Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc had been on my bucket list for many years by the time I actually completed it in the summer of 2022. Mind you, by that point it had taken me three solid attempts. And why is that? Because I listened to too many people and took too much bad advice.
Rules for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc
When researching the Tour du Mont Blanc, you’ll likely put together what appear to be TMB norms or “rules”. I.e., the common elements of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc that every hiker should follow. Except, while there are certainly common things the majority of hikers do, the Tour du Mont Blanc is not a one-size-fits-all adventure. Every hiker has unique abilities, desires, competencies, and comfort zones. Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc should be equally as individual.
So, to help you (hopefully) avoid some of the same mistakes I did in attempting to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, I’d like to clear a few things up. Here are some of the most prevalent myths concerning hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc and why you need to just toss them straight out the cable car window.
1. Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc is super easy
So much of what you experience versus what you hear/read about hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc can be quite contradictory. The difficulty level of this hike being a big one.
When you see “170km over 10 days across 3 countries” you might instantly (and rightly) assume hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc is pretty difficult. But, the more research you do, the more you’ll see “The TMB is so easy! It’s a simple first-time trek. No sweat.” Well lemme tell you what my friend… there is definitely sweat. So much sweat.
There are certainly aspects of the TMB that make it “easy.” For instance, you can sleep in established lodging and enjoy amazing meals every night. The trails are relatively straightforward, there are places to get water along the route, and there’s usually someone else not too far away in case you need help.
However, hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc is not what I would call “easy” by any means. And I am a relatively young and determined adventurer with an above-average fitness level. The TMB, for me, was definitely a challenge.
Challenging but doable
That being said, it wasn’t so challenging that I couldn’t complete it. Instead, it was all about adequate preparation, physical training, and going only at a pace that was reasonable and safe for me. And this is only because I had certain amenities available to me like: (I’ll explain all these in a bit.)
- Luggage transfer
- An experienced guide
- Transportation shortcuts
My second attempt at hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc (out of 3), I took the purist’s path. By that I mean, I avoided taking transportation and I carried my entire load on my back. And guess what? I made it through one single day before quitting.
I compared that very rough day to how I thought it was “supposed” to have gone. My times were slower than they “should have” been and I took more breaks than I “should” have. I was very hard on myself for finding the TMB so difficult and my confidence plummeted. I took the first train back to Chamonix.
At the time, I was not proud of quitting. After years of preparation and two attempts I was devastated to have to accept the fact that what was supposed to be “easy” was actually extremely hard. I felt bad about this for years. As I write this today though, I now have immense pride in my ability to quit something I knew I wasn’t prepared for and that I therefore would not have enjoyed. It took a lot of guts to throw in the very sweaty towel and admit defeat.
If that should happen to you, also check out my post on 21 Awesome Things to Do in Chamonix in the Summer – a complete Alpine bucket list
Ease is subjective
To say hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc is easy or difficult is 100% a matter of subjectivity. Obviously, what is “no sweat” for a seasoned trekker who lives in the Alps is probably going to be quite difficult for me. (Girl who has lived at sea level her whole life and who has never done a multi-day trek before.)
The lesson here is: don’t exclusively accept others’ opinions that the TMB is a super easy thing to do. When you do…
- You might find yourself unprepared for unexpected challenges
- When you find out that it’s harder “than it’s supposed to be” your confidence may take a big hit which definitely affects the outcome of your experience
- You may push yourself dangerously beyond your limits in order to match the ease of others’ experiences
Unfortunately, things can and do go wrong when you travel. World Nomads offers coverage for more than 150 activities as well as emergency medical, lost luggage, trip cancellation and more.
Instead, focus on the facts of the TMB (elevation gains and losses, weather, altitude, daily distances, weight you’ll have to carry, etc.) and weigh them against what you believe your personal abilities to be.
For me, hiking the TMB the way I had heard it was “supposed” to be done did not work. When I finally tuned out the haters and mansplainers and adjusted the experience to fit MY personal needs and abilities, it was much, much “easier.”
You can read more about quitting the TMB in my post on Tour du Mont Blanc tips. Trust me, I have a point there.
2. You don’t need a guide
Another myth you’ll hear a lot when preparing to hike the TMB is that you don’t need a guide and can totally just hike it on your own. Because it’s so “easy,” it’s no big deal to just fly to France and start walking. And maybe that’s true for some people, but it was not true for me.
The Tour du Mont Blanc is known for being a popular and well-marked trail. I’ve heard countless times that:
- The trails are so clearly marked, there’s no way you can get lost!
- There are so many people on the trail, you’ll never have to hike alone!
