When my friend Julia and I started walking the Tour de Mont Blanc three years ago, we weren’t convinced that we needed walking poles at all. We’d done plenty of walks around Britain without them and couldn’t really see the point. In fact I remember that Julia had to hire one pole from the local ski hire shop in Les Houches, while I had one and borrowed another from Hotel Slalom, which I managed to break before the end of the trip.
Three years on and we are both totally convinced that walking poles are essential on a mountain hike that is as arduous as the Tour de Mont Blanc. In the second year of our walk Julia suffered from altitude sickness and we had to cut short one of our days walking because of it, so she really regretted only having one pole to support her on that trip. Last year I had some inexpensive telescopic poles, but they managed to get wedged together, so that I couldn’t pack them down small, and they had to go. This year I was convinced that I needed some quality walking poles that would stay the course and see me a through a few mountain treks in years to come, so I checked out what my local Ellis Brigham store in Bristol had to offer. My eye was caught by a pair of Leki Micro Vario carbon poles which admittedly weren’t cheap at around £145 but which had the great advantage of packing down much smaller than anything else I’d seen.
Why do you need walking poles?
Perhaps you’re planning a long mountain trek like the Tour de Mont Blanc and are undecided on whether you need walking poles, so let me tell explain why they are essential. Firstly, if you are walking for up to 10 hours a day, carrying a backpack that is 10kg or more, your legs deserve all the support you can give them. The poles spread the load on your knees, legs and ankles through your whole body, so you’ll be less exhausted at the end of the day and with less risk of twists and sprains. Secondly, the walking poles help you balance on uneven ground and sleep slopes, when your rucksack makes you top heavy, or you’re picking your way across a slippery stream.
Trudge up the mountain for 3 hours or more as we did regularly on the Tour de Mont Blanc and the poles will help propel you up the hill, steadying you on the climb. I remember that when I went Nordic Walking on Dartmoor, it was described as “like walking in 4 wheel drive”, which is just the traction you want on an uneven mountain trail. You might think that once you’re over that mountain crest, the walk downhill will be a breeze in comparison, but in fact that can be just as tough, if not more so on your knees. The path may be quite slippery with shale or mud and there could be stones or boulders along the way, so you are just as much in need to poles to support your legs on the downhill run.
Why I chose the Leki Micro Vario walking poles
When I looked around the range of walking poles in Ellis Brigham, I knew that Leki were one of the leading manufacturers of high quality walking poles, so I shouldn’t have any of the mishaps with breaking or locking poles as I’d experienced in previous years. I decided to try the Leki Micro Vario poles because they have a unique design and fold up into sections for storage, making them some of the smallest and lightest poles I’d seen. We were travelling to Geneva on cabin baggage only, keeping our packs as small as possible, so this was a big bonus, as my poles could easily fit easily into the side pocket of my rucksack. The fold-up design also meant that I could pack up my poles and store them in my room in the mountain refuges, rather than leaving them in the communal boot area. Although I’d met the most friendly people on the mountain, I did have a mysterious experience one year when I discovered a piece of my pole had gone missing, so I was a little wary.
How to assemble your Leki Micro Vario Poles
You may think that it would be completely obvious how to assemble a pair of walking poles, but I found that my Leki micro vario poles had a locking button that was hidden when the poles were broken down, and I puzzled for quite a while to work it out, so I’ve made the video below to show you how.
- First fit the two lower sections that are joined by cord together
- Next extend the third section until a small metal button clicks into place to secure the whole pole firmly
- Extend the fourth upper section until you have it at the correct height, marked by the rings on the pole, then push the locking lever down against the pole to secure
- Finally adjust the wrist straps by pulling the top strap upwards to flip up the locking mechanism, adjust the strap length from the underneath and then flip the locking mechanism back down to secure.
I hope you find the video below useful, about how to assemble your Leki Micro Vario Walking Poles
Another great feature of these poles is the grip handle which was extremely comfortable with an egg shaped top that fitted into the palm of your hand and an equally comfortable shaped grip with soft wrist supports.
Who are these poles good for?
