Preparing for Mont Blanc


Preparing for the Tour de Mont Blanc

At 170km long, the Tour de Mont Blanc or Mont Blanc Circuit walking trail is not to be taken lightly, nor too quickly in our view, as it is one of the most stunning hiking routes in the world. Most walking holidays of this iconic circuit take between 10-15 days, the longer ones building in a bit of rest time along the way. You can do holidays that take it on in a shorter amount of time, which either means you are taking on higher passes as Ďshort cutsí or that you are dipping in and out of the highlights. The latter does not necessarily make it easier, but simply means that you donít do the whole thing. Whichever way you look it, this is still Alpine walking, so you need a good level of fitness and time to prepare.
In the mountains we donít talk about kilometres covered. We talk about the number of ascents or descents.

How many hours do we walk a day on the TMB?

Whether you are slipping into a sleeping bag or Egyptian cotton sheets at the end of the day on your Mont Blanc walking holiday, the walking is the same for everyone. Over 10 days of walking you need to be prepared for eight days at a challenging level and two days of moderate walking. On most days you will walk between seven to nine hours, with plenty of breaks of course. This isnít a race after all; itís a holiday, and walking will be at a slow and comfortable pace. However, you could have three to four hours of walking uphill every day, so you do need to get in training.
Getting fit

Advice on getting trip fit

Your tour operator will give you detailed notes on this, but if you are not a regular walker you will want to start training about three months before your trip. Please donít use the trip as a way to get fit, as most of our Mont Blanc walking holidays are in small, guided groups and for safety reasons you donít want to be too far behind the others. Our trekkers range in age from 18 to 80, so donít think that you have to be a young thing to complete the TMB; far from it. Many people donít take it on until their 50s or later, but do set yourself a training schedule. As with any activity holiday, you should always consult your GP in advance if you have an ongoing health condition or injury.

Cardio training

If you are already a keen walker, runner, cyclist or swimmer you may want to up the pace a bit rather than just jogging along nicely. Although the pace on your walking holiday will be slow and comfortable, by increasing your pace during your everyday fitness regime before you go, you will be stronger all round. From three months before your trip you should be doing cardiovascular workouts two or three times a week such as an hour in the gym. This could build up to 20 minutes on the treadmill and 20 on the cross trainer, for example, followed by some core exercises. This should be in addition to a good hill walk at weekends.
Six weeks to go

Six weeks to go

Six weeks to go is spreadsheet time. Just as you would prepare for a half marathon, you need to do the same thing for the TMB, dedicating four days a week to getting ready. Note: you should also build three rest days into your training schedule, as you donít want to be injured for your trip either.
In short, work your way up from 30 minutes of cardio exercises to 60 minutes by the end of the six weeks, twice a week. The second session of the week should involve more inclines. Add a circuit of strength exercises such as squats and lunges at the end of this session, working up to two circuits of around 15 repetitions. On weekends, you should go for a good hill walk, building up from 1.5 hours to five hours by the end of the six weeks. In an ideal world, if you can get a five hour hill climb in every weekend for six weeks before you go, plus regular strength exercises, you will be good to go.

Training for the Mont Blanc ascent

These are advanced trekking holidays so you do need a good level of fitness. There are also some technical skills to learn so that you can use ice axes, crampons and ropes, but most Mont Blanc ascent holidays include this training in the holiday. In order to prepare for the ascent, we recommend an eight week training schedule. During this time, you will need to be exercising four days a week for the first three weeks, with three days of rest, increasing this to five days a week after that. On the eighth week you should get plenty of rest, only training three days and at a more basic level.
Your tour operator or fitness advisor will give you more detailed advice, but in short, you should do a 45-60 minute walk once a week with a loaded pack, as well as strength exercises such as squats and lunges. Also, go for a run or brisk walk, building up from 30 to 60 minutes, twice a week. At weekends you should take on a hill climb, carrying a loaded pack, starting at about three hours and building up to as much as eight hours. Increase the ascents from 500m to 1,000m with each week of training on this hill climb, and start off with a daypack, building up to a full rucksack.

Our top Mont Blanc Holiday

Mont Blanc holiday, Tour du Mont Blanc

Mont Blanc holiday, Tour du Mont Blanc

The best of the Tour du Mont Blanc

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If you'd like to chat about Mont Blanc or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Gear for Mont Blanc holidays



On most Mont Blanc Circuit holidays your luggage is transferred for you, so you only need a good daypack for carrying all your daily needs. They range in size and quality, of course, but it is worth investing in a reputable brand as this piece of gear will become your favourite travel companion, hopefully for years to come. Around 25 litres is a good size to store a compressible rain jacket, a fleece layer, food, drink and first aid kit, as well as all the usual bits and bobs that you like to bring on hikes with you. If you are doing the Mont Blanc circuit camping version, it is recommended that you bring a 40 litre backpack because even though the camping gear is carried in a support vehicle, you will have more clothes. The same size backpack goes for the Mont Blanc ascent.
You can get daypacks with hip belts, which can be useful if you like good support when you walk. External pockets for water bottles are great, or you may want to buy a large hydration backpack which combines the water carrier with a larger space for carrying your gear. Make sure you have a waterproof cover for your daypack.


