One of the biggest differences between hiking poles and walking sticks is the support they lend your body. Many hiking poles are specifically designed and engineered to absorb some of the shock so that your knees don't have to take as much. Walking sticks will not absorb much shock for your joints. If you are at all in need of or concerned about your knee joints or preventing possible knee strain, then trekking poles are the way to go. They will lend a hand in your balance somewhat, but they also do not provide as secure of a grip as trekking poles either, which may cause slipping in some situations such as river crossings or abrupt falls. Manufactured trekking poles are customarily made with preformed cork or rubber grips; some with leash loops.
Some people prefer to find the perfect stick, whittle or carve it to their liking and even carve designs into them. Hiking with a unique piece of traveling art is fun, but these are heavier than trekking poles and may break on you depending on what type of wood they are and how the branch or log was formed. Trekking poles have the advantage of being adjustable in height, having ready-made grips to fit your hands and being made from lightweight, durable materials such as carbon or aluminum. Trekking poles can also be fitted with snow baskets on the bottom to be used for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
Moving with one pole is a bit different from moving with two. When using a pair of trekking poles it is easy to get a fluid rhythm going and have a ready support on both sides of your body at all times. With a hiking stick you can also get a good walking rhythm going, but one side will always be without support. Either device can be used to brace you on steep terrain, going slowly and stepping sideways. The freedom to choose whether or not to move without your poles for a segment of a hike is also an option with trekking poles. They can collapse due to their small size and can be stowed in or on your backpack. Hiking sticks are a bit harder to pack if you aren't going to be using them.
Article Written By Naomi Judd
Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.