I can do hard things. I just completed my first multi-day hiking expedition through the beautiful mountain ranges of Mont Blanc in Europe and for those of you asking if I did this for fun…why yes, yes I did! These mountain ranges span over Switzerland, Italy, and France, and the views and experience were just incredibly epic and memorable. My friends who currently live in Germany extended the invite to Daniel and me and we spontaneously said yes to flying from California over to Switzerland to do a 10-day hike not knowing what they really meant when they posed the question, “Do you want to join us for a hike called the TMB?” We had never heard of this hike, but after reading a little bit about it, we were enthusiastic about it! We have a couple of backpacking trips under our belts, but more so we were itching to get out and out to nature. Once we got to Switzerland and started the hike, we quickly learned there’s a difference between “hiking” and “HIKING”. This 10-day hiking journey felt like a slow-burning walk to hell, however, when we reached the peaks using our own legs and mind, it brought us to heavenly views of Mont Blanc. Even with little preparation, physically and mentally, I was able to complete the hike from start to finish. The hike was a slightly different experience for everyone in our group, but I think it’s safe to say that this experience brought the group closer together, we experienced an array of emotions, learned lessons along the way, and made memories to last a lifetime.
I wouldn’t say I’m the fittest person for this hike physically and mentally. The hike was enjoyable and sometimes hard, and in some moments, it challenged my mind strength more than my physical strength. I learned that the only way out is through, there was no way to avoid the pain and to just keep going because I knew I was able to complete it. Throughout the hike, there were so many versions of myself that could have just easily called it quits, call it a day, and go to the spa, but instead, I let whatever uncomfortable emotion pass through my body and took everything in and rise above.
I would highly recommend this hike to anyone who has even an ounce of interest. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to share some info, tips, and costs about the trip below!
What is the Tour du Mont Blanc?
The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a very famous multi-day hiking trek in Europe. The TMB trail circles around the tallest peak called Mont Blanc and surrounding it are other mountain peaks that span across Switzerland, France, and Italy. Along the trail, there are beautiful little towns and villages where you can stay for the night. Every year, these mountains call to thousands of hiking enthusiasts from all over the world to complete the 105-mile trek with an accumulation of around 32,000 feet elevation gain over a span of ~10 days.
There are many ways to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc and the hike can be suited for many levels of experience and age — you can choose your routes, make it shorter, faster, luxurious, or rugged. In this review, I’ll be focusing on my first-time experience, self-guided, hiking with a group of friends and family. Here are the topics I’ll cover:
Cost of Hike
Like I mentioned earlier, there are many ways you can do the hike. You can do it solo or with a group, shorter or longer, wild camping or stay in refugios, self-guided or with a tour guide. You make it your own experience and at your comfort level. In my case, I traveled with a group and it cut down costs in some areas such as lodging and food. We felt like we were glamping as we mostly stayed in refugios and on days we stayed in bigger towns, we chose to stay in hotels and one day we even treated ourselves to a night at the spa.
Using actual costs from the trip in August 2021, once you arrive in Geneva Airport, you can hike the Tour du Mont Blanc in 10 days at the following costs:
Self-guided tour in a 4-person group:
- Total Accommodation Cost (9 nights): $636.28 USD
- Total Food Cost (10 days, outside of accommodation food costs): $200-$250
- Transportation to/from Geneva Airport: $30
Total Spent: $866.28 - $916.28
*to make the conversion easier, I converted Swiss Franks and the Euro to USD.
The total amount spent listed above is calculated based on costs per person for refugio/hotel accommodations, food and drink outside of the refugio costs, and transportation to and from Geneva Airport. I have omitted 4 costs which each individual hiker will need to estimate based on their location and personal needs. These are;
Flights to Geneva/Europe: Depends on where your coming from and what class you fly
Hiking gear: The cost of hiking gear depends on what gear you might already have and what you need to purchase for the trip. For me I already had my backpack, but needed to purchase a hydration bladder, plug adapters, trekking poles, snacks, sleeping bag liner, wool socks, backpack raincover, and new trail shoes.
Travel Insurance: Based on location, age and coverage/excess preferences.
Treat 'yo self days: aka Spa days. We treated ourselves to a Spa night in the town called Courymayear and it was worth every penny. It costed around $60 USD.
