Originally made of wood (ash, birch and willow), sticks are now primarily made of carbon fibers and graphite. These materials provide added flexibility and durability. When you’re standing in shoes, your stick should come at least to your nose. Always be ready with two sticks as hockey sticks sometimes break.
So what is a hockey stick flex anyway? A flex is a measure of how flexible or how stiff a hockey stick is when force is applied to it. Since the flex rating indicates how many pounds of force it takes to flex the stick one inch, you should know that some sticks are significantly easier to bend than others. Finding the right flex is somewhat of a preference based on skill level. The appropriate flex varies among players, so you'll want to try out different options.
The higher the flex, the stiffer the stick. The stiffer the stick, the more power you will have behind your shot. Keep in mind that if a stick is so stiff that you cannot flex it properly with your shooting motion, then your effectiveness will be limited.
How does flex impact play? Essentially, when a player takes a shot, the stick bends a bit to turn the hockey stick into a spring of sorts. When the stick unbends, the "spring" is released and the energy accelerates the puck. You want a stick that offers resistance while still allowing you to flex the stick easily.
What flex is right for me? Ideally, the flex should be approximately one half of your body weight. Players over 150 pounds should use a stick with at least 75 flex. Obviously, this is just a guideline and your own comfort and ability to use the stick effectively should dictate the flex you use. Players with above average strength for their size should consider a stiffer stick while new players may want to go down a level. An average flex is 85.
If you are able to test the stick in a Pro Shop, use your normal hand position on the stick and hold the stick with the blade on the floor. Hold your top hand stationary and push down and forward with your lower hand. You should be able to flex the stick about an inch without using all your effort. If you are unable to flex the stick this much, then the flex is too high.
Women and smaller players tend to benefit from an intermediate stick. Intermediate sticks are similar in size to senior sticks but have a lighter flex.
The most common stick flexes are:
Youth: 40 flex
Junior: 50 flex
Intermediate: 60-75 flex
Regular: 85 flex
Stiff: 100 flex
Extra stiff: 110 flex
Remember that finding the right stick is a personal choice. Guidelines are just that... guidelines. Be sure to try different styles until you find one that fits your playing style and level of play.