7 Tips to Conquer the Tour du Mont Blanc

Tour du Mont Blanc

Circumnavigating the highest mountain in Europe while hiking through the Alps of Italy, France, and Switzerland?  Yes, please!  Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc became one of my bucket list hikes from the first day I read about it online.  Widely considered one of the best hikes in the world, the TMB is a challenging physical test but can be conquered by anyone with enough stubbornness to just keep going.  If you’re considering taking on this gorgeous trek, these 7 tips will help you make the most of it!

Carry Cash

Along the Tour du Mont Blanc, most of the places you’ll stop don’t accept credit cards.  Therefore, carrying enough Euros is highly recommended (yes, you can use Euros in the Swiss section).  There are several places along the trail where you can get cash.  Ending up at a refuge where you want to eat or spend the night with an empty wallet is not a situation you want to find yourself in.  Besides, you’re going to want a beer or two when you finish the more challenging days on the trail!

Tour du Mont Blanc

#1 Reason to carry enough cash: beer money!

Pack Lunches

One of the fastest ways to burn through that cash on the Tour du Mont Blanc that you packed is by eating your lunches at the mountain cafes and refuges.  These remote establishments serve up some delicious foods, but they’re a serious drain on your finances.  Most refuges charge between 10€-20€ per dish, 2€+ for soda, and 4€-8€ for a beer.  Italy, France, and Switzerland aren’t cheap countries, but you can save well over $100 on lunch spend just by picking up some simple, packable foods at a market and carrying your lunches with you.

Tour du Mont Blanc

When you don’t pack your lunch and end up wasting 12€ on polenta that tastes like an ashtray, you’ll spend the rest of the afternoon hungry. Thankfully, beer.

Avoid July & August

I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in the middle of June.  There were plenty of people on the trail but it was never crowded.  Refuges were somewhat busy but not overloaded by any means.  The temperatures were hot and humid only in the middle of the day.

This is not the case in July and August.

Since most people take their vacations during the late summer months, the trail is a veritable traffic jam during this time frame.  We’re talking backpack-to-backpack hikers crowding the trail. Doesn’t seem like a terrific way to enjoy the natural beauty of the Alps, does it?  In addition to jockeying for those ideal selfie-spots, you’ll also be contending with crowded refuges.  This means noisy dorms, queues for the toilet/shower, and likely longer wait times for dinner.

On top of all of that, you then have to contend with the heat and humidity.  Water is heavy and the hotter it is on the trail, the more water you need to consume.  Some of the steep uphill sections had me on the verge of heat exhaustion while raining sweat, but overall June provided great weather.  Stick to the cooler months of June & September to avoid this discomfort and enjoy the trail every step of the way.

Tour du Mont Blanc

Sweating my face off on a particularly steep section of the TMB in June. If this were July/August, I would have been lying on the ground in a puddle of despair.

Take Care of Your Feet

Taking proper care of your feet is pretty standard advice for any long-distance hike.  The Tour du Mont Blanc is no exception.  There are numerous stream crossings and sections of snow that, without the right footwear, can lead to some wet feet.

If you’re foregoing the over-ankle, GORE-TEX style hiking boots for a lighter pair of trail shoes or runners; be sure to pack some extra socks.  Personally, I use Darn Tough socks because they’re comfortable, come in various levels of weight & cushioning, and have a lifetime guarantee.  Both your shoes and socks need to fit properly or you’re going to be fighting hot spots and blisters.  You’re also better off with a pair of boots/shoes with a firm sole to help reduce the amount of foot strain caused by walking on rocks.  The right footwear won’t guarantee you finish the Tour du Mont Blanc, but the wrong pair may prevent you from doing so.

In addition, make sure to dry out your feet during lunch breaks and at the end of the day.  Pack blister prevention & care products in your first aid kit to make the best of any bad situations that arise.  Caring for your feet is one of the most important aspects of any hike; don’t neglect them!

Tour du Mont Blanc

Not all water crossings on the TMB are this easy, so proper footwear is crucial!

Don’t Overpack

The Tour du Mont Blanc isn’t your typical “backcountry” trail.  You’re rarely more than a couple hours from a refuge, village, or main road.  That being the case, this is not the type of trail where you need to pack a ton of gear or food (unless you’re packing your lunches).  You can resupply water daily and food at least every other day or so.  You’re not climbing, so you can leave the heavy mountaineering gear at home.

Clothing needs are minimal unless you’re hiking in the cold season.  Carry your basic base layers, a fleece/softshell, rain gear, socks, undergarments, hat, gloves, a buff, a pair of pants, shorts, and a couple shirts.

Unless you’re a professional photographer or planning on printing large photos for your home, a small point-and-shoot camera or your cell phone will produce photos good enough for Instagram.  So, you can ditch the big, heavy DSLR and lenses.

Tour du Mont Blanc

At 33L, my pack (Osprey Talon – bottom left) felt a bit stuffed but not overly heavy at 17 pounds before water. I’d recommend something in the 40-45L range.

Stay in the Refuges

Hardcore backpackers & hikers will scoff at this tip, but hear me out.  Sure, you are more “outdoorsy” and “tough” if you tent camp.  But, as I mentioned in Hiking the TMB with Gadventures, part of the beauty of the Tour du Mont Blanc is staying in the refuges and experiencing the local cuisine.  In addition to excellent food and drink, you also get the social aspect of the refuge.  Hikers come from all over the world to hike the TMB.  Why not take the opportunity to talk with them and maybe make some new friends?

If you’re a new hiker or not in the greatest of shape, the refuges also provide you with additional comforts (and beers) to help you rest up for the next day.  Plus, you don’t have to carry all those extra pounds/kilos of gear!  Yes, refuges are expensive in comparison, but for many people they increase the enjoyment of the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Tour du Mont Blanc

A comfortable bed, hot showers, home cooked meals, and cold beer make refuges worth the expense on the TMB!

Put Down the Camera

Many people spend so much time looking through the viewfinder of their camera that they miss out on actually being on the Tour du Mont Blanc.  They’re so focused on getting the perfect selfie or the incredible sunset shot for Instagram.  Sure, we all want to bring home some great photos, but that shouldn’t distract you from the beauty of this trail.

While everyone is busy posing and taking dozens of shots in the same spot, sit down.  Sit down and look around.  Look beyond the people.  Look at the way the tall grass moves in the breeze. Notice how the reflections in the alpine lakes shimmer in the sunlight.  Smell the mountain flowers that litter the hillsides.  Laugh at the baby lambs trying to keep up with the flock.  You’re sitting in view of some of the most beautiful landscape in the world…just enjoy it.

Tour du Mont Blanc

Take time to just be…