- Just get a map and start walking, any idiot can do it!
First off, all y’all seriously underestimate my ability to get lost. It’s one of the things I excel at the most. Second, I unfortunately have an extreme level of anxiety around getting lost. I’m talking years of therapy here. Maybe the majority of people hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc don’t actually need a guide, but that does not mean everyone falls into this category. Some of us absolutely need this.
Yes, the trails are well-marked. But there are hundreds and hundreds of trails that go in all directions. And there are many, many places where there is actually no discernible path. My friends would tell me, “Trust me, when you get there, you’ll know where the path goes.” But I am not a “let’s wing it in the mountains” kind of hiker.
I go way deeper into this aspect of the TMB in my post on Self-Guided Vs. Guided TMB hikes and how to choose the one that’s best for YOU. It’s a must-read.
I would still choose guided
Having completed the TMB, I now know what they meant. Yes, for the most part, even when there is no actual trail, you do kinda know where the path is going. HOWEVER, I discovered this while hiking in a group with a guide. Had I been out there on my own, I surely would have panicked and signaled for the nearest helicopter.
Even now that I have completed it, I have wondered if the next time I do it I will be able to do it without a guide and… I’m still not convinced. Even knowing what I know now I still can think of about 20 instances when I would have had a panic attack had I not been part of a guided group. Like yes I’m sure I would have survived… but I would not have enjoyed the experience as much.
In the case of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc guided versus self-guided, it really comes down to your own experience and comfort levels. Look, the TMB could be sign-posted out the wazoo and I still would not be confident I wouldn’t need to be rescued.
Plus, having an expert mountain guide with you has so many benefits! You get to learn all kinds of stuff about the flora and fauna, history, pro tips, and more. Our guide even took us to an area filled with World War II bunkers we could go inside. And every morning he went to the market and got amazing local meats and cheeses for us to eat for lunch.
This is the guided Tour du Mont Blanc hike I took in 2022. 10/10 would recommend.
3. You don’t need to hike with a group
Similar to the above, people will also be quick to say you don’t need to hike with a group, that going solo is the way to go. OK, maybe to you Johnny Everest.
My first attempt at hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc back in 2018 I was flying solo. The TMB was “so easy” after all; there was no way I could lost. I don’t need no man to hold my hand. Right? Only I never even made it to the starting point. And thank GOD because I would have panicked before I even set one foot on the trail if I’d had to continue alone.
On my second attempt in 2019 I brought along a friend. I admit that having even just one more person enduring this with me made me feel a lot better about doing this without a guide. But alas, we lasted one day.
Finally, in 2022, for my third attempt, I knew what I needed: assistance and accountability. I decided to hike with a guided group and, to date, this is one of my best life decisions.
In case you’re interested, the particular guided group hike I took is this 8-day guided TMB hike.
Why hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with a group is the best
If you prefer hiking solo, you do you! But please don’t think that’s the “only” way or the “best” way to hike the TMB. Personally, the benefits of hiking as a group far outweigh the drawbacks for me. For instance…
You’re never alone
This, for me, is a benefit. Your chances of getting lost, getting injured, or going hungry are greatly diminished. Also, if you’re a shy person, hiking in a group is great for never having to eat (or drink beer) alone, always having someone to try new things with, etc.
Being able to share in the experience—both the ups and the downs (pun intended?)—with someone makes the experience so much more meaningful and worthwhile. If you’re slowing down, there will be others there to encourage you along (and you can do the same for them as well). No hiker left behind!
Even though there (probably) won’t be any overt pressure to hurry up or keep going, hiking in a group will definitely push you forward. Had I been hiking in a group in 2019 when I quit after the first day, I probably wouldn’t have quit. It’s that whole societal pressure thing that being part of a group places on you. It speeds you up when you’re slowing down and it pushes you on when you just want to lay down. It boosts you up when you just want to quit.
There’s always someone around to take epic photos of you
Do not underestimate the benefit of this until you see what kind of scenery you’ll find on the TMB!
Meeting new people with similar interests
The reason I (almost) did the TMB solo and eventually did with a group is because none my “real life” friends have the combination of desire, ability, and funds to go on a week-long Alpine hiking trip. They all have work commitments, small children, and/or a serious lack of vacation time. BUT, when hiking with a group you get to meet people from around the world that share many similar lifestyle qualities (and that you can even take future trips with).
You’ll always have a route marker
By this I mean, when you’re part of a hiking group, you can always see where you’re supposed to be going by keeping track of your fellow hikers. Regardless of how far apart your group becomes, you can always keep an eye on the person in front of you… who is keeping an eye on the person in front of them… and so forth.
