Senior Safety - What's Better, Walking Canes or Walking Sticks?

When looking for stability to move safely or just to lean on and take rest, a walking stick or cane (often referred to as the “third leg”) can make every step forward much safer.

At a time when you may need assistance to walk or move from one place to another, taking the help of a walking cane or walking stick can make life much easier while also keeping you independent and confident. Walking aids can help maintain a better body posture, prevent cramping, muscle strain and joint injuries.

The terms walking canes and walking sticks have been used interchangeably for a long time, whereas both of these mobility aids serve a different purpose.

This article will help you find out how they differ, and which one is the right choice for you.


The subtle differences between a walking stick and walking cane lie in their functionalities. A cane is built to take more weight and is designed keeping support in mind while walking sticks are used to maintain balance on uneven ground i.e. while trekking or hiking.

Walking canes Vs. Walking sticks:

  • Canes are preferred for medical requirements and are advised by doctors when recuperating from injuries or surgeries, while walking sticks are usually preferred to be used to maintain a good balance and are not as functional as canes.
  • Canes are ideal for everyday use while walking sticks are better for occasional use, for example: during hikes or while walking on uneven terrain.
  • Canes are supposed to be held to the side of the body while walking sticks are usually held in front of the user. Some canes are also covered by medical insurance companies.
  • Canes have any additional features like attachable lights and replaceable handles while walking sticks are basic and more of a style-statement.
  • Most canes can be folded and can be conveniently stored in a purse or bag. Collapsible canes are lightweight, sturdy and easy to carry around.

Even among walking sticks and canes, there are different types based on the:

  • Tip - Generally made of rubber, it is present at the bottom of the stick/cane and grips the ground to absorb the weight of the user without losing its shape.

    Preferably choose a tip made of reinforced plastic. Some variants of tips are also designed to swivel and flex, while others use water vents for better stability while walking on sandy or gravely surfaces. There are two popular options based on the tips:

    • Standard Single Tip – The simplest type, it is perfect for those who are looking for minimal/occasional support or balance while walking and is easy to navigate with even in narrow or rough spaces.
    • Quad Cane Tip – As the name “Quad” suggests, these come with four tips that gives greater stability for people with limited mobility.
  • Height - The stick should be the same length as the distance between wrist and ground when the user stands straight (shorter for women). Ideally, select a stick with adjustable height. Pressure from a cane which is not your ideal fit can lead to neck and shoulder muscle tension and headaches. Canes usually have an adjustable height.
  • Material - They are usually available in three types (wood, metal and carbon fiber). Wooden canes are the cheapest but are more likely to splinter on regular use. Carbon fiber is the strongest material but is expensive. Metal canes are ideal because they have adjustable height, can handle heavy weights and have a reasonable price.
  • Handle - The handle should be picked based on user preference. Keep in mind the amount of time you need to grip the handle and select the one you are most comfortable with.

    Ergonomic handles are designed specifically for prolonged usage.

While choosing between a walking stick and a cane, keep in mind the amount of time and how regularly you will be using it. Canes are preferred for everyday use; they are medically advised for more stability and safety, while walking sticks are more occasional use. For a long term, sturdy and reliable walking aid, choose a cane instead of a design-oriented walking stick. If you’re looking to make a style statement, by all means, pick the flashiest walking stick you can find but remember that it is not meant for daily use and may not bring you the comfort that you need.

Happy walking!