Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Monday, February 12, 2018

Where the Rubber Meets the Road - Your Walking Stick - 2018

Walking sticks and whether or not to take them on the Camino is a question often asked on the forum.

There's just something about a walking stick.  Sometimes refered to as wands or staffs, there are many examples in history and legend where walking sticks played an important part in a person's life:

Asclepius, Greek God of Healing, carried a lovely staff!
A shepherd's crooked staff
Another shepherd and his staff
Moses' staff could do tricks!
It also was used to find water!
Some carry a BIG stick!

Other sticks are more discrete.
Over and over, there are examples of famous staffs and sticks, important to their owners.
People who use them can become very attached.
I've seen people backtrack for miles to retrieve a staff left at a breakfast stop! 

Some folks carry theirs from far away places.
Some pick them up along the roadside.
Some buy them from local vendors. 
Some say they're not needed at all!

The first time I walked in 2006,
I purchased a dark wooden stick in St. Jean Pied de Port.

It was beautiful and strong..
and I don't know what wood they use to make these,
but the danged things are downright indestructible.

That was evident when I had a meltdown on the Meseta
and tried to break mine over a rock.

I succeeded in practically breaking my hand instead
and got so frustrated with the toughness of the walking stick
that I flung it far out into the dirt field,
where some lucky pilgrim probably picked it up later,
wondering at the blessings of the Camino!

Those sticks, called bastons or palos, work just fine! They come in all lengths. Some are plain. Some are decorated. Some have crooks, and some do not. Sold in nearly every village along the Way, all are quite functional and give you the stability you need to get across mudholes, up rocky paths and down wobby trails.

I saw one peregrina using two short ones,
just like trekking poles.
Each had a strap for the wrist,
and when I asked her how they worked,
she gave me the thumbs up sign.

Most are also discarded in the Pilgrim's Office 
once the walker arrives in Santiago, 
since it can be an issue to get one home via airplane.

I often wonder if these are recycled, or resold, or ???
Does anyone know what becomes of them?

I bought mine and used it until I threw it in the field. 
I then found another that someone abandoned in a bus station. 
It sat in the lady's room with a 'free" sign on it.  
I carried it the remainder of that Camino.

The plus side of using a local stick
 is that you are supporting the local economy 
by your purchase.

Because they are so inexpensive and so readily available, 
it is highly unlikely it will get stolen, 
and if it does, you're only out 3 to 5 Euros.
(Note: In 2014, they were still under €10)

They all come with a steel tip and they are biodegradable too!

Some people prefer to bring expensive trekking poles. Made by many companies, these can cost from $25 upwards to hundreds of dollars, depending on the bells and whistles.

A lot of folks use Leki poles:

Many people do not understand the correct way of using poles. 
If you aren't sure, 
there are many video lessons on YouTube 
on the correct use of trekking poles.


Having used a regular trekking pole for a few local miles, I decided to buy Pacer Poles for my 2009 Camino.  Ergonomically correct handles make them easy on the wrists if you suffer from carpal tunnel.  They give great support and I am in love with mine.

One nice thing about trekking poles is that they have exchangeable tips - rubber for walking on pavement, and steel tips for dirt path. They also come with baskets that will keep your poles from sinking into mud or snow.

If adjusted correctly, trekking poles can be very useful and save your joints from damage.

However, I was concerned more than once 
when I was not allowed to carry my poles into the albergue with me. 
This rule is for a good reason, by the way, 
according to one hospitalero.

Apparently, some pilgrims get violent and use them as weapons.

 No.. really.. that's what I was told!

Seems like this is one of those cases 
where one person does something stupid 
and the rest of us are made to pay for it.

Another hospitalero told me 
it was to avoid people tripping over them and breaking bones.

This actually made more sense to me. 
I can see how, in the tight spaces of an albergue, 
one careless pilgrim could cause an accident. 
But frankly, I don't know of this ever happening.

I only saw one place where I worried about theft. 
They wanted me to leave my poles in a barrel 
near an open door that went out to an alleyway in a large city. 
I didn't feel comfortable doing this 
so simply went to another albergue 
where they allowed me to carry in my poles.  

I also did hear of one set of Leki's being stolen... 
not by a local but by another pilgrim. 
BAD pilgrim.. BAD!!!  
I can only assume one reason you'd steal someone's stick!

Though many airlines will allow you to carry on your sticks
from the USA to Spain,
the issue seems to be getting them home.
More than one pilgrim has had their sticks confiscated
in Santiago and Madrid.

One good option is just to wait and buy sticks when you arrive.
St. Jean Pied de Port, Zubiri, and Pamplona
all have good pilgrim shops
where you can purchase sticks
as well as other items
You can email them and order ahead,
and have your sticks waiting,
or just wait and shop around once you're there.

Here is the link to La Boutique du Pélerin in SJPP:

Here is the link to Planeta Agua in Zubiri:

Here is the link to Caminoteca in Pamplona:

Do you NEED a walking stick on the Camino?
It just depends on you.

Here are some reasons you might want to consider a stick:
  • Three legs are more stable than two.
  • Four can be even better. It is in debate.
  • Sticks are helpful in keeping yourself balanced while walking with a pack.
  • They will save your knees and hips!
  • They are helpful for launching yourself over those deep sticky mud puddles in Galicia!
  • They are helpful for keeping your footing when traveling DOWNhill on steep rocky trails.
  • They are helpful for pulling yourself UP steep trails like the one to O'Cebreiro.
  • They are great for leaning on to catch your breath.
  • They're good for digging through leaves if you're looking for mushrooms.
  • It's something you can take home to remind you of the Camino and actually USE at home.
  • They are good for warding off dogs or (lately) crazy men exposing their privates. (Think billiards or T-ball!)

Personally, I think some type of walking stick(s) is indispensible, 
especially on those tricky sections 
going down into Roncesvalles, Zubiri, and Uterga,
but that's me. 
And each pilgrim must walk their own way.

Walking without a stick is perfectly fine. 
Many people do it. 
Some don't want to be bothered by trying to keep up with a stick, 
and they are often left at the cafe or albergue.

The choice of a stick (or none) is up to you. 
It's just another one of things you have to decide for yourself.
Whether you do
or whether you don't...
Buen Camino!

* * *
Note:  If you are interested in walking the Camino Santiago, 
but are not quite ready to go it alone, 
consider joining Annie
on one of our small, affordable Camino walks. 
For more information see our website 
at this link: AnnieWalkers Camino

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