On my latest TMB hike, I hiked with my bright orange day pack which the hikers behind me would use to keep track of the trail. I used another girl’s neon pink hiking shirt who always hiked near the front of the group to stay on track. These things work better than trail markers or signs because you know they are going to the exact same place you are.
I weigh a lot more pros and cons to hiking with a group in my post on Guided Vs. Self-Guided TMB hikes. Check it out in that link.
4. You’re supposed to go counter-clockwise when hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc
One of the first things you learn when looking up what you need to know about hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc is that counter-clockwise is the “official” way to go. The Tour du Mont Blanc is a circular route that goes from France > Italy > Switzerland > back to France. If you want to go that way which you certainly don’t have to.
There are ups and downs (heh) to going both clockwise and counter-clockwise, but I’m willing to bet the majority of people who go counter-clockwise only do so because that’s what they’ve read “you’re supposed to do.”
If you are interested in going counter-clockwise, be sure to pick up this fantastic TMB guidebook. I literally met the author of it on the trail when he saw me using it!
My first and second attempts were both counter-clockwise as per the “norm,” but you already know how that turned out. The first day alone was BRUTAL. For my successful 2022 TMB hike I actually went clockwise and it was a dream. There were actually many times when I was like, “Had I gone counter-clockwise I would have missed this!”
The pros and cons of clockwise and counter-clockwise TMB routes
For your TMB hike, dig deep to figure out which way you want to go based on the list of pros and cons. (FYI: Europeans often refer to counter-clockwise as “anti-clockwise.”)
Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc counter-clockwise (the most common way):
- Con – The first day is going to be tough as hell and pretty uninteresting. Not a great way to start in my opinion.
- Pro/Con – Since this is the more popular route, you’ll be hiking with a lot of people and often the same people as the day before. This can be either a pro or con for you. It means your mornings will be involve more people, but you can also make friendships this way if you aren’t with a group. (But if someone is especially annoying you may be stuck with them for a while.)
- Pro – This way you’ll be climbing up the ladder section which is better if you’re afraid of the ladder section.
Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc clockwise:
- Pro – Passing from Switzerland to Italy over the Grand Col Ferret was the highlight of my entire hike. It would not have been the same had I done this in reverse.
- Pro – The last day going down to Les Houches is a million times better than going up from Les Houches on the first day. Like, a million times better.
- Pro – You get to hike to Lac Blanc on the first day (if you take the cable car shortcut) and it’s so beautiful and exciting. Whereas if you start the TMB going from Les Houches to Les Contamines it’s actually pretty disappointing. Start on a high note! (A 7,700-foot high note.)
- Con – You have to climb down the ladders which is not fun if you fear the ladders.
- Pros – Since most people do it counter-clockwise, you can ask them about the trail and weather ahead when you pass each other.
5. You have to stay in the refuges
When I was first researching the Tour du Mont Blanc, one thing that set me on the idea was that I could take a shower and sleep in a bed each night. Don’t get me wrong, I love hiking and all kinds of outdoor adventures but I do not want to sleep in a tent and cook my own food and not be clean. We all have our limits, mmkay?
So when I found out you could hike from hut to hut to hut, I knew the TMB was for me. That being said, given the location and popularity of the TMB, there are actually way more options than that.
The purest of the purists will tell you it’s wild camping or bust on the TMB and everything else is for pansies. And good on them. If that’s what you want to do, that’s certainly an option. Enjoy having to carry around a propane stove every day, sleeping in your own filth, and digging your own holes to shit in. Really, I love that for you.
After that though, it’s “refuges only” if you want to do TMB the “official” way. (Who decided what is “official” and what is not, I have no idea, but there is not in fact a governing body here and you can do whatever you want.)
Refuges on the TMB
The refuges/rifugios/mountain huts are really great. You can hike all day, have a shower, sleep in a bed, meet new people, and eat hot and hearty meals. They really are a blessing to us non-camping types who still want to do a multi-day trek in the Alps. Bless them.
However, the refuges are still a bit on the “roughing it” side of things. If even those are a bit edgier than you’d prefer (some are definitely rougher than others), you can still hike the Tour du Mont Blanc! I personally have stayed in both refuges and nice hotels while hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to wild camp or that you didn’t actually “hike the TMB” if you slept in a hotel each night. Mind you, that’s their own insecurity at work. I, on the other hand, am perfectly secure in my decision to sleep in whatever place I feel most comfortable, safe, and clean.
Read also: How to Wash Your Clothes on the Tour du Mont Blanc. (It’s got everything you need to know!)
