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Fri, Dec. 06

Johnson: Hiking Equipment – Staffs and Gadgets
Hiking Arizona

Hiking Staffs

My sister-in-law refers to hiking staffs as “magic sticks.” Such creative terms can be misleading, especially if we expect these “sticks” to magically support our weight. I have done so and they have collapsed under me. Any tool/gadget should be used as designed, otherwise expect trouble. A hunter asked me if I used hiking staffs. If so, he thought they might offer him some relief from the pain from the damaged menisci in his knees on his next hunting adventure.

I can’t say for sure but I suspect that if I had started using hiking staffs consistently at a much earlier age, I might have been able to avoid or delay the need for orthoscopic surgery in both of my knees. Is that why they say, youth is wasted on the young?

By the time we have learned the lessons from experience, it may be too late, the damage already done. Since I did not use staffs early on, I don’t automatically take them with me. Fortunately, tree branches of all sorts are often found along hiking trails across the Southwest, offering a reasonable substitute for the collapsing variety you might purchase. However, the adjustable kind can be made longer (downhill side) or shorter (uphill side) depending on the angle of the terrain.

I’ve seen a few hikers carrying their staffs instead of using them. What is their purpose? To relieve pressure on the joints hiking downhill? Giving extra traction as we struggle hiking uphill? Helping with balance? At Iceberg Lake, below the east face of Mt. Whitney, they were used to suspend packs above ground to keep the rodents at bay. Any tool that is multifunctional is good to have on hand. Necessity is the mother of invention and with a little creativity, hiking staffs fill the bill, if used, not as some sort of adornment or fashion statement.

As with anything, sometimes hiking staffs have a down side. I have tripped over them on more than one occasion. We are not all as coordinated as we would like to be or as we once were. Oh, the many joys of aging!


We live in a gadget-filled culture. You know, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Yet, we all know that you can’t take it with you, since there are no U-Hauls in funeral processions. Therefore, I prefer to keep it simple. Looking around, we see clutter everywhere. I wonder how the owners of such stuff manage to get through life dragging it around like a ball and chain.

Is it a tool or a toy? In our culture, we can make a toy out of anything. At that point, it may be that the gadget owns you rather than you owning the gadget. I will never forget the instructions from the National Park Service back in 1973 as my Dad planned our first Rim to Rim hike. They said, gather all the gear you plan to take and leave half of it behind. Lighten the load. Are you a pack animal or a person?

The stuff in our packs and on our person is no substitute for know-how, being able to improvise and responding to the unexpected with a level head. Having these sorts of “tools” in your tool kit/pack is more likely to result in a positive outcome, regardless of any gadget you have stowed in your pack.

Next: Losing a Child on a Hike

Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at

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