Whether to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided or guided is one of the first and biggest decisions you need to make after you’ve decided to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc.
In fact, over the last few years, another popular alternative option has become available to TMB hikers – the ‘self guided package’.
Self guided packages allow you to choose from a number of set TMB itineraries, give detailed trail information, and include accommodation bookings. Customised itineraries, according to individual needs can be created for extra dosh. Some also provide mobile map apps to help guide you along the Tour du Mont Blanc trail.
We discuss the three options below of how you can hike the Tour du Mont Blanc below:
1. Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided independently
Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided is actually quite easy. It’s definitely not necessary to hire an independent Tour du Mont Blanc guide, or go with one of the many guided tour companies that ply the route because the trail is very, very well marked. Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided is very easy to do if the weather is kind. The official TMB site has an interactive map which can help you plan your trip and you can also book many of the refuges through the site (although note many of the best refuges Bonatti, Lac Blanc to name a few need to be booked privately).
However, of course favourable weather cannot be depended on, particularly in the mountains so if you are planning to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided, you do need to be prepared. Mountain weather is very changeable. Bad weather can appear very quickly so make sure if you’re intending to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided, that you are equipped with a compass, map and whistle – and know how to use them. Check the weather regularly on the run up to your departure day to make sure there are no storms predicted, and set off early each morning as thunder storms tend to gather late afternoon in the Alps.
We would also highly recommend using an offline GPS app such as Gaia GPS so you can easily see where you are on the trail even if you have no phone signal. Offline GPS apps really are an excellent way to keep safe and we can’t recommend them enough. You need to download the maps before you depart and always, obviously, have your phone charged whilst you’re on the trail so that you can see your position at all times. Make sure you have a power bank on your packing list. You can read our article on why every Tour du Mont Blanc hiker should download the Gaia GPS app here.
Walking the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided does require quite a bit of planning. You need to get acquainted with the trail, choose how far you want to trek each day and then book the accommodation accordingly. It can be quite hard to get your head around the trail. One of my biggest tips is to invest in a 3D relief map of Mont Blanc. You can find them for as little as €17.00. They really give you a sense of the elevation on each stage and can help you plan better, especially if you want to veer away from the standard 11 days to shorten or fast track stages.
One huge advantage of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided is the cost. It’s way cheaper than taking a guided tour. Camping along the trail can make the Tour du Mont Blanc even cheaper, although it’s a lot of extra effort in carrying your camping gear.
I would say that most people would be absolutely fine to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc self guided. The trail is well worn and very busy. There are refuges every 5km along the route. Unless you are really worried to trek independently, there is no need to book a guided tour.
2. Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with a tour company
The plus side of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with a tour company is that it’s so much easier. You really don’t have to do anything at all, apart from your own physical preparation for the TMB.
The tour operator will arrange your pick up from the airport (Geneva, 1hr away), arrange all the luggage transfers between the huts and is guaranteed to give you peace of mind if you’re a worry wart. A professional guide will lead you and will know exactly what to do should an emergency arise.
Another huge plus of hiking with a tour group is the extra information you will glean on your surroundings from your guide. Your guide will be well versed in the history of the trail, the flora and fauna, the villages and the people.
If you’re trekking solo and want to meet other hikers or just want more of a social aspect to your trek, being part of a tour group definitely has an appeal. Remember though – this is a tough hike. Group tours try to bag together hikers of the same level but this can be difficult. You might find it hard to keep up with the group if you’re not at the same fitness level or you could find that the group is too slow for you and get frustrated.
Booking a TMB guided tour is for hikers who want a bit of extra reassurance, want to learn more from a local expert, are looking for a more social experience.
3. Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc with a self guided package
A new popular way to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc is with a self guided package. Providing the wealth of knowledge necessary to plan your own trek, these third party companies offer a number of set itineraries for you to choose from, or for an extra wedge of cash can custom build your itinerary for you according to your needs.
The huge advantage of this option is that all the planning is done for you. Once you’ve chosen your itinerary, the company will book your accommodation, so all you really need to do is rock up and be fit enough.
This option allows for independent hiking and is perfect for those who don’t have the time, or just don’t want to get bogged down in the detail of trek planning and who don’t want to be in a large group. You get the freedom of hiking at your own pace, without strangers and it’s much more stress free than planning it yourself. The downside is that it is still actually quite costly so still a no go if you’re trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc on a budget.
So which should I choose?
Lets face it, it’s far more adventurous (and a fraction of the cost) to choose the self guide option. It’s a very easy route to follow and for me personally, planning is half the fun of the adventure.
But everyone is different. Age, fitness and attitude will determine your options, as well as budget.