The GR20 Nord: Trip Report

We were a little intimidated by the GR20 before we hiked it. Scratch that. To be honest, we were totally and completely scared.  While reading the guidebooks and blogs in…

We were a little intimidated by the GR20 before we hiked it. Scratch that. To be honest, we were totally and completely scared.  While reading the guidebooks and blogs in preparation for our trip, we were confronted by a seemingly endless stream of warnings about the difficulty, the dangers, the scrambling, the cold showers and rocky campsites, and the number of hikers who quit early. But what the books and websites fail to mention? How FUN the GR20 is! 

This was hands down the most enjoyable and interesting trek that either of us has ever completed. Many of the same things that make the GR20 infamous as the “toughest trek in Europe” also make it the best. The dynamic and rugged landscapes, the varied terrain, the remote destinations. Heck, even the extreme heat and afternoon thunderstorms that forced us to start hiking in the wee hours of the morning ended up rewarding us with some of the most enchanting sunrises of our lives. Sure, it definitely wasn’t rainbows and butterflies the entire time (like when I dropped my trekking pole into a gorge or when a hungry pig nearly trampled our tent or when our bodies felt shattered but we had another 2,000 feet of descent to go to reach the refuge), but it was so, so worth it. 

Read on as we share the good, the bad, and the ugly of our GR20 Nord experience.

If you want to skip ahead to the second half of our trek on the GR20 Sud, click here to go to the next post! 

Stage 1: Calenzana to Refuge Ortu Piobbu

Total time: 5:15

Going into the GR20, we thought we were going to be really roughing it for the next 16 days of our lives. We imagined long days that pushed us to our absolute limits both physically and mentally, and evenings spent eating meager rations in basic accommodations. While there was definitely some of that, on the whole our expectations were much more dramatic than necessary. However, not having the benefit of foresight actually turned out to be a good thing as it meant that we enjoyed a blowout, last-days-of-Rome style evening in Calenzana before we started our trek. 

A street in Calenzana, Corsica.

The lovely streets of Calenzana.

 

We opted to stay in an AirBnB in town that was conveniently located near the start of the GR20 and the well-appointed Spar Supermarket in town. The apartment was a little odd, but it had a kitchen, washing machine, and lovely balcony so we were quite content. We enjoyed cooking a meal with lots of fresh veggies (always hard to come by while backpacking), a bottle of wine, and way too much ice cream. I’m happy to report that these choices did not backfire on us the next morning and we felt strong and energized as we started hiking out of Calenzana. 

If you’ve read Paddy Dillon’s Ciccerone guide to the GR20, you’ll know that he makes the first stage of the GR20 sound absolutely hellish. He depicts a long, strenuous uphill slog in the blazing sun and even refers to this stage as your “baptism of fire.” In reality, the first stage is tough, but it’s really not that bad. There are some sections that require scrambling, but it’s a perfect way to build your confidence for what’s to come. Plus, if you start at daybreak like we did, you’ll actually be in the shade for most of the climb. It was so fun passing all of the elated hikers who were headed in the other direction and closing in on their final descent of the trek.

Early morning on Stage 1

 

When we reached the first bocca, we enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch with views out to the sea. The remainder of the hike to the refuge was pretty straightforward and we made good time. Upon arriving at Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu, we were immediately struck by the scene. The campground sprawled out across a huge slope which eventually yielded to dramatic rock formations and the Mediterranean Sea far off in the distance.  We also noted that the refuge itself was nothing more than a burned out shell, having caught fire earlier in the season. It was nearly empty when we arrived a little before noon, but over the course of the afternoon and evening the entire area would be filled to capacity with tents, easily over a hundred of them. We whiled away the rest of the day simply soaking it all in- the scenery, our fellow hikers, the lively cooking area, and the magnificent sunset. 

Sunset at Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu

Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu is known for its spectacular sunsets.

 

Stage 2: Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu

Total time: 7 hours.

In preparing for this trek, we knew that we wanted to establish a routine of getting on the trail early in the day. If there are a couple of things that can make hiking feel way harder and exponentially less fun, it’s being out in the heat of the day and stressfully racing against impending storms. We figured that we could minimize these fun-suckers by covering most of our ground in the first half of the day. Today was the real test though…could we actually get our butts out of our cozy sleeping bags when the 5:00AM alarm went off, efficiently pack up camp in the dark, and get on the trail at a time that could still be considered “early”? Seeing as we chose to carry our own tent and self-cater our meals, we couldn’t just roll out of bed and get going as quickly as our friends in hire tents or dorm beds.  All things considered, the morning went smoothly and it felt good to get a solid start to what was going to be a very big day. 

