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Stilts are poles, posts or pillars used to allow a person or structure to stand at a certain distance above the ground. Walking stilts are poles equipped with steps for the feet to stand on, or straps to attach them to the legs, for the purpose of walking while elevated above a normal height. In flood plains, and on beaches or unstable ground, buildings are often constructed on stilts to protect them from damage by water, waves or shifting soil or sand. Stilts have been used for many hundred years .

Types of stilts

Hand-held stilts

Hand-held stilts typically come in two varieties (string and pole) and are common childhood toys. Unlike other forms of stilts, hand-held stilts are not tied or strapped to the wearer.

Hand-held pole stilts are made of two long poles, each with a foot support on them. The stilter holds on to the upper end of the pole and rests their feet on the foot plates.

Hand-held string stilts (also known as tin can stilts) are platforms with strings attached to them. The platforms, most commonly made of tin cans, hold the stilter's weight while the strings are used to pull the cans to the feet as the stilter takes a step.

Peg stilts

Peg stilts, also known as Chinese stilts, are the most common stilts used by professional performers. These stilts strap on at the foot, ankle, and knee and give the walker great versatility. These lightweight stilts allow walking fast, changing direction suddenly, even jumping rope, and dancing (fast turns). The walker must keep moving at all times or fall over.

Drywall stilts

Drywall stilts are used in many area of life. Because of the possibility of standing still and natural walking motion, it's used by many painters, workers, actors, and magicians. Drywall stilts are heavier than peg stilts and made for slower but safer walking and working and are the safest of all stilts, and used by approximately half of the pros. Drywall stilts were first developed by Raymond Emmert. They are also produced under the trade name DuraStilts.

Spring stilts

Spring stilts or power jumping stilts using fibreglass leaf springs were introduced in 2004 under the trademark Poweriser and are marketed for recreational and extreme sports use. The act of using spring stilts is also called Powerbocking. Spring stilts using steel coil springs were attempted in the 19th century [78925][78926], antecedent of the Pogo stick.

History of stiltwalking

This whole of this section except the last line is a copy of an article that appeared in the Scientific American Supplement, No. 821, Sep. 26, 1891 reproduced on the website here. All of the copied text appears in blockquote.

Sylvain Dornon, the stilt walker of Landesmarker, started from Parismarker on the 12th of March 1891 for Moscowmarker, which he reached after a journey of fifty-eight days.
Although this long journey upon stilts constituted a genuine curiosity, not only to the Russiansmarker, to whom this sort of locomotion was unknown, but also to many Frenchmen, walking on stilts, was, in fact, common before the 1870s in certain parts of Francemarker.

In the wastes of Gasconymarker stilt walking was formerly a means of locomotion adapted to the nature of the country.
The waste lands were then great level plains covered with stunted bushes and dry heath.
Moreover, on account of the permeability of the subsoil, all the declivities were transformed into marshes after the slightest fall of rain.
Shepherds from the Landes region of France, walking on stilts.
There were no roads of any kind, and the population, relying upon sheep raising for a living, was much scattered.
It was evidently in order to be able to move around under these very peculiar conditions that the shepherds devised and adopted stilts.
The stilts of Landes are called, in the language of the country, tchangues, which signifies "big legs," and those who use them are called tchanguès.
The stilts are pieces of wood about five feet in length, provided with a shoulder and strap to support the foot.
The upper part of the wood is flattened and rests against the leg, where it is held by a strong strap.
The lower part, that which rests upon the earth, is enlarged and is sometimes strengthened with a sheep's bone.
The Landese shepherd is provided with a staff which he uses for numerous purposes, such as a point of support for getting on to the stilts and as a crook for directing his flocks.
Again, being provided with a board, the staff constitutes a comfortable seat adapted to the height of the stilts.
Resting in this manner, the shepherd seems to be upon a gigantic tripod.
When he stops he knits or he spins with the distaff thrust in his girdle.
His usual costume consists of a sort of jacket without sleeves, made of sheep skin, of canvas gaiters, and of a drugget cloak.
His head gear consists of a beret or a large hat.
This accouterment was formerly completed by a gun to defend the flock against wolves, and a stove for preparing meals.

