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Walking stick

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A walking stick

A walking stick (also known as a walking cane, cane, walking staff, or staff) is a device used primarily to aid walking, provide postural stability or support, or assist in maintaining a good posture. Some designs also serve as a fashion accessory, or are used for self-defense.

Walking sticks come in many shapes and sizes and some have become collector's items. People with disabilities may use some kinds of walking sticks as a crutch but a walking cane is not designed for full weight support and is instead designed to help with balance. The walking stick has also historically been known to be used as a self defensive weapon and may conceal a knife or sword – as in a swordstick or swordcane.

Hikers use walking sticks, also known as trekking poles, pilgrim's staffs, hiking poles, or hiking sticks, for a wide variety of purposes: as a support when going uphill or as a brake when going downhill; as a balance point when crossing streams, swamps, or other rough terrain; to feel for obstacles in the path; to test mud and water for depth; to enhance the cadence of striding, and as a defence against animals. An alpenstock, from its origins in mountaineering in the Alps, is equipped with a steel point and may carry a hook or ice axe on top. More ornate sticks may be adorned with small trinkets or medallions depicting visited territory. Wooden walking-sticks are used for outdoor sports, healthy upper-body exercise, and even club, department, and family memorials. They can be individually handcrafted from a number of woods and may be personalised with wood carving or metal engraving plaques.

A collector of walking sticks is termed a rabologist.[1]


A classic late 19th century walking cane, sometimes also called a dress cane

Around the 17th or 18th century, a walking stick became an essential part of the European gentleman's wardrobe. The fashion may have originated with Louis XIV, who favored a walking stick, possibly because he wore high heels.[2] As a curator of the Detroit Institute of Arts wrote about elaborate walking sticks in their collection:

There was almost no limit to the sums which people were then willing to spend upon them. Louis XIV had a stick whose eagle knob was set with twenty-four diamonds. The Regent of France, one of the outstanding rakes of the century, had a huge and famous diamond called "the Regent" set as the head of a walking stick. People of fashion spent as much as forty thousand francs a year on walking sticks. Voltaire, who considered that he lived a life free from fashionable nonsense, owned eighty sticks. Rousseau, a poor man and the apostle of the simple life, owned forty. Count Brühl, creator of the famous Brühl Terrace at Dresden, owned three hundred canes, each with a snuff-box to match, one for each of his three hundred suits.[2]

The fashion spread across the Atlantic to America. Benjamin Franklin had received as a gift a gold-headed walking stick from a French lady admirer when he was ambassador to France. Franklin wrote a codicil to his Will in 1789 bequeathing it to George Washington. It is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.[3]


  • The most common[citation needed] accessory, before or after purchase or manufacture, is a hand strap, to prevent loss of the stick should the hand release its grip. These are often threaded through a hole drilled into the stick rather than tied around.
  • A clip-on frame or similar device can be used to stand a stick against the top of a table.
  • In cold climates, a metallic cleat may be added to the foot of the cane. This dramatically increases traction on ice. The device is usually designed so it can be easily flipped to the side to prevent damage to indoor flooring.
  • Different handles are available to match grips of varying sizes.
  • Rubber ferrules give extra traction on most surfaces.
  • Nordic walking poles are extremely popular[citation needed] in Europe. Walking with two poles in the correct length radically reduces the stress to the knees, hips and back. These special poles come with straps resembling a fingerless glove, durable metal tips for off-road and removable rubber tips for pavement and other hard surfaces.

Religious use[edit]

Orthodox protodeacon holding a walking stick. Portrait by Ilya Repin, 1877 (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).

Various staffs of office derived from walking sticks or staffs are used by both western and eastern Christian churches.[4][5] In Islam the walking stick ('Asa) is considered a sunnah and Muslims are encouraged to carry one. The imam traditionally delivers the Khutbah while leaning on a stick.[6]


A collection of various styles of walking sticks on display at the ethnology museum Els Calderers rural manor, Sant Joan, Mallorca


a British or Irish walking stick made from the ash tree. In the Royal Tank Regiment, officers carry an ashplant walking stick in reference to World War I when they were used to test the ground's firmness and suitability for tanks.[7]


an Irish walking stick, or shillelagh, made from the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).

Shooting stick[edit]

It can fold out into a single-legged seat.


Made from a tropical American vine, also serves as a cane.

Penang lawyer[edit]

Made from Licuala. After the bark was removed with only a piece of glass, the stick was straightened by fire and polished. The fictional Dr. Mortimer owned one of these in The Hound of the Baskervilles. So did Fitzroy Simpson, the main suspect in "The Adventure of Silver Blaze" (1892), whose lead weighted stick was initially assumed to be the murder weapon.

