Stilt Walkers: Athletic Hobby or Career?

Updated on October 2, 2019
Tricia Deed profile image

Having tried walking under the direction of a professional entertainer made this activity a fun hobby sport to add to my list of activities.

There are various types of carnivals, circuses, events, and amusement parks, around the world that feature stilt walkers as part of their entertainment.
There are various types of carnivals, circuses, events, and amusement parks, around the world that feature stilt walkers as part of their entertainment. | Source

Did you ever experience stilt walking as a child? I did. This subject came to my mind as I was watching some painters painting a ceiling in a residential building. I am also familiar with a few professional stilt walkers who entertain at amusement parks for the tourists in the state of Florida.

But have you ever entertained the idea of experiencing it as a hobby?

Children enjoy walking on cans or hand-held homemade wooden stilts.
Children enjoy walking on cans or hand-held homemade wooden stilts. | Source

About Stilts

The very first concept of walking on stilts that I experienced as a child was gluing cans to the bottom of my feet or shoes (depending on the glue) and walking around making can noises on the concrete sidewalks. If cans were not used, blocks of wood were a great substitute.

Then I graduated to the hand-held wooden stilts which my father made me. Many of the other children were doing stilt walking in our neighborhood. Fathers were kept busy making these toys for their children.

Stilts Aren't Just for Entertainment

There are working stilts constructed of aluminum used by mechanics, carpenters, construction workers, ceiling installers, entertainers, and some jobs requiring walking through water.

Upper body strength and arms are critical for controlling the costume and maintaining an upright balance. Balancing on pegs also means constantly moving in order to remain upright.

People who like representing four-legged creatures need strong arms and hands to control crutches. Canadian crutches are used for supporting the upper body, which is bent at the waistline.

There are approximately seven other types of stilts designed for different purposes.

Cuba is one of many Central American countries that enjoy stilt walkers performing in parades.
Cuba is one of many Central American countries that enjoy stilt walkers performing in parades. | Source

Stilts and Cosplay

Stilts have been in existence for thousands of years. This notion of walking tall was seemingly started by entertainers many centuries ago.

Today many people enjoy using stilts for varied interests. For example, they are of increasing interest among cosplay enthusiasts. The stilts help to emphasize the character and add a new dimension to the costuming.

Stilt walkers enjoy performing in medieval events.
Stilt walkers enjoy performing in medieval events. | Source

How to Walk With Peg Stilts

Having worked with stilt-walking entertainers, I had the opportunity to try the peg stilt. These are made of steel or aluminum and they are fastened to the feet, ankles, and behind the knees. The arms need to be free in order to work the upper body and help maintain balance.

The entertainer helping me had me sit on an elevated surface in order to be able to lift the body when ready to stand up on the stilts. These stilts are supposed to be lightweight, but considering the types of costumes they had to wear, these stilts were heavy in order to be able to support the costume. I was amazed at the leg strength required to work these stilts.

  1. Strap the stilts on your feet and lower legs from a height which will allow you to stand up. The footing of the stilts will make you three feet taller and this can be frightening.
  2. Use 2 long poles (one in each hand) to help support the body while standing tall.
  3. Use these pole until you are comfortable, but not dependent on them.
  4. Keep moving. Practice walking forward and backward.
  5. Keep your legs apart and your arms moving to maintain balance as these stilts will not allow you to stop. Keep your weight over the stilts; do not lean away from the center.
  6. Lift your knees, pick up your feet. Look for any ground obstacles, yet look ahead to know your travel route.
  7. Use arms to maintain balance.
  8. Practice until you are very comfortable on stilts, but at the same time do not become over-confident and careless.

If you do not like moving constantly on the peg stilts, try drywall stilts. These are stable and will allow you to stand still. But they do not have the versatility of the pegs which allow you to run and jump as you become more advanced.

Spring stilts may be an alternative if you want more action especially if you are representing a four-legged creature or you want more aggressive action to create the illusion of your character.

Stilt-Walking Requirements

Not everyone is able to participate in this hobby or career selection. This is a list of requirements which will enable success:

  • Be an active and highly energized individual
  • Mental discipline
  • No fear of heights
  • Muscle strength
  • Endurance for constant movement
  • Excellent body control and coordination
  • Eye and hand coordination
  • Aerial or space awareness
  • Regular practice sessions
  • Creativity, imagination, and designing skills
  • DIY skills of carpentry, sewing, and assorted construction techniques

Safety Tips

  • Wear a helmet when first learning.
  • Use poles until you are comfortable.
  • Have someone nearby in case of an accident.
  • Understand the mechanics of a new maneuver before acting on it.

How to Build Wood Stilts: DIY Walking Stilts

Stilt Walking Enthusiasts

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© 2018 Tricia Deed


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