The Ultimate guide to solo hiking & camping the Tour du Mont Blanc
Crossing through France, Italy, and Switzerland to circle Western Europe’s highest peak, the 180km Tour du Mont Blanc trek is part epic alpine adventure, part authentic cultural experience, but entirely unforgettable. There are few routes in the Alps that rival the iconic TMB, and it’s a combination of the dramatic natural scenery and the charming mountain villages that have made this trek a fast favourite among mountain-lovers. Impressed by everything I’d seen and heard, I set out to solo hike the Tour du Mont Blanc a few weeks ago, and I can truly say it was nothing short of life-changing. Considerably more ambitious than the hikes I usually do, the TMB pushed me to the edge of my physical limits, but also reminded me that sheer determination is greater than any aching muscle or blister (of which there were many). And the views are always that much sweeter when you earn them in dirt, sweat, and tears!
I learned a lot when I was prepping for this hike, and of course even more when I was actually out on the trail, so here’s my guide to preparing for all aspects of your own solo Tour du Mont Blanc hike, including getting to the trailhead, planning your route, what to expect at the campsites, food/water on the trail, and a comprehensive packing list.
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About the Tour du Mont Blanc
Widely regarded as one of the best hikes in the entire world, the Tour du Mont Blanc is a moderately challenging 180km circuit that begins in Les Houches, France, a small town just beside the immensely popular Chamonix ski resort. The route circumnavigates beautiful Mont Blanc (4,810m), ascending 11 mountain passes and racking up around 10,000m in elevation gain/loss through France, Italy, and Switzerland. Most people complete the hike in 8-12 days, often with one rest day in Courmayeur or Champex. And while strenuous, the TMB is actually achievable for most passionate hikers— the navigational demands are minimal, small villages with food and supplies are frequent, and there are plenty of ways to make the hike as easy or challenging as you want. So long as you’re motivated to get up and over the next pass, you’ll be celebrating in Chamonix in no time!
The scenery alone should catapult the TMB to the top of your bucket list, but the wonderful food and people along the trail are also a big part of what makes this trek so special. In fact, the TMB may ruin you for all other hikes— why isn’t there cheese and wine for sale on every trail! Plus, hikers come from all over the world to walk around snow-capped Mont Blanc, so you can expect to make lots of new friends as you tackle a Col together or swap stories over dinner at the campsite. This is a social experience as much as it is an outdoor adventure.
Even though it’s possible to do the TMB with a guided tour, this is a really safe and simple hike to do independently, so there’s just no need. Not only was this the longest hike I’d ever done, but it was my first time hiking completely solo— and I absolutely loved it. In many ways, the TMB is probably the perfect introductory solo hike, as you’re never truly alone on the trail, never far from food or supplies, and rarely remote enough to require evacuation should something go wrong. I’d highly recommend making your own adventure and setting out independently (or with a group of friends)!
Planning your Tour du Mont Blanc hike
When to hike the TMB
The TMB is only walkable from late June to early September due to snow, though this varies from year to year― there are plenty of stories about fresh snow in the middle of August, that’s just the Alps for you. Another thing to consider is that most mountain huts are only open in this window (but that doesn’t affect campers). I hiked in mid-July, which is a less busy time than August when most of Europe is on holiday― there were plenty of fellow hikers on the trail to chat with, but it didn’t feel overly busy. The only other thing I considered when planning my hike was the UTMB schedule, which is the crazy race in late August where thousands of people come to run the entire 180km trail. Can’t for the life of me imagine why (or how) someone would do that, but avoid hiking at this time if you don’t fancy being trampled!
Camping vs mountain huts
This will probably make the biggest difference in your whole TMB experience. I decided to camp along the way, which meant that I carried a tent, a sleeping bag, sleeping mat, a camp stove, a pot and cutlery, and a bunch of freeze-dried dinners (I bought bread and cheese along the way to supplement my mountain food). It was definitely a lot of extra weight, especially compared to the hikers carrying day packs (at which I often stared enviously), but I had a lot of freedom and flexibility with my day-to-day itinerary and my hike cost a small fraction of a hut-style hike (a night in a mountain hut costs about 60€ including dinner and breakfast, while camping ranged from free to 14€ per night).
If you’re staying in mountain huts, it’s important to make reservations in advance, which means you’re locked into your itinerary with no room for adjustments (and my plans changed about 20 times a day along the trail, so that would have been challenging). It really depends on what you’re after, as I can definitely see the appeal in carrying only a light pack, sleeping in a bed every night, and not worrying about cooking. But I wholeheartedly recommend camping as a more authentic— and fun— option if you’re up for the challenge! I’ve summarised all of my campsites below, and definitely check out my packing list at the bottom of this post for an idea of what gear you’ll need to bring.