Itinerary (Clockwise Route)
Total Miles: ~110 miles
Total Hiking Days: 9 nights/10 days Total Hiking Hours: ~70 hours Total elevation gain: 33,087 ft Total descendant: 33,853 ft Total mental breakdowns: 1.5
Weight of backpack: around 20 lbs Total beautiful views: INFINITY
Start (Clockwise route)
Day 1: Champex-Lac to Gite De La Lechere (Refugio)
5 hours | 5.51 miles | 1225 ft elevation gain | 2275 ft descend
Day 2: Gite De La Lechere (Refugio) to Refugio Bonatti
6 Hours | 14 miles | 4000 ft elevation gain | 2675 ft descend
Day 3: Refugio Bonatti to Courmayeur/Dolonne
3.5 hours | 8 miles | 1625 ft elevation gain | 4250 ft descend
Day 4: Dolonne to Cabane du Combal (Refugio)
6 hours | 12km/7.5 miles | 1200m/3940 ft elevation gain | 400m/1312ft descend
Day 5: Cabane du Combal to Motetts
5 hours | 9.5km/5.9 miles | 500m/1640ft elevation gain | 600m/1968ft descend
Day 6: Motetts to Refuge de Nant Barrant
8 hours | 20km/12.45 miles | 800m/2624ft elevation gain | 1400m/4593ft descend
Day 7: Refuge de Nant Barrant to Les Houches (Refuge: Chalet Les Méandres (ex Tupilak)
9.5 hours | 25.5km/16 miles | 1000m/3280ft elevation gain | 1100m/3608ft descend
Day 8: Chalet Les Méandres (ex Tupilak) to Gîte d'Alpage Les Ecuries de Charamillon
14 hours | 38km/23.5 miles | 2632m/8635ft elevation gain | 1250m/4101ft descend
Day 9: Gîte d'Alpage Les Ecuries de Charamillon to Trient (Refuge: Auberge Mont-Blanc)
3.5 hours | 12.5km/7.75 miles | 500m/1640ft elevation gain | 1500m/4921ft descend
Day 10: Trient to Champex-Lac
9 hours | 16km/10 miles | 1365m/4478ft elevation gain | 1265m/4150ft descend
Day 10-12: Decompress in Chamonix in AirBnB
Top Refugios Along the Tour du Mont Blanc
Each refugio we stayed in had it's own character and pros and cons. Below are some of my favorites.
Cabane du Combal
Day 4, we arrived at Cabane du Combal. A refugio just before the very popular refugio Elizabetta. We had a short hike day and arrived before their 4PM check-in time at around 1:30PM. It was raining when we arrived and we were only allowed to wait outside just under the cabin. It was pretty cold and uncomfortable waiting outside, but we were checked-in a little bit early and the hospitality in this refugio was the best. The girl working was super friendly and spoke English to accommodate us. The 4 of us had our own room so we didn't have to share with other people. There was a shower and bathroom in each room. For dinner, we had pasta for the first time since our hike. It was sooo delicous. This is a fairly new refugio (4-5 years?) and it feels very new and very clean. We went to visit Refugio Elizabetta for lunch the next day and I actually would prefer staying in Cabane du Combal. I loved this place.
We arrived at Motetts super early on Day 5. The sleeping area we were set up in was a barn style room with many beds next to each other. There were no electricity in the sleeping area, but we had a lot of room. On the other side of the room were about 7 other people and everyone was fairly quiet during the night. The only thing was it was super cold.
The dinner was one of the best dinners we had. It was rice with some type of beef stew with bread and cheese. During the dinner there was french music played on this accordian-like instrument and people who spoke French sung along the old tunes and it was a warm and lively enviroment enjoying our dinner and music with a room full of strangers who were also trekking the mountains.
The view was just spetacular. The refugio were surrounded by mountains and there was even a white stallion and a mule grazing in front of the barn. Daniel and I saw and just enjoyed the view with a beer for an hour or so and it was the best. We kept saying to ourselves whenever we saw the unbelievable view, "Is this real life?", "How did we get here?"
Refugio de Nant Barrant
We arrived in Refugio Nant Barrant on Day 6 at around 4PM. The hike coming here was not easy, it was super rocky and it was a steep descend. My knees and calves were screaming at me by this point and I was so happy we had time to rest before dinner so I can eat and drink lots of snacks here. This refugio was so cozy, sweet and it was perched up beside the mountain and it gave us amazing views. Dinner was delicious and the accommodation was clean and comfortable.
What I packed
I didn't get a chance to weigh my backpack, but i'm guessing it was around 20-25 lbs. Luckily, my partner carried the first aid kit and all the snacks. After the first day of hiking, I threw away the guidebook and a reading book and some toiletries becuase an ounce feels like a pound and it was too heavy. When you're packing, pack ONLY the essentials and pack a versitle selection of clothes that is good for all weather conditions.
55L Backpacking Backpack
Sleeping Bag Liner
Trail Shoes (1 Pair)
Sandals (1 Pair)
Wool Socks (3 Pair)
Long Trousers (1 Pair)
Leggings (1 Pair)
Shirts x 3
Shorts x 3
Down Jacket x 1
Sports Bra x 3
Underwear x 4
Microfiber Towel (2 small ones)
Swiss Plug Adapter
European Plug Adapter
Book x 1
Notebook x 1
Backpack Rain Cover
Point & Shoot Camera
Cash in Euro and Cash in Swiss Frank
Snacks I packed
We had packed one energy bar and one pack of energy gummies for each day, a total of 10 days. The snack bag my partner carried was really heavy. It had a total of 24 energy bars and 12 packs of energy gummies. I also packed some chocolates and little snacks just in case.
