The Titanium Hiking Staff Project

I like to hike in the woods. A stick comes in handy on steep sections of trail, and it gives my arms something to do.

At first, I improvised a hiking staff from a five-foot rake handle. I frapped a section with string for a grip, and shoved on a rubber cane tip from the drugstore.

But I wondered- if I had a light metal tube, could I pack it with survival gear and first aid supplies? Aluminum would work, but what I really wanted was titanium. The price was a deterrent, but I finally ordered a five foot length of one inch welded titanium tubing from Online Metals.

While I was waiting for it to come, I started picking up things to put inside: a space blanket, fire starters, a small compass, a tiny roll of duct tape, water purification tablets, a whistle, fishing line and hooks, a first-aid booklet, triangle bandages, surgical gloves, chewable aspirin. Total weight, about 250 grams, or just over eight ounces.

Step One: Paint. The titanium tube arrived with the specs stenciled all over it. I’m not 20150521_115059Csure other hikers want to meet a large man with a metal pipe in his hands, so I primed it with red oxide and applied a faux wood-grain in chocolate acrylic glaze. I used a nubbly rubber glove for the graining, and the overall effect is a dark brown grain like teak. I applied a clear-coat to protect it.

Step Two: Ends. A one-inch rubber cane tip for the foot. These have steel discs inside, so the metal tube does not cut through them. For the head end, I wanted something versatile. I chose to fit the top with a broom-handle thread so that I can attach different tips. I used a lathe to turn down the handle of a SOG Spirit for this purpose, and epoxied it into the tube with the threaded portion sticking out. I found a wooden paint-roller handle that is threaded to take a broom-handle for painting ceilings. I cut it down and rounded it off to make a knob for everyday hiking. It has a decorative metal ring that looks nice on the staff.

Step Three: Frapping. The one-inch tubing is a little small for my grip, and slippery. Paracord would be best, but the closest I could get locally was some polypropylene braided cord with a 200 pound breaking strength. I wound about forty feet of it around the staff at elbow height in two layers. To do this, I mounted the tubing on a dowel spindle so that I could turn it easily. I started at the lower end, wound my way up for about ten inches, then tightly back down again. Then I tied the loose ends with a tight reef knot and fused the ends to the metal with a lighter. The knot is almost invisible. Unwound, the cord could be used in a myriad of ways, from building a shelter to suspending food from a tree.

Step Four: Packing.

Hiking Staff

Contents. I did get the space blanket more compactly rolled after several tries.

The space blanket was the biggest challenge. Although it was folded into a compact rectangle not much bigger than a deck of cards, rolling it into a slim cylinder was harder than I expected. The key was to refold it into a larger flat rectangle of the right length, squeeze all the air out, roll it tightly around a welding-rod spindle, and draw it tight with adhesive tape at regular intervals. The blanket came with an added bonus; it’s bright orange on one side and printed with diagrams showing how to use it for shelter and so on. It went in first, and slid right up to the head end. Next up, all those loose items. I rolled the first-aid booklet up tightly and taped it like the blanket. I packed some of the loose items into little ziploc bags, then I used heavy duty aluminum foil to make a pair of cylindrical torpedoes filled with the odds and ends, and slid them in. That prevents the contents from rattling or shifting and jamming. Plus the aluminum foil can be used to fashion a cup or a reflector. The last items in were the ones I thought I might need in the biggest hurry; the first-aid supplies. Repeated attempts to roll the triangle bandages into a neat cylinder were pathetic. Finally I just used a chopstick to stuff them in, tied together like a magician’s kerchiefs. The safety pins and the tiny scrap of paper with sling and bandage diagrams went in with them. When the staff was nearly packed full, I squeezed in the whistle and the surgical gloves, and left the tail end of the triangle bandage right at the end where I could grab it and pull it all out. Then the rubber cane tip went on.

Empty, the titanium staff is lighter than the wooden rake handle, and would likely float. Fully loaded, it is just over a kilo: 1070 grams (or 2lbs, 6oz). I find it a comfortable weight. You may have noticed that I carry water purification tablets, but not any kind of water container. Emptied of it’s other contents, the titanium staff will hold 650mls of water, about right for one tablet.

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