Adventure of the Week, Walking

How fit do I need to be for the Tour du Mont Blanc?

20 May , 2014  

Acclaimed as one of Europe’s best Alpine treks, the Tour du Mont Blanc is on the bucket list of  many walkers. But so many people are put off the higher-level hiking tour because they worry they will not be fit enough, however with such a large range of itineraries Macs Adventure are allowing increasing numbers of walkers to enjoy spectacular walking around the Mont Blanc Massif. 

The Mont Blanc Massif.

The Mont Blanc Massif. Thanks to Ritsuko Maeda for the picture.

The facts look daunting on paper with a total multi-day hike of 170km and some 10,000m of ascent and descent to circle the Mont Blanc Massif. The route also passes through three countries, France, Italy and Switzerland.

Yet many “average” walkers discover they can enjoy this superb long-distance walk. The route to happiness on the Tour du Mont Blanc is to choose the right tour to suit your fitness and ability – and put in some training before you go.

Macs Adventure offer nine different Tour du Mont Blanc tours. There are “classic”, “comfort”, “huts” and “relaxed” tours of various lengths, from the complete Tour du Mont Blanc hike to a shorter “highlights of” tour.

The Tour du Mont Blanc holidays are self-guided and there is an option to have your baggage transferred on most of the days if you prefer to walk only with a daypack.

On average the complete Tour du Mont Blanc tour is walked between eight to 10 days but it’s possible to extend this time if you would prefer to have more shorter walking days.

There are also many options for daily routes that can decrease the amount of climbing required.

You’ll see that there are many different options when choosing a Tour du Mont Blanc walking trip, however all walkers should have put in some training before heading to the Alps.

Planning for the Tour du Mont Blanc

Walkers on the approach to the Mont Blanc Massif.

Its not all ice and snow.

Daily totals for ascent and descent on the Complete Tour du Month Blanc Tour range from around 450m to more than 1,500m. That’s 1500ft to almost 5,000ft. These figures are not to be underestimated. As a guide, Britain’s highest mountain of Ben Nevis is 4,414ft high.

As well as the daily climbs there are daily descents and anyone who regularly walks will know that the going down can be as sore as the going up.

In addition, the walking is day after day. While many people might happily walk Ben Nevis in a day, if you ask them to then walk a nearby mountain the following day they might find their legs are little fatigued.

On top of this, there’s a rucksack to think about. If you choose to carry all your clothing and kit for the full tour – rather than opting for the extra cost of luggage transfer – there is the weight of the pack to add to your walking leg muscles.

That said, it’s possible over a few months to be in good shape to complete the Tour du Mont Blanc.

Training for the Tour du Mont Blanc

Most people who hope to walk the Tour du Mont Blanc will already be fairly fit hill walkers. The typical person might enjoy long day hikes in their home country’s hills and mountains. If you can already manage a couple of days back to back of hill walking you will be a step further forward.

Let’s assume, however, that you are comfortable with a five to seven hour walking day including around 500m to 750m of ascent and descent. This will mean that you have the endurance for longer days and the fitness to manage a fair amount of climbing.

The Tour du Mont Blanc is more of an endurance hike than a sprint. Think marathon rather than 1500m running race.

To increase your fitness in the months preceding the Tour du Mont Blanc we suggest you plan to walk at least three long day hikes per month (most likely at weekends) and hopefully more. On a couple of occasions try to include back-to-back walking days, ie Saturday and Sunday.

As the weeks go by, try to find longer hikes with increasing amounts of climbing. This will improve your strength and endurance for walking longer distances.

If you are lacking the time for long walks make sure you get out as often as possible for shorter, faster hikes. You should push yourself to walk faster so that you build up your aerobic fitness.

A man walking the Tour du Mont Blanc.

A little preparation goes a long way. Thanks to Sandy Wasserman for the picture.

On some of these walks, try carrying the rucksack loaded with kit that you plan to take with you on the Tour du Mont Blanc. Most people will carry around 5kg packs if they plan to take all their luggage with them. If you feel this is an added strain, talk to a Macs Adventure specialist about luggage transfer.

Each week, also try to include a couple of gym sessions that focus on leg, back, abs and shoulder strength. Two more cardiovascular sessions each week of around one to two hours will be a huge benefit, too.

You could swim, cycle, run or rollerblade. These sessions are about improving your aerobic ability. Many people will also aim for a shorter walk each week, making sure they include lots of hills.

Variety is also important to help you to stay motivated so plan a good mix of longer hikes, shorter walks and gym based sessions.

Recovery is vital. Rest days or days when you include a rest and recovery session such as gentle walking, swimming or yoga, will allow your body to adapt and grow in strength.

On several occasions during the run up to the Tour du Mont Blanc it’s important to include long hikes that push you further than you would normally go and to higher levels. Of course, the UK for example does not boast the same height of mountains as the Alps but there are plenty of higher-level hikes to choose from.

The hills and mountains of northern England, Wales and Scotland offer plenty of scope for tough hiking days. Not only are these good for physical training but they will allow you to understand how you cope mentally on long hiking days.

Walking at home, wherever you live, can also be a superb experience with lots of rewards.

The Bionnassay suspension bridge near Col de Voza on the Tour du Mont Blanc.

When it comes to booking your Tour du Mont Blanc holiday be honest with your tour specialist. Ask for their advice about the right trip for you. The hiking holiday is meant to be enjoyable and there are a variety of different options to choose from to suit a wide range of fitness levels. Contact a member of the team on [email protected] for further information. 

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A journalist, web copywriter blogger and social media chatterbox, Fiona combines her love of the outdoors – especially Scotland – with a diverse freelance work life. If she’s not at her desk writing about the outdoors, she’ll be outside cycling, running, kayaking, snowboarding and walking Munros. She shares her outdoors passion with partner, the G-Force. Sometimes her teenage daughter Little Miss Outdoors tags along, too.