Perfect hikes don’t just happen, they are the product of smart planning and wise packing. Keeping your backpack as small and light as possible while still having all your most important gear and enough clothes to deal with the elements is truly an art form. Even after all these years we are still constantly learning new tricks and getting new planning ideas. You will feel every ounce of extra weight on the way up the passes – which is also why its a good idea to start your training plan for the Tour du Mont Blanc early and practice carrying your backpack with at least the same amount of weight in it as there will be on your trek. Here are our recommendations for your Tour du Mont Blanc packing list in early fall (the clothing choices, in particular, will be different in mid-summer):
Other posts that will help you in your Tour du Mont Blanc preparation:
Covers all the information you need to plan your TMB trek while giving you a feeling for the day to day parts of the trek and other Tour du Mont Blanc tips.
Details on our itinerary and a trail description for each day while discussing the difficulty.
Discusses the accommodation options and give thorough details on each of the refuges and mountain huts that we stayed in.
Details on the types of meals you can expect at the refugios, where the grocery stores are and what you can find in them and tips for things you might want to bring from home on your Tour du Mont Blanc hike.
An overview of what the trek cost us per person and information on how hiking it differently would change the overall costs e.g. staying in a private room in the mountain huts or other private accommodation. It includes pictures of menu and meal prices at refugios on the TMB.
Tour Du Mont Blanc Packing List
A phone with a SIM card that works in France, Italy and Switzerland. Wifi was intermittent, at best, so having data on our phones came in handy often, even just when using the maps. You should also download offline maps on Google Maps so they can be used even when out of range, although directions tend to only work when you have data. We each bought a Three UK SIM card online that gave us unlimited calls and texts and 4GB of data almost everywhere in Europe. Now we just keep topping them up occasionally since they work in over 70 countries (including Sri Lanka and the USA, just to name a couple that have come in handy recently).
There are too many possibilities to list here but these are some of the ones we found most useful:
E-reader. Even if you are a traditionalist that prefers the feel of an old paperback, e-readers make so much more sense when travelling for the simple fact you can carry literally hundreds (or thousands) of books with you in a thinner package of roughly equal weight. After smartphones, they are truly the innovation that has had the greatest impact on our travels.
Also, unless you are swearing off traditional entertainment and getting back to nature, I would recommend downloading some audiobooks and podcasts to help pass the time. You can even download Netflix content on to your phone so it can be watched offline. Of course, you’ll also need a small pair of ear buds. Normally, we use wireless ones but, considering the occasional lack of charging options in the mountains, only take these if they have long-lasting batteries.
Guidebooks and Online Planning
We bought a digital copy of The Tour of Mont Blanc by Kev Reynolds and found it to be very helpful. We probably used it a lot more in the planning stages than we did on the actual trail, but it was invaluable in helping us plan our route. It came out after we had already finished most of our trek planning, but we have been told that the very recent Tour du Mont Blanc by Andrew McCluggage is also an excellent resource. We came across it on the Tour Du Mont Blanc Facebook group, which was also a terrific source of information and answers for us leading up to our hike. Another Facebook group worth checking out is Long Distance Hiking in Europe, which covers the TMB as well as many other great European circuits. Then, of course, Autour Du Mont-Blanc is the place to start when working on your TMB accommodation.
Whether or not you want to carry a guidebook is personal preference, really, since the route is generally easy to follow and there are frequent trail signs. The most important thing is to know the names of the rifugios and towns between the start and finish of your day’s hike. The signs usually only had the closer location rather than the end goal. In general, rather than carrying a guidebook we find it easier to use hiking apps like Wikiloc or AllTrails as a backup navigation plan.
I think it is fair to say that people undertaking strenuous mountain hikes on tricky rock paths are prime candidates to have travel insurance come in handy. Whichever company you choose, make sure there are no exclusions regarding trekking or altitude. We find World Nomads offers among the most benefits for the price and are also geared towards adventure travellers so their policy wording is very accepting of trekking.
Only 4 of the 12 places we stayed accepted credit cards, and 2 of those charged an additional fee so we didn’t use them anyway. But I never go anywhere without 2 credit cards, just in case.
There are ATMs in all the towns along the way so you can replenish your cash flow and do not need to carry an absurd amount of money the whole time. I always recommend at least 2 bank cards (1 Plus, 1 Cirrus) that have 4-digit PINs (some machines won’t accept anything but).
