Having just walked the Tour de Mont Blanc, I thought I’d share gear recommendations.
You’ll find it easier walking 110 miles (170 kilometer) up and down through mountain passes if you keep your gear light. And on the TMB, you’ll have ready access to shelter, beds, and food, so you really don’t have to carry that stuff (unless you want to).
This list should work from mid-June to mid-September, but do check the weather forecasts. If you’ll have extended periods below freezing or are expected to be walking through heavy snow for longer periods, you may need another, warmer layer and heavier footwear. With care, you can easily keep your pack weight below 15 lbs (7kg) without the need for a lot of expensive gear—pretty much all you need to carry is extra layers, clean clothes for the evening, and a few sundries.
Sound like too little? On my trip, I bumped into several runners, completing the TMB in 4 days, with even smaller/lighter packs. (And several carrying big monster packs from hut-to-hut.)
This is a gear list for those who intend to stay in refugios/hotels, rather than camping.
- Pack. Think roughly a 30L-40L pack. If you get much bigger, you’ll start finding other stuff to put in. So don’t get a bigger pack! Bigger than 40L? You’ll probably fill it, and now you no longer have a light pack. Use something that fits you well and is comfortable. Get an HMG Windrider 2400 or the Southwest 2400, and your pack is waterproof. (I prefer the solid material pocket of the Southwest because I’m frequently off trail and it snags less. Other like the mesh of the Windrider to speed drying of things that get wet.) Otherwise, I recommend a trash compactor bag in the pack rather than a pack cover–pack covers still allow water in through the uncovered part against your back! If you’re not in the market for an expensive bag, look at the Osprey Exos 38 or similar.
- Boots/Shoes. I don’t think you need boots. (As someone who hiked for years with bad ankles, I also don’t think most boots helped with ankle support.) Even if there will be some snow. Get a good, comfortable hiking shoe with GoreTex surround. (I’m not normally a fan of GoreTex in footwear…but with a good chance of rain and snow, they’re worth it here.) Don’t use a lightweight trail runner unless you’ve absolutely kept your gear weight down—and you’ve tried hiking the ups/downs in them, with your weighted pack. See for example, La Sportiva Primer Low GTX, North Face Ultra, or Salomon Ellipse GTX. Later in the season, I’d go with my Altra Lone Peaks, although their soles aren’t great on snow.
- Sleep sack. A comfortable silk sleep sack for the refugios.
- Hiking Poles: I like two, Leki Corklite. Smaller people will like lighter carbon poles better, but I’m a big guy. (Some people don’t use them at all—I like them for uphill and downhill alike.)
- T-Shirt. Not cotton. Just one. You do not want to carry too much. Weight is your enemy. And we won’t notice the smell! I really like wool (Smartwool, Ibex, Icebreaker). Rinse your hiking shirt out at the end of the day (it will dry quickly) in your hotel/refugio (where permitted), and put on your clean shirt (below) for hanging out and sleeping. Change back before you start hiking in the morning.
- Long Sleeve Top, wool or synthetic. Again, just one. Lightweight. If the forecast calls for warm temps, I bring instead a second T-shirt and a pair of sleeves like cyclists use.
- Rain Parka—Light shell, per your taste. My current favorite is the Outdoor Research Realm. Good waterproofness, and VERY breathable. Alas, in mens only. The fit is very fitted. I’m normally a large-tall, but the XL fits great. (Note, for 2018, the Realm has been discontinued and replaced in the OR line by the Interstellar Jacket.)
- Rain Pants. Marmot Precip are a good, light, value choice. My favorite though are Mountain Hardware’s Stretch Ozonic. Super breathable. And they look like pants, and shiny and swishy–passable in-town wear instead of those tights (below).
- Fleece Jacket or light down sweater, with hood. You do need to be prepared for snow, even in the summer. I prefer the down for the weight-to-warm ratio.
- Tights (or long johns). One pair—These are my post shower pants. In warmer temps, I’d omit these for a very light second pair of shorts in late July/August. This is extra weight—but a nice comfort item when staying in the refugios/hotels.