Energy Gummies (one pack had around 7 gummies, I ate one anytime I felt a tinge of hunger or lack of energy)
Favorite Energy Bars (pack of 12)
What would I do differently next time?
Before the trip
Book refugios 4-6 months in advance to avoid full occupancy and long hiking days. Planning to hike 10-12 miles a day is a good estimate for 10-12 days. We booked our refugios 1.5 months in advance which wasn’t enough time. There were some days where we had to hike much longer to the next available refugio (23.5 miles long!).
Do some practice hikes (around 10 miles) with the backpack and everything you plan to carry to see if the weight of your backpack is manageable. This could have prevented me from bringing my whole library and art supplies collection.
Make sure you have the right hiking shoes. My god, I thought I was invincible. Not only did I think bringing a NEW pair of trail hiking shoes was a good idea, but the shoes were also barefoot-style which I’ve never worn or trained in before. There was no cushion for my feet going up or down the mountains. I had excruciating pain in my knees and almost quit on day 3 before I was able to buy a more suitable shoe for hiking the trails.
Altitude Sickness Pills (Diamox) – if you are prone to altitude sickness (nausea, lightheadedness, dizziness, shortness of breath) getting this might help alleviate those symptoms and make for a better trip as you climb up in altitude. I’m grateful that one person in our group had Diamox and shared it with me. I took it a day before we started our hike and took it twice a day for the first few days of our hike.
Clothes & Gear
Bring sunglasses. I’m not used to wearing sunglasses, so I didn’t think I would need them, but the sun was strong on some days, and I wish I had a pair.
A good hat to block the sun and rain.
Bring a base layer thermal. I didn’t pack a very versatile selection of clothes. I only brought tank tops, one warm jacket, and one raincoat. During hiking days when it was rainy or cold, I wish I wasn’t only wearing a tank top under my raincoat. The feeling of wet raincoat on my skin was very uncomfortable.
Waterproof shoes. Not only for the rain but for all the rivers and streams you cross over. Having soggy socks is uncomfortable and sometimes once your shoes get wet, it’s hard to dry them overnight.
GPS & Trek Guidebook is a must. There are signs along the trek to get you where you’re going but some signs are not as apparent as others. It’s always good to just check the GPS occasionally just to make sure you’re going in the right direction. Sometimes getting lost can add miles to your route and if you have a long day of hiking, that’s the last thing you want to happen.
TMB Hiking Route
We wish we planned a rest day in the middle of our hike in one of the big cities. This would have been nice to reset our bodies, wash out clothes, eat a hot meal, and buy things we need for the hike moving forward.
Not to pack snacks for the full 10 days, but just enough snacks until we make it to the next big town to restock. It helps with There are big cities such as Chamonix, Courmayeur, Les Houches to restock the snack stash.
Sleeping aids such as Advil PM, Tylenol PM. This might be a personal option, but if you’re a light sleeper this can help you sleep through snoring or noises from other roommates. These aids can also help with swelling and body aches.
If you have any dietary restrictions, call the refugios beforehand to see if they can accommodate. Some refugios appreciate the heads up and are willing to accommodate if they can.
First Aid Kit
Bringing different pain relievers. We brought two different types of pain relievers brands because your body receives the medicine differently and sometimes it’s good to switch off the pills.
For me, I love being outdoors, camping and backpacking. I do it a few times a year and I wouldn’t say I'm a pro but I do it enough to be comfortable going to the bathroom out in the open, in the fields or wherever you need. It's almost ingrained in my head that going to the bathroom outdoors is cleaner than going to some outhouses, that helps alot. I remember when I first went to the bathroom outside, it was super weird for me and I couldn't go. I know for some people who have never experience it, it would be a little weird and uncomfortable, but once you do it a few times, you'll get the hang of it.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was the hiking culture in the mountains. Whenver you pass someone, everyone makes it a point to look at you and say hi to you. Even when there's a big group of people, they say hi to each individual person and it was lovely. Since we are traveling through 3 different countries with 2 different languages, you either say "Bonjour" (in Switzerland and France) or "Chao" or "Buongiorno" (in Italy). Sometimes when I don't really know what country I'm hiking through, I default to French or gage what the other person says to me and say it back. I find it to be a respectful thing to do as a foreigner to say hi in their language and it's fun! The language nerd in me started to recognize the tones and ways people said hi.
I'm so proud of my accomplishment and the accomplishment we did as a group. I feel like we get should get a life badge for finishing this trek. It was an honor to be able to do something like this during a Pandemic. We feel extremely lucky and grateful everything went smoothly from start to finish. We were healthy and came back healthy and that's really something. I would love to do this hike again now that I've completed it once and I would highly reccommend this hike to all people who have even an ounce of interest in a multi-day trek and staying in villages. It can be for all levels of hikers and for all nature lovers.
Would you do this hike? Let me know if you have any questions on my Instagram or in the comments below. Hope this was helpful and thanks for reading!