The Tour du Mont Blanc is no doubt one of the greatest hiking trips in the world. The route is filled with incredible views, towns, and people, and it will surely be a trip we never forget. We highly recommend camping along the way as you’ll save money and experience the towns and stops along the TMB in a very different way. We’ve also published our packing list for those curious as to what they may need to bring to ensure they are equipped for this adventure. But what other recommendations do we have for those considering tackling the awesome experience that is the TMB? Here are our 10 essentials for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
This is our single biggest piece of advice that we can offer to those thinking about hiking the TMB. This is a very difficult hike that requires crossing several mountain passes, walking over one-hundred miles, and climbing nearly 33,000 feet. Simply put, you’ll be miserable if you don’t put in at least some training prior to starting the TMB. Luckily, we’ve written a post here that details everything you need to know about getting in shape for your trip. You don’t have to do anything crazy, but just be sure to put a bit of effort into getting into shape for this trip. You’ll be glad you did.
2. Treat Your Feet
Of all the gear you plan to bring, the single biggest impact on how you feel will come from how you treat your feet. A good fitting pair of boots matched with some comfortable socks will do wonders for how you feel at the end of a long day. Remember that you’ll have days on the TMB when you’ll be on your feet hiking for close to 10 hours! For your boots, we recommend heading to your local outdoor shop and trying on as many pairs as they’ll let you. Find the pair that is most comfortable, and be sure to break them in with some good hiking trips a few months before heading out. For socks, our absolute favorite brand is Darn Tough. These merino wool socks are breathable, comfortable, and very odor resistant. We brought just a few pairs each, washing them in campground skinks along the way, and couldn’t have been happier with them.
3. Enjoy a rest day
If you’ve got the time, a well deserved rest day will give you a chance to slow down and really appreciate the incredible trip you’re on. If you’re hiking the traditional counter-clockwise direction, Courmayeur makes a great place to spend an extra night and soak in the atmosphere of the Alps. If you’ve been camping up until this point, consider splurging on a hotel for at least one night. We stayed at the incredible Maison La Saxe, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a lovely, locally-owned hotel.
4. Bring good rain gear
There is really no doubt that you’ll encounter rain at some point along your TMB journey. The weather in the Alps moves fast, and can quickly change from sunny skies to pouring rain. Being prepared for the inevitable downpours you’ll encounter will go a long way in ensuring that you won’t have sleep in a soaking wet sleeping bag. Your focus should be on two areas: keeping yourself as dry as possible, and (more importantly) keeping your gear as dry as possible. For yourself, we recommend a good rain jacket, rain pants, and our personal favorite, a poncho. These three items together will work wonders in keeping you dry and happy. As for your gear, we employ two methods for keeping everything dry. The first, and most critical, is a high-quality pack cover that fits seamlessly over your entire backpack. We really like the Sea to Summit version here. The second layer of protection involves storing the items inside your backpack in either a dry bag (like this one), or in big garbage bags. This is your last line of defense, and this step ensures that if water does find its way into your bag, everything you’re carrying won’t be completely soaked. There really is nothing better than putting on dry clothes and curling up in a dry sleeping bag after a day of hiking in the rain!
5. Brush up on your navigation skills
Much of the TMB is well sign-posted, and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding your way with minimal navigation skills. However, there are plenty of sections that are a bit confusing, which can often be compounded by the exhaustion that comes with a long day of hiking. Having a good map and compass-and knowing how to use them-is essential for any backcountry adventure, no matter how close to civilization you may be. Check out our detailed post on how to navigate along the TMB, using what we think is the best method.
6. Have a (realistic) understanding of how fast you hike
If you’ve brought the Cicerone Guidebook along (and we highly recommend that you do), you’ll quickly notice that the description of each stage includes an approximate time for hiking. This is very valuable information because it will give you a sense of what your days will look like. This gives you the ability to plan ahead for things like arrival times, how early you need to start in the morning, and how long of a lunch break you can enjoy. The problem arises when you realize that the times quoted in the book can vary significantly from your actual experience. You may be hours ahead or you may be well behind the times provided by our friends at Cicerone. There is nothing wrong with being faster or slower, but you must be able to understand your pace and then estimate the distances you’ll realistically cover in a given timeframe. It is a good idea to note your timing when you’re out on your training hikes, but you’ll want to pay especially close attention on your first day of hiking the TMB. A little ahead of the pace? You’ll be able to adjust your plans accordingly (and maybe snag an extra hour of sleep!) A little behind the pace? You’ll know to leave a bit earlier, or at least plan on slightly longer days on the trail. You may also want to pay attention to how steep inclines and declines impact your pace, and use the guidebook’s elevation profile to plan accordingly. The important thing is to know yourself, and be able to accurately estimate the time it will take to cover a given distance. This will help you stay relaxed and happy throughout each day on the trail.
7. Be open to changing plans
If you’re anything like us, you’ll spend hours before a trip planning out all the details of where you’ll stay, what you’ll do, and how you’ll get to every place you want to see. This type of planning is invaluable and will certainly set you up for success, but you also have to be open to changing those plans, especially on the TMB. Weather, the way you’re feeling on a particular day, and even the time you start can all influence a changing itinerary when you’re out hiking the TMB. Get a late start and the hut is full? No worries if you’ve got your tent and the ability to find the nearest campground. Feeling especially good today? Why not put in a few extra hours of hiking to make your next day a little more leisurely? The point is that being open to different possibilities will make handling the unexpected much easier, and allow to you enjoy your adventure to the fullest.
8. Bring a good camera
The views on the Tour du Mont Blanc are truly stunning. It seems like around every bend is another wide open vista, quaint hamlet, or gorgeous stream. We are strong believers that smartphone cameras still don’t compare to the shots you can get with even a mid-level DSLR or mirrorless camera. Our favorite? The Sony a5100 mirrorless camera combined with the Joby GorillaPod tripod. Armed with these tools, you’ll have everything you need to take incredible photos.
9. Know how much cash to carry (and which kind)
There is no doubt that hiking the TMB gives the impression that you’ve gone back in time. Visiting tiny hamlets with only a single, rustic restaurant or shop is part of the magic of this adventure. But you’ll also quickly realize that many of the amenities of larger towns are non-existent. You won’t always find easy access to ATMs and the ability to pay with a credit card. It’s important to plan ahead for roughly how much cash you’ll need at each stop, since ATMs can be scarce and credit is often not accepted. Be sure you’ve got enough to cover your food and lodging, plus a bit extra to splurge on that post-hike beer. It’s also important to remember that you’ll need both Euros (France and Italy) and Swiss Francs. In general, many places in Switzerland will accept Euros, but try and get rid of those Swiss Francs in Chamonix and you’ll be sure to get a puzzled look when paying.
10. Make new friends
Be social! The Tour du Mont Blanc is full of amazing people from all over the world sharing this experience together. You’ll meet people along the trail, in the huts, and at your campground. Putting in the extra effort to say hello to someone you recognize from the top of the last mountain pass, or sharing a conversation at dinner in a hut will add a whole new dimension to your trip. Exchanging stories and learning from others on the trail is truly one of the great experiences of the TMB!