Deciding whether you’ll hike the Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided or with a guide is the first thing you need to do when planning your trip. And, naturally, there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this adventure, and while Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hikes may be the answer for some people, others may benefit from having a guide. (That’s me. I am “others.”)
This post will sort out the differences between the two methods, weigh the pros and cons of each, and (hopefully) help you decide which approach is the best for YOU. (...not the internet bullies telling you how you’re “supposed” to do it.)
Tour du Mont Blanc Self-Guided Hike: What does that mean?
Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided simply means you will hike it on your own – no group, no fearless leader, just yourself (and whoever else you bring). However, “self-guided” can now actually mean one of two things.
It can mean you’re going to plan the entire trip yourself. You’ll be the one booking the refuges, deciding on routes, planning all the stops, and actually physically getting yourself from point A to points B through Z. The whole shebang. Think of this as painting a masterpiece from scratch.
However, it’s also possible to book a “Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided tour.” This means you hire a company to do everything for you except for the actually walking part. These companies will book your accommodations for you, map out your routes, plan your rest points, and more. All you have to do is follow their directions. Think of this as a paint-by-number.
It’s a little misleading that these are called “self-guided” as the term “self-guided tours” is somewhat of an oxymoron. Someone else is guiding you through the entire process, but since they aren’t physically guiding you around western Europe’s tallest mountain, here we are.
What is a Tour du Mont Blanc guided hike?
Taking a guided Tour du Mont Blanc hike means you’ll likely be hiking as part of a small group that is led by an experienced mountain guide. Again, you’ll have your accommodations, meals, and routes planned for you, but this time you’ll have an actual professional hiker leading you along the route each day.
While you can certainly hire your own private hiking guide for the Tour du Mont Blanc (baller!), booking a “guided” TMB hike usually means you’ll be joining a group of likeminded hikers. In this case, all you have to do (typically) is show up and hike the hike.
Also check out: Everything you need to know about how to wash your clothes on the Tour du Mont Blanc
Why choose to do the Tour du Mont Blanc Self-Guided?
Both the Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided and guided options have their advantages and disadvantages, so let’s run through them. The following are the most popular reasons why you might want to take a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike:
You’ll have total control
By planning your entire TMB hike yourself, you’ll have total control over where you go, how fast (or slow) you hike, where and when you stop, how long you spend taking pictures and petting donkeys (spoiler alert: a seriously long time), and where you stay each night, among other things.
You won’t have to “hurry up” in order to keep a strict schedule. You can stop at unexpected places you find along the route or opt for a second beer if the mood strikes. And you can change course at the last minute or even take a rest day if you feel like it.
You can enjoy some solitude
By not hiking with a group, you’ll be able to experience plenty of solitude if that’s what you’re after. You’ll be able to hike on your own, enjoy some peace and
quiet cowbells, not have to answer to anyone, nor have to listen to a fellow hiker ramble on about their ailments for nine hours a day. You can become one with nature, as they say.
Much lower cost
The cost of a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike is lower than if you book a guided one. You can book the refuges yourself and pay for your spot at cost. You can forego bag transfer and optional transportation if you want. And you can choose where you eat to save money.
You can even camp along the TMB and save lots of money by not paying for accommodation at all. You can make your own maps and forego the cost of professional guidance altogether. Plus, the costs will be broken up into more manageable chunks this way if you book everything separately.
Sense of accomplishment
Finishing a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike knowing you planned and executed the entire thing on your own comes with a huge sense of accomplishment. While many people say hiking the TMB is “easy,” it’s actually no small feat. Doing this self-guided, you’ll earn a significant amount of respect. (From me, at least.)
Reward yourself for a job well done with a photo at the TMB starting / finish line. Here’s where to find the TMB sign and how to get there.
Sense of adventure
Not knowing where you’re going half the time certainly adds to a sense of adventure. Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc on your own, you’ll likely face a number of unexpected and unpredictable moments—positive or negative. This is what travel and exploration is all about after all!
For some, the knowledge that you’ll get to make new friends along the route and in the refuges each night is a benefit to the self-guided approach. This is much more possible when you’re hiking on your own than when you do so with a group you’ll spend all of your time with for the whole tour.
The disadvantages of a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike
On the other hand, there are equally as many reasons that Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hikes are not the bee’s knees. Be sure to weigh the following disadvantages against the advantages I just listed.
So much room for error
Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc isn’t the most difficult thing in the world, but there is plenty of room for error. While the paths are well-marked for the most part, someone pretty adept at getting lost may have a hard time here, especially if unexpected weather conditions force you to change routes in the moment.
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.
Solitude / loneliness / boredom
I’m someone who definitely enjoys her alone time, but all day, every day, for a week or more? No thanks. The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the most extraordinary experiences you can have, and to not have anyone around the share it with?
Personally, I would find that lonely and quite depressing, but that’s just me. Solitude may actually be an advantage for you. (And that’s perfectly fine!)
Similarly, I get bored when traveling alone. I still do it all the time, but I definitely prefer to travel with someone I already know well. There’s so much to see on the TMB, but not having anyone to talk to or explore with is just boring (to me).
You have to carry more stuff
When hiking with others or in a group, the lot of you will be able to (literally) share the load. Not everyone in the group will need things like a first aid kit, for example. So, individually you won’t have to carry as much. Lighter pack = better experience. Trust me on this.
You’ll miss out on so much
When you hike with a guide, you get access to his/her wealth of mountain-related knowledge. I learned so much from my guide—about the plants and animals we encountered, the foods and cultures, his personal experiences, and even about World War II. Yes, our guide took us to a couple of World War II bunkers in the mountains in Switzerland (without even knowing about my obsession with World War II travel).
The TMB guidebooks are great (and I definitely recommend getting one), but this is all stuff I never would have learned or experienced without our guide.
Also check out: The 10 Best TMB Tips You’ve Never Heard Before
Why choose a guided Tour du Mont Blanc hike?
Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with a guide and a group has its fair share of pros and cons as well. The following is a list of the benefits of taking a guided Tour du Mont Blanc hike.
You’re never alone
If you tend to, oh I don’t know, panic uncontrollably in these kinds of situations, a guided hike might be for you. Actually, it might be the difference between successfully hiking the TMB and never hiking the TMB at all. And that’s okay!
For me, never being alone on the trail was a huge selling point. Your chances of getting lost, injured, bored, or hungry are greatly minimized in a group. Also, if you’re a shy person or a solo hiker, always having someone to hang out with is a huge bonus.
If you’re maybe not the world’s fastest hiker, there will always be someone there to encourage you along. (And you can do the same for them if you are!)
Attempting this on your own, you may be more inclined to call it quits or complain or just really feel down. The moral support that comes with hiking in a group can really propel you forward and help you accomplish things you never thought possible.
Hiking in a group with a guide is another way to make sure you actually finish the TMB. Had I been hiking as part of a guided group on my second TMB hike, there’s a pretty solid chance I wouldn’t have quit after the first day. (True story.)
Always having someone else encouraging you on (and the societal pressure that comes with not wanting to look like a weenie) really speeds you up when you are slowing down and keeps you going when you just want to lay down and sob into the grass.
There’s always someone to take photos of you
Maybe this isn’t the #1 selling point to a guided TMB hike, but it shouldn’t go unnoticed! You will want pictures of yourself on this epic adventure. YOU WILL. When you hike on a guided group tour, there will always be someone around to take your picture—whether that’s posing in front of a cool mountain or just getting candid photos from them.
In my group, we all started a Whatsapp group on the first day. We agreed to take photos of each other, candid or otherwise, and share them in the group. It was a beautiful arrangement.
Without them, you’d have to either set up your tripod each time or attempt to put together a makeshift one on the spot. It’s so much easier to just hike with a bunch of people you can solicit photography from.
Meeting new people with similar interests
The reason I (almost) did the TMB solo and eventually did with a guided group is because none of my “real life” friends have the necessary combination of desire to hike for a week straight, ability to leave their jobs and/or families behind for that amount of time, or money to pay for a week-long Alpine hiking trip.
They all have job commitments, small children, and/or a serious lack of vacation time. Instead, you can join a guided group hike that’s made up of other people like you! You get to meet other hikers from around the world that share (and therefore can understand) similar lifestyle traits. Perhaps you’ll even make a new travel friend for future trips.
Wealth of knowledge
As I mentioned, when you hike with a guide you have access to his/her total wealth of hiking knowledge. This is such an incredible bonus that really adds context to everything you’re seeing and doing. It was such a valuable layer I didn’t know my TMB hike needed. (Ours even went to the local market each morning to pick out amazing local foods to fix us at lunch.)
You get to share the load
Also like I mentioned earlier, when you hike with others and a guide, you get to share the load. On my Tour du Mont Blanc hike, it was our guide who carried the first aid kit, our lunch supplies, and other necessities. Our group split up our lunch foods equally so we never had to carry that much.
A better celebration
At the completion of your TMB hike, it’s so much more fun celebrating this accomplishment with the other people who endured it all with you! Otherwise, you’re just a girl drinking champagne alone on a public bench.
You don’t have to carry tons of cash
When you self-book your TMB hike, you’ll have to pay for a lot of the refuges in cash. And since there aren’t any ATMs in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to have to carry a lot of cash around with you on your hike.
Having the entire hike paid for and handled by someone else eliminates the need to even worry about cash at all.
Interested in a guided TMB hike? This is the TMB hiking group I joined and LOVED!
The disadvantages of guided Tour du Mont Blanc hikes
Of course, there are also some aspects of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with a guide that some might view as disadvantages. For example…
Hiking the TMB with a guide is more expensive than a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike. That is, if you compare a guided hike to the version where you plan the entire thing by yourself. The “self-guided” hikes prepared by the hiking companies and sold as packages (without a guide) actually aren’t that much cheaper.
While I feel you certainly get your money’s worth on a guided hike, it can still be a lot of money. That being said, we stayed in nice accommodations, had our bags transferred to our lodging each night so we only had to carry a light daypack, ate excellent meals, and never had to worry about anything.
Technically, on a guided group hike you have less “freedom” than if you hiked the TMB all on your own. Because the itineraries are set, there won’t be a lot of “winging it.”
However, I’d like the record to show that I never once felt constrained by being part of a group. If I wanted to stop for something or take a break, everyone was quite supportive of a quick rest. We all enjoyed stopping for beers and photo ops, etc. There was never an issue of wanting something I couldn’t have because I was part of a group.
Same people every day
When you hike with a guided group, you hike with the same people every day. This is great if you’ve made friends. But, if you get stuck with an unlikeable group or, say, a super clingy fellow hiker, you’re stuck with them for the entire trip. Luckily that didn’t happen to me and I’m sure it doesn’t happen often, but there’s always the risk.
I’ll address this more in the next section, but if you’re a slow hiker, you may find it stressful to try to keep up with faster hikers. Just as fast hikers may feel weighed down by slower ones.
On a guided hike, you’re tied to one particular route. Because these hikes are highly organized affairs, your routes are preplanned and pre-booked and identical each time. If there was a certain variant you wanted to explore, you’d have to miss it.
Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided vs. guided: the biggest concerns
The biggest concerns for most people when choosing between a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided or guided tour are cost, company, pace, and ease of planning. I’ll relay a little bit about each so you can make the best decision for you.
Cost of self-guided vs. guided
The cost of hiking the TMB will vary depending on which approach you take. Planning the entire thing by yourself will be the least expensive. Booking a “self-guided” hike will cost more. Booking an all-inclusive guided group hike will cost the most. I’ll be breaking each of these down in an upcoming post. Be sure to subscribe below so you don’t miss it.
Which company to choose?
There are actually tons of Tour du Mont Blanc hiking companies that offer both guided and self-guided versions. Choosing a company to book with is therefore not an easy decision. I’ll discuss some of the most popular ones below.
Both fast and slow hikers worry about keeping up with a group pace. Slower hikers fear having to keep up with fast hikers, while faster hikers worry about being held back by the slower ones. Unfortunately, when you book a guided hike, you don’t know what kind of hikers you’ll be matched with.
This has been a fear of my friends who have hiked the TMB on their own and a ton of people in the online groups. I really believe that the issue of keeping pace is why more people don’t hike with a group.
As someone who hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc in 2022 with a guided group, let me tell you about my experience. Spoiler alert: the pace thing was not an issue.
There were definitely fast hikers and slow hikers in my group, and I don’t think it made much of a difference either way. (I remained solidly in the middle.) Even though we were a “group,” there was often at least a mile in between the fastest hiker and the slowest hiker. Both the faster hikers and the slower hikers could go at their own pace.
Our guide typically stayed towards the front but would often run back to the end of the group to check on the hikers in the back. No sweat. We all got where we were going. The faster hikers just got their beers sooner.
I really just want to clear up the fact that, even though you’re “hiking with a group” doesn’t mean you have to all stay close together. This is not a chain-gang situation here; you’re hiking the Alps, not picking up trash along a highway. So if this is the thing that’s pushing you towards a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike, please remember this!
Ease of planning
Not all Tour du Mont Blanc hikes are created equal. Guided hikes cost more because the process of planning your own is such a pain.
Planning your own Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike
When you plan your own TMB hike, you do all the legwork of booking your own refuges, planning your daily routes, planning your water and food stops, planning your rest day(s), booking transportation, and coming up with a load of contingency plans.
This is by far the most cost efficient way to hike the TMB but it’s definitely not stress-free. It will take months of planning and lots of hassle. (I’ve done it twice.) Some people enjoy this part of the process but I’m sure there are some people who enjoy invasive dental surgery as well.
It’s not quite as easy as booking everything online. Many of the refuges are quite remote and don’t have internet access. You may need to call them (and communicate in French), or email them and wait long periods of time for a response. And when they’re full, you might have to alter your entire route to find a new one. Lemme just say… it’s a process.
Booking a self-guided hike
There are many companies that will do all that legwork for you. They sell “self-guided TMB hikes” where they have already booked the refuges and mapped out the routes for you.
When you book, you get accommodations, maps and information, and basically everything else you need to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc. They call it self-guided because you still do the actual hiking all by yourself, just using their plans. The paint-by-number approach to alpine trekking.
Planning a guided hike
Having already planned the TMB twice, this time I could just sit back and let someone else do all the thinking for me. All I had to do was hit “submit payment.”
I could just show up every day, hike the routes, and worry only about the scenery I was looking at and drinking enough water. Having my mind free of logistics and concerns made the experience so much more enjoyable.
Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided Vs. guided: How to choose
So, how do you choose between a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike and a guided one? It all comes down to understanding and setting your priorities.
To do this, you can make a list of all the TMB aspects (cost, pace, freedom, etc.) and list them in order of importance to you. Or, you can take that list and separate them into your own pros and cons columns. Keep in mind that you can’t have it both ways; you’ll have to compromise on something. Here is my 2022 priority list that you can use as a case study:
Priority #1 – Not getting lost
For me, not getting lost (and suffering a mountainside panic attack) – AKA – peace of mind was priority Number One. Peace of mind has quickly become my biggest travel necessity and I’m willing to sacrifice a lot of other stuff to have it.
I enjoyed the idea of not having to worry about my routes all day. I would be able to just HIKE and enjoy the experience without having my head in a map all day. Basically, I wanted to just not think at all. I wanted to walk and take pictures and shut off my brain as much as possible.
Priority #2 – Not wanting to do all the planning
My second priority was not wanting to do all the planning and booking for a third time. I’d already done it once in 2018 and again in 2019. I’d already been there, stressed about the confirmation emails.
While many people do enjoy this aspect of planning their Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hikes, I’d gotten that experience already and didn’t need to do it again. This time, all I had to do was make one payment to one single company and everything was set from start to finish. *chef’s kiss*
Priority #3 – Not wanting to hike solo
Priority Number Three was being able to hike with other people since I’d be going alone. I didn’t want to hike the TMB solo (as I’d planned to do in 2018), and none of my “real life” friends have the same desire, time, and funds to spend a couple of weeks hiking in the Alps. So, I joined a group.
My group consisted of 1 couple, 2 friends, and 9 solo hikers like myself. It was perfect. I still felt like I was on this journey alone, but I was never actually alone. I made lots of friends; everyone got along; it was beautiful. We all supported each other and took lots of pictures and cheers’ed beaucoup beers.
Priority #4 – Just finishing the damn thing
I had already tried and failed to complete the TMB twice before. In 2018 I never even made it over the Atlantic. In 2019 I quit after the first day. So, in 2022 I just wanted TO DO IT. I wanted to FINISH the damn thing already. And I knew hiking with a guided group would be what I needed to accomplish it.
Priority #5 – Luggage transfer
Another top priority for me was not having to carry my entire pack. Look, I am not lazy in the least bit and I am no wimp. I am quite active and possess what I would call an above average fitness level. But I am small—all of 5’3” and 100 pounds.
Carrying a 28lb. pack is almost a third of my body weight and the damn thing is more than half my height. (So all you 200lb men out there saying I’m a wimp for using bag transfer, that’s the equivalent of you carrying a 66lb bag. Please take this into consideration before you start trolling people just trying to have a pleasant experience.)
Most of the guided hikes include luggage transfer so that was a major selling point for me. Yes, you can book this service on your own. But again, that just means more choice-making and stuff-booking.
Live and learn
However, the first couple of times I planned the TMB my priorities were different.
- In 2018, low cost and a sense of accomplishment ruled my decision making.
- In 2019, it was low cost and a fun experience.
Having attempted the TMB twice before, my list of priorities changed significantly.
How to plan a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike on your own
It is possible to plan an entire self-guided Tour du Mont Blanc hike on your own. Here’s a short list of the needed preparations.
Decisions you need to make
Which direction will you hike in – clockwise or counter-clockwise? (I list the pros and cons of each in my post on TMB myths)
How long will you hike? The “average” is 10 days. I did the TMB in 2022 in 6 days. You can do any number of days you want depending on what you want to see, your availability, how long you want to hike each day, etc.
Which routes will you take each day? Will you take the common route or the variants? Will you take transportation shortcuts?
Which refuges will you stop in each night? Now book those refuges. If they’re already booked, try others in the area or rewrite your route accordingly.
When are you planning to go? How far in advance? Planning everything yourself will have to be done very far in advance. (Refuges are usually booked up for the summer come January.) Booking a guided tour can be done last minute as long as there are spots still open.
What else you need to prepare and plan
Get the right maps. The best TMB maps are the IGN TMB maps. You should be able to find them at the Intersport in Chamonix but you can also buy them here. I also highly recommend picking up a TMB guidebook.
Get the right equipment / pack the right stuff. Head here for my complete TMB packing list. (And sign up for the printable checklist version below!)
Plan for all kinds of contingencies. Consider weather, getting lost, getting injured, showing up to a refuge to find out they have no record of your reservation, having to change routes and show up to a place without a reservation at all, etc.
Plan out all the details. Where will you stop for food along the route? Where are all the water access points? And the best views?
Factor in a rest day and plan what you’ll do. Courmayeur, Italy is the most popular place for a rest day. Check out my full guide to spending a day in Courmayeur here.
Book your flights to and from the start of the hike. (Chamonix is the most popular starting and ending point. Flying in and out of Geneva is the fastest and easiest choice.)
Plan your pre- and post-TMB time. I recommend a few extra days in Chamonix before you start. Here are 22 awesome things to do in Chamonix in the summer.
Start your physical training. Concentrate on stairs and cardio. Start wearing a weighted backpack around your house. Get in some local hikes if you can. (I live at sea level so I just concentrated on improving the whole package with high intensity interval training at Orange Theory.)
Best Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided companies
If the look of the list above exhausts you, you may want to book yourself a “self-guided hike.” Here are some of the most popular and well-reviewed companies to book your Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided experience for you. (In order of how often I see them mentioned.) Note: I don’t have any personal experience with any of these.
- Macs Adventure
- Mont Blanc Treks
- Pygmy Elephant
- Salamander Adventures
- Alpine Exploratory
- Cairn Trekking
- Cloud 9 Adventure
- Adventure Base
Best Tour du Mont Blanc guided tours
Likewise, there are many companies that offer guided TMB tours too. Take a look at what these offer to find the best one for you. These typically include an experienced mountain guide, luggage transfer, all accommodations, some meals (if not all like mine), on-tour transportation, etc. But each is different so double check the offerings!
- Intrepid Travel – This is the company I used. It was their first year leading guided TMB hikes but the experience was phenomenal. Highly recommend.
- Mont Blanc Treks
- Salamander Adventures
- G Adventures
- Watse Trekking
- Walkers’ Britain
- Cloud 9 Adventures
I hope I’ve been able to help you choose between a Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided hike or a guided approach. If you have questions I didn’t answer, always feel free to reach out. Hit me up on Instagram or leave a question in the comments below (and help out fellow hikers). Happy trekking!
More info for your TMB self-guided or guided hike
- Hiking the TMB? Find great places to stay all along the route here.
- Need a rental car? Check out the best rental car deals here.
- Don’t forget a handy Tour du Mont Blanc guidebook.
- Need hiking boots? Zappos.com is my favorite shoe shop.
- Need hiking apparel? I always start my search at Columbia.
Will you be hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc self-guided or guided?
Let me know below!
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