Having attempted this epic hike three times now (and only successfully completing it once), I’ve picked up my fair share of Tour du Mont Blanc tips along the way. And Blueberries. I’ve picked so many blueberries.
However, I’m not going to string you along with all the usual Tour du Mont Blanc tips you’ve probably read a hundred times already. Things like: “Wear a sunhat to prevent sunburn” and “Use hiking poles.” While those are important things to know, I also have faith that you’re able to make these kinds of smart choices for yourself.
Instead, I’m going to share a few of my best Tour du Mont Blanc tips that you probably haven’t heard before. Things I subtly picked up on during my July 2022 TMB hike that I thought could help improve your experience even just a little bit. So, let’s get to it!
1. Show up early for best results
My Number One tip for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc is to show up early. You can interpret this a few different ways and they are all applicable.
To acclimate to the elevation
For starters, if you live at sea level like me, you’ll want to arrive in Chamonix a few days before you plan to start the TMB to help acclimate yourself to the elevation.
Now, the elevation on the Tour du Mont Blanc is not that serious when compared to a lot of other hikes. (I think the highest I got was 8,400 feet.) But, I have lived my entire life at sea level so even the moderate increase of the TMB is noticeable. The highest hill I have near Boston to train on is just 600 feet above sea level.
In 2022 I spent five days in Chamonix with a friend doing some pre-TMB hikes. I definitely noticed a difference in the amount of effort needed on Day One vs. on Day Six when I started the TMB. I’m so happy I went early to get my lungs used to the lack of oxygen and my hiking muscles loose.
In case of flight delays
Air travel being what it is now, you never know if you’re going to arrive in Chamonix on time to start your planned hike. In 2018, I had my entire TMB planned down to the day. But, I planned to start it the morning after I arrived in Chamonix.
Well, my flight from Boston to Geneva was flat-out canceled due to storms and rescheduled for a whole 24 hours later. Then, the storms had moved closer and the flight was canceled again. By now, I was already two days behind my hiking schedule. And because all the refuges were booked and short-cut transportation to some of them doesn’t exist, I was forced to cancel my entire trip.
Had I planned to arrive in Chamonix a couple days early, I would’ve been alright (albeit gasping for breath) for the start of my planned Tour du Mont Blanc hike.
In case of lost luggage
The summer of 2022 brought lots of lost luggage woes to travelers around the world. This is why people always advise to avoid checking your hiking pack. What if you arrive in Geneva and all of your hiking equipment doesn’t?
But, sometimes you need or want to check your stuff. I did. I packed things for my TMB that you can’t carry on, like a full bottle of sunscreen, my hiking poles, etc. But I also traveled with a backup plan.
Because I was going to spend a few extra days in Chamonix before my TMB, I knew I would have enough time to replace my hiking gear if my bag didn’t make it on time. (And I had travel insurance that would have covered the cost.)
If you’re planning to check your hiking gear for your flight, definitely consider flying in a few days early just in case you have to do some last minute shopping.
2. Bring props
Everyone, including myself, will tell you that of all the Tour du Mont Blanc tips, the most important is to keep your pack as light as possible. But… sometimes you should allow yourself a few luxuries just for fun.
For me, that meant bringing along some miniature flags for fun photos. (Besides, all together these things weight about 1 ounce. Cool your jets, guys.)
I totally thought I was being a ridiculous weirdo when I pulled these out and asked people I just met to take photos of me. That was, until I noticed a line had formed of people begging to borrow them so they could take photos too!
Other hikers were literally lining up to borrow my mini flags to take their mountaintop TMB photos. So many, in fact, that people started telling me I should charge $5 per photo. At one point I had to be like, “OK, I really have to go now!”
My silly little flags became the hit of our TMB group and we used them at every border crossing. I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes at myself when I packed them because, c’mon Ashley, at least pretend to be a serious hiker here. But in the end I’m so glad I brought them! Funny pictures, hilarious memories.
FWIW, I get all my miniature flags from miniatureflagshop.com.
3. Mark your trekking poles ahead of time
All (decent) trekking poles are height-adjustable. Regardless of whether they’re the collapsible kind or the telescopic kind, you’ll be able to adjust your hiking poles to coordinate with your height.
You’ll be using and putting away your trekking poles over and over every day. You may put them away to stop and eat, to rest, at the end of the day, when you’re on a level ground and don’t want to deal with them anymore, etc. Most poles have some sort of lines on them so you can remember (ha) where you should set them. But you are not going to remember that.
Instead of trying to figure out where your poles should be locked each and every single time you want to use them again, mark the correct spot. For this, I use a Sharpie.