We exchanged euros for 150 Swiss francs before starting so we would have some cash on hand when we crossed into Switzerland. We are also in the habit of not counting on ATMs when there is only one in town as we so often travel in 3rd world countries. There was only one ATM in La Fouly but we took money out with no problems and then remembered, oh right, this is Switzerland. Of course, it worked and had plenty of money in it.
On the counterclockwise route you will pass a lunch/beer/cake stop before reaching that first ATM, so having a few francs can be handy. Of course, everywhere in Switzerland will also accept euros, but many places only trade them 1 for 1, meaning you lose out by about 10%. Which isn’t really a big deal on that 4 CHF piece of cake, but you’ll probably want to get some francs before paying for any hotels. Also, you can use a credit card with no extra fee at Maya-Joie in La Fouly.
I would argue that the most important factor in your enjoyment of the TMB (besides weather) will be the amount of weight you are carrying on your back each day. Packing light is essential, and that all starts with choosing a light backpack as these can vary by as much as 2 or more kilograms before you even start filling them up, maybe with some of these ultimate gifts for hikers. Plus, it needs to be comfortable, so make sure you use it frequently well before starting the trek. You don’t want to learn anything new about your backpack halfway up the hill on day 1. I recently invested in a Gregory Optic 48 and couldn’t be happier with it. It only weighs 1.03 kg (2.3 lbs) and is amazingly comfortable. The “small” version I have is actually 45 litres, which is far more capacity than I need on the hike but since it is so light anyway it is worth having since it is also large enough to carry everything I need when not trekking. Now that I am used to them, I also find waistbelt pockets an essential feature on a hiking backpack.
If you are staying in dorms, in particular, you should bring a small bag to carry your valuables in – money, bank cards, passports, electronics – because you probably shouldn’t leave that stuff in a common area.
Despite all the hiking we’ve done around the world, this was the first time we used hiking poles from start to finish (we had used them for some particularly dicey sections in Nepal in the past). Obviously, they are beneficial in taking some of the load off your legs during steep ascents and can make a real difference on the knees during long descents. Needless to say, there were plenty of both on the TMB, which is why we chose to bring poles this time. Often we find the inconvenience of carrying them throughout a long and varied trip outweighs the benefits during trekking but, in this case, it seemed worth it. There are precious few flat sections on the TMB so if you are a regular trekking pole user you will definitely be happy to have them along. We bought cheap poles but if you want to invest in a good pair everyone seems to love the Black Diamond brand. Just be aware that not all airlines will allow them as carryon.
Both of us prefer hiking shoes to heavier hiking boots or something less sturdy, like cross-trainers. However, we saw people using all of these options (and more) along the TMB. Mainly it will come down to personal preference, although there was a considerable amount of time spent on rough, rocky trails so, even though light trainers may still be viable, there would definitely be times when you’d wish for a little more support, better grip and a thicker sole. I wouldn’t do it in anything less than hiking shoes. We never wear boots, as we find them both too hot and too annoying to carry when they’re not being used, but if boots are your thing this is definitely the place for them.
While we almost always carry a pair of flip flops or sneakers to slide into at the end of a long hiking day, there is really no need on the TMB. Every place except Camping Pontet and the hotels (Hotel Triolet in Courmayeur and Chamonix Lodge) provided communal rubber sandals for people to wear around inside. Hey, every little bit of weight you can cut from your pack makes a difference. I carried light sneakers and Laynni had some small Sanuk slip-ons, but neither were really necessary, and I’d leave them behind if we did it again.
Rain gear is an important part of your Tour du Mont Blanc packing list that you hope you never have to use. We each carried the following:
1 pair of rain pants
1 small pair of gaiters
1 pair of waterproof glove covers
We only needed our ponchos twice and our pants once. But that is still more than enough to make them a necessary part of your packing list. Obviously, hiking in beautiful weather is always the hope, but when the weather does take a turn for the worse – practically inevitable in the mountains – you’ll be glad you came prepared. I used the gaiters and glove shells but probably could have lived without them.
Less is definitely more when you are carrying all your belongings up and down mountain passes every day. We took the following:
1 pair of hiking pants
1 pair of shorts – as it turned out, I only wore these once. If you are hiking in September I wouldn’t bother.
1 merino wool long-sleeve shirt
2 merino wool t-shirts
2 pairs of quick-drying Ex Officio underwear (washing one pair in the shower every day)
2 pairs of wool hiking socks
1 pair of Injinji liner toe-socks. I use these for extra cushion under my regular wool socks on long descents and just to mix it up occasionally to move around any hot spots and to make sure I don’t get any blisters between my toes.
1 pair of small, cotton socks to wear in the huts
1 toque – also known as a beanie or wool cap for you non-Canadians.
1 buff – used for warmth on cold days and to protect my neck from the sun on hot days.
1 pair of gloves. I have since upgraded to a pair of warm, waterproof Burton AK Tech gloves so I don’t need to carry the extra waterproof shells.
1 ultra-light wind jacket
1 light down jacket – too warm for hiking but just right on cold September evenings.
1 pair of compression leggings – this is the first hike that she had used them and now she swears by them. They provide extra support to joints, keep muscles warm and also help prevent mild strains and pulls. The only downside is the pair she had doesn’t have any side pockets but she just used the hip pockets on her backpack waist belt instead.
1 pair of comfortable non-hiking pants
1 pair of sleeping shorts – not necessary if you are ok with wandering around in your underwear on middle of the night bathroom trips.
1 long-sleeve merino wool shirt – she says she would take two next time. One for hiking and one for afternoons/evenings.
2 merino wool t-shirts – one for hiking as a base layer and one for evenings and to sleep in.
4 pairs of underwear
1 merino wool hiking bra – Laynni always cools down quickly during breaks and sweaty clothes and cooler temperatures don’t mix well. She was unsure if a wool bra would be worth it because of the price but it definitely made a difference on this hike as it kept her warm even when damp.
1 bra for night that is comfortable enough to sleep in. She puts it on after showering and doesn’t have to change again until morning, which is handy in co-ed dorms.
3 pairs of wool socks
1 pair of mitts
1 vest – she found the vest unnecessary and wouldn’t take it again. Her down jacket was enough.
1 light wind jacket
1 light down jacket
We each carried a 600ml bottle plus had a collapsible 1L bottle that we filled occasionally depending on how long we expected to go between reliable Tour du Mont Blanc water sources.
Every place we stayed except Refuge Lac Blanc had potable water available but we now always carry Aquatabs purifying tablets just in case we ever get stuck. They work great as a backup plan, came in very handy at Lac Blanc and once at a random stream when we were getting low on water. Also, unlike many iodine tablets, they don’t noticeably ruin the taste.
There is no need to carry a sleeping bag as they provide blankets in each refuge or mountain hut. However, the blankets and sheets don’t get changed often so I would recommend bring a sleep sack or sleeping bag liner and preferably one that has a piece to cover the pillow as well.
Ear plugs / eye mask
Whenever you are staying in dorms, not to mention many other places, it is good to have ear plugs in case of snorers (or dogs, or roosters, or buses, etc.) I don’t normally use an eye mask but I find them useful in dorms when people are opening and closing the door letting light in or using head lamps, etc.
Every refuge and hut had outlets or a charging station but some were quite limited and often already being used by other people’s phones. We always carry the shockingly small Anker Power Core 10000, which is good for 6-8 full phone charges.
We carried a Renogy portable solar charger as well but only used it once on this particular trek and would leave it behind if we went again. However, it only takes up the space of a thick piece of paper and has come in very handy during many other parts of our travels. For the TMB, I would suggest this or a power bank, but not both.
We saw a shocking amount of people, especially on the first few days, with burnt, eventually peeling, lips. You probably shouldn’t need a reminder but, yes, your lips are made of skin, as well.
Small pack towel (Dean) or sarong (Laynni)
One of the small ones you get in hotels would do and remember you can use floss to sew heavy duty items like your backpack.
Having a small amount of laundry detergent, little scrub brush and a handful of safety pins for hanging up clothes in the wind can save you having to carry an extra set of clothing.
First Aid kit
We carry a small first aid kit which includes bandages, pain pills, immodium etc. We also carry around a small supply of vitamins, especially vitamin C.
Toiletries (everything small, of course)
Travelling as a couple, we are able to share a single deodorant (on treks, anyway) and use a small bar of dry shampoo that is much lighter than normal liquid versions.
As with all things travel, everyone will have their own non-negotiable Tour du Mont Blanc gear list items so our lists won’t look exactly the same. However, this should at least give you an idea of the things we found especially useful or unnecessary on this particular hike, given the challenges and facilities available.
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