A British 'walking stick' is usually a relatively simple stick used for everyday support or country walks. A 'cane' is a more formal, elegant item that is as much an accessory as a means of support. Different terms are used in different countries. Many Americans reverse the descriptions, so that a 'cane' is the everyday, functional object, and a 'walking stick' the smarter version.
The close and personal relationship between people and walking sticks would have started with our hunter-gather ancestors, who would have carried early staffs for self-protection and support. However, it would not have been long before carved and decorated walking sticks were created in order to emphasise their owners' authority and prestige. Subsequently, walking sticks have taken many forms, from sticks concealing swords and guns, to glamorous jewel-encrusted canes and even ladies' models that contained scent atomisers and lipsticks. Some styles denoted their owners' profession or trade, for example the bishop's crosier, the bailiff's heavy-topped cane, or the shepherd's crook. Of all nations, the British have for centuries been among the most enthusiastic users of walking sticks.
Smart hardwood and formal silver-topped canes have long been a favourite accessory of an urbane gentleman, while traditional crooks, thumb sticks and hiking staffs in ash, blackthorn, applewood and hazel are always popular with the British in the country.
Many people become avid collectors of walking sticks, and are sometimes known as ambulists. Famous stick collectors have included George VI, Queen Victoria, The Duke of Windsor (Edward VIII), President Washington, Napoleon, Peter the Great and King Tutankhamun. Another keen collector, Louis XIV of France, forbade all his subjects bar the aristocracy to use walking sticks because he regarded them as a symbol of power. In more modern times, prominent walking stick users have included Prince Charles, the flamboyant celebrity boxer, Chris Eubank, and the elegant British fashion designer, Betty Jackson CBE. Other celebrities to have been seen with Classic Canes walking sticks include the comedian Dawn French, the journalist and fashion stylist Anna Piaggi, and the singers Cleo Laine and Dame Vera Lynn.
Many people need a stick for everyday support and balance. For them, their walking sticks become loyal friends, as well as a way to express their personality. It is not unusual for women in particular to amass extensive 'wardrobes' of walking sticks, to match outfits in many different colours.
Modern walking sticks range from the quietly classical to the extravagantly eye-catching. Today, there is a wonderful cane for every walking stick enthusiast, whatever their personal style.
A frequently asked question is, what height should my walking stick be? The answer to the correct measurement and fitting of walking sticks is not determined by how tall you are, but by the distance between your hand and the ground.
Physiotherapists recommend the following method of determining the correct height for a walking stick:
The walking stick user should stand upright, in the type of shoes they usually wear, with their arms hanging naturally by their sides. Another person should turn the walking stick upside down, so that the handle is resting on the floor. Positioning the walking stick next to the user, make a small mark on the shaft of the stick level with the bump at the bottom of the wrist bone. Using a small saw, cut the stick at this point. This will mean that the user's arm will be slightly bent at the elbow when they hold the stick, and their shoulder will be level. A stick that is too long will force the shoulder unnaturally high. A stick that is too short will force the user to stoop.
If the walking stick user is not present, for example if they are buying their walking stick by mail order or through the internet, they can determine how long their walking stick should be by asking another person to measure the distance from their wrist bone to the floor. The walking stick user should ensure they are standing correctly i.e. standing upright, in the type of shoes they usually wear, with their arms hanging naturally by their sides.
Please note that this information is a guide only. Consult your doctor or physiotherapist if you require specific, medical advice on this matter.
Walking sticks are very personal items and each one should be chosen to suit the requirements of its user. These vary greatly and so there are many different types of handles. The main variations are shown here. When selecting a new cane, users should try various handles to find the shape and size that is most comfortable and supportive for them.
A classic shape, traditionally formed by steaming and bending the wood but also available in man-made materials. Conveniently hooks over the arm.
Simple right angle handle that supports the user’s weight directly above the shaft of the stick. Derby Elegantly shaped right angle handle. Very supportive and can also be hooked over the arm.
A small scale, elegant handle that people with small hands find easier to handle.
A traditional, one-piece country stick, each with a unique, rounded handle, grown from coppiced hardwoods.
Shaped to resemble the form of a pistol butt, the off-set handle is comfortable and stylish. Staff A simple, upright handle on a long stick for hiking, usually fitted with a wrist strap.
A naturally occurring shape, held with the thumb in the V and the fingers clasped around the stick. Fischer Supportive orthopaedic design for left and right hands, designed by an Austrian, Dr Fischer, to assist arthritis and rheumatism sufferers.
Orthopaedic handle for left and right hands. Supports front of hand and curves away from back of hand. Anatomic / Ergonomic Orthopaedic handle for left and right hands. Often suits arthritis and rheumatism sufferers with smaller hands.
Ergonomically designed to provide a firm grip and prevent the hand slipping forward. Cap Stick An upright and often decorative handle for formal and elegant dress canes.
Novelty collectors’ handles in the Victorian tradition, often in the shapes of animals and birds.
TREKKING POLE USER GUIDE
Classic Canes poles can be adjusted and locked into a wide range of lengths, to suit people of different heights and for use on different types of terrain. The poles help to reduce the load borne by the walker’s legs.
A single pole used in the manner of a traditional walking stick gives support and balance on easy terrain, while a pair of poles is recommended for more difficult walks. Inside each adjustment point on the stick there is an ‘expander’. Here, an internal split dowel expands and locks the poles into position when twisted clockwise. When twisted anti-clockwise, the dowel unlock and the pole can be shortened or lengthened to the appropriate height. A half turn is all that is required to loosen the extending mechanism. The lowest section should be fully extended to the “STOP MAX” mark, and the pole then adjusted to the required height using the middle section. CAUTION: Do not extend the poles beyond the “STOP MAX” mark.
How long to make your poles
As the poles are fully height-adjustable, it is possible for every walker to find their ideal walking position. As a general guide, most walkers find the following arrangements most suitable for different types of terrain:
Walking on the flat: The poles should be adjusted so that the walker’s forearms are bent at an angle of 90 degrees to their body when stationary.
Walking uphill: The poles should be shortened so that they can be placed easily and comfortable in front of the body to allow for extra support and ease of movement.
Walking downhill: The poles should be lengthened so that the walker’s posture remains upright rather than bent forward.