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Leon's Blog

Should a Walking Stick Be Part of Your Survival Gear?

Should a Walking Stick Be Part of Your Survival Gear?

“Although the vast majority of walkers never even think of using a walking staff, I unhesitatingly include it among the foundations of the house that travels on my back. I still take my staff along almost as automatically as I take my pack. It is a third leg to me – and much more besides.” – Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker III, 1984 (page 78)

by Leon Pantenburg

Most of us don’t think about  including a walking stick in survival preparations. But for some, a sturdy walking stick could be a key piece of emergency gear.

Older people might need the stick for helping stay balanced. With training, the stick can be a formidable weapon. The stick can serve as one support for a tarp shelter. If you have to cross a stream, a wading staff can keep you from going into the water.

If you are wading out of your house in floodwaters, or picking your way through debris after a tornado, a sturdy stick can be very helpful.

Like most people I never gave any thought to using a walking stick, even though I read Fletcher’s books cover-to-cover  several times. I backpacked and hiked more than a thousand miles without a stick, and never thought anything was missing.

But one of the weapons I studied in the martial arts was the bo staff. A long stick about six feet long, the weapon has been used informally since the earliest recorded history. A martial art called kobudo emerged from Okinawa in the early 1600s that featured this weapon.

My idea of a weapon is something that shoots. I’ve had some rudimentary training, enough to know that I don’t care about nunchucka, exotic swords, twirly chains and the like. But a bo makes sense – it is deadly in the right hands. If I can’t have my first choice rapid-fire, high-capacity magazine weapon, my second pick would be a bo staff.

Only in the past few years have I started using a walking stick when backpacking. That was mostly because I wanted the extra assistance a stick can give when ascending steep trails or crossing streams on stepping stones.

But a knee replacement operation in 2009 left my balance severely impacted and for a while, I needed something to lean on when I walked. During the initial recovery after surgery, I was forced to use a cane to get around.

Gandalf and and his walking staff were part of the Lord of the Rings saga.

Gandalf won’t have been nearly as cool-looking without his staff.

I loathed that damned cane. If I wasn’t forgetting it somewhere, I was forgetting to take it along. And an icy parking lot can be downright terrifying to someone with a new, barely-healed six-inch scar across his knee!

According to my physical therapists, a cane serves two purposes:

  • It improves balance by providing a third contact point with the ground.
  • It redistributes weight away from an injured  joint or arthritic lower limb.

But, newspaper guy that I am, I had to do some research on canes versus walking sticks. I got this info from “Time Goes By‘:

  1. The cane places the greatest strain on the smallest muscles and joints (the wrist and forearm). Repetitive use can easily lead to wrist and forearm injury.
  2. The quarterstaff (or walking stick) transfers the weight into the shoulder girdle itself. The shoulder joint and its surrounding muscles are much better prepared to handle the load than are the wrist and forearm.
  3. “Imagine a scene: an older woman using a bent-top walking cane crosses a building lobby, trying to reach the elevator before the doors roll closed. Now imagine the same scene with the older woman striding across the lobby with the aid of a seven-foot, oak quarterstaff. People hold the door open not because of chivalry, not out of a desire to help little old ladies, but rather because she just looks so damned cool.” – As Time Goes By  (I’m not sure how true this is, but am in favor of anything that makes us oldies look better!)

Anyway, I had several bos in the garage, and of necessity I started using one as a walking stick on my nightly dog strolls with Belle. Fletcher’s thoughts  on hiking with a walking stick were right on:

“On smooth surfaces, the staff helps maintain an easy rhythm to my walking and gives me something to lean on when I stop to stand and stare. Over rough going of any kind, from tussocky grass to pockety rock, and also in a high wind, it converts me when I am heavily laded from an insecure biped to a confident tripod…

“It may well be, too, that the staff also gives me a false, but subconsciously comforting, feeling that I am not after all completely defenseless against attack by such enemies as snakes, bears and men.”

Regardless of your age or physical fitness, a walking stick can be a useful tool and should be considered for inclusion in your survival gear!

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View Comments (3)


  1. R Wells

    03/04/2015 at 15:55

    Enjoyed your walking staff article. I’ve used one for years. Some improvements that I’ve added are copper plumbing caps to top with 1/4 inch hole in top center where i screw a 1/4 inch toilet johnny bolt w/ epoxy. This addition turns the staff into a great camera mono-pole to steady the camera for pictures, and also attach wrist strap if wanted. At the bottom another copper cap or rubber cane tip from home depot will help keep the tip from wearing or spliting. I use a 1″ top copper cap and rubber tip on the bottom of most of my staffs. ( A copper bottom slides sometimes on concrete or other smooth surfaces). This yealds a staff aproximately 1 1/8th inch at the top and 5/8th to 3/4 inch at bottom, which are sturdy enough for walking and hiking but not really a leathal weapon. My staffs are all measured to about chin hight for the camera. I keep a staff in every vehicle.

  2. David

    03/04/2015 at 06:11

    I have used a 7 ft walking staff for years and it really helps so much that I don’t use a scooter anymore

  3. Stephen

    03/03/2015 at 20:46

    Robert Baden-Powell recommended that a “scout stave” or “scout staff” be a part of the official Scout uniform. The staff has multiple uses besides maintaining balance during hikes. Here is a reprint of some classic Scouting material that explains various functions of a staff. http://scoutingrediscovered.com/campcraft/rediscovering-the-scout-staff

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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