“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.
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‘:
- 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.
- 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.
- “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!