The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the world’s classic high altitude multi-day treks which circles Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe and goes through three countries – France, Italy and Switzerland.
This famous 170km (105 miles) trek boasts magnificent alpine scenery with breathtaking views over the snowcapped Alps. The trek is difficult in places with an accumulated height gain and loss of approximately 10,000m climbing over 10 mountain cols (mountain passes) and descending into seven valley floors. The elevation climbed over the entire route is higher than climbing Everest! Our Tour du Mont Blanc packing list will help you prepare for this awesome trek.
Accommodation is either in hotels and B&B’s in the valleys, and more excitingly, in high altitude mountain huts (refuges). The entire hike is normally undertaken in 11-12 days but many people choose to hike half one year and half the next, cutting the circuit into more manageable one week chunks that fit more practically into their schedule.
Your Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List
Your packing list for the Tour du Mont Blanc needs to be restricted to the absolute minimum. Just essentials.
Unless you’re intending to arrange luggage transfers, you’ll be carrying all your kit on your back.
Every single step.
With an average of 7 hours on the trail each day, and serious elevations (remember if you’re hiking the whole trail it’s 1km higher than Everest!), anything superfluous is going to become dead weight.
You need to be strict.
I packed three times, pairing down repeatedly until the barebones of the essentials lay before me. It’s not easy! The photo above is all of our gear and equipment for three of us (2 adults, 1 child) for hiking half the Tour du Mont Blanc in July.
Below I’ve detailed what essential items you’ll need to take with you on your Tour du Mont Blanc hike, as well as a complete packing list below. There are a few items that you may not have thought of.
My first advice is to get the right gear. The Tour du Mont Blanc is challenging enough without being ill equipped.
You will require a 25-30 litre backpack with chest straps and hip straps. Children will need to carry their own (smaller) backpacks. Make sure kids have proper backpacks with comfortable straps and not the plastic ones which only have arm straps, not the chest and waist straps.
If you’re buying a new backpack specifically for your TMB adventure, make sure you test it out beforehand. It’s a good idea to train with all the kit you’ll be using on the trek, so my advice is to buy your backpack at least 3 months before so you can wear it during your training hikes. It will soften and become more comfortable over time and you’ll know your way round it well before you embark on the TMB.
If you are buying a new backpack, look for one with an in-built rain cover. It will save you having to buy a separate one or having to take thick black bin liners to cover your pack in the event of rain on the trail.
Layering is vital to staying comfortable on the Tour du Mont Blanc. Layering brings versatility so you can easily adapt your clothing to changing weather conditions on the route. You need to be insulated, ventilated and have wet weather protection – all with minimum weight!
Choose synthetic quick drying fabrics over cotton. These will wick away sweat and will dry faster should you get wet, plus they’re much lighter.
You’ll need a good waterproof jacket and trousers, as well as a fleece that packs down well. Pack 1-2 pairs of hiking shorts (I’d recommend 1 pair of shorts & 1 pair of zip off hiking trousers) and 2-3 technical hiking t-shirts.
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Never scrimp on socks. Your feet are key to the TMB.
Prepare them. Protect them.
Buy good quality wool blend socks and pack enough to enable you to have a clean, dry pair everyday. Obviously if you’re doing the whole trek, you’ll need to wash some along the way, but make sure you have at least 4-5 pairs of socks. Keeping feet dry and warm is pivotal in preventing blisters. Something you want to avoid at all costs!
We’ve also recently discovered the amazing 1000 mile sock range. This brand are big into anti-blister technology and their ingenious double sock system is perfect for long distance treks. Double-layer socks can prevent blisters by reducing friction and wicking away moisture. The inner sock stays with the foot whilst the outer foot moves with the shoe to eliminate friction with the skin.
You will need good quality hiking boots to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc. Don’t even think about doing it in trainers. Boots should have good ankle support, have a sturdy vibram like sole AND be waterproof.
I used my trusty Danner hiking boots (read my review here) which are good for warm weather hiking, although not massively waterproof. I was lucky and the weather was kind to us during our TMB trek, however I could have been slopping around with wet feet if the weather hadn’t played ball. On our second half of the Tour du Mont Blanc I wore a pair of excellent Salomon hiking boots which were super lightweight and waterproof which I can highly recommend. Read my review here.
Invest in a good pair of hiking boots for your children too. Make sure they are well worn in before setting off on the TMB. It’s ideal to pick up kids hiking boots in the sales at the end of summer or after Christmas six months before doing the trek.
Trekking poles are essential for the TMB. The extra weight they offset from your knees and leg muscles is significant. Studies suggest that you can save up to 25% of your energy using hiking poles. Who knows if that’s true. What is true is that people generally love or hate them.
When you have a heavy back pack on, trekking poles definitely help you keep your balance on uneven terrain, and having two extra anchor points is extremely helpful crossing streams or to keep your balance on a slippery patch of remaining snow (névé) on the trail.
It’s also proven that using hiking poles prevents hand swelling, as the position of poles keeps your hands above the heart and the action (of using poles) keeps your arms moving constantly.
Collapsible hiking poles are the best for long distance trekking. They pack up nice and small & can be strapped onto your backpack when not in use (as using poles constantly can be annoying when you want to take a photo or eat a snack whilst walking for instance).
Which hiking poles would we recommend? Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles are excellent quality, super durable and really lightweight. The Black Diamond Distance Z poles are made from aluminium so are a bit more hardy (& less expensive) than their carbon equivalent the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z. I used Black Diamond Pro Trail trekking poles You can read my review here.
