Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the most famous trails in Europe. Circling Mont Blanc massif, the route visits 3 countries, 6 valleys, and uncountable photo spots. There are different approaches to doing the route, and the traditional way is to stay in the numerous chalets along the way. While doing this you’ll enjoy lighter backpacks and tasty food, it’s not cheap. Moreover, you have to book your accommodation in advance, which limits your freedom during the hike. Kate and her friend have decided to cut down the costs and walk Tour du Mont Blanc with a tent. In this article, we’ve written down some practicalities of this endeavor, in case you want to repeat it. The information is valid for the summer of 2020 and may change in later seasons.
Our Tour du Mont Blanc Route
Day 1: Camping les Arolles in Chamonix -> day trip to Mer de Glace -> Camping les Arolles
Day 2: Camping les Arolles -> bus to les Houches -> Bellevue cable car -> Col de Tricot (2120m) -> Refuge du Miage -> Auberge du Truc -> Les Contamines-Montjoie -> bivouac area above Refuge de Nant Borrant
Day 3: Bivouac area above Refuge de Nant Borrant -> Col du Bonhomme (2329m) -> Refuge du col de la Croix du Bonhomme -> free camping on a field in Les Chapieux
Day 4: Les Chapieux -> bus to Ville des Glaciers -> Col de la Seigne (2516m) -> Lago del Miage -> Hobo Camping Val Veny
Day 5: Hobo Camping -> day trip to Mont Chetif -> Hobo Camping
Day 6: Hobo Camping -> bus to Arp Nouvaz in Val Ferret -> Grand Col Ferret (2537m) -> Ferret -> bus to Champex-Lac -> camping Roccailles
Day 7: Camping Roccailles -> Fenêtre d’Arpette (2665m) -> Col de la Forclaz -> car to Martigny and stay with friend there
Day 8: Martigny -> day trip in a car to Lac d’Émosson -> night in friend’s chalet in Trient
Day 9: Trient -> Col de Balme (2191m) -> sleep in Auberge La Boerne because of RAIN!
Day 10: getting out to Chamonix by train, no hiking because RAIN :(
Let’s start with the fact that wild camping is not allowed along the whole route unless in a state of emergency or at great heights. Although our Swiss friend claimed that he and his friends do that, let’s leave it on their conscience. However, if you like to camp for free, in France you can do that legally, as we did on days 2 and 3 – both were designated camping lawns with an organized toilet, trash, and water sources, but nothing else. Unfortunately, other countries don’t offer free places for pitching a tent.
As for classical camping grounds, they can be found in every valley on the way. We stayed in camps on days 1-2, 4-5, and 6. The amenities are pretty standard: showers, electricity, a picnic area. The Italian Hobo camping was bigger than the rest. There was also a shop, a bar, and a kitchen with a fridge. French camping les Arolles in Chamonix was the cheapest, at 18 euros per night. Meanwhile, in Switzerland at Roccailles we had to pay 33! No wonder we were very happy to take our friend’s offer to stay with him in Switzerland for two nights on days 7 and 8 :)
In case of really bad weather (I’m talking pouring rain and no visibility, which can happen in the mountains) it’s best to forget about saving money and to ask for a place at a chalet. We ended up in pouring rain on the last day of our journey upon crossing back to France. We were able to negotiate for a sleeping place in Auberge La Boerne for 20 euros per person without catering. The usual price was 50 euros for half board.
We had cooking gear with us: a portable gas stove, gas, pot, plates, cups, and utensils. Had we wished so, we could have been completely autonomous, but this was not necessary. Tour du Mont Blanc is a very popular route with a lot of small villages on the way. This means that if you plan well, you will always have places to stock up on food. So in the end, we had some staples with us:
- Dehydrated milk
- Instant soups
- Canned meat
This is enough for survival and for ease of mind. We were sure that if we miss a chance to buy extra food, we still wouldn’t die of hunger. However, just this menu alone would be very sad, so every day we augmented it with fresh bread, delicious cheese, and sometimes even local alcohol. The best place to buy dairy is at the farms you pass along the way. Usually, there are shops at or close to camping grounds, but beware that some of them close at about 6 p.m. so it’s best not to be late.
Another thing important to know for every hiker is water accessibility. In this region, water is never a problem – there are always a lot of clean water streams that you can restock at. We did have water purification pills with us, but never felt like using them. We each had a 1-liter bottle, but we kept them half-empty – there are never more than 2 hours between water sources.
Tourists are coming to the Tour to exercise their legs, but sometimes there’s not enough time to walk every meter of the way, and marching along a road is not much fun anyway. On our route, we walked all the high-altitude parts of the way but sometimes used local transport to skip the less-interesting parts down in the valleys and to shorten the day’s walk. You can use the cable cars, buses, sometimes trains or even hitchhike.
Cable cars are a great help if you want to skip some more tedious parts of an ascend or descend. They are not available for every slope on the way, but if you’re passing a skiing region, you can take advantage of them. It’s a good idea to check their timetables online, and even book a ticket in advance, as some of the most popular cable cars can be overcrowded during tourist season.
There are buses in every valley and even trains in the Chamonix valley. I don’t need to tell you how buses operate, but there is one trick. Always ask at your camping if there are any transport cards available with your accommodation. For example, we got a 10-day free usage of all the transport in the valley at our camping in Chamonix, and Italian buses were just free for everybody this summer. Not surprisingly, the Valais region of Switzerland didn’t offer anything like it and was ridiculously expensive.
There’s no need to stress about forgetting something essential for this trip – in both Chamonix and Courmayeur there are sports shops where you can buy anything that’s missing or broken. I’m a big proponent for packing lightly, but it’s a bad idea to pack just for summer temperatures – wind from the glaciers can make nights even in the valleys quite chilly. So, as always in the mountains, even in summer you have to be prepared for everything from 0 degrees to 30.
Even though the path is very well-maintained, mountain boots are a must, as are hiking poles. You’re carrying extra weight with camping equipment, so your knees will thank you for additional support from the poles.
You’ll probably do most of your navigation on your phone, so don’t forget a power bank and a splitter – there are never enough sockets at camping sites! However, there are also great paper guides for this route which I recommend taking. It’s extra weight, sure, but they give you something to read in the evenings and are a great source of information about the Tour.
Click the image to see a full list of my equipment for this trip with weight: