - it is surprisingly easy to fall over when you lose your footing in snow.

Last year I even went snowshoeing in April after a Freak Snowstorm, and did a post about it. See photo below for my snowshoes and poles in action.

So yes, I have definitely changed my opinion about walking sticks.

Hiking Staffs and Trekking Poles are a whole different topic however. There is the classic wooden walking stick, obviously, but there are subtle differences when you get to the more unusual varieties...
  • The Classic Walking Stick - A stick you pick up and just use - perhaps even carved so it is more interesting to look at. Usually about the length of a cane or a bit longer.
  • Hiking Staff - Typically made of wood, carved, often a lot taller than your normal walking stick, closer in size to a quarterstaff used by "Little John". Might even be decorated with feathers and/or paint. The "Gandalf" of walking staffs.
  • Trekking Poles - Ergonomic handled poles similar to ski poles, designed using lightweight but durable materials, spikes on the bottom for better grip.


Pros and Cons of Each

Source: How to Choose Trekking Poles and Hiking Staffs
  • Hiking sticks and trekking poles help take the load off your feet, legs, and back. By employing one or two additional points of contact with the ground, your upper body can help offset the strain on your lower body and core.
  • Hiking sticks and trekking poles help improve your balance. Even experienced hikers occasionally find it difficult to keep their balance while carrying a heavy pack. By giving yourself an additional point of contact (or two), you’ll benefit from much better stability and balance.
  • Hiking sticks and trekking poles make it possible to cross more difficult terrain when necessary. If you are forced to cross a stream, climb a steep hill or negotiate a sandy dune, you’ll have much better success if you use a hiking stick or pair of trekking poles.
  • Hiking sticks and trekking poles provide a small measure of increased safety vs predators. While they certainly aren’t designed for the purpose, hiking sticks can help increase your apparent size should you encounter a coyote, bear or stray dog that gets too close for comfort.
And I can think of a few more things to add to the list.
  1. You can use the pole as a hook on trees to help pull yourself upwards while climbing steep areas.
  2. You can lean on the pole when tired.
  3. If it is a really good wooden stick and you have a carving knife handy, you could begin the process of carving a longbow while you are walking - you know, for fun. Then you just need to braid or twist some plant fibre together to make a bowstring.
  4. You can have swordfights with friends while hiking, for fun.
  5. For thwacking it against rocks or trees to make noise - because music is fun, even in its crudest forms. Also handy for scaring away predators with the noise.
  6. To keep your arms busy, trekking poles keep your arms in motion which gives you a better upper-body workout while you are walking so you burn more calories.
  7. Increased safety while making your way across something precarious, such as a log that bridges a small stream. Not everyone would walk across that, but I would do so easily with a walking stick for extra balance.

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