On my first TMB in 2019 I didn’t know to do this and never found a Sharpie to use in all three weeks I was there. I tried using an ink pen but that only worked for a day or so. So in 2022 I made SURE to mark those babies with a permanent marker so I would always know how tall they should be. The less you have to use your brain on the TMB, the better.
4. Don’t forget to take pics at the TMB sign
Over in Les Houches you’ll find the Tour du Mont Blanc sign – the unofficial starting and finish line of the TMB. Because of this, it’s a popular place to take your picture before and after your epic hike. But so many people still don’t know about it or just forget completely.
After my TMB in 2022, I made sure to swing by the sign for some celebratory pics. The other 10 people in my group didn’t even know about it, hopped on the first bus back to Chamonix, and were seriously disappointed later when they found out where I disappeared to at the end.
Don’t be like them. Don’t miss the TMB sign! It’s such a fun way to kick off your hike and celebrate afterwards. You’ve earned it! Here’s where to find it and how to get there.
5. Pack some diaper pins
Yes, one of my biggest Tour du Mont Blanc tips is to pack diaper pins, whether or not you’re bringing a baby. (And I did see some babies in some backpacks on the TMB.)
Diaper pins are so useful in so many ways. They’re like safety pins, but much bigger and stronger. I always throw a handful of these onto my backpack.
You can use them to attach still-wet clothing and gear to your pack to finish air drying. You can fix clothing items or your pack. And you can keep things from blowing away (like your underwear that’s drying on your balcony). They’ve got lots of first aid uses.
You can secure zippers with them in the refuges. And, apparently, you can use them to fashion yourself a diaper if you just so happen to have one shitty (heh) day on the TMB.
Diaper pins are smaller and lighter than carabiners, but more useful and sturdier than regular ol’ safety pins. I have this 8-pack and bring them on all my trips.
6. Don’t sit under pine trees
On the Tour du Mont Blanc you’ll be stopping in some incredible places for your rest breaks. On the sides of mountains, on chalet patios, next to sparkling lakes. But, whatever you do, do not sit under pine trees.
Because what will you find under pine trees? Sap! And what does sap do? It attracts ants. Millions of ants. Did I learn this the hard way? You betcha.
On my very last hiking day, I stopped for lunch under some pine trees at Col de Voza. That night, my hotel room (and all of my clothing and hiking gear and all inside my pack) became infested with thousands of tiny ants. What. a. nightmare.
This was all around 11pm on the night I finished the TMB when I just wanted to REST FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. The hotel was “out of available rooms” so I posted up in protest on the lobby couch until someone agreed to work with me, here. (You can read more about this ordeal in my Chamonix summer visitor’s guide.)
For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why the ants were so attracted to my dirty hiking equipment and clothing. Finally, I remembered how sticky I was after eating lunch under the pine trees. Lesson learned! Don’t cover yourself in tasty ant candy.
I have lots more helpful Tour du Mont Blanc tips scattered throughout my other posts. Check out all my TMB posts here.
7. Pick up an extra jam for the yellow jackets
Yes, we’re back on bugs. One of my weirdest Tour du Mont Blanc tips would have to be to not forget to bring back breakfast for the yellow jackets… so they will leave you the hell alone.
Look, I’m not completely against insects or anything (I am a beekeeper after all)… but the yellow jackets on the TMB are out of control. Every night at dinner, and every morning at breakfast, yellow jackets everywhere. All over your food, all over your drinks, all up in your business. I felt so much rage.
By the 4th day of the hike, our group had finally figured out how to deal with the situation. We picked up an extra jam at breakfast specifically to distract the yellow jackets. Y’all want jam? Fine, have your jam. Just have it over there.
By providing the annoying little buggers with their own bowl of sugar, they left us and our meals alone. It’s not the perfect solution, but it works. (Please note that I do not condone killing living creatures of any kind just because they pester you. Please always try to find another solution.)
It’s also come to my attention that calling them “yellow jackets” is funny. All the British hikers with me giggled every time I said it. Whatever you call them, know this: even though they are black and yellow, they are not bees. (Don’t tarnish the bees’ reputation!)
Interested in the same TMB experience as me? This is the Tour du Mont Blanc hiking group I joined.
8. Be conscious of your shirt shape
Everyone knows you need to wear sunscreen while hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. (Right?!) The trail is almost completely exposed and, as we discussed earlier, you’re now 8,000 feet closer to the sun than you normally are.
Sunscreen should go everywhere—on your arms, legs, face, neck, ears, head, feet, all the normal parts. But, don’t forget to put it on all the abnormal parts too. Specifically, if you have any weird cutouts in your shirt.