If you’re seriously considering the TMB, I’d highly recommend purchasing Trekking The Tour of Mont Blanc by Kev Reynolds. This up-to-date guidebook was absolutely invaluable in planning (and re-planning each day) every single stage of my hike, as well as navigating along the trail, choosing campsites, and finding food in nearby towns. So long as you have this book, there’s absolutely no need for a big map or a GPS— this really is the “TMB bible” and you’ll probably see 90% of hikers whip out their copy at the top of every Col and fork in the trail. Buy this immediately!
Getting to the Tour du Mont Blanc
Getting to Chamonix
As a rather bustling ski resort, there are a number of options to get to Chamonix, France. I’d recommend flying into Geneva, Switzerland and then taking a bus/shuttle/train across the border to Chamonix. The bus takes about 2 hours and costs 19€; a shuttle costs about 25€, but only takes a little over an hour; and the train is a bit cheaper and really scenic, but it involves heaps of transfers. I had a shuttle arranged through my hotel in Les Houches because I had been travelling for ages to get there (Australia might as well be Mars), I was dead-tired, and needed to arrive asap to organise all my stuff for an early hiking start the next day. It was 29€, but definitely worth it for the convenience. Most hotels in Chamonix will offer a similarly priced shuttle or there are several companies (not affiliated with any hotel) that also drive the route.
I’d also recommend staying in a hotel/hostel in Chamonix or Les Houches the night before your hike rather than a campsite (although there is a nice one in Chamonix). That way, you can store anything you don’t actually need on the trail (e.g. plane clothes, stuff for onwards travel) with the front desk and retrieve it when you finish.
Getting to the trailhead in Les Houches
Although it’s technically possible to begin the TMB in Chamonix, the official trailhead is in Les Houches, about 6km from Chamonix. I stayed in a hotel between Chamonix and Les Houches on the night before my hike, about 2km from the trailhead, so I just walked from my hotel on the morning of Day 1. From the Tourist Information Centre in Les Houches, there’s an arrow directing you to the start of the trek and it’s not a difficult walk. If you’re staying actually in Chamonix (or if you want to save your energy for the trail), there’s also a bus that runs around Chamonix and Les Houches. It’s 3€ for a ticket that works all day on the bus, so you can also use your ticket to do any last-minute gear or snack shopping prior to hitting the trail.
Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary
There are traditionally 11 stages to the Tour du Mont Blanc hike, with most people tackling a stage each day, typically anticlockwise. I was able to group a few stages together and finish in 8 days (plus a rest day in Courmayeur, which I’d definitely recommend). I found the pace reasonably comfortable, and I’m definitely not the fastest hiker, so I would recommend 8-9 days for most people. It’s hard to know exactly how you will feel on the trail and how the weather will be, though, so it’s another great reason to camp and stay flexible in your itinerary, allowing yourself to make constant changes to your “plan” as you go (and I say “plan” because you can never really have a plan in the mountains.. nature always has its own plan for you). Here’s my TMB itinerary, which should give you an idea of what to expect— and what to look forward to!
Day 1: Les Houches – Les Contamines
Distance covered: 20km
Elevation gain & loss: 646m & 643m
Trail time: 6.5hrs
Highlights: Passed through the most adorable little French villages, saw French llamas and little French kitties, caught a few glimpses of Mont Blanc through the clouds
CAMPING LE PONTET
Located about 2km past Les Contamines, this is a lovely campsite and gîte with clean facilities and reasonable prices. Due to torrential rain, I paid a bit extra to stay in a bed in the mountain hut-style dorm and was very happy to be out of the wet and cold.
Price of camping: ~8€
Price of bed in gîte: 14€
Facilities: toilets, hot showers, wifi (for 1€)
Food: a small shack onsite sells some snacks and drinks
Day 2: Les Contamines – Col des Fours – Les Mottets
Distance covered: 23km
Elevation gain & loss: 1579m & 876m
Trail time: 7.5hrs
Variations: Col des Fours to Les Mottets
Highlights: Crossed 3 mountain passes, reached the highest point on the TMB at 2,665m, saw a marmotte and a herd of chamois, wild camped in the most incredible spot in front of the mountains
WILD CAMPING NEAR REFUGE LES MOTTETS
I originally set my tent up on the side of the river closest to the mountain hut, but was told to move to the small grass patch opposite the field of cows. I woke up to a chorus of cow bells and enjoyed spectacular views of the mountains, so it was well worth the lack of facilities to enjoy wild camping for at least one night.
Price of camping: free!