I would definitely recommend the Black Diamond First Strike trekking poles for children. I bought a pair for my daughter locally in Chamonix (but you can buy them at a fraction of the cost on Amazon, see link above). These are brilliant value (compared to the price of adult poles!) and she loved them. They are lightweight (431g) aluminium poles with comfortable hand grips and available in lengths 66-100cm. My daughter really felt the part on our TMB adventure with her new poles and I’m confident that it’s partly due to them that she managed to make it around the trail!
Better to be safe than sorry, particularly if you’re hiking the TMB trail in June or July. Hiking crampons were a must for us trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc mid July. Crampons are lightweight, so won’t add too much weight to your pack and will give you confidence to cross slippery patches of snow left on the high mountain cols.
We bought Grivel Ran Crampons which worked a treat. They were easy to pop on over your hiking boot with wide rubber and velcro straps that secure the crampons nicely to your boot. We would highly recommend them. Buy the small pair for kids (my daughter was a UK size 4 & the small was an okay fit for her)
Sleeping Bag Liner
In all the mountain huts on the Tour du Mont Blanc trail, sleeping bag liners are mandatory. Either take your own or you can normally rent one for around €3 a night (check when you book). Each refuge bed comes with a mattress (& sheet), a duvet and a pillow case with cover, however the linen will not have been washed since the last trekker so a sleeping bag liner is essential and warning, you will not be allowed to stay without one.
I always prefer to take my own and have a RAB silk sleeping bag liner (expensive but worth it – it’s so light you don’t even know you’re carrying it, plus silk is so comfortable to sleep in).
It’s worth noting that cotton sleeping bag liners, whilst cheaper, are considerably heavier and so, particularly for the Tour du Mont Blanc, I would HIGHLY advise you to buy a silk liner. Anything to streamline your trek as much as possible. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later!
And of course if you are camping, that’s a different ball game. Choose your tent with care. Obviously it needs to be lightweight (you’ll be trekking for 8-10 hours a day!) but it also needs to be good quality and robust to withstand any bad weather.
Don’t forget as you’re trekking into three different countries you’ll need to pack your passport in your backpack. Whilst the borders aren’t controlled officially with border guards on the high mountain cols, you still need to keep it on you.
Make sure your travel insurance covers you for high altitude trekking. For many policies you need to state what elevation you will be hiking up to. If you’re unsure what altitude you’re covered for, call them up & check – it’s important.
Don’t even consider embarking on the TMB without travel insurance!
The TMB is not without it’s risks. Some of the trail is precipitous and if snow is on the trail, some areas can be difficult to negotiate with steep falls below. Note: if the thought of this scares you, make sure you hike the TMB in late Summer when the snow patches (névé) are at their minimum.
Remember, something as simple as a sprained ankle may require you to be lifted out by helicopter. It’s at this point you don’t want to be worrying you don’t have insurance!
For cheap multi-risk sport insurance which includes trekking take a look at Vieux Camper. It’s €25 per person or €70 for a family.
FULL TMB PACKING LIST
FOR DAY TIME – HIKING THE TRAIL
Hiking boots (well worn in, with sturdy vibram like sole)
Gaiters (we had these prepared but left them out of our kit last minute due to the excellent weather forecast)
Hiking shorts x 1 pair
Hiking t-shirt or vest x 2/3 or max 4
Walking trousers x 1 pair (zip offs are perfect so you have essentially 2 x shorts)
Thermal top & trousers (great for relaxing & sleeping in in the refuge if not required during the day)
Good quality walking socks – wool blend x 4-5 pairs
Waterproof jacket & trousers
Water bottles/camel pac – minimum 1 litre capacity (read a good guide to travel water bottles here)
Guidebook (Cicerone is recommended although Trailblazer has great maps. Get both to share in a group)
FOR EVENING / REFUGE
Sleeping bag liner (recommend silk)
Fleece (that packs down well)
A change of clothes to relax in (I used my thermal bottoms & a clean tee shirt)
Nightwear – (Tip: double up thermal bottoms & a clean tee shirts that you could use for the last day of hiking)
Flip flops/light shoes (you need to take off your boots & use indoor shoes whilst staying in refuges. They do provide indoor slippers, normally crocs. We weren’t too fussed about having our own so opted to use the refuge ones & saved weight & space in our bags).
Whistle (make sure each child has one)
Foil blanket (optional) – so lightweight – we threw one in, in case of hyperthermia
FIRST AID KIT
A small, basic first aid kit will be fine. To include:
Compeed blister plasters – essential
Arnica oil (for massaging aching legs & feet)
Pain killers (paracetamol)
Electrolyte powder sachets
Lip salve – SPF 50+
Suncream – SPF 50+
Selection of ziplocks (to keep stuff dry)
Large bin liner to act as a rain cover if you haven’t got one already
Small binoculars (optional)
Small massage ball (optional luxury but highly recommended by us to keep your feet in good shape)
Phone & charger
Multi-socket USB charger (will ensure you bag a free charging socket as you can still charge other peoples)
Snacks & emergency food – biltong/beef jerky, nuts, chocolate, trail bars
Lightweight collapsible umbrella (not used by us but highly recommended by seasoned TMB hikers)
Poncho (consider buying last minute if weather forecast looks poor https://www.decathlon.co.uk/forclaz-100-hiking-poncho-blue-id_8084715.html)
Packing cubes – not essential but makes life super easy, particularly when you’re tired arriving at your refuge. We each kept one cube just for our refuge stuff which meant we simply whipped it out on arrival & it would have our sleeping bag liner, head torch, eye mask, ear plugs & toiletries all in one place. Plus when packing up the next morning, I’d re-pack a clean tee shirt & my thermal bottoms in it so the cube was complete.