Update 1/14/2017: I fixed some links in this post but many products I talked about are gone now, so I did some searching for things that I prefer, old style products that are hard to find now unless you know where to look. Not on Amazon, so I won’t get a commission on this, dammit. Learning Things Again.
Although collapsible hiking poles have become popular, there’s always been a better idea available, and now that other concept — the one-piece walking stick — goes high-tech with carbon fiber. Cold Steel now offers a Slim Stick self defense walking cane with unusual combative potential. Considering the weight difference between the carbon fiber Slim Stick and Cold Steel’s heavy fiberglass City Stick urban self defense cane, this one should even appeal to runners.
I’ve recommended Cold Steel’s Sjambok for that purpose, but its flexibility makes it less effective as a hiking staff for backpackers. This used to be offered on Amazon but no longer, yet it’s still available on the Cold Steel website. I’ve thought of making a scabbard for one from conduit, then it would work for both purposes, but oh well. Quirts and hard whips were never meant to be walking sticks. Modern hiking poles won’t survive long as self defense weapons because of the numerous critical fittings. There should be a modern alternative to these more fragile high-tech poles, combining solid older concepts with today’s best materials, and now there does appear to be a good one. In fact, the Slim Stick is nearly as effective as a rapier.
Cold Steel’s Slim Stick, now listed as unavailable even on the Cold Steel website, was as light as the cedar staff I carry when running but as strong as steel. Maybe they will still pop up on eBay sometimes. The City Stick, also by Cold Steel, with multiple layers of strong fiberglass and an aluminum head, weighs 21.2 ounces. On a run that’s a lot of weight but could be worth it. For something equivalent to the Slim Stick, check out Blackswift. Their products are designed more for the urban walker, but if you know the history of canes then you will note the similarity to the blackthorn shillelagh. Has to be effective if it were once banned in Ireland.
With a little practice in basic cane skills you could develop some genuine defensive ability with any hard whip-like walking stick. A quick reading of H. G. Lang’s The Walking Stick Method of Self-Defense ought to give anyone some bright new concepts of what to do when trouble appears. Walking sticks are acceptable nearly anywhere and don’t attract much attention. Free downloads of this book used to be widely available online but have now shifted into the paid realms. Two free sources are: theexiles.org and Scribd. Both allow you to read the book for free online.
OK, but what about real hiking? Where there might be bears and mountain lions and bandits : ) ? I prefer an eyebrow height staff for the trail, not just because it gives you better reach against predators, but because you can reach down over a ledge and get a firm footing before you even put your feet down. In the woods, falls are your greatest enemy. I do own a red oak staff bought from a kung fu supplier, and I’ve taken it on many long treks. Actually the best staff I own is a white ash hoe handle that is probably out of production now. It’s only chin height but that’s good enough, it won’t split on impact and it has some weight to it. My running staff is juniper sapwood that I split out of a straight tree decades ago and whittled to shape. It’s walking cane length, light and fast, and has set many angry dogs running back to the porch. If you’d like to go traditional, I recommend Wing Lam Enterprises. I’ve bought many things from them, sometimes just out of curiosity, and I’ve never been disappointed. If you don’t live near a good Amish hardware store you can’t get anything better than Wing Lam.