There’s nothing like a good wooden walking stick, is there? It’s a completely different feeling from using a pair or metal or carbon fiber hiking poles. Wood is far more resilient. It won’t break if you get it caught in some roots or you slip and lean on it real hard. It’s biodegradable, and a hand-crafted walking pole is easily 50% less expensive than a pair of Leki or Black Diamond hiking poles.
There’s also an emotional bond that hikers form with a wooden walking stick that is very different from using a pair of collapsible metal poles. I used wooden staffs for years, especially growing up, and they saw a lot of backpacking miles in the hills of Pennsylvania.
Walking sticks are not for everyone, certainly. They don’t fold up easily when you need to scramble and depending on their weight, they can use up more energy on a high mileage day. But they are tops if you need to do a lot of stream crossings that have rocky bottoms or traverse boulder fields of talus that will snap a metal or carbon fiber pole in a second.
Every spring, I make a point to re-read The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins. It’s a continuing source of inspiration for me about lightweight backpacking and the joys of backpacking. Timeless stuff.
In it, Fletcher describes his fondness for the bamboo staff that he hiked the length of California with and it’s utility in marshes and bogs, as a makeshift fishing rod, tarp anchor, tent pole, camera monopod, and rattlesnake probe.
Fletcher always inspires me, so I went down to the basement and dug out my old Brazos Walking Stick, made from the wood of the Sweet Gum tree. The bark on the sweetgum is gray and deeply furrowed, separated by narrow scaly ridges. It’s a handsome stick and I plan on using it again this year.
What about you? Have you ever considered switching back to a wooden walking stick, instead of aluminum or carbon fiber hiking poles?
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