Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc is a great way to save money and experience beautiful camping spots on your alps adventure. This ultimate guide will tell you everything you need to know about camping on this iconic trek from where to camp, tips on wild camping, and how to coordinate food and meals.
We went back and forth so many times on whether we should camp on the Tour du Mont Blanc or just go with the more popular option of staying at refuges. The refuges are, after all, what makes the TMB so unique.
In the end what made us decide to go with camping was two things:
- Each night we spent in a tent instead of a refuge saved us almost $200 in refuge expenses for the 3 of us.
- That $200 saved could be $200 spent on more yummy European food and drinks.
- What really sealed the deal was the prospect of epic campsites with a view from our tent.
We did in fact score amazing camping spots overlooking sharp, dramatic peaks and because of that, I encourage all experienced backpackers to take on the challenge of hauling a tent and creating your own itinerary.
Reasons to Camp on the TMB
If you’ve been putting off hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc because you “can’t afford a trip like that” think again. By bringing a tent, staying at campgrounds, and occasionally wild camping, your trip will be nearly half the cost.
Related: How Much Does it Cost to Hike the Tour du Mont Blanc (Coming Soon)
Unfortunately this is one of the most expensive backpacking trips in the world and if you aren’t hiking solo, it’s pretty insane what it costs to stay in a refuge.
That being said, you can turn this really expensive trip into a moderately budget friendly trip by camping.
Even if you stay at campgrounds every night (and don’t wild camp), the price is 10 Euros per person on average versus 60 Euros per person on average in refuges (that includes food though).
And if you’re on a really tight budget, cooking your own food while tent camping with your own backpacking stove will make this trip far more budget friendly.
Save Money, Eat More
Refuges are REALLY expensive and so one of the biggest things we liked about the prospect of tent camping was that we’d have more money to eat. Yeah sure we’ll sacrifice on the comforts of a cozy bed and a hot shower every night but if we’re coming to Europe, we want to eat like kings.
If that sounds like you, camping is probably a good choice.
Solitude and Stunning Scenery
This was the deciding factor for us. Yes we were on a tight budget and yes we wanted to eat a lot of good for but even more, we were going to be in the freaking ALPS! There are few places in the world that can compare to the beauty of this range and we wanted the full experience of being in it and surrounded by it.
The campsites aren’t all stunning, but the few nights that were, were over-the-top, mind numbing, and Instagram worthy beautiful.
The proof can be found in this related blog of 35 photos to inspire you to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Things to Consider Before Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc
Camping and Fastpacking Don’t Mix
I don’t regret camping the TMB at all, but I do however regret our ignorance of thinking we could fastback and camp the Tour at once.
Fastpacking refers to, you guessed it, backpacking the trail really fast. While the trail is normally completed in 9-11 days. Fastpacking the TMB refers to doing it in 7-9 days. Fastpacking could technically refer to both hiking the entirety of the trail (which would be practically impossible to do with a tent on your back) as well as bypassing some section with public transportation nevertheless, you’re physically hiking fast.
Well guess what? Carrying a tent is freaking heavy and if you’re attempting to take on 2 col crossings in a day with a tent on your back, you can bet on the fact that you won’t have the same spring in your step.
On a trail that gains 33,000 feet of elevation (that’s the same as climbing Everest) over the span of 105 miles, you really have to pick one or the other, tent or speed.
Besides lugging your tent over mountain passes, camping requires much more logistic planning (unless you’re areal fly by the seat of your pants type of person) and while there are a lot of places to get food and supplies on the TMB, there aren’t as many as some people make it seem and by fast packing, you really make it hard on yourself to time eating and hiking with setting up your tent before dark so you can actually enjoy the views you brought your tent for.
I’ll say it one last time and be done: If you are going to camp, take the time and do it in 10-11 days.
You MUST Plan Out Your Food
The single hardest part of camping was trying to get food. So most importantly: You must carry a camp stove and backpacking food.
In the planning phase, we read so many times about how easy it was to get food. This caused us to go about the planning phase thinking in terms of milage and places to camp, not in terms of we’ll eat dinner here then pitch our tent here.