Facilities: None (possible to pay to shower at the hut)
Food: I got a day-old baguette for free from the hut and ate it with my dehydrated dinner (but it’s possible to pay for a hot meal at the hut)
Day 3: Les Mottets – Rifugio Elisabetta – Courmayeur
Distance covered: 30km
Elevation gain & loss: 1464m & 1818m
Trail time: 8.5hrs
Variations: combined stage 3 & 4 into a single day
Highlights: Crossed the border into Italy, walked with a lovely group of people, incredible mountain views, descended into Courmayeur and got to enjoy pizza and gelato
ALBERGO LE MARMOTTE IN COURMAYEUR
After combining two stages into a single day and covering a brutal amount of distance both up and down steep trails, I arrived a day earlier than I had originally planned in Courmayeur. As a reward, I stayed in a room at Albergo Le Marmotte (my friend Katy was staying there while she waited for me to come through Courmayeur). I must say, it was nice to have a hot shower and a good long sleep in a bed!
Price of hotel: 80€ for a double room
Food: there are a million pizza/pasta options in town (my motivation for walking farther today than planned) and the hotel also serves a delicious Italian breakfast in the mornings, included in the room rate
Day 4: Courmayeur – Rifugio Bonatti – La Peule
Distance covered: 28km
Elevation gain & loss: 1710m & 611m
Trail time: 9.5hrs
Variations: combined stage 5 & part of stage 6 into one day
Highlights: Stunning wild flowers, glimpses of “Monte Bianco” (as the Italians say), crossed the border into Switzerland
I camped inside a yurt at Le Peule for the same price of pitching a tent on the property, and it was certainly a warmer option. There is one yurt furnished with beds that is more expensive, and also the option of dorm beds for 25€, but I was quite happy to sleep with my air mattress and sleeping bag on the wood chips of the storage yurt after enjoying a delicious drink and some cheese from inside the refuge.
Price of camping: 15€ to pitch a tent or stay in the unfurnished yurt
Facilities: toilets, hot showers, indoor seating in the refuge
Food: hot meals at the refuge, drinks and cheese for sale
Day 5: La Peule – Champex
Distance covered: 24km
Elevation gain & loss: 465m & 1465m
Trail time: 5.5hrs
Variations: combined part of stage 6 & stage 7 into one day
Highlights: Passed through some cute Swiss towns, dozens of wood carvings of animals along the forest trail, gorgeous lake in Champex
CAMPING LES ROCAILLES
On the far side of Champex, this is a large and well-equipped campsite with good wifi and nice facilities. I found it a bit difficult to locate (luckily, I ran into a friend from the previous day who helped me find my way), so just follow the lake all the way around through town and it is immediately off the trail you will take tomorrow, can’t miss it. Stock up on food at the supermarket in town before checking in!
Price of camping: 15sfr
Facilities: toilets, hot showers, wifi (!), picnic tables
Food: sells a few snacks, 15min walk to supermarket and restaurants in Champex
Read more: TOUR DU MONT BLANC DAY 5: LA PEULE – CHAMPEX
Day 6: Champex – Fenêtre d’Arpette – Le Peuty
Distance covered: 15km
Elevation gain & loss: 1199m & 1139m
Trail time: 6.5hrs
Variations: stage 8 high route via Fenêtre d’Arpette
Highlights: The so-called hardest day of the trek, incredible uphill climb to highest point on the TMB at 2,665m, amazing views of Glacier du Trient
Having heard that there is no camping at Col de la Forclaz, the traditional end of stage 8, I detoured about 20min to Le Peuty, where a simple campsite sits below the mountains. There are excellent directions in the guidebook, but basically you just walk downhill along a winding road until you come to a small, level clearing. The facilities are really minimal, but the site has a great view and was pleasantly inexpensive.
Price of camping: 4sfr
Facilities: toilet block outside, small shelter to cook and eat under
Food: 5min walk to a very tiny shop selling sandwiches and a couple food items, plus a bar with drinks
Day 7: Le Peuty – Tré-Le-Champ
Distance covered: 16km
Elevation gain & loss: 1069m & 1178m
Trail time: 4.5hrs
Highlights: Crossed the border back into France, unobstructed views of Mont Blanc, wine with friends at a great camp site
AUBERGE LA BOERNE
There are several options for camping in Tré-Le-Champ and Argentière, but I was really happy with this spot in the garden of Auberge la Boerne. Campers get full access of the wonderful indoor bathrooms and it’s just a short walk to a massive supermarket (by mountain standards) so you can binge on tasty snacks on the cheap.
