Walking sticks come in all shapes and sizes, from fancy adjustable models you can buy at REI and other sporting goods stores to a branch you pick up during a hike and whittle into shape. No matter where you get it, a walking stick is a valuable addition to your survival kit.
What are the qualities of a good walking stick?
First, it should be both light and strong. A store-bought model might be made of aluminum. If you’re on the hunt for a DIY approach, look for strong wood like oak, ash, hickory, or walnut. With a wood walking stick, you want it to be completely dry, no “green” wood. I’ve even seen some DIY walking sticks made from PVC.
Personally, I much prefer wood for my walking sticks. If I’m out hiking, it just feels “right” to be using wood rather than a man-made material. But, to each his or her own.
As for weight, this is a judgment call and is different for everyone. You want the walking stick to be as light as possible, so as to limit the possibility of fatigue from carrying it. But, at the same time, you don’t want to sacrifice strength of the stick.
Length and thickness are largely a matter of personal preference. Go with what feels good in your hand. For many people, a stick that is tall enough to reach to or just below their sternum seems about right. Too short and you’ll be leaning down when moving downhill. Too tall and it will feel cumbersome. For thickness, I like about 1.5″ or so.
A strap attached near where your hand is most comfortable on the stick will help relieve stress on your wrist. What I do is sort of rest my wrist in the strap, letting the strap take the weight of my arm when I’m at rest.
So, why should you want a walking stick? Here are eight reasons:
Balance — a walking stick can be a big help when negotiating uneven terrain.
Reach — if you have a need to get at something hanging in a tree or floating away from you in a pond, a walking stick can extend your reach considerably.
Gauging depth — when traversing a stream or river, it is important to be able to watch out for dips that could cause you to stumble. Same thing goes for when trying to move through deep snow.
Clearing a path — by holding the stick upright in front of you, it can be used to part branches, leaves, or brush.
Defense — a walking stick can obviously be a weapon, whether your attacker is on two legs or four. Further to this point, you can carry a walking stick in most buildings where other weapons are prohibited. However, I will say you’ll probably have less hassles doing so if your walking stick is “finished” looking, rather than just a dead branch you picked up in the woods an hour prior.
Fishing — you can tie your line to the end of the walking stick to turn it into an expedient fishing pole. Many a fish has been caught in this fashion.
Shelter support — if you find yourself needing to spend an unexpected night outdoors, your walking stick can work as a ridge pole or support pole for a cobbled together emergency shelter.
Spear — while I don’t necessarily advocate this unless it is absolutely necessary, you can tie a knife to the end of your walking stick to make a spear. NEVER throw the spear, though. Keep it in your hands and thrust at the target. Throwing it will likely damage your knife and the odds of you hitting your target without prior experience are somewhere between slim and none.
Carry gear — use a shemagh to package your small gear into a bindle and tie to the end of the stick to carry everything hobo style.
If you think about it, the walking stick might very well have been the very first multi-tool!