6. Luggage transfer is for wimps
When I was trudging up the mountain on the first day of my second TMB attempt (the one where I decided to quit the whole thing), there is one thing I kept saying over and over and over. “If I didn’t have this huge pack, this hike would be so much easier!”
I know what you’re thinking and it’s probably the same thing as all the rude people in the TMB groups think. “Well why did you pack so much?!” And look, I didn’t. I did not pack anything I wasn’t definitely going to need. Seriously, my friends and readers were laughing hysterically at watching me cut the edges off my maps because the excess paper would equal unnecessary weight. I kid you not. I spared every single ounce.
And still, that sucker was heavy. Not heavy in a general sense, but heavy in a I-have-to-carry-this-on-my-back-up-a-mountain kinda way. It’s just the way it is. You have to carry everything you’ll need for 10 days (and about 10 different emergency circumstances) on your back. Plus water, the kicker.
One reason I think this affected me so much is because I am a small person. I’m 5’3” and all of 100lbs. So carrying a 25lb pack is literally a quarter of my body weight. And that pack is about half my body height. Of course a 6’3” 210lb man is going to tell me carrying a pack is no big deal.
Seriously, opt for luggage transfer
When I decided to attempt hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2022, I knew luggage transfer would be the thing that gets me across the finish line. And I was right. But the whole time before I booked the trip I was really hammering myself with guilt about it.
All the jerks in the TMB groups online will tell you luggage transfer is lazy, is cheating, is for spoiled wimps. And while I put zero stock into the opinions of ignorant (male) Facebook trolls, it was still something I wrestled with. Was I copping out by having someone transport my bag from hut to hut for me? Would I still get the “full” experience of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc if I didn’t do it the “official” way?
What I decided was that – duh – there is no “official” way to do the TMB and if luggage transfer would help me complete this goal I had attempted and failed at twice already, THEN SO BE IT. And as it turned out, my therapist agreed. 😅
See also: Where to find the Tour du Mont Blanc sign and how to get there
What it came down to was that I had to prioritize my reasons for hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in the first place. Why was I even doing this? The answers: for a great workout, to see incredible scenery, to eat delicious food and drink great beer in alpine settings, for the thrill of it.
Nowhere in there was I hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc to do it in an all-or-nothing fashion. Luggage transfer would therefore not hinder any of my overarching goals. Besides, I was already cheating by not wild camping, apparently.
Bag transfer is for everyone
Many an online troll will tell you luggage transfer on the TMB is for wimps, but please don’t listen to them. Using a service to take your bags to your next hotel is not a cop-out. It’s working smarter, not harder. It has nothing to do with being wimpy or lazy. Sometimes it’s the piece that determines whether or not you’ll be able to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc.
There is a wide range of reasons someone would want/need to use luggage transfer—not least of all age, ability, injury, etc. And why should you miss out on this incredible experience just because you don’t want to or can’t carry your bag? That’s absurd.
For real, read this: Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List: What to Pack for the TMB and What to Ditch!
7. Using transportation while hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc is cheating
Those same naysayers will also tell you that using any kind of transportation on the Tour du Mont Blanc is cheating. But lemme tell you, it’s the transportation options that make this hike worth doing (and doable).
I get it – the purists want to only walk the entire thing, carry all their own shit, and sleep in their own tents, and probably kill all their own food too. I am not one of those people. And I’d bet a lot of money that you aren’t either. For us, there are wheels and rails and cables galore.
Had I not been in the “transportation is cheating” mindset the first couple of times I attempted hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc, I probably would’ve finished the Tour du Mont Blanc. Instead, I opted for torturing myself for no apparent or enjoyable reason.
Now, I’m not saying to ride the train around Mont Blanc or hop in a taxi whenever you start to get tired or anything. (You literally can’t anyway.) What I’m saying is that you should feel free to go ahead and skip the most brutal and boring parts of the TMB by using the available transportation. They literally exist because these areas are brutal, boring, and offer no enjoyment whatsoever!
Avoid the death marches
Here are the times and areas where I took advantage of transportation in order to skip what I heard referred to as the “death marches.” In other words, the areas where you suffered greatly with no reward whatsoever.
To start my clockwise TMB hike, I took the cable car from Chamonix up to La Flégère and hiked to Lac Blanc from there. I saved about a full day of what would have been brutal uphill hiking without any worthwhile views or experiences. So, what’s the point?
To end my clockwise hike, I took the cable car down from Col de Voza to Les Houches, avoiding a quite boring almost 3,000-foot downhill hike on my last day. When I first hiked this leg in 2019, going the other direction, I hiked from Les Houches to Les Contamines and it took me a horrendous 10 hours and some of the most physical and mental exertion of my life. And the route was SO BORING. Had I just taken the cable car and skipped this part, I probably would have finished the TMB that year.
