Cane vs. Walking Stick: What’s the Difference?

Key differences between a cane and a walking stick.
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Last updatedLast updated: October 02, 2022
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Many people believe that a cane and a walking stick are the same things, but that’s not actually correct, and the belief can make mobility quite difficult! So how do you tell identify a cane vs a walking stick? Luckily, there are several clear differences that you can use which will help you tell them apart and find out which mobility aid is right for you.

Neither a cane nor a walking stick should be assumed to be exclusive to elderly, frail, or infirm members of society! Anyone can need a little help to get some stability sometimes, and balance is important whether you’re walking in the street or helping up a mountain. Even young, fit people might require some aid sometimes.

However, it is very important to make sure you have the right choice for your own body, needs, and requirements in order to give you the best experience possible. This guide will help you figure out the differences between a cane and a walking stick and identify which is the best option for you.

Difference Between a Cane and a Walking Stick

To get started, we’re going to look at a summary of the most important distinctions between the two mobility aids. We’ll go into detail below about the differences when it comes to walking cane vs. walking stick as your choice, but in this second, we’re summing up the identifiers of each an at-a-glance guide!

Walking Canes

Cane vs. Walking Stick: What’s the Difference?

There are several different kinds of walking cane to choose from, such as the HONEYBULL Walking Cane.

The main identifiers of a walking cane are:

  • They are generally intended for regular long-term use;
  • When used, they’re held to the side of the body;
  • Their design focuses on ergonomics and comfort rather than style;
  • They are for everyday use in most situations like going to the grocery store or taking a walk or you can even use them to help elderly people get into bed. If you seniors can’t do that by themselves, you can check out our comprehensive guide on how to help elderly get into bed.

Standard Canes

Standard canes (also known as single-tip canes) are the lightest option and so are useful if you have little strength in your upper body. They’re great for navigating stairways and hallways and are usually the cheapest option. However, they tend to offer less stability than other cane options.

Offset Canes

For those with wrist problems, offset canes are often the best options. They still offer balance, but their handles stick out a little more in a J shape to help those who struggle with grip and allow people to lean more of their weight on the cane. They come with rubber grips on the bottom for support which can usually be taken off and replaced when needed, and these canes are generally easiest to adjust for height.

Quad Canes

Quad canes (also known as four-legged canes or broad-based canes) are some of the best walking canes for balance, thanks to their four-point bottoms, which cling to the floor. They’re best for people with mobility issues due to sprained or broken ankles and legs. However, they are much more difficult to use on stairways than standard cans and can therefore be cumbersome. Large-base quad canes offer the most stability, but smaller-base quad canes are easier to move around with. You can check out our compilation of the best quad canes and choose one depending on your needs and the size of your home.

Forearm Canes

Forearm canes or crutches contain a loop to place your forearms through as well as hold the grips in order to provide a lot of support for those with severe short or long-term foot or leg issues. These crutches usually come in pairs and are used for things like broken legs, and many people with chronic conditions such as gout, multiple sclerosis, or chronic pain also keep them in case of flare-ups. They’re also one of the types especially recommended after a hip replacement.

Adjustable Canes

These canes are lightweight and often foldable for easy carry for those who only require them on occasion. They are single-tipped and can be taken out of a bag in case of a pain flare or other loss of balance. For many, they offer security when they are unsure if they’ll be able to walk well on a given day. As well as foldable canes, some straight canes are also easy to adjust to height, weight, handle size, and more.

Walking Sticks

Cane vs. Walking Stick: What’s the Difference?

The main differences between cane vs walking stick choices are that walking sticks are:

  • Usually for temporary use;
  • When walking with a cane, you usually hold it in front of you;
  • Walking sticks are sometimes sold with more playful novelty handles, like bird heads and diamonds;
  • These sticks are most often used for hiking or even as a fashion accessory, and only occasionally for temporary extremely short-term mobility help that is not needed in everyday life.