Makila (or makhila)[edit]

Basque walking stick or staff, usually made from medlar wood. It often features a gold or silver foot and handle, which may conceal a steel blade. The Makila's elaborate engravings are actually carved into the living wood, then allowed to heal before harvesting.


a rough Scottish walking stick, similar to an Irish shillelagh, with a hooked head.


Asian, made of bamboo, also a riding crop. Such a stick was owned by Charlie Chaplin's character The Tramp.


Malay stick made of rattan palms.

Pike staff[edit]

Pointed at the end for slippery surfaces.

Scout staff[edit]

Tall stick traditionally carried by Boy Scouts, which has a number of uses


Australian Aboriginal walking stick or war club, about one metre in length, sometimes with a stone head affixed with string and beeswax.


Knotty German stick, made from European cornel, also used as a melee weapon by a duellist's second. The spiral groove caused by a parasitic vine was often imitated by its maker if not present.

American "walking canes"[edit]

In North America, a walking cane is a walking stick with a curved top much like a shepherd's staff, but shorter. Thus, although they are called "canes", they are usually made of more modern material other than cane, such as wood, metal or carbon fiber.

In modern times, walking sticks are usually only seen with formal attire. Retractable canes that reveal such properties as hidden compartments, pool sticks, or blades are popular among collectors. Handles have been made from many substances, both natural and manmade. Carved and decorated canes have turned the functional into the fantastic.

An unidentified woman in a soda fountain, pouring distilled alcohol into her drink from a walking stick during Prohibition in the United States, circa 1922. Some walking canes, known as smuggler or flask canes, are crafted to hold and conceal a glass vial or flask of liquor accessible from the handle

The idea of a fancy cane as a fashion accessory to go with top hat and tails has been popularized in many song-and-dance acts, especially by Fred Astaire in several of his films and songs such as Top Hat, White Tie and Tails and Puttin' On the Ritz, where he exhorts, "Come, let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks or umbrellas in their mitts." He danced with a cane frequently.

Some canes, known as "tippling canes" or "tipplers", have hollowed-out compartments near the top where flasks or vials of alcohol could be hidden and sprung out on demand.

When used as a mobility or stability aid, canes are generally used in the hand opposite the injury or weakness. This may appear counter-intuitive, but this allows the cane to be used for stability in a way that lets the user shift much of their weight onto the cane and away from their weaker side as they walk. Personal preference, or a need to hold the cane in their dominant hand, means some cane users choose to hold the cane on their injured side.

In the U.S. Congress in 1856, Charles Sumner of Massachusetts criticized Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina for the Kansas–Nebraska Act. When a relative of Andrew Butler, Preston Brooks, heard of it, he felt that Sumner's behavior demanded retaliation, and beat him senseless on the floor of the Senate with a gutta-percha walking cane.[8] Although this event is commonly known as "the caning of Senator Charles Sumner", it was not a caning in the normal (especially British) sense of formal corporal punishment with a much more flexible and usually thinner rattan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Antique Walking Sticks 1958". British Pathé. Archived from the original on 19 July 2021. Retrieved 19 July 2021. A walking sticks expert (rabologist) is cataloguing great collection of walking sticks.
  2. ^ a b Richardson, E.P. (October 1943). "Walking Sticks of the 18th Century" (PDF). Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts of the City of Detroit, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 6-8. The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Detroit Institute of Arts. JSTOR 41501004. Retrieved September 10, 2023.
  3. ^ "Benjamin Franklin's Walking Stick". National Museum of American History. Smithsonian Institution. 1789. Retrieved September 9, 2023.
  4. ^ Norris, Herbert (January 2002). Church Vestments: Their Origin and Development. Courier Corporation. p. 116. ISBN 9780486422565. Archived from the original on 30 September 2022. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  5. ^ "Section 13.04 Ecclesiastical style of dress". Governance and Canon. Inclusive Orthodox Church. Archived from the original on 26 February 2014. Retrieved 10 October 2010. [A Bishop] may carry a walking stick ...
  6. ^ "Refuting Albani's misleading answers". sunnah.org. Archived from the original on 2017-03-09. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  7. ^ Fletcher, David (1984). Landships: British Tanks in the First World War. HMSO. p. 25. ISBN 0-11-290409-2.
  8. ^ The Caning of Senator Charles Sumner Archived 2019-10-30 at the Wayback Machine at United States Senate history page.

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