I should mention that at around £145 the Leki Micro Vario poles are at the expensive end of the range of poles stocked by Ellis Brigham. There are plenty of options for poles from Leki and other manufacturers, but none that pack so small and light. If you are not a regular hiker and plan to do the Tour de Mont Blanc or a similar mountain trek as a one-off, then I would probably buy some walking poles at the cheaper end of the range. However, for frequent walkers and those who like to travel light, the Leki Micro Vario poles are an excellent investment, the sort of kit that is always a pleasure to use. These poles are also great for those who combine hiking with climbing and need poles that will pack away easily into a rucksack pocket when they need their hands free. Whatever your budget,do make sure that you have walking poles of some sort on the Tour de Mont Blanc as it’s an arduous trek and you really do need them.
The Leki Micro Vario poles are made from carbon for minimum weight with maximum strength. They pack down to around 38cm and extend from 110cm to 130 cm in height. The poles feature the Leki Aergon grip which allows a range of gripping options, with a wrist strap adjustment that is easy to use, even when wearing gloves. The speedlock, external locking mechanism allows the height of the poles to be adjusted easily and securely. The poles also have replaceable metal tips in case one gets caught or breaks. These poles retail at around £145 for the pair, but other walking poles are on sale from £50 per pair. Thanks to Ellis Brigham who gave me a pair of Leki Micro Vario Carbon Poles to try for this review and specialise in all kinds of Mountain clothing and equipment.
More great gear for the Tour de Mont Blanc
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Sometimes on the Tour de Mont Blanc I felt like a mountain goat, leaping from rock to rock down a steep path made up of glacial moraine. At other times, my feet felt like lead weights as I toiled up a never-ending zig-zagging path to reach the mountain refuge at the end of a 10 hour day. Either way, I was very glad to have a decent pair of walking boots like my new Berghaus Explorer Light boots from Blacks to keep me company on the trail.
My last pair of hiking boots had certainly earned their keep. Over the last few years they’d taken me around three-quarters of the Tour de Mont Blanc circuit and were still looking fine on the outside, but inside the heel lining was wearing thin and the bones of the boot were starting to poke through the padding with an increasing risk of blisters. My boots made it through last year’s walk mainly because I covered up the sharp edges with plasters, but this year I didn’t dare risk that again. It was definitely time for a new pair of walking boots. Fortunately Blacks, the UK specialist in outdoor clothing, came to the rescue with an offer of a new pair of boots to help me finish my Tour de Mont Blanc, but now I needed to choose which of the many options would be perfect for the Alpine trail.
Boots with ankle support
Fortunately I’d had the benefit of three previous years walking in the Alps so I knew what my boots would have to cope with; Dusty dry paths that wind uphill through the forest; Boulders and stones of glacial moraine; Stony paths with rough steps leading steadily upwards; stepping stones to cross fast flowing mountain streams; Slippery shale, uneven turf, bare rock, even occasionally patches of snow! My boots would have to cope with all these different mountain terrains,
To protect against twisted ankles on uneven paths, I knew I’d need boots that had some good ankle support. I’ve read people questioning whether you can get away with trail shoes on mountain walks like this and of course the TMB Ultramarathon runners do the whole thing in lightweight trail shoes. I also think that a tough pair of trail shoes or walking shoes with minimal ankle support are fine if you’re on holiday in the Alps and just want to do the odd day ‘s walking, perhaps getting a cable car up to the top and walking for a few hours down to the valley. However, for those doing the whole Tour de Mont Blanc which is a 10-12 day trail, I would strongly advise a robust pair of boots with ankle support. When you’re walking for up to 10 hours a day, for many days in a row, on all terrains and in all weathers, your feet will thank you for it.
Boots that are light-weight
When you’re carrying a 10kg pack for long walking days, the last thing you want is to feel that you’re carrying heavy weights on the end of your legs. When I was trying on boots, I was conscious of weight, going for boots that were a combination of leather and mesh fabric, lined with Gore-Tex. If you are going in for serious mountaineering you may need something heavier weight such as an all leather boot, but my Berghaus Explorer Light boots were the ideal combination of robust support without weighing me down. The combination of leather and fabric was also ideal for summer walking as your feet can get pretty hot and sweaty, especially when the sun is shining (as you hope it will be).
Boots that are waterproof
We’d had fantastic sunny weather on our previous walks on the Tour de Mont Blanc, so my boots had not been heavily tested on the waterproof front. However, if we’d experienced several days in a row of rain which can easily happen, I’d have been very glad to have a pair of boots lined with Gore-Tex or other breathable, waterproof membrane. The nearest my boots came to getting soaked was when I slipped crossing one of the shallow streams, but as I jumped out the water ran off my boots in a very satisfying way. My daughter when treking in Nepal on a school trip during the monsoon, found that the only parts of her body that stayed dry were her feet encased in Gore-Tex lined boots. She was most scathing about the so called waterproof jacket I lent her, but that’s another story. You will pay a premium for Gore-Tex branded boots, but look out for boots that use similar unbranded waterproof membranes that can be more affordable. The key thing is that you need your feet to stay dry.