For a trail that’s known for its easy access to luxurious eating opportunities, it’s really amazing that we managed to starve as much as we did. We didn’t actually starve but there were multiple nights we went to bed without proper dinner.
Here’s how to not starve on the Tour du Mont Blanc:
1 | Eat Dinner at Refuges
Option one kinda contradicts the benefit of saving money by camping. If you’re camping for the sake of the experience and have a larger budget, the best way to go about food is to just pay for dinner at each refuge.
The reason that we were hungry so often is because most refuges don’t just let you walk in and pay for what you order at dinnertime like you can at lunch. In fact, lunch on the Tour du Mont Blanc was wonderful most of the time because it was a great way to rest, the meals were fantastic, and we didn’t have to spend a fortune.
But with dinnertime, “You either partake in the entire meal, or have none of it?” (obscure movie reference) and unfortunately, our budget couldn’t accommodate this.
Dinner usually runs around 25-30 Euros per person and with this you get to enjoy an amazing 3-4 course meal. If you decide to go with this option though, you do need to be arriving at the refuge no later than 5:30pm. Dinner is served at 7pm (and sometimes earlier) and you have to be signed up for dinner ahead of time with the refuge managers. You can’t just show up at 7pm.
I highly recommend that you call or email the refuges ahead of time and ask to reserve a spot at dinner. You can just wing it, but make sure you have a back up meal in your pack since refuges aren’t close to cities.
In some ways this is the best of both worlds since you’ll get to experience the wondrous food and culture of refuges but at the same time, it’s arguably not worth the expense and you’re better off going with the 2nd option.
2 | Carry a Camp Stove + Backpacking Meals
So unless you want to go with option 1, it is essential that you pack a way to cook your own food and that you factor in time to resupply in cities.
Eating lunch at refuges and cooking your own dinners is a great way to get a taste of delicious European food whilst also saving money.
The important part of this is meal planning.
While I’m a huge proponent of living off of baguettes and butter while in Europe, a baguette isn’t the most packable meal. For a few nights, whenever we were coming out of a town where we could re-supply, we would grab a fresh baguette, sliced salami at the butcher, a bag of greens, french butter (yes, we hiked with French butter…it melted in the daytime but don’t worry, it re-froze at night), and chocolate croissants. It was the most amazing backpacking meal ever but it’s hard to fit into your backpack and it’s only 1 day’s worth of food.
If I were to do it again, I basically would’ve planned 1 day of good food, then 1-2 days of backpacking food. Something that won’t go bad between towns.
Carrying a camp stove is great for cooking traditional backpacking meals and honestly, I would carry a camp stove even if I was just using it to make my own coffee in the morning. It wasn’t often, but on a few days where we weren’t camped anywhere close to a refuge, I had to pry myself out of my sleeping bag without coffee…it was terrible.
I recommend these Kuju Coffee Pocket Pourover Packets because they’re super yummy and backpacker friendly.
Water is Easy to Find
On the subject of food, rest assured that water is very easy to find. Throughout the trail there are often actual water fountains where you can refill your bottles. Given that your’e camping, you should absolutely pack a water filter as a backup.
The only time we had to use ours was at Chalet du Glacier in Switzerland and at Lac Blanc in France, where the water is not drinkable without being filtered. Hence, why it is necessary to pack a water filter as a backup. If you don’t have a water filter, we love carrying HydroBlu’s Go Flow or Clear Flow systems.
Electrical Outlets are Hard to Come By
This factor really depends on the person. I’m a full believer in the value of completely detaching from phone and electronics for week but at the same time, I’m a photographer at heart and there was no way I was going to do one of the greatest mountain hikes in the world without my good ol’ Sony A6300.
In addition, I think it’s good to have your phone charged in case you need to make an emergency call, though a GPS/Spot device would work the same.
Point being, it’s up to you whether this even matters but by camping the Tour du Mont Blanc, electricity will be harder to come by. Most campgrounds do have some form of outlet but they’re not really charging stations (like outlets in the bathroom for example). So you either you need to commit to going off grid or pack proper battery devices like Jackery Portable power banks and the real life saver, our Biolite Solar Panel (see pack list below).
