Can you hike the Tour du Mont Blanc with kids? Absolutely.
However hiking the entire tour is not recommended for children under 10. Their stamina, strength and endurance are not high enough to permit long days of between 7-10 days hiking back to back, and quite frankly it’s questionable whether they would enjoy it – the Tour du Mont Blanc is challenging, even for experienced hikers. Having said that experienced hiking families with children from the age of 7 or 8 who are used to hiking regularly could hike a shorter 4 day TMB itinerary.
For outdoor families who love to walk and want to taste some of the adventure that the Tour du Mont Blanc offers, the freedom of walking from mountain hut to mountain through the heart of the Alps crossing mountain frontiers into new countries, we can however make recommendations. I hiked the TMB a couple of years ago with my 10 year old girl – we kept almost to the traditional itinerary but split the tour in two completing half one summer and the remainder the following year. We took all available public transport but it was still a hard slog with trail times between 7-10 hours each day. There are things I would do differently next time, and with this in mind have complied the following advice and itinerary for families looking to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc
Keep days short
Don’t try to stick with the traditional stages on the Tour du Mont Blanc with kids. They’re too long and what might start out exciting becomes weary and exhausting. Keep days short by analysing the route and by cutting up the trail into more manageable chunks for little legs.
Remember trail times in kilometres doesn’t give an indication of the mighty ups and downs presented on this challenging hut to hut trail. The elevation on the Tour du Mont Blanc plays a significant role on this hiking trail – many in the planning stages don’t realise the magnitude of the steep cols the trail passes over and underestimating your group’s physical abilities and strength can have serious consequences. So when you see 10km in the guidebook and think how easily your child walked the 5km return river walk with you on Sunday – it’s not that simple.
I’ve planned the perfect Tour du Mont Blanc itinerary for families looking for a hut to hut adventure in the Alps taking in some of the most spectacular scenery on the TMB but shorter days on the trail stopping at some lovely huts along the way.
Familiarise yourself with the public transport options on the route and plan to take them. This means looking up the timetable in advance, making sure the buses or shuttles are actually running (most shuttles only run throughout the main holiday period of July and August) looking at the frequency they run and whether you’ll need specific cash (Swiss francs in Switzerland) etc. The Swiss bus timetables are notoriously difficult to decipher for anyone but the Swiss! In this case looking online is much easier than reading the bus timetable at the bus stop.
Public transport will be a life saver if you’re hiking with kids – the trail will always take longer than you think and saving legs along the boring flat bits will pay dividends later.
I’ve written about public transport post on the TMB at length and about some of the mistakes we made and how to avoid them.
Training as a family for the TMB
Expect to be spending each weekend on the weeks leading up to your Alps adventure firmly on the trail. Your kids will need to be used to spending long days outside on the trail putting a good number of kms away each day.
Start training at least 6-8 weeks before with regular walks, increasing the elevation gently until you’re tackling some really steep hills. The more they do this, their bodies and equally important, their minds will adapt.
Make sure they’re training with a small backpack. Younger children should carry the bare minimum – water, a teddy or toy, rain coat, snacks, pocket camera whilst 10 year olds should be able to carry their spare clothes, snacks, water etc.
We’ve paired up with olympic physio and Chamonix local Neil Maclean-Martin to make a training video of simple daily exercises to build strength and endurance before setting off on this epic but challenging Tour du Mont Blanc trek. This set of simple exercises can be done as a family and can give you and your kids the opportunity to talk about your upcoming trek, what it will be like and why it’s necessary to prepare their muscles.
The Tour du Mont Blanc can break even the most experienced hiker. Envisage plenty of stops with your kids – factor them in. And yes there will be moaning, tears and the exhaustion. And it will be your job, amid the stunning scenery, will be to deal with them, encourage them, praise them and cajole and bribe them along the trail.
Don’t expect to hike too much per day – with the planned shorter days, enjoy the alpine surroundings – the herds of cows with clanging bells, the wild flowers, the homemade cheeses, the foreign tongue, deciphering new words and tasting new cuisine. It’s a huge exciting experience for your kids too and they will remember entirely different aspects of this holiday into adult life. My ten year old girl has etched on her memory, the baby cows adorned with huge bells, the exhilaration and fun of climbing the metal ladders on stage 10, finding a baby bird hiking through Italy. It certainly wasn’t the hiking or even the scenery!
Food & snacks
Make sure you take snacks along that you’ll know they’ll eat and of course chocolate and sweets to help encourage them when fatigue sets in.
Lightweight snacks such as biltong which are high in protein are excellent as well as dried fruits, nuts or energy bars.
Children will need good quality worn in hiking boots and lightweight hiking poles the right size for their height.
We can highly recommend Black Diamond First Strike poles specifically made for children. They are super lightweight, collapsible and durable.
The same goes for adults, clothing should be moisture wicking and lightweight. Thin layers are the way forward. Avoid cotton.
As well as physically training, it’s important to prepare your children mentally for your walking holiday. Allow them to get involved in the planning so they know what’s involved, rather than it being all rather a shock on arrival. Hopefully you’ll be training hard in the weeks beforehand so they’ll get the gist!
Talk about the places you’ll visit, show them the map, talk about the animals they might see and the food they might eat.
Ideas like buying them their first pocket knife for the trip will go a long way – they can cut their saucisson and cheese like locals! If you’re starting off in Chamonix many shops stock the local Opinel knifes and there are junior specific ones with rounded blades. They are a great souvenir and kids love them. Take a look here.
Consider hiking with another family
Kids thrive when other kids are around. Hiking with another family can make a huge difference on stoke and moan levels.
Make sure to pair up with a like minded family with the same level of fitness and book your accommodation early to get the small dorms which could end up being a private room for you.