People get very attached to their hiking boots. They are a very personal thing, so we donít want to give too much advice on this front. The chances are, if you are considering taking on the Mont Blanc Circuit, for example, you donít need to be told the basics. But it is always worth a reminder to wear your boots in before embarking on a hiking holiday. Some people also make the mistake of thinking they can wear what they like on the Mont Blanc Circuit because it is summer. Wrong. You need a boot with a strong sole and ankle support, which is made of waterproof materials.
Chloe Knott, from our leading Mont Blanc walking holidays supplier, Exodus Travels:

ďWe had one woman come with a really shabby old pair of boots. The sole came off at the top of the col, and the guide had to have her lifted out as she just couldn't walk down the mountain.Ē

If you are tackling the ascent of Mont Blanc, you are entering a whole other boot camp. Footwear needs to be insulated, leather (although technology is changing all the time, so do spend time researching this properly to find the best and lightest) and with stiffened soles for extreme trekking. You will also need gaiters to be extra dry.
Walking poles

Walking poles

Long gone are the days when you were frowned upon by haughty hikers for having walking poles. They are de rigeur now and an all important part of the kit, even if you leave them tucked into the side of your backpack, at least they are there if you need them. Or to lend to someone who is desperate for poles but who didnít think theyíd need them. Hiking without poles is like cycling without padded cycling shorts or a gelled saddle; they exist to help so donít be a hero or think you are too posh to pole. Even if you are a fit 20-something, trust the hiking elders. Hike with a pole now, or two poles even, and you will still have knees when you are 50, 60, and 70-something.

Hikers like to accessorise

If you havenít discovered the marvels of Ďthe tubeí then we recommend you try one out. One of those simple inventions that you wished you had thought of, it is a tube of breathable microfibre or bamboo fabric, usually microfibre. Itís easy to stuff into the front pocket of your daypack, and you can use it as a sunhat, neck protector, earmuff, scarf or headband if your hair is long. Once you have got used to wearing one you will wonder how you ever managed without.
A good sunhat is vital, although you may have to swap it with a warmer, fleecy one in the mornings or at higher elevations and, if you are going for the ascent, you will need excellent gloves. Not heavy skiing style gloves, but light weight ones that cut out the wind. Hiking trousers with zips so that they convert to shorts may not be the coolest thing, but you will not regret having them on the TMB. You will also never regret packing waterproof trousers. If you are doing the ascent, you will have a more detailed packing list, although many people just hire the kit in situ, as you will need thermal boots and climbing gear. You can hire everything you need for an ascent when you arrive. Budget for around Ä150 a week, including boots.
Letís not forget sunglasses. Buy quality UV ones with polarising lenses to help with that mountain glare. Treat yourself to one of those snazzy, sporty sunglasses bands too, so that you donít drop them down the mountainside or leave them sitting on a rock as you pause for thought. Or get a sunglasses case with a carabiner clip so that you have it to hand when you need it.

Waste not, want not

Always carry waste bags on your hikes, the small compostable bin liners used in kitchen compost caddies are very handy. You will create unexpected amounts of waste on your hikes, from sweet wrappers to used toilet roll, banana skins to Blistex covers. Take it all off the mountainside please. And do not use disposable plastic water bottles, always reusables, or a quality auto filtering bottle such as LifeSraw so that you can fill from streams along the way. Most responsible walking companies insist upon reusable bottles these days and, depending on the daily locations, will find you filling up points. The mountain villages in the Alps sometimes have wells in the villages for you to top up at too. See our guide to reducing plastic on your travels for more thoughts on this.
Keeping warm

Keeping warm

Even in summer you need to layer up. We recommend bringing a lightweight down jacket or a warm two to three season fleece as an extra layer. For the Mont Blanc ascent you will need base layers too, of course. Another trick is to bring a stainless steel drinking bottle, fill it with warm water at night, cover in a sock and use it as a hot water bottle.
Sleeping gear

Sleeping gear

If you are doing a Mont Blanc Circuit trip where you are camping or sleeping in mountain refuges or huts, you will need a four season sleeping bag. Yes, it might be summer, but it might not feel like it when you are at 1,600m altitude. We also recommend bringing a sleeping mat or Thermarest. If you are staying in mountain refuges then you may not need a sleeping bag as blankets or duvets are provided. You will need a sleeping bag sheet, however, or sac a viande as it's known in French, and a pillow case is always a good thing too. On the subject of sleeping, ear plugs are a must if you are a light sleeper and sharing dorms or tents.


Before you go, there are a couple of great books to seek out: Chamonix Mont Blanc, A Walking Guide, by Martin Collins and Tour of Mont Blanc by Kev Reynolds. Both are published by the walkersí favourite, Cicerone Press. Do bring a book with you as well, as there will be few other distractions at night. An e-reader is good; make sure it is well charged. And donít forget a head torch.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Heather Cowper] [Top box: NKBV] [How many hours: Ronnie Macdonald] [Advice on getting fit: Kevin Neubauer] [Cardio training: Bruno Nascimento] [Six weeks to go: Massimo Sartirana] [Training for the Mont Blanc ascent: Almos Bechtold] [Bags: Ronnie Macdonald] [Boots: Heather Cowper] [Walking poles: Heather Cowper] [Accessorising: Heather Cowper] [Waste not, want not: Heather Cowper] [Keeping warm: Cristian Bortes ] [Sleeping gear: Heather Cowper] [Books: Ronnie Macdonald]