Price of camping: 8€
Facilities: bathrooms inside the Auberge, hot showers, wifi also in the Auberge
Food: hot meals at the Auberge, 15min walk to a supermarket in Argentière
Day 8: Tré-Le-Champ – Lac Blanc – La Flegere – Chamonix
Distance covered: 17km
Elevation gain & loss: 760m & 1257m
Trail time: 5.5hrs
Variations: combined stage 10 & 11 into one day, included Lac Blanc variante, and arrived back in Chamonix
Highlights: The famed ladder section with vertical climbing, stunning alpine lakes, swimming in freezing cold Lac Blanc, descent from the mountain into Chamonix for the end of the hike!
Back in Chamonix, there are a number of campsites in and around the town, as well as a wide range of accommodation options throughout the area. Treat yourself to a hot shower and a comfy bed, you’ve earned it!
What to expect on the trail
I’m an absolute potato when it comes to directions, and even I never got lost while hiking the TMB. On just a couple occasions, I was not 100% sure of which fork in the road to take, but there were usually people around to ask or I’d just whip out my very handy guidebook. Between TMB signage, painted trail markers on the rocks, and all of the guidebook’s detailed directions, it was easy to find my way around and I never once wished that I had a map with me.
If you’re staying in mountain huts, all your breakfasts and dinners will be covered and will be delicious (so I hear). The huts also sell packed lunches for about 13€, so you could safely have ever single meal taken care of. Some campers ate their meals in the refuges, some bought food every few days from small shops, and some cooked every meal on a stove, so there is no shortage of options.
I personally had my mountain food, but I also bought bread and cheese in shops to supplement the pouch meals, and found it to be inexpensive and delicious. I paid about 1€ for baguettes and 4€ for good sized hunks of cheese in most places, but I even scored a free baguette from a refuge once when I went to enquire about buying one— it hadn’t sold that day so they just gave it away. Most refuges sell drinks (beer, soft drink, juice, coffee) for a few euro, as well. Every single day, you will pass by a refuge, most days also a small town with a shop or two, and every few days a supermarket— food is never far away!
As for water, there are little troughs with eau potable every few hours, clean water at all the refuges, and even delicious glacier water in little streams along the way. I never felt very panicky about having enough water, and actually found that carrying only 1L at a time was a good way to keep my pack light. I didn’t really encounter anyone who was purifying their water, and certainly never felt the need to, so don’t stress about packing filtration systems, either.
All the campsites I stayed at (details in the Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary section of this post) were very nice: clean toilets, hot showers (at most sites), and reasonably priced from 4sfr to 14€ per night. For the most part, campsites are well described within the guidebook I recommended previously, but in a few instances, there were no campsites listed within hours of where I was hoping to stay. I found that other hikers usually seemed to know of a place if you ask around, and wild camping is a good plan B (although it’s not permitted in many parts of Switzerland, so refer to the guidebook). I only wild camped one night during my hike, but there are certainly places to get off the beaten path more frequently if that’s your thing. To make sure you’re camping legally, enquire inside one of the mountain huts and they will usually direct you to a nearby area where you can pitch your tent without being bothered (I did get asked to move once).
Cost of the TMB
When planning my own hike, I found that there wasn’t a lot written online about the price of things, and it really worried me, especially since the alps have a reputation for being expensive. Once I actually did the hike, though, I realised that you can spend as little or as much as you want to do the TMB. Staying in huts and hotels and eating meals in restaurants will be extremely pricey, but there are also opportunities to wild camp for free and eat incredibly inexpensively by cooking your own food and buying simple items from the market. Here are some specific examples of what things cost along the trail:
- Airport shuttle (Geneva to Les Houches) 30€
- Bus from Chamonix to Les Houches 3€
- Cable car ride along the trail 14€
- Fuel canister for camp stove 9€
- Baguette 1€
- Wedge of nice cheese 5€
- Bottle of wine 3€
- Pint of beer from a mountain hut 5€
- Sandwich from small shop 7€
- Dinner at a refuge 25€
- Packed lunch from a refuge 13€
- Camping in a basic spot 4-8€
- Camping at a nice site with showers and wifi 15€
- Bed in a gîte 15-18€
- Nice hotel in Les Houches, France 60-100€
- Nice hotel in Courmayeur, Italy 40-80€
- Night in refuge (includes dinner and breakfast) 60-80€
Packing list for the Tour du Mont Blanc
This will vary hugely depending on whether you’re camping or staying in huts and whether you’re cooking for yourself or buying food, so this is just what I packed for my trip (plus the things I wish I had brought).
