- "Walking stick" may also refer to a stick insect, of the Order Phasmatodea, which uses camouflage to resemble a stick or twig.
A walking stick is a tool used by many people to assist walking. Walking sticks come in many shapes and sizes, even leading some people to collect them.
Hemiplegic and balance-impaired persons use the stick to give them a better sense of the vertical position, thereby lessening vertigo. Without the stick, it is easy to walk at an angle, and perhaps not move in a straight line. The stick is held in the stronger hand.
Muscle-weakened persons (with reduced strength or nerve action) need a stronger weight-bearing stick to take some of the load normally used by the afflicted leg. Canes are generally used in the hand opposite the injury or weakness. This may appear counter-intuitive, but this allows the cane to used for stability in a way that lets the user shift much of their weight onto the cane and away from their weaker side as they walk. Personal preference, or a need to hold the cane in their dominant hand means some cane users choose to hold the cane on their injured side.
Also serving this purpose are walkers, which are held in front of the user and allow the user to lean heavily on them.
Walking sticks are used by hikers for a wide variety of purposes: to clear spiderwebs, part thick bushes or grass obscuring the trail; as a support when going uphill or a brake when going downhill; as a balance point when crossing streams, swamps or other rough terrain; to feel for obstacles in the path; to test mud and puddles for depth; and as a defense against wild animals. A walking stick can be improvised from nearby felled wood. More ornate sticks are made for avid hikers, and are often adorned with small trinkets or medallions depicting "conquered" territory.
- The most common accesory, before or after purchase or manufacture, is a hand strap, to prevent loss of the stick should the hand release its grip. These are often threaded through a hole drilled into the stick rather than tied around.
- A clip-on frame or similar device can be used to stand a stick against the top of a table.
- In cold climates, a metallic cleat may be added to the foot of the cane. This dramatically increases traction on ice. The device is usually designed so it can be easily flipped to the side to prevent damage to indoor flooring.
- Different handles are available to match grips of varying sizes.
- Rubber ferrules give extra traction on most surfaces.
- Nordic walking (ski walking) poles are extremely popular in Europe. Walking with two poles in the correct length radically reduces the stress to the knees, hips and back. These special poles come with straps resembling a fingerless glove, durable metal tips for off-road and removable rubber tips for pavement and other hard surfaces.