- Shorts. One pair. This is what I hike in, down to just above freezing. If it’s cold or nasty, pull on the rain pants. The OR Ferrosi are perhaps my favorites shorts ever (and I’ve tried a lot!), light, breathable, water-resistant, and fast-drying.
- Light gloves, preferably waterproof. Optional: add a waterproof over-glove. It you get long days of rain (or snow!), you’ll want dry hands.
- Undies, two pairs. One pair to walk in. One pair for the refugio. Fast-drying so you can rinse and reuse! (Rinse the walking pair in your shower.) I’m partial to wool, but go with one of the synthetics if you like ‘em.
- Socks. Two pair, plus a light liner pair. Again, a pair to walk in, a pair to rinse. Liner as a spare or if you think blistering is a problem. (Get the right shoes, and it shouldn’t be!) I prefer wool, and generally wear Darn Tough for their tight weave and durability. NOT COTTON.
- Hat with brim. Long sunny stretches (or long rainy stretches). The Sunday Afternoons Ultra is the best of the goofy looking sun hats. Wide brim, great back-of-neck protection, good ventilation. It stays on well in the wind from any direction. (The front brim will flap a bit in a strong headwind.)
- Warm Hat. Nice for cooler nights, and emergency backup. Or one of the adapted head/neck gaiters.
- Bandana. Cotton—multiple uses.
- Wristwatch. If you want…helps coordinate meet up stops and just useful to know how long you’ve been going to help gauge distance.
- Flashlight, preferably LED headlamp. With fresh batteries in light.
- Duct tape. several feet wrapped around your trekking pole or water bottle, or folded into a small rectangle. Also a small role of coaches tape or Leukotape–great for blister prevention and treatment.
- Any special meds, and maybe a micro first aid-kit/emergency kit…., just a few Advil/allergy/bandaids.
- Emergency Blanket. Mylar or similar. I don’t think you should backpack in the mountains without one. If you, or someone else gets injured or stranded, this could make a big difference. a few oz. piece of insurance against unexpectedly very cold weather in a sleeping bag or wrapped between clothes. Also a signal device in an emergency. A must-have.
- And guide book if you want. I used Kev Reynolds two-way guide, but careful cut out the direction I wasn’t using and some of the supplemental material. Definitely helpful at a few confusing spots along the way. And a nice aid to plan your day.
- Passport, credit card/ATM card, and cash.
- Toothbrush/Paste: A small tube of paste. Small soap/shampoo. And any other toiletries—but don’t go overboard. Blistex or something to keep the lips soft.
- Small tube, high SPF factor. You don’t want to carry the 16oz bottle. Pay a couple extra dollars for the small amount.
- Toilet Paper/hand cleaner/Ziploc bag to pack out your toilet paper if needed. A few small stuff sacks and Ziplock Bags: Keep your stuff dry and organized. Yes, there are a lot of place to take care of business along the route–but there are also long stretches where you’re on your own.
- Water Bladder/bottles. You shouldn’t need to carry more than 2 liters. Bring some tablets to treat water in an emergency.
- A few ounces of snack food—you can replenish as you good, especially if you like bread and cheese.
- OPTIONAL: Knife/Swiss Army Knife/Leatherman: I carry a micro leatherman.
- OPTIONAL: Camera. If you want. Can use smart phone, which can also hold a backup map. If you bring a smart phone, bring a way to charge it. (Refugios generally have a few outlets you can jockey for…but you may need an adaptor.
- OPTIONAL: Pen/Pencil/Paper/Book. (Another use for your smartphone.)
- OPTIONAL: Traction device, which you may carry or not, depending on conditions. If you plan to camp.
Camping Gear—Only If You’re Camping!
- Tent, tarp, or Bivvy sack.
- Sleeping Bag—appropriate for season
- Sleeping Pad.
- Stove/Pot, if desired.
- Bowl/Cup, spoon, if desired.
If it’s not on this list, and you think you need it, reconsider. Chances are you don’t need it. And you don’t want to carry extra weight. Extra weight is bad.
- A lot of extra stuff “just in case”
- Too many extra clothes—any extra is probably too much!
- A 42 pound sleeping bag.
- Camping stuff if you’re not camping.
- More food than you need–and remember, you can buy food along the way, often every few hours.