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A good walking stick is like a third leg
by Rob Horne

Actually, it doesnít even have to be a ďgoodĒ walking stick. Almost anything will do. Here is a short list of various creatively designed walking sticks I have seen people using.

Broom stick
Sawed off shovel handle
A stick found along the trail (Gee)
PVC Pipe
Bamboo (modified to hold spare batteries)
Century Plant (The shoot)

Of course you have the store bought wooden sticks. Usually $30 and up, these are often made from branches of willow, oak, sassafras and have been aged, sanded and varnished. Randy Spencer of Kentucky Walking Sticks has made a business out of selling rustic walking sticks. Some of his more interesting products are old tobacco sticks. The sticks were used for hanging and drying tobacco. Located in old barns of eastern Kentucky, the farms no longer produce tobacco and the sticks were abandoned.

The avid hiker knows the importance of possessing a good hiking stick. They provide support on the downhill and help keep your balance when crossing a stream.  Iíve used mine to prop up my pack during rest stops, as an emergency tent pole, to probe for snakes when traveling through brush and as a camera support.

Lately Iíve been hearing more about sticks being carried as a form of protection. This actually makes sense when you consider that just about every national and state park in the country prohibits the carrying of fire arms.  A few years back, when the cougar population was expanding in the Cuyamaca State Park, rangers recommended that all hikers carry a stick.  That same year a women was killed by a cougar on the Cuyamaca Peak trail and every available stick for miles around was picked up and carried away by park visitors. A reminder had to be released asking people not to break limbs off of live trees and to leave their stick behind when they left. Actually, they even discourage the harvesting of dead tree limbs.

I have to admit an early resistance to the idea of using a walking stick. It just seemed so affected and trendy. The current boom in expensive, high tech, collapsible, ski pole type sticks just seems like another transparent attempt at providing yet another faddish status symbol. The $125 price tags are also a deterrent for me.

I canít say Iíve changed my mind about the ski pole thing but I am definitely convinced about the usefulness of a walking stick.  On our Sierra backpacking trips my pack usually tops 60 pounds. I canít express enough the amount of help a walking stick is when youíre with full pack teetering on a shaky stone in the middle of a thigh deep Sierra creek.  Heck, even if you do fall in the stick can still help you get back on your feet.

Probably my favorite use of the stick is for propping my backpack up when we take a break.  Often Iíve backed up to suitable boulder and been able to slip out of my pack and prop it up in the perfect position for later re-entry.

My biggest problem now is finding a free hand to carry the thing.  Not being perfectly organized, I tend to carry a lot of junk that I like to have readily available.  Itís become a logistic problem juggling my camera, water bottle, two way radio and GPS along with my walking stick. Admittedly itís a small problem considering the benefit of the stick.