My Under Armour tank tops have what I guess you would call a “keyhole” in the back. I’ve noticed this trend a lot at the gym too—workout tops with holes or slits in the back for increased airflow (I assume).
If you forget you have these keyholes in your shirt, you could be left with a very painful keyhole-shaped sunburn. Just something to keep in mind when you’re covering yourself with sunscreen throughout the day.
More Tour du Mont Blanc tips here! Also read: How to wash your clothes on the TMB. It’s got all you need to know.
9. Bring your own box fan
I was only half joking when I added “bring your own box fan” to my list of Tour du Mont Blanc tips. Obviously, you want to pack as little as possible for this trip but… a travel-sized portable box fan is 1000% something I wish I’d had every single night of the trip. I would’ve traded in a lot of things in my pack for one of those.
I most recently hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in July 2022. During this time there was a record-setting heatwave throughout Europe. Like there’s literally a Wikipedia page about this. There were more than 20,000 heat-related deaths because of it! Every single day of my TMB hike the temperatures were between 95°F and 100°F.
And every single night I’d attempt to sleep in a room without air conditioning. It was BRUTAL, I tell you. And yes, hotels without air conditioning are the norm in this part of the world. Thankfully, my pre-hike hotel room in Chamonix (at Chalet Les Gourmets) had a balcony above the river so I could sleep with a cool breeze. But that was the one exception.
Everywhere else was sweltering hot, stagnate air, no relief whatsoever. This made for a real bitch of time trying to sleep every night. Even though we’d open the windows, there was zero air flow. I would just toss and turn all night, starfishing on top of the sheet, sweating through my “clean” clothes.
Finding relief is crucial
Basically, it was torture. Especially after a long hiking day when you just want to lay down and be comfortable. And maybe get some sleep because you have to get up and do it all again the next day.
I’ve since discovered these travel-sized box fans and I think they would make a huge difference. While some may consider this an unnecessary luxury, they’ve probably just never tried to fall asleep in a sauna before.
10. Don’t be afraid to quit the TMB
I really mean this one. I know telling someone to quit the TMB isn’t what you had in mind when you searched for Tour du Mont Blanc tips, but here we are. But I speak from experience.
In 2018 I had to quit the TMB after my flights got canceled two days in a row and it would have thrown off my entire hike. Maybe I could have flown there late and joined back up at some point, but I was doing this solo, for the first time, and the stress of all that would not have made for an enjoyable or safe experience.
In 2019 I sought a do-over and took off on the TMB again, this time with a friend. We made it one whole day—from Les Houches to Les Contamines—and knew right then it wasn’t going to happen. It took us TWICE as long as it “should have,” according to the guidebooks and other hikers. We knew we would never make our refuges in time if that was our pace.
My bag was too big and too heavy, my ego was deflated, and my enthusiasm was nowhere to be found anymore. We wrestled over that decision for a loooong time and came to the conclusion that continuing our TMB would not be wise (nor enjoyable). And obviously I wanted to enjoy hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
We took the train back to Chamonix the next morning and spent the next couple weeks doing (epic) day hikes around Chamonix, hanging out and exploring in Courmayeur, Aosta, and Turin, Italy. The trip ended up being a really fun adventure anyway.
It’s OK to quit, really
Making the decision to quit was so hard and it really bummed me out for a long time. I felt shame and embarrassment for giving up and like a huge failure for not being able to do something that everyone says is “So easy!”
Eventually, I came to realize that I did make the right decision in pausing my TMB hike. After all, I wanted to hike the TMB to have fun and see amazing views, explore the rugged countryside, and eat delicious alpine foods. It wasn’t torture I was after. I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone.
Continuing on the path we were on would not have been fun at all. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the views or the foods because I’d be too miserable and stressed out. On that first torturous day, after nine brutal hours of uphill climbing, I literally BURST into tears when we walked past a market and I could smell the rotisserie chicken. ‘Twas not my finest moment.
If hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc turns out to be something you don’t enjoy or not what you expected, don’t be afraid or ashamed to just quit. If it becomes too hard and you just don’t want to keep going, don’t!
Please don’t let the opinions of people you don’t know and will never meet drive your decision making. (Says the girl you don’t know and will probably never meet. Yes, even if you ignore all my advice, at least do it for your own reasons.) And definitely read my post on TMB myths you need to forget right now.
More Tour du Mont Blanc tips
- Heading to Europe? Find great places to stay and book your room here.
- Need a rental car? Check out the best local deals here.
- Take the same Tour du Mont Blanc tour as me!
- Don’t forget to pick up a TMB guidebook!
- What else should you pack? Don’t miss my complete TMB packing list here.
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