After hiking from Switzerland to the Chalet Val Ferret in Italy, I jumped on the bus the rest of the way to Courmayeur. This 25-minute bus journey followed the same route as the TMB and saved me a whole day of hiking. And the route? A boring-ass paved road. I missed nothing by taking the bus.
In Courmayeur, I took the bus from the town center to the start of the trail at Chalet del Miage. Again, saving myself many hours of boring hiking with no reward. I regret nothing.
In the purists’ eyes I cheated, but in my eyes I found a viable TMB hack. Using transportation allowed me to actually ENJOY hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc and avoid all the boring and unnecessarily torturous parts.
8. The Tour du Mont Blanc is too crowded
Something else you’ll read a lot about hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc is that, because this hike has become so popular, it’s also become too crowded. Umm… *gestures broadly* …where?
Maybe it’s because I hiked the TMB clockwise and avoided all the crowds (so they say), but I felt plenty alone on that hike. Maybe the refuges are crowded? But even so I would just say “full” at best. I certainly never felt crowded on the hike. It’s true that I wasn’t the only human being at some of the mountain passes and such, but there actually were times when I would look around and not see a single other hiker.
Full disclosure, I haven’t done a world of multi-day treks yet so I don’t have others to compare it to, but I still wouldn’t call the TMB “crowded.” When people use this term, they do so in a way as to bash the TMB, as if it sold itself out to hipsters and wimps who only want to use luggage transfer and take cable cars. After telling everyone how amazing the Tour du Mont Blanc is for so long, they get mad that so many other people want to hike it now. Cry me a river.
Regardless, I was certainly expecting a whole ‘nother level of capacity when hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. What I actually got was the perfect number of people – not too many, not too few, but just right.
9. You don’t need things like deodorant when hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc
Please don’t let anyone tell you you don’t need deodorant. I don’t care what the circumstances are. Please always wear deodorant.
Basically, when the TMB trolls condemn you for wanting to use baggage transfer or worrying about your pack weight, it’s inevitable you’ll hear things like, “You don’t need deodorant! You don’t need [insert literally anything here].”
Sure, maybe you don’t need deodorant (or toothpaste, or shampoo, or WHATEVER) to survive while hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. Yes, you’re going to sweat and get dirty and stinky every day regardless. But my point here is: don’t let anyone else tell you how to live your life. (ahem, or what to bring on the TMB.)
Besides, just because everyone stinks on the TMB doesn’t mean you have to. You’re still going to go to dinner after you shower, and share a room with people, and then eat breakfast with them. And wouldn’t you like to be dry and not scare people off with your stank for these activities?
Personally, I don’t like not wearing deodorant. It’s itchy and uncomfortable and maybe smelly sometimes. So even if it means it adds a few ounces to my bag, deodorant is something I’m going to bring. If it means I have to hire bag transfer to cart it around, then so be it.
Mind you, this “advice” always comes from grungy men who require but one shitty product to wash their entire bodies, brush their teeth, etc. I’m certainly not a high maintenance chick by any means, but I’m not going to let a (probably single) man tell me what hygiene products I should and should not bring.
Bring what you want
Beyond deodorant (which I’m merely using as an example here), if there is something that you really want to bring on your TMB hike, then bring it. If there’s a hygiene product you always use – maybe it’s a prescription face wash or wrinkle cream – then bring it. You have your reasons and it’s nobody’s business what you do or don’t pack.
10. There’s a right way and a wrong way to hike the TMB
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’ll tell you straight out: there is no right way or wrong way to do the TMB.
You’ll read so much about the (unofficial) “official” rules of the TMB: you gotta go counter-clockwise; you gotta carry your whole pack; don’t you dare take the cable car, you big fat cheater!
But really, there are no rules. There’s only what you can/want to do in order to get what you want out of the experience. Whatever choices you have to/want to make in order to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, make them!
There is no governing TMB body. There are no official rules, only people’s opinions, including mine. If you disagree with everything I’ve said so far, that’s also your prerogative. But at least you are going to do things your own way.
If you want to use bag transfer, that’s totally fine (and smart btw). So you want to skip parts, take transportation, or ride a donkey the whole way? Do it! If you want to hike clockwise and only sleep in luxury hotels, you can!
Some people run the whole way, others bike it, some hike in groups with alpine guides, and some do it all by themselves. And no one is going to tell those people that by doing so they did not *really* experience hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
What other “rules” about hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc have you heard?
Let me know below!
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