Finding a hiking boot that fits your feet
It’s important, when choosing a new pair of walking boots, to try on as many different pairs as you can before making a choice. Make sure you take a pair of walking socks when trying on in the shop (who wants to share socks with a stranger’s sweaty feet?) In my local Blacks store in Bristol, I tried on as many different styles and sizes as were available and found that different brands had different fits – some seemed narrow in the toe while others were roomy. My normal size 6 was fine in some styles of hiking boot, while in others it was too tight and I had to move up a size. I would not even consider any boot that you can feel rubbing or is uncomfortable in any way when you first try it on – life is just too short. If you can feel it in the shop, believe me it will be ten times worse after a long day on the trail. By trying on lots of different styles you will find a boot that feels instantly comfortable when you put it on, and for me these were the Berghaus Explorer Light Gore-Tex boot.
How did I get on?
My boots felt comfortable from day one, but I have to admit that by day 2 and 3 I was starting to feel areas on my toes and heel that were starting to rub. I think that this was probably not the boot’s fault as I should have allowed some more time to wear them in and let them mould to my feet by wearing them on my walk to work, or even around the house. I managed to stop the blisters developing by wrapping all the sore areas in plasters, especially the specialist Compeed padded heel plasters that I’d brought with me and were worth every (expensive) penny. By taking this action I was able to prevent painful feet and my boots and I are still the best of friends and ready for the next mountain adventure.
A good pair of hiking boots will typically cost between £80-150 and if you’re doing a long distance hike like the Tour de Mont Blanc, this is one item of kit where I wouldn’t economise. If the boots that feel most comfortable to your feet are at the higher end of the price scale, I would buy them and scale down the costs in other areas. After 10 days walking your feet will be thanking you for choosing the best you can afford and your boots should last for years.
My Berghaus Women’s Explorer Light Gore-Tex boots cost £100 at Blacks, the UK online and high street retailer who specialise in Outdoor Clothing for walking and hiking. The boots have a substantial rubber sole for good grip, suede and mesh fabric upper and are lined with a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane. As the name suggests, the boots are lightweight, yet provide good ankle and foot support and are ideal for walking in warmer climates. Thanks to Blacks for providing me with a pair of boots for this review.
More tales from the Tour de Mont Blanc
Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries – Courmayeur to Chamonix and over the pass into France
Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries – Champex Lac to Ferret and a walk in the woods
The mountain clothing you’ll need for treking the Tour de Mont Blanc – video
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
These days I rarely travel with more than a carry on case and avoid checking in luggage wherever possible. Who wants to be stuck for ages waiting for your case to come through on the carousel when you could be out of the airport and on to your next travel adventure? But cruises are different aren’t they? On cruises we want to look our best, dress up a little and live the elegance and occasion of the cruising experience. So when Samsonite sent me their Panayio carry-on case to try, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to test whether I could have my cake and eat it. Could I pack light and still have everything I needed to look my best on a week’s Rhine River Cruise?
As we approached Heathrow airport for our flight to Basel to join the cruise ship, the traffic was building up and I was starting to worry that we would be late for the plane. Luckily it all went to plan and soon the wheels of my spinner case were gliding into Heathrow Terminal 5 and through security, with no delays to check any luggage. My new case held it’s own in terms of sleek good looks as we passed the designer shops of Paul Smith, Smythson and Tiffany on the way to the departure gate.
I particularly liked the curvy shape of the Panayio range; curvy mean less edges to catch and rub, and as I’m getting a little more curvy myself these days, curvy means feminine, curvy knows how to enjoy life! With my practical head on I also needed a case that would meet to size dimensions that major airlines require for carry on bags – normally around 55cm x 45cm x 25cm for Easyjet and British Airways or a slightly smaller 55cm x 40cm x 20cm for Ryanair and Germanwings. The Panayio easily fitted the lower size requirements, so no stress there. In my packing-light challenge, I must admit that I cheated a bit as both British Airways and Germanwings with whom we were flying allowed an additional laptop bag, so I did take an extra bag for all my electronics. Getting into the holiday spirit, I chose the Panayio in the red colour, for a bit more pzazz and visibility among the sea of boring black luggage that you’ll find in any airport.