Mounted on their stilts, the shepherds of Landes drove their flocks across the wastes, going through bushes, brush and pools of water, and traversing marshes with safety, without having to seek roads or beaten footpaths.
Moreover, this elevation permits them to easily watch their sheep, which are often scattered over a wide surface.
In the morning the shepherd, in order to get on his stilts, mounted by a ladder or seated himself upon the sill of a window, or else climbed upon the mantel of a large chimney.
Even in a flat country, being seated upon the ground, and having fixed his stilts, he easily rose with the aid of his staff.

One may judge by what results from the fall of a pedestrian what danger may result from a fall from a pair of stilts.
But the shepherds of Landes, accustomed from their childhood to this sort of exercise, acquire an extraordinary freedom and skill therein.
The tchanguè knows very well how to preserve his equilibrium; he walks with great strides, stands upright, runs with agility, or executes a few feats of true acrobatism, such as picking up a pebble from the ground, plucking a flower, simulating a fall and quickly rising, running on one foot, etc.

The speed that the stilt walkers attained is easily explained.
Although the angle of the legs at every step is less than that of ordinary walking with the feet on the ground, the sides prolonged by the stilts are five or six feet apart at the base.
It will be seen that with steps of such a length, distances must be rapidly covered.

When, in 1808, the Empress Josephine went to Bayonnemarker to rejoin Napoleon I, who resided there by reason of the affairs of Spainmarker, the municipality sent an escort of young Landese stilt walkers to meet her.
On the return, these followed the carriages with the greatest facility, although the horses went at a full trot.

During the stay of the empress, the shepherds, mounted upon their stilts, much amused the ladies of the court, who took delight in making them race, or in throwing money upon the ground and seeing several of them go for it at once, the result being a scramble and a skillful and cunning onset, often accompanied by falls.

In the 19th century, few celebrations occurred in the villages of Gasconymarker that were not accompanied by stilt races.
The prizes usually consisted of a gun, a sheep, a cock, etc. The young people vied with each other in speed and agility, and plucky young girls often took part in the contests.

Formerly, on the market days at Bayonne and Bordeauxmarker, long files of peasants were seen coming in on stilts, and, although they were loaded with bags and baskets, they came from the villages situated at 10, 15, or 20 leagues distance.

In contemporary society, stilt walking tends to be undertaken often but not solely as an entertainment for children.

Stilt walking records

  • Most People to Simultaneously Walk on Stilts: 1908. Doug Hunt. Doug Hunt and the North Park Collegiate HS students organized a mass stilt walk of 625 people walking 328 feet (100 meters) on 12” peg stilts.

  • Tallest Stilts Walked On: 56 feet 6 inches: Roy Maloy. Roy Maloy, while wearing an overhead safety wire, took five independent steps on 56 ft. 6 inch stilts weighing 50.6 lbs. each.

  • Longest Stilt Walk: 24 hours: 76.17 miles km. Zdenek Jiruše (Czechoslovakia) covered a distance of 76.17 miles on stilts within 24 hours on 12 June 1992 in Pelhrimov. BOAR

Work and daily life

Stiltfighters in Namur, Belgium
The inhabitants of marshy or flooded areas often use stilts for practical purposes, such as working in swamps or fording swollen rivers. The shepherds of The Landesmarker region of southern Francemarker used to watch their flocks while standing on stilts to extend their field of vision, while townspeople often used them to traverse the soggy ground in their everyday activities.

Aluminum stilts are commonly used by fruit farmers in Californiamarker to prune and harvest their peach, plum, and apricot trees. Stilts have been used for the washing of large windows, the repairing of thatched roofs, and the installation or painting of high ceilings.

As an employable skill, stilts are most commonly used for drywall and finish painting.

The local festivals of Anguiano (La Rioja, Spainmarker) feature a dance on stilts in which dancers go down a stepped street while turning. Other stilts walking and dancing festivals are held in Deventermarker, the Netherlandsmarker, in early July each year, and in Namurmarker, Belgiummarker.


  1. * Les Echasseurs Namurois. (visited 2008-03-11)

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