Related: What to Pack for Camping on the TMB
Wild Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc
Any seasoned backpacker knows the value of scoring a stunning spot in National Forest or on BLM land where you can pitch a tent, have the place all to yourself, and can take it all in for free.
Wild camping is a little different in Europe. It’s not like Mont Blanc Massif is just one big clump of public land where you can pitch tent as you please. Wild camping rules are different in all 3 countries.
France is the best for wild camping and overall they are pretty lax about where you pitch a tent. Usually, there are even designated free camping spots along the Tour du Mont Blanc marked with signs of “Aire de Bivouac.” Many, but not all, of these designated wild camping spots even have a water source and toilets.
When it comes to Italy and Switzerland, wild camping is pretty much illegal. Technically, the rule is that you may wild camp if you are over 2500 meters in elevation and you are setting up camp at sunset and packing up at sunrise. With the exception of Fenetre d’Arpette, there aren’t actually spots on the TMB that are above 2500 meters. I know some people try their luck on this if they’re pitching their tent at dusk but in general, don’t expect to find any wild camping in Italy.
In all 3 countries, you can pitch a tent on private land with the owner’s consent. For example, I know people often camp at Le Peute dairy farm in Switzerland and we wild camped on the property of Col de Balme with consent from the refuge owner.
Tour du Mont Blanc Camping Spots
Camping Les Arroles
Price: 4.40 for tent, 7.10 per adults
Amenities: Toilets, free showers, charging station, picnic tables, dish washing stations
This campground was awesome because of the price and proximity to Chamonix center. Showers were super warm and I really liked the community feel of the campground.
When you camp here, and at most campgrounds in Chamonix Valley, you’ll be given a guest pass which gives you free access to the public transportation. Be sure to hold onto this for later to use at the end of the TMB.
Bonus: The campground has a luggage office. This is great if you’re doing the TMB as an add-on to a longer European trip and you have other luggage you don’t need on the trial.
Other campgrounds nearby:
- Camping de la Mer de Glace: 5 Minutes train ride North of Chamonix, free train pass included
- Camping Les Marmottes: 5 minute train ride south of Chamonix
- Camping des Deux Glaciers: 5 minute train ride south of Chamonix
Camping on Stage 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines
Distance: Kilometer 0, Les Houches
Price: 7.50 per adult
Amenities: Toilets, free showers, charging station
If for some reason you want to camp in Les Houches instead of Chamonix this is a fine option. There are grocery stores, bakeries, and restaurants nearby.
Campground: Camping Bellevue
Distance: Kilometer 0
Price: 7.50 per adult
Amenities: Toilets, free showers, charging station
Camping on Stage 2: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux
Camping Le Pontet
Distance: Kilometer 18
Price: 4.40 for tent, 5.50 per adult
Amenities: Toilets, free showers, dish washing station, laundry facilities, restaurant and small grocery store on site
While we did not stay here personally since it was too early our day, we did go right by it and it seemed like a really nice campground.
If you’re doing a classic stage 1 this a great first night. Note that the campground is 2 km further south from town. You have to get on a bus to get there. If you need food and supplies, get them before you go to the campground though there is a small restaurant and store there.
If 18 kilometers seems like a long day you, can cut out the first 2 km with the free shuttle in Les Contamines. It picks up every 30 minutes or so in front of the Office of Tourism in Contamines and drops you off right at the campground. The shuttle continues all the way to Notre Dame de la Gorge. You could even hop back on that shuttle in the morning to skip relatively boring road walking however, it only cuts off one kilometer.
The Tourism Office has charging outlets and is right across the street from a grocery store, bakery, and water fountain making it also a really good place to get stock up if you are going to continue on past Camping le Pontet.
Wild Camping near Nant Borrant
Distance: Kilometer 23
Amenities: Water supply, possibly toilets, close to Nant Borrant
Nant Borrant is a 1.5 hour walk from Les Contamines (shorter if you ride the free shuttle) and about 15 minutes past this refuge there is a designated wild camping area marked with a sign on the left hand side of the trail.