Although I had my doubts about the spinner wheels at first, the 4 wheels glided effortlessly along the departure hall and there was also the option of tilting the case at an angle on 2 wheels for more bumpy pavements. The sturdy extendable handle also adjusted smoothly to 4 different heights and as I’d given my old case to hubby I felt rather smug as his clunked along while mine glided noiselessly. At the top and side, the built in handles were curvy and streamlined, but felt sturdy for lifting the case into the overhead locker. My only minor gripe was that there was only one small zip compartment on the front, which was just about big enough to slide your documents into, so no opportunities to stuff lots of extras into outside compartments. Another great feature was the built in padlock that you could set to your own 3 digit combination and was TSA approved so you could keep your case secure on flights to the USA.
The big test was whether I could fit everything I needed for my 6 day cruise into my new Samsonite carry-on. Applying my tried and tested packing rules, which work well for trips of up to a week, I was looking good to go. My packing light tips are;
1. Plan exactly what you need – take only what you need for each day of your holiday and no more, you can always give one or two things a quick wash if you run out of things to wear.
2. Cut down on the shoes – I normally limit myself to 2 pairs and wear the more substantial one, although I did cheat a bit and take 3 this time. Shoes take a LOT of space.
3. Colour co-ordinate – choose one colour theme per holiday so that everything will mix and match. On this trip I went for tones of brown, beige, cream and soft pink which all worked together.
4. Pack miniatures of your favourite toiletries - I have a small sponge bag that’s always ready to go and contains miniature versions of everything I need.
5. Dress up with accessories – A couple of scarves and some pretty jewellery take up hardly any room and dress up your outfit.
So how did I get on for my Rhine river cruise? I’m happy to report that it all fitted in my new Panayio carry-on and I still had room for some of my camera equipment. Here’s what I packed for my 5 night, 6 day cruise;
- 2 pairs of trousers, one a velvet jean style, the others a more dressy, lightweight wool
- 2 cardigans in cream and pale pink that toned with each of my trousers
- A top or t-shirt for each day I was there, choosing neutral colours and simple shapes with pretty details that look equally good when going for a bike ride or at dinner in the evening.
- A large cream pashmina that my daughter brought me back from her trip to Nepal which was suitable as an evening wrap and also a cosy muffler if it got cool in the day.
- Lastly, breaking my rule of only taking what you need, I took a lacy pink cardigan which was I wore for the Captain’s cocktail party but which stayed in the wardrobe the rest of the time, proving I could have probably done without it
- For shoes I took some flat leather boots my sister bought me in Rome which were perfect for all the city walks and also some smart city trainers (no heels for me when I travel). I also took some pretty flat pumps to wear in the evening – again I broke my own rule and only wore these a couple of times, but they did pack up quite small.
Although at first sight the case seemed on the small side, I did squeeze in all these clothes, together with nightwear, underwear and a few other bits and bobs, although I did have a separate bag for most of my electronics. Of course being a River cruise the dress seemed to be a bit more casual than on some sea cruises, and although guests dressed smartly for dinner, there was need to pack a cocktail dress or evening gown, which saved on space.
My Samsonite Panayio carry-on met the cruise packing-light challenge with flying colours and fitted into my new cruising lifestyle rather well, with its elegant good looks. You can choose between two variations of the cabin size case; the spinner which has exterior wheels that spin in any direction or the upright version with the same case shape but wheels built into the bottom of the case. While the spinner has better mobility, the upright does have the advantage of a little more capacity (34L v 32L) so this could be better for those who need to need maximum space for packing.
Are you one of those travellers who has to sit on your case to get it shut or have you perfected the art of travelling light while looking good? If so, I’d love to hear your packing tips.
About the Samsonite Panayio Spinner cabin case
Heather tried out the Panayio Spinner carry on case from Samsonite ; Price £139: Weight 2.4kg: Volume 32 Litres: Dimensions 55cm x 20 x 38. The case features a 3 digit TSA combination lock. The case is also available in an upright version and in 69cm and 75cm sizes. Colours available: Black, Blue, Red, Green
My thanks to Samsonite who kindly gave me the Panayio case to try.
More tales from my Rhine River Cruise with Lüftner Cruises
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey