A Good Stick

Previous Walk it Off entry:  Your Mileage Will Vary

Tagg’s Rule #3: A good stick will serve you a thousand different ways.

I mean, come on, I named the Facebook page “The Sticks” for a reason.   I’ve had a walking stick since I was a kid in one form or another. It’s traditional. It’s an icon of going out and seeing the world. It’s so ingrained in us that most of us don’t even know Why we need one, just that we Do. But once you have it, you have a great tool, and most don’t even know it. But what makes a good stick?

Well first off, you have to start with the right size and shape. More or less straight is a good start. It has to be strong enough to bear your weight should you try something as outrageous as amateur pole vaulting (I’ve done it, others have had less luck). It should come up to just about the height of your chin.

Now I see I may have gotten a little bit odd there, but let me explain with a picture.

And it makes a good chin rest....

And it makes a good chin rest….

You need it at chin height as a good place to rest your head, especially when carrying a heavier pack. You can “tripod” and stand there and lean on your stick. Trust me, it’s been worth it on a few occasions where I’ve really wanted a break, but it wasn’t wise for me to sit down.

If you can, get one out of oak. Redwood’s an excellent choice if you can get it legally, as my wife will surely attest.   The hardwoods handle really well for long term hiking, but have one down side. If you want to put medallions on them, it’s a LOT more work.

The bottom of the stick should bear some special consideration as that’s usually the part that is going to be put to a lot of wear and tear. I’ve worn a stick or two down to a cane just putting on miles.   There are a couple of really cheap and easy ways to counter this. Most hardware stores sell rubber caps that will fit on the end of your stick and only have to be changed about once every few months, depending on how much you hike.   This option is great for the casual day hiker, but not so much for the back country hiker who may not have a place handy to find the caps and change them out. It looks a bit like this:


The softer tips are made for all hiking surfaces except ice.

The softer tips are made for all hiking surfaces except ice.

You can get metal spike caps that are nice for dirt trails but hell on stone or cement or asphalt and are not as good for road or sidewalk hiking. When you buy a hiking stick from someplace good, like Hike America it will come with a metal spike end on it.

Speaking of Hike America, if you want medallions on your hiking stick from the places you’ve been, they’re a top rate place to start a great hiking collection.   Then you can get a stick that went from the one you see above to the stick as it is now…


This is my back country resume.  I'm about to run out of room on the first one.  It'll be hard to find a second.

This is my back country resume. I’m about to run out of room on the first one. It’ll be hard to find a second.

Take note that while I Have been on the PCT, I have not completed it. I got the medallion to show that I’ve walked parts of it. And that’s just one half of what the stick looks like. There are medallions on the other side too. One for each year I’ve been to Yosemite (though due to fire and governmental silliness, there isn’t one for 2013). It’s possible to fill multiple sticks (and I’ve seen people who have.   The guy who runs Hike America, Roy, gets emails about that sort of thing regularly).   I may be doing that in the near future anyway. For me, the medallions are like merit badges. They tell the story of where I’ve been and how much I hike at a glance.   It’s like my outdoor resume.

Of course, once you get a good stick and go out walking with it, you’ll start to find a lot of good uses for one. Need a probe to find out how deep the mud runs or the water is? Stick. Need a barrier to push through brambles and other face height plant life?   Stick. Need a pole to plant down and tie off a tent to? Stick. Need a snake thwacking device? Stick, Stick, and STICK. Need a crutch? Stick.   Need a place to tripod for a bit because you’re too tired to get back up if you sit down? Stick. Need a brace to keep your balance when you stretch out in the evening and morning?   Stick. Getting the idea? Good.   Moving on…

Next Walk it Off entry: You Will Carry Your Own Weight..