The Tour du Mont Blanc – TMB
Known as one of Europe’s most impressive hikes, the Tour du Mont Blanc has always been on my wish list of hikes to accomplish. Circling around the white king of the Alps – Mont Blanc (4807m / 15771 ft) – the Tour de Mont Blanc doesn’t only cover around 170 km (106 miles) of beautiful mountain scenery. It also runs through three countries, France, Italy and Switzerland, giving the hiker a brief insight into slightly different alpine cultures.
My quick guide to hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc – TMB is supposed to help you planning your own unforgettable adventure and hike around Europe’s tallest mountain.
Why hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc – TMB ?
Hiking in the European Alps
In 2015 I first set a foot into the European Alps and crossed the mountain range from Oberstdorf to Meran. Having some spare time left before the so called “real life” would get hold of me I decided to hike again in Europe’s most impressive mountain range from the end of Juno until early July. In total I planned 11 days for my hike. I chose the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) because I’ve heard of it for a long time and circling around the highest of the alpine peaks seemed to be the right thing to do. When I boarded my train to Geneva, I didn’t know how wonderful this trip would be!
What to expect?
The Tour du Mont Blanc offers a full board of the alpine variety to the hiker. You will hike through lush mountain meadows but definitely spend most of your time above the treeline – or fighting to get there 🙂 You will see stunning rock formations, cross sketchy snowfields (early in the season) or get your feet wet while crossing a raging river. At the end of the day you will sit together with your hiking friends – or complete strangers who will turn into the same – in a warm mountain hut and chat about today’s accomplishments.
There’s many different ways how you can hike the TMB, may it be your starting point, the duration of your hike, the direction you choose or the variants you take. But no matter how you choose to do your hike around Mont Blanc – it will be an unforgettable experience!
Things you need to know
The classic starting point of the Tour du Mont Blanc is Les Houches, a small mountain village close to Chamonix. Chamonix is easy to reach by different bus companies from Geneva airport. I myself took the Ouibus to get to and back from Chamonix. But I also know fellow hikers who were happy with the Alpy bus. I personally took the train from Germany to Geneva airport but I met a huge amount of people who flew in from the US, Israel or even South Africa! From Chamonix runs a regular bus shuttle to the start of the trail in Les Houches. You even get a free guestcard if you stay in a hotel in the valley!
The weather in the European Alps, same like all other mountain ranges on this planet, is generally unpredictable. Attempting the TMB during main season, basically July to mid-September, might lower the risk of endless rain and heavy snow storms. It is generally the best time to hike because most of last winter’s snowpack will be gone. But keep in mind that you are in the mountains and you should always be prepared for any weather conditions!
From mid-July until the end of August the trail might be packed due to summer holidays in Europe. To avoid most of the crowds I decided to start my hike at the end of June and hike into July. Please also keep in mind that at the end of August each year the Ultra-Trail TMB takes place and that the whole region will be very busy at this time.
The Tour du Mont Blanc sports a network of well-maintained mountain huts to choose from. Wheather you want to stay in these huts or if you prefer sleeping in you own tent is up to you.
Staying in the mountain huts is pretty much an experience but staying in a cramped and very often too cosy dormitory is not for everyone. I have chosen to stay in huts only this time to save some pack weight (around 2 kg for camping gear). I managed to book all my hut accommodations only two weeks prior to the trip without too many sacrifices. But it is generally recommended that you book your accommodation well ahead of time. On the TMB Homepage you can book some of the huts directly while for some huts you have to contact the hut warden directly.
Camping along the TMB is also available in many places (TMBtent gives a good insight) and it gives you more freedom as you don’t have to stick to a pre-planned itinerary. Very often I jealously watched my camping friends setting up camp before I had to disappear inside and face another night in a sticky dormitory!
The TMB is an alpine trail and can be very challenging at times. Especially if you decide to take one of the high altitude variants the TMB offers, you should be confident with some steep drop-offs and know where to place your feet! For actual information about the trail conditions please visit the TMB page.
A question that is difficult to answer because it depends on your personal level of fitness and on your hiking skills. It is definitely a good idea to prepare ahead of time by doing some kind of excercise and doing some hikes with a loaded backpack. It always helps me to prepare and to avoid injuries in the early stages of the hike.
Along the TMB are so many refuges that you usually pass ba at least one each day. Every refuge sells fresh drinks and has a free option to fill up your drinking bottle. With my 11-day planning I was perfectly fine and never had to carry more than one liter. Usually I arrived at a refuge for lunch and could fill up there.
I wouldn’t recommend drinking unfiltered water from the mountain stream due to the high amount of agriculture and livestock. And even if there are no cows, there are your fellow hikers peeing and pooping!
A word for the ones of you that come from far away: in this part of Europe it is usually perfectly fine to drink the tap water in towns and villages. No worries!
Apart from your usual hiking equipment and all-weather-clothing there are some special things you need to bring. I really only name the specials so if you want to get an idea of a whole hiking gear list check out my PCT gear list. For recommendations of good hiking gear click here.
- proper hiking boots: The hiking boots you bring should have a good profile and cover your ankle. You will see a lot of people in trail runners and if you feel comfortable with it then go for it! I was more than once happy to have my proper hiking boots!
- Hut Shoes: If you choose to stay in the mountain huts: heavy and dirty hiking boots are not allowed in most huts. Do you already have some Crocs?
- Passport: You will cross three country borders! (France – Italy – Switzerland – France)
- light hut sleeping bag: In the mountain huts along the Tour du Mont Blanc it is obligatory to use a light sleeping bag for hygienic reasons. In some huts you can even buy a light one made of cotton. I personally use a Cocoon Travelsheet made of silk which is even lighter and packs up smaller.
- Ear plugs: You will be glad you brought them once your fellow hikers start their snoring concert! Did you know that you can get special ones for women?
- headlamp: It comes very handy at night if you’re looking for the bathroom in the middle of the night. A good choice would be the Petzl Tikka.
And don’t forget about all the small stuff like beanie, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen (I burned my lips very bad!), drinking bottle & powder….
I used the Kompass map for Mont Blanc. The northernmost part of the trail is not on it but to be honest I used my mobile most of the time for navigation issues. Therefore I downloaded a random GPX track from the TMB into my Pocket Earth Pro Offline Maps App. Allthough there’s not everything marked on these maps (e.g. some hotels missing) it was a great way to navigate for me! But being in the mountains you should definitely carry some kind of paper map and not rely on electronics only!
The TMB is well-marked all over the place and if you know in which direction you are heading and which places are along your way, you should be fine. The trailsigns vary from country to country but 99% of the time it is very obvious where you have to go.
I found for myself that it was most difficult to find the trailhead in the villages along the trail.
Just leave a comment in the comment section below or get in touch via the contact form. I am happy to help!
Overview of my tour (Click on the headlines to read more…)
Selected auberges, mountain huts & hotels along the TMB
Where will your next hike take you?
If you are interested in hiking in the European Alps, check out my guide to the Alpine Crossing from Oberstdorf to Meran!
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