Making your own walking stick is a very fun way to express yourself and practice basic bushcraft skills while hiking. Walking sticks are extremely useful, especially on long or thru hikes.
Being able to transfer some of your weight to the stick can help take some weight off your knees. And all those who hike a lot know the importance of preserving your knees.
Most people like to use collapsible aluminum or carbon fiber walking sticks as they are lighter and can usually take more weight. In addition to this, they’re always ready to use and don’t require any wood crafting skills.
However, there’s just something about making your own walking stick in the wild that makes you feel like you’re adventuring and taming the wild around you.
When making your walking stick or staff, you will need to process the wood in some ways, but the most common question people ask is: “Can you leave the bark on a walking stick?”
While you can leave the bark on your walking stick, it is highly recommended that you don’t. There are a bunch of issues you can run into – scratches, infections, blisters, and cuts. None of these are good to have when you’re in the wild or on the trail.
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How to Pick the Right Walking Stick?
The perfect outdoor walking stick should be no taller than your shoulder, though many people choose even shorter sticks for their adventures.
Remember, the lighter your gear, the easier time you’ll have moving around. And this is also true for improvised, wooden walking sticks made in the wild.
Apart from this, a walking stick shouldn’t be too thick, you should be able to entirely close your hand around it.
Should You Leave the Bark on a Walking Stick?
In most cases, you shouldn’t leave the bark on your walking stick. Depending on the type of wood you’re using to make your walking aid, the bark can cause a lot of problems.
So, if you’re sourcing wood to spare your knees from some of the load, make sure you at least remove the bark from the part you’ll be holding in your hand.
Remove the Bark From Your Walking Stick to Prevent Injury
As the bark dries off the dead branch you’ve repurposed as a walking stick, it will become brittle, crumble and fall off.
This can cause a lot of problems for the hand holding the stick. Crumpling bark can lead to cuts, splinters, abrasions, and blisters on your hand.
While these don’t sound like serious issues, you have to take into account the entire scenario. As you’ll be on a hike in the wild, far away from civilization, you’ll want your condition to be as good as possible. Every injury, no matter how minor, will make your stay in nature more difficult, while also increasing the risks of infection.
Stripping the bark from your walking stick will prevent you from getting any of these scratches and cuts. It will make your outdoor adventure safer, and a safe adventure is a good adventure.
Removing the Bark Will Keep Your Hands Clean
Another reason why you should remove the bark from your walking stick is to keep your hands clean. Of course, since you’re in the wild, you can’t expect your hands to perfectly clean, but getting them dirty for no reason besides holding the walking stick is not a great idea.
You wouldn’t want to have to clean your hands every time you take a break from walking. Not only will this take up a ridiculous amount of time, but it can also unnecessarily dry your hands. Dry skin is prone to cracks, splitting, and abrasions, none of which you’ll want when on the trail.
Additionally, hands that are constantly gritty will make it more difficult to clean and dry your clothes, as well as use your equipment.
Dirty hands can also be detrimental to your gear. Having grit on your hands when handling your equipment can damage it – silnylon tents are durable, but they’re not resistant to all types of damage.
Setting up your tent, rainfly or tarp with tiny pieces of dried bark on your hands can cause serious damage to them. There’s a lot of pulling and stretching involved and even a tiny sharp wooden splinter can make a hole in your shelter.
While this isn’t the worst thing that could happen, the general rule of outdoor life is to not risk damaging your gear unless absolutely necessary.
Stripped Branches Provide Better Grip
As the dried bark peels from the tree, your grip will falter and make it more difficult to safely transfer your weight to the walking stick. If you don’t have a good grip on the walking stick, your knees aren’t the only thing that could potentially suffer.
If your grip falters, your walking stick could twist at an unfavorable angle, causing you to fall down, twist your ankles or lose your footing in a crucial moment on the trail. Needless to say, none of these things will have a satisfying conclusion.
Not to mention that it will leave dirt and grit on your hands when you’re sweating, especially when hiking or camping in high humidity.
When Can You Leave the Bark on a Walking Stick?
While stripping the bark from your walking stick is recommended, there are still ways you can manage without doing it if you’re completely set on it.
Wear Gloves When Hiking
Wearing gloves when hiking with your walking stick will not only allow you to keep the bark on but help you keep a better grip on your walking aid.
In addition to this, gloves will provide additional protection for your hands, preventing any scratches, blisters, or splinters.
It is always a good idea to have gloves on you when camping, hiking or backpacking. You never know when you might need some extra insulation or protection for your hands.
Of course, if you’re hiking in very cold conditions you will already have a pair of gloves with you and you will be able to leave the bark on your walking stick. Just make sure there’s no way the walking stick will rip or damage your gloves.
When the Bark Is Smooth
For some types of trees, those that have smooth bark, you won’t need to strip or peel it off. If you’ve sourced maple, elm, willow, ash, or similar types of wood, the bark should stay on even after it dries completely.
Make sure you don’t submerge your walking stick or let it get too damp, as this can work to further separate the bark from the stick.
The good news is that all of these trees are pretty common and easy to recognize, even for people with almost no experience in wood crafting, tracking, or botany.
Using a Different Part of the Stick for Support
Finally, you can keep the bark on if you’re using only the very top part of the walking stick to support yourself. Instead of holding the stick, you can lean on it as you would on a cane.
While not the most efficient manner of using a walking stick, this could help you if you want to keep the bark on, or if the walking stick you’ve found is too short for you.
Treat the Wood Properly
Processing the wood in the right ways will allow you to keep the bark on while retaining the utility of your walking stick.
- Sand it carefully – employ sandpaper of various grains until you get that smooth but firm and secure feel under your fingers. Make sure you don’t overdo the sanding and avoid reducing the circumference of the stick.
- Rub some nourishment on it – rubbing wood oils into your walking stick will help feed the wood and preserve it for years. Some people use gunstock oil and it works pretty well.
- Use polyurethane – another good way to keep the bark on your stick, waterproof it and make it more resistant to the elements is to seal your walking aid with polyurethane. This method will give your walking stick a glossy finish, so it won’t provide the perfect grip. However, the more you use it and the more weathered it gets, the easier it will get to keep your grip on it.
What Can You Do With the Bark After You Take It off the Walking Stick?
In the end, stripping bark from your walking stick is not only beneficial for the stick. The strips of bark you’ll get can be invaluable resources to anyone in the wild, as they have a bunch of applications:
- Tinder – bark is highly flammable, especially when it is dried up. Once you strip the bark off your walking stick, you can store it and keep
- Cordage – separate the thin strands of the bark, press and braid them together to make
- Lining for a sleeping bag – even though the bark is not great for insulation, it can still be used for it in a pinch. If you can’t use leaves as a lining for your sleeping bag, this would be a good alternative.