What are stilts used for? Stilts are one of two long pieces of wooden poles, with places to rest your feet on, on which you can walk far above the ground. People strap it to their feet and walk along, towering above others.
They do take more balance and more time to learn the basics of walking, but they are highly impractical because the foot of the stilt is a very small area. Because of this, the stilt walker is required to constantly stay in motion, teetering back from foot to foot.
You may have seen entertainers walk on them in a parade or at the circus. The history of stilts goes back thousands of years—all the way to the 6th century B.C.E. In the Landes region of France, shepherds used tchangues (English: “big legs”) made of wood. They were around five feet tall and helped the shepherds move more easily over the area’s marshy ground.
From their stilts, shepherds could watch over their sheep and spot any predators approaching from a distance. For generations, people in Landes learned to walk on tchangues. Some were so good at it that they could walk and even run long distances. In 1891, Landes native Sylvain Dornon walked all the way from Paris, France to Moscow, Russia on stilts!
Of course, shepherding isn’t the only job that’s ever used stilts. In Sri Lanka, some fisher-folk are known to stand on stilts while fishing. The practice started after World War II, when the area was short on both food and boats. People planted wooden stilts in the sand and stood on them to fish. Today, a few fishers carry on the practice of stilt fishing.
Today, many people use them in construction. Specifically, they’re a convenient tool to have around when installing drywall. Rather than climbing up and down a ladder, people walk around on stilts that enable them to reach the ceiling or top part of a wall. Unlike stilts made for performance (like those used in parades and circuses), these are made first and foremost for stability.
Drywall stilts make it much easier to balance and much less fatiguing to stand still compared to stilts used by performers. The reason for this focus on stability and ease of balance is probably obvious: your focus is the project and the stilts, like any tool, should make the job easier and faster, not more difficult.
Finally, a performer’s job sometimes includes stilt walking. Stilt walkers are common in parades and circuses, but you might also see them at festivals and birthday parties. They bring unique entertainment to a wide variety of events.
Content for this question contributed by Chris Valiquette, resident of Walnut, Los Angeles County, California, USA