Check out this post for recommendations on all the best gear: BUILDING THE ULTIMATE OUTDOOR ADVENTURE KIT: THE BEST HIKING & BACKPACKING GEAR FOR WOMEN
- hiking backpack— I used a 50L pack and it was perfect. Surprisingly, I had by far the smallest bag of anyone that I saw camping along the trail, but people were carrying unnecessary items, if you ask me (jeans? a laptop?)
- waterproof backpack cover
- trekking poles— cannot stress this enough, I would not have been able to complete the hike without poles. Sometimes you are descending into valleys and your knees are screaming with the pain of a thousand suns and the only thing keeping you upright is your poles, so do not leave them at home.
- bladder— I managed with a 1.5L bladder and just filled up frequently, which helped with the weight of my pack. I also packed a 1L plastic bottle that I could fill up at streams throughout the day (and use to pour water into my bladder).
- hiking boots— I would really recommend some that come up high on the ankle for better stability. There is a fair bit of uneven ground, but also the steep ascending and descending on scree provides prime ankle-rolling opportunities.
- sleeping bag— it’s usually around 10C at night, but I get quite cold, so I packed a bag rated to 5C (and was still sleeping in all the clothing I brought). Go for something warmer if you have room.
- mattress pad
- ultralight pillow
- camp stove— I actually ditched my stove and cookwear after the first few days, just cooking my mountain pouch food with cold water. If I had a second person to share weight with, it would have been fine, but I wanted to keep my pack as light as possible and I was already carrying a 2 man tent.
- gas canister— you’ll have to buy this in Chamonix or Les Houches since you can’t fly with it.
- cookware— I only carried a spoon to stir and eat directly from my mountain pouches, but these are the bowls I usually hike with.
- mountain food— I brought about 5 pouches of food and they lasted for multiple meals, especially when eaten with a baguette. All of the pouch meals I had could be cooked with only cold water, even the ones that say they require hot water, you just need to leave the water in the pouch for a few hours rather than a few minutes. I would put water in the pouch in the morning and the food would be completely rehydrated and delicious by lunchtime, when I would just eat straight from the pouch. This site makes the most amazing mountain food, you’ll want to eat it all the time.
I saved a lot of weight by packing hardly any clothing, but I basically wore everything to sleep. Long sleeve, fleece, down jacket, tights, fleece leggings, and wool socks.. I got really cold in my tent, despite a warm sleeping bag, so don’t skimp on warm clothing if you’re also someone who runs cold. Better to carry a few extra items than to not get any sleep at night because you’re freezing!
- 2x quick drying hiking tanks/shirts
- 1x long sleeve shirt
- 1x fleece pullover/zip-up for the evenings
- down jacket— really glad to have this at night and on the windy mountain passes
- rain jacket— I actually only used mine for about 2 hours over the entire hike, but other people have not been so lucky with weather, so it’s essential to have.
- 2x hiking/running shorts
- tights for chillier evenings and for sleeping (plus fleece tights if you get cold easily)
- 2x wool socks and liners— wash them as soon as you take them off at night and tie to the outside of your pack in the morning if they still aren’t dry. These toe sock liners are the best thing that ever happened to my feet in terms of preventing blisters!
- 1x comfy (and clean) socks for the night
- baseball hat/sun hat
- Tevas/similar sandals— something you can wear around the campsite, on short walks in the evening, and possibly in the showers
- 1x sports bra for the ladies
- knee strap— this hike has a cruel amount of steep descents that will wreak havoc on bad knees. I bought a knee strap specifically for this hike, since I get crippling knee pain even down gentle hills and my knee brace is huge and very metal, and I can’t recommend this strap highly enough. It fits snuggly right above your tibial tuberosity and puts pressure on your patellar tendon, which helps maintain normal tracking and reduces pressure on the posterior patellar surface. It was about $8, is super small so it doesn’t make your knee hot and sweaty, and it really made a world of difference for me.
- KT tape for blisters and hotspots— I struggled so badly with blisters and went through way more bandages than I ever anticipated, plus was given handfuls by multiple kind hikers who took pity on me, so come prepared if you too are prone to blisters.
- Naproxen— something for the aches that you will definitely have, preferably a strong anti-inflammatory to keep swelling to a minimum in your joints.
- Claritin— the pollen is out and about in the summer.
- hygiene kit— toothbrush, soap, the usual bits (I recommend bar shampoo and bar soap to save on space and weight)
- ultralight microfibre towel— I actually left this out to save weight, but I know that not everyone is willing to drip dry.
- camera + extra batteries— I love my GoPro for long hikes like this since it’s super small and light, takes great photos, and is totally water/dirt/shock/Brooke-proof.
- TMB guidebook
Happy hiking! Feel free to leave questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.