There is a water supply about 200 meters from the tent site at the trail junction. The sign said there were toilets but I didn’t see any (there is forest though). It’s pretty but not the most stunning campsite. Easy to get dinner at Nant Borrant before making camp.
Wild Camping at Refuge de la Balme
Distance: Kilometer 26
Amenities: Toilets, sinks, water supply, access to Chalet Refuge de la Balme
Twice we almost stopped at prior campsites just before this spot but we pushed on and I’m so glad we did. We ended up scoring one of the most beautiful campsites I had ever seen.
Even though the campsite felt super remote and isolated, you still had access to public toilets with sinks and a water fountain.
I’d recommend having your own food here or eat at Nant Borrant, although the food is not very good at this Refuge.
Free Camping in Les Chapieux
Distance: Kilometer 34
Amenities: Toilets, sinks, water supply, restaurants nearby
There is a free camping area at the Tourist Office in town. I’ve heard mixed things about camping here. Some say it’s beautiful and some say it’s too loud and busy but it’s really the only option in Les Chapieux for camping.
There are a few restaurants for dinner and a small shop for basic groceries and supplies.
Camping on Stage 3: Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta
Stage 3 is a very difficult place to find camping. Technically, the next designated camping spot isn’t until Val Veni which is 6 hours away. Getting to that campground requires taking the bad weather alternate route which is understandable in bad weather but trust me when I say the classic stage 4 route is one off the most beautiful sections of the entire TMB!
Wild camping near Refuge des Mottets
Distance: Kilometer 40-44
Refuge Des Mottets is very clear that they do not allow wild camping anywhere near the refuge.
The management did however tell us that you can camp up toward Col de la Seigne. They didn’t exactly say where and you probably don’t want to sleep on a totally exposed mountain pass so I’d say to look for a spot about 20 minutes from the refuge.
It’s not recommended to camp here in bad weather.
Wild camping at Rifugio Elisabetta
Distance: Kilometer 49
Amenities: Water supply
I’ve heard from a few people that there is a designated wild camping spot near Elisabetta but I did not see an obvious spot.
At this point in the day, we had combined stage 1 and 2 in one day so we were desperate for a comfy bed and decided to just pay for beds at Rifugio Elisabetta since they had availability.
I think if the refuge is fully booked, they would allowed you to set up your tent and wild camp nearby due to the fact that there are so few options for campers on stage 3.
When all else fails, see Val Veni below.
Camping on Stage 4. + 5: Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti
Again for stage 4 and 5, there are no designated campgrounds on the main TMB. Your options are similar to stage 3: wild camp if you’re desperate and discreet, opt for a refuge for one night, or bypass part of stage 4/5 to make it to the next designated campground (not recommended as this is one of the best parts of the tour).
Also, be sure that you stock up on food and supplies Courmayeur. The next grocery store isn’t until La Fouly, Switzerland.
Val Veni Campgrounds
Distance: Kilometer 53 (Alt Route)
Price: 5.00 for tent, 7.50 per adult
Amenities: Toilets, showers, laundry, bar/restaurants, small food shop
When all else fails on stage 3, the nearest campground, Aiguille-Noire and Camping La Sorgente, can be found an hour from Elisabetta on the bad weather alternate route. If necessary, you can hop on a bus starting in La Visialle, 40 minutes from Elisabetta.
The campgrounds here are great but it’s a long day of hiking for most and you’ll be missing the beauty of the classic stage 4.
Vel Ferret Campgrounds
Distance: Kilometer 67, 15 minute bus ride from Courmayeur
Price: 4.50 for tent, 7.50 per adult
Amenities: Toilets, hot showers, laundry, dishwashing station, small food shop
While there are no campgrounds in Courmayeur, there are many campgrounds in Val Ferret. We stayed at Camping Grandes Jorasses and loved it. There is Camping Tronchey just 2 bus stops further.
Set in the forest and beneath a