 

Stage 2 started with a fun climb that toed the line between hiking and scrambling most of the way, as we hoisted ourselves higher and higher along huge slabs and boulders. At the top of our initial ascent, we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular views of the entire trek. Upon cresting Bocca Piccaia, we were faced with a seemingly endless expanse of rocky spires, rugged peaks, and spiny ridges. The landscape on the other side of the Bocca felt like an entirely different world than the one at our backs. 

Incredible views from Bocca Piccaia.

 

Our second day on the GR20 was certainly one of superlatives. After enjoying one of the most magnificent vistas of the hike, we embarked on what would end up being one of the longest, most tiring ridge walks of the whole trek. For hours, we slowly made our way along the undulating ridge trail, scrambling up this boulder and down that gully at a maddeningly slow pace. Don’t get me wrong- it was super fun at the start, but even the most fun things lose their luster after awhile. When we finally reached the long, steep descent towards Refuge de Carozzu, we actually welcomed it. 

Midway through the beautiful descent to Refuge de Carozzu.

 

Upon stumbling wearily into Carozzu, we snagged the flattest campsite we could find. It wasn’t that late in the day yet, but already camping pitches were hard to come by. Our spot was tilted, a little cramped, and swarming with ants, but it was pretty, quiet, and well-located so we were content. We treated ourselves to some excellent goat cheese and mint omelettes for dinner and spent the evening chatting with our fellow hikers and admiring another spectacular sunset. 

Sunset at Refuge de Carozzu

Views from the terrace at Refuge de Carozzu.

While the evening was quite idyllic, we felt a sense of trepidation building throughout the campground. Hikers heading southbound (us included) would be facing the notorious Spasimata Slabs the next day. These sheer, steeply angled, vertigo-inducing rock faces had the reputation for being one of the sketchiest parts of the entire GR20. To make matters worse, storms were forecasted to move in early in the day tomorrow, and the slabs were slippery and treacherous when wet. If we wanted to get to the end of Stage 3 safely, we needed to get moving early and quickly in the morning. We turned in before it was fully dark that evening, hoping to get some sleep despite the nerves that were buzzing within each of us. 

 

Stage 3: Refuge de Carozzu to Ascu Stagnu

Total time: 4:45

Fueled by adrenaline and instant coffee, we were on the trail and ready to conquer the so-called “Slabs on Doom” by 6:00am. As we slowly followed the narrow beam of light cast by our headlamps along the boulder-strewn trail, the dark sky was repeatedly illuminated by large bolts of lightning in the distance. While not directly above us yet, we could see and hear the spectacular thunderstorms on the horizon. The sun started to rise just as we crossed the sketchy, wobbly suspension bridge that served as a fitting warm up for the slabs. We began climbing our way up and up across the massive rock slabs, sometimes with the aid of chains or holds, but more often without. Despite the fact that the whole situation was a little scary, we couldn’t help but be completely awed by how beautiful it was. We were in a massive gorge, surrounded by towering walls of rock, and the distant storms conspired to produce a gorgeous sunrise. Orange and pink clouds framed the top of the gorge and the indigo skies in the distance were turned gold by the continual bursts of lightning. 

Sunrise on the Spasimata Slabs

Indigo clouds above the Spasimata Slabs.

 

The slabs themselves? Truly not that bad (and actually pretty fun). As a self-confessed wimp when it comes to sketchy things involving heights, even I never felt uncomfortable or wigged out. To be fair, I believe the slabs are MUCH easier and less scary when you are heading uphill. We heard from several hikers who said they were significantly more vertigo-inducing and physically challenging on the descent. If this is something that worries you, it might be a good idea to hike the GR20 in the southbound direction. 

After reaching the end of the slabs, we were faced with a short section of scrambling and a steep descent to Ascu Stagnu. Our excitement grew as we neared the finish of the hike, as we knew the ski area would have plenty of delicious food options on offer. Just as our anticipation was building, so were those forecasted storm clouds. Luckily, we had just finished setting up our tent and taking the most amazing hot showers when the weather moved in. We napped in our tent while the storm raged outside, occasionally venturing out to triage the streams of water moving across the hard, rocky ground and threatening to flood our tent.

Ascu Stagnu is a real treat for weary GR20 walkers, and we spent the evening enjoying French fries, wine, and other hiker delicacies in the spacious, well-equipped refuge. 

PNRC Refuge at Haute Asco

The PNRC Refuge at Haute Asco.

 

Stage 4: Ascu Stagnu to Auberge U Vallone

Total time: 7:30 

Everyone will tell you that the first few days of the GR20 (especially when hiked north to south) are by far the toughest, and they are not lying. By our estimation, Stage 4 of the GR20 is the most challenging stage of the entire trek. This is the section that was rerouted after the Cirque de la Solitude was permanently closed. Now the trail takes hikers near the summit of Monte Cinto, the highest peak in Corsica, via an incredibly tough and steep ascent. From the top, you walk along a ridge (of course you do, it’s the GR20 after all) that mostly easy, save for a few sketchy places. The whole day is topped off with a long, steep, scramble-filled descent. 

Hiker on the GR20

The tough ascent on Stage 4 of the GR20.

 

All in all, we enjoyed this stage. The ascent, especially the final steep stretch, was rewarding and exhilarating and the high mountain views were unbeatable. Some badass superhumans opt to take the detour to summit Monte Cinto, but we were happy to sit that one out as this was already going to be one of our longest days on the trail. 

Disaster nearly struck on the way down, when I managed to lose hold of my trekking pole. We watched as it bounced its way down further and further before coming to rest on a rocky ledge a hundred feet below us. This is somewhat pathetic to admit, but I truly can’t imagine doing the GR20 (or any hike with long, steep ascents and descents) without my trusty trekking poles. I am way too clumsy to survive even 10 minutes without trekking poles in hand to stop my inevitable, frequent falls. Fortunately, Ian volunteered to take off his pack and scamper down the steep slope to retrieve my pole. If there’s ever been a way to get brownie points with your wife, this is it! 

When we finally reached Auberge U Vallone far down in the valley, the sun was high in the sky and it was HOT. We were ready to find a snack, some shade, and a cold rock pool to dip in. The Auberge was different than the PNRC Refuges we’d camped at up to this point, and we weren’t sure if we liked it. Although we scored a great spot to pitch our tent, there was a lot of trash around and we didn’t receive the friendliest welcome. 

Camping at Auberge U Vallone on the GR20.

Our great pitch at Auberge U Vallone.

 

However, as we spent more time there, we came to appreciate the hot showers and nice terrace, and the staff warmed up to us. Plus, there were some lovely rock pools just below the camping area in which we could relax and soak our tired feet. The first four days of the GR20 had been mighty tough, but we were both totally in love with this hike and couldn’t wait to get back on the trail. 

 

Stage 5: Auberge U Vallone to Hotel Castel di Vergio

Total time: 6:20

Our trusty guidebook promised that today would finally be a bit easier than the first four, and it really should have been if the circumstances had been different. We woke to cold, gusty winds, which would turn out to be an ominous preview of what lay ahead. Early into the day, we nearly faced catastrophe when our toilet paper supply ran dangerously low and our required pit stops occurred at a higher rate than usual. From there, things seemed to take a turn for the better, as we enjoyed a long, peaceful stretch of walking in the woods. But alas, the GR20 demons would rear their ugly heads at us again. 

GR20 Stage 5

A beautiful start to Stage 5 on the GR20, but those clouds signal trouble ahead!

 

As we reached the highpoint of the stage, the weather conditions completely deteriorated. Wind gusts of more than 50 mph threatened to knock us over and our bare hands and faces quickly went numb in the cold. It was one of those times where all you could do was put your head down, keep moving forward, and remind yourself that it would be over soon enough. Thick fog made it challenging to see the next trail marker, and obliterated any chance we had of enjoying what were supposedly wonderful views out towards the Golfe de Porto. 

Fortunately, the Refuge de Ciottulu di I Mori is located about halfway along the high ridge we needed to traverse, and it provided a much-needed respite from the cold and wind. After lifting our spirits the best way we know how (by eating a few chocolate sandwich cookies), we forced ourselves back out onto the trail and hoofed it towards the valley. Although the conditions in the valley were significantly better than on the ridge, it was still cold and windy. The remainder of this “short” day seemed to last forever before we finally reached Hotel Castel di Vergio. 

Although it’s a pretty weird place, the hotel, gite, and campground provide a level of luxury that is rare on the GR20. We enjoyed hot showers, which were an absolute godsend after being in such frigid conditions all day. The campground had a large grassy field, a big treat after camping on hard-packed dirt for so many nights in a row. And the shop! Oh my goodness the shop! The small store at the gite was the best-stocked we’d seen so far, boasting rare and valuable items like fresh fruit and still-warm bread. 

The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio

Hike all the miles, eat all the snacks.

 

We capped off the evening by splitting a bottle of wine in the cozy confines of our tent. It had been a very difficult “easy day.” The GR20 was beginning to reveal one of its most basic truths: you can’t expect anything to be easy on this trek, but with enough stellar views, camaraderie, and red wine, it will all be worth it. 

 

Stage 6: Hotel Castel di Vergio to Refuge de Manganu

Total time: 5:15

Day six began with a leisurely change of pace. We slept in to an indulgent 5:30am alarm, and then we each enjoyed our own cup of coffee. Let me explain this last part. You see, in order to keep our pack weight down, we had only brought one cup for two people and had been sharing up until this point, but the well-stocked cooking area at the gite had extra cups, thus no sharing today! Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that are the most luxurious. (Side note: If you want to really strengthen your marriage in an unorthodox manner, spend two weeks sharing one cup, one bowl, and one stick of deodorant!) 

The trail immediately headed downhill from Castel di Vergio, and our cold stiff knees screamed at us in protest. After we got going, however, the day was absolutely lovely. The trail was much mellower, and we ambled along at an easy pace enjoying the sunshine and the views. We were making good time, so we stopped along the glorious Lac de Ninu to enjoy a snack break. 

Lac de Nino

Lac du Ninu makes a lovely lunch stop.

 

We arrived early to Refuge de Manganu, meaning we could spend the afternoon eating a lunch of local cheese on the terrace and a long dip in the nearby rock pool. The mood at Manganu was festive. Hikers basked on the large, rocky outcropping in front of the refuge, sipping beers, stretching out stiff muscles, and swapping stories. Everyone seemed energized after making it past the initial challenges of the trek. 

Trekkers sitting on rocks at Refuge de Manganu.

Kicking back at Refuge de Manganu.

 

As the days wore on, we got to know our cohort of fellow hikers a bit better. The cool thing about the GR20 is that nearly everyone is stopping at the same place at the end of each day, so you get to know people quite well after a few days of seeing them on the trail and hanging out at camp. We whiled away the evening chatting with so many incredible people from all over the world, including Russia, Switzerland, Belgium, and more. Perhaps one of the best parts about completing a thru-hike like the GR20 is the way that the shared experience brings together people from all walks of life to bond over their love of moving in the mountains. 

 

Stage 7: Refuge de Manganu to Refuge Petra de Piana

Total time: 5:15

Another big day and another ominous weather forecast meant that, yet again, we started hiking in the dark in an attempt to beat the afternoon storms. Just like on Stage 3, the cloudy skies produced a stunningly beautiful sunrise. Today was pretty characteristic of most stages of the GR20: a long, tough ascent to a bocca with ridiculously awesome views, followed by an undulating ridge walk requiring some awkward scrambling to reach the next bocca, and capped off by a steep descent to the next refuge that took longer than expected. Check, check, and check. 

Looking down on Lac du Melo from above.

Lovely Lac du Melo en route to Petra de Piana.

 

Refuge Petra de Piana is known for being perpetually stuck inside a cloud. It’s foggy, windy, and chilly there more often than not. Many campers choose to double up and complete the next day’s stage, just to avoid spending the night high up in these harsh conditions. When we arrived, it was cold and misty, but the wind was mercifully mild and we were worried about the impending weather that was moving in. We pitched our tent, restocked our pasta supply from the tiny shop, and settled in for the evening. Petra Piana ended up being a lovely place to stay. The little A-frame refuge had the coziest kitchen where hikers gathered at picnic tables to share food and hang out in the warmth. Between reading books we borrowed from the communal shelf and hanging out in the refuge, we had no problem passing the afternoon and evening in a comfortable, relaxing, and low-key manner. 

Hire tents at Refuge de Petra Piana

Refuge de Petra Piana up in the clouds.

 

Stage 8: Refuge Petra de Piana to Refuge de l’Onda

Total time: 4:50

Today started out with a technicolor sunrise and a cozy breakfast in the refuge. It was another stage that the guidebook promised would be easy, so we approached it with cautious optimism. As it turns out, it was nothing but relaxing and mellow the whole way. We engaged in some “forest bathing” as we meandered through the tall pines towards the Bergeries de Tolla, where we’d been told we absolutely must stop for some excellent food and drink. Upon arriving at the bergeries, we found the offerings to be less than inspiring, and ended up the proud new owners of a very large and very mediocre loaf of bread. However, the friendly proprietor brought us fresh figs from his nearby tree and we decided it was worth the stop after all. 

Mountain views on Stage 8 of the GR20

You’ll pass through beautiful mountains and forested valleys on Stage 8 of your trek.

 

We arrived at the bergeries de l’Onda before noon, as the hike was much faster than we expected. Without much in the way of entertainment, the day stretched out before us. We envisioned the minutes slowly ticking by as we twiddled our thumbs under the heat of the afternoon sun. It’s pretty remarkable how you can pass the time at camp, though, and somehow we had no problem staying busy. Between taking cold showers, exploring the nearby rock pools, doing laundry, setting up camp, repairing gear, and plenty of people watching, it was time for happy hour before we knew it. 

We headed up to the refuge to indulge in what had become a nightly tradition of splitting a half-liter of wine before dinner. Typically, this wine (a great value by GR20 standards) is served in some sort of jug or carafe. This time, however, the bergeries owner grabbed an empty, used plastic water bottle and proceeded to fill it with wine. He then presented it to us with two tiny plastic cups. While it wasn’t our classiest or most eco-friendly happy hour of the trek, it was certainly one of the most memorable! We ended the night as we did almost every night of our trip; we ate pasta for dinner and were asleep by 9:00pm. 

 

Stage 9: Bergeries de l’Onda to Vizzavona

Total time: 7 hours

We awoke this morning with visions of Vizzavona dancing in our heads. Reaching Vizzavona meant many exciting things for us; it would mark the halfway point of our trek and it would also mean we’d be treated to a rest day and a couple of nights in a B&B.  We happily roughed it throughout the GR20, but we decided to splurge on a real bed and a rest day at the midpoint of our hike. We had the gift of time, so we figured we’d take an extra day to relax and enjoy a different side of Corsica. It was a freaking awesome idea, if we do say so ourselves, and highly recommended for anyone who has an extra day to spare on their trip. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First we had to get to Vizzavona and believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t a cakewalk. The day started off well enough, with a short, unremarkable climb followed by a fun descent over huge rock slabs. Then the fun descent turned totally un-fun, and stayed that way for hours and hours of picking our way down slippery, rocky trails that seemed determined to slow our progress at every turn. We’ve always been the type to prefer hiking uphill over down, but today was especially rough. 

Rocky descent with red and white trail markers.

It’s all downhill to Vizzavona from here!

 

Fortunately, we found the most idyllic spot in the shade, next to a perfectly clear pool, in which to enjoy a lunch of stinky cheese, crusty bread, and canistrellis, which are kind of like Corsican biscotti. Up to that point in the day, we’d been cursing the hike and getting pretty demoralized, but stopping in that perfect little oasis made it impossible to stay in a bad mood. The GR20 is just too beautiful to stay mad at for long. 

We finally tore ourselves away from our cansitrelli-filled paradise and continued our relentless march down to Vizzavona. Upon arriving, we stopped in at the campground’s well-stocked shop and immediately indulged in some cold beers and fresh fruit. Feeling refreshed, we walked further on to the beautiful Casa Alta B&B, our luxurious home for the next two nights. Here, we were greeted by the friendly host who stretched our high school French to its outer limits as he walked us through the amenities of the place. We proceeded to take some of the best showers of our lives and were asleep before 10:00pm.    

Keep reading to learn about the second half of our GR20 adventure! 

View of a room at Casa Alta Hotel in Vizzavona.

Lovely views from a room at the Casa Alta B&B in Vizzavona.

 

Keep reading to learn about the second half of our GR20 adventure! 

 

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West Highland Way Packing List

Making smart choices about what to pack (and what to leave behind) is a vital part of setting yourself up for a successful and enjoyable West Highland Way experience. It’s…

Making smart choices about what to pack (and what to leave behind) is a vital part of setting yourself up for a successful and enjoyable West Highland Way experience. It’s simple- the heavier your pack, the harder your effort. However, with a little thoughtful planning, you can keep your pack weight manageable while still ensuring you have everything you need to be comfortable on the trail and while relaxing at the inns, campgrounds, and villages along the way.

West Highland Way Packing List

There’s no such thing as bad weather if you pack the right gear!

 

Below you’ll find a detailed West Highland Way packing list that will provide you with great, trail-tested gear that won’t weigh down your backpack too much. This list reflects our personal packing list which will vary for each individual’s specific needs. However, this should serve as a great starting point for planning your own West Highland Way adventure! We’ve organized it into the following categories:

We’ve included specific lists for campers and those staying in dorm-style accommodation. The remaining categories apply to all types of hikers. Those