The Key Differences

A more detailed explanation of the key differences when choosing a walking stick vs. a walking cane can be found below. Please note that you should always consult a professional before choosing a long-term mobility aid.


Walking canes focus on everyday balance and stability. Their major function is allowing people to keep upright to manage daily tasks.


Canes vary in weight depending on their type. In general, though, all types of cane are heavier than a walking stick, as they must be more sturdy to offer long-term balance and support.

Comfort or Style

Canes focus on comfort and function, while walking sticks, which are often used for fashion, tend to be much more focused on style. It’s common for walking sticks to offer novelty handles (see below).

Some canes, such as the Handmade Ergonomic Walking Cane are more refined in an attempt to offer both comfort and style.

Period of Use

Canes are for long-term use, either for long-term rehabilitation (for example, after a broken leg or another injury, after surgery, or after a stroke or aneurysm) or for ongoing chronic conditions such as MS, gout, and fibromyalgia. Even if they are not used every day (such as foldable canes meant for flare-ups), they are still kept with the intention of long-term support.

Walking sticks are for very short-term use such as hiking, fashion, and extremely short-term movement (i.e., after a twisted ankle at most). Any severe injury which limits mobility requires a cane.

Cane vs. Walking Stick: What’s the Difference?

Unique Handles

Both canes and walking sticks tend to have different handle choices, though, for canes, this focuses on function (J-shaped handles rather than straight) while walking sticks focus on fashion. Some common examples of unique handles for canes include carved animal heads, patterned designs, and jewels.

In recent years, there have been increased productions of more colorful and unique canes, especially in the cases of adjustable and foldable styles. However, the handles are an important part of balance for canes, so cannot be changed.


Can I use a walking stick instead of a cane?

One thing to always remember when deciding on a cane vs a walking stick is that the two are not interchangeable. You should only use a walking stick for extremely short-term or dedicated purposes or for fashionable reasons. If you need a mid to long-term mobility aid, a cane is your only option. Doing otherwise may cause injury and accidents.

What makes a walking stick better than a cane?

The walking stick vs cane debate is a little bit of a false dichotomy, as though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably by the average person, they both have very different functions. While mobility is a purpose for both of them, a walking stick is much better for those seeking something lighter for short-term use such as hiking, or those looking for a fashion accessory.

What makes a cane better than a walking stick?

A cane is better and, in fact, essential to use over a walking stick for anybody who requires a serious mobility aid for medical reasons. This includes those who have had surgery or a serious injury as well as anyone who suffers from a long-term injury or illness that affects their movement. You should always contact a professional to help you select the right cane before purchasing this mobility aid.

What should I know when selecting a mobility aid?

There are several parts to consider when picking a cane for long-term use. Selecting the correct type of cane is the first step. Next, picking the right grip is important as you will likely be using it every day. This is often a matter of comfort (such as choosing a foam over a wooden grip) but can also depend on hand and wrist strength. After that, you must check the fit based on how your elbow bends and the height of your wrist from the ground.

Pick a cane that is easy to walk with on the opposite side of your body than the injury or weakness. Make sure you think about where you will be using the cane (e.g., if there will be lots of stairs), and finally keep an eye on the bottom (tip) of your cane to prevent wear.

Final Thoughts

When you’re choosing your mobility aid, the first and most important thing that you need to do is understand exactly what you require. If you need something to help you walk for medical reasons, then a cane is your only real option. As well, you should ensure that you are selecting the right kind of cane to suit your injury or condition, your height, weight, and body, and any other essential adjustments.

For those looking to go walking, hiking, or simply wishing to look dapper alongside your suit, you should always go with a walking stick. These are the ones with the most stylish options and offer light support only when required. Misusing a cane for this purpose can also lead to accidents.

“Cane vs walking stick” can be confusing because many use the two terms as if they are the same thing, but in fact, they are very different except on a superficial level. It’s very important to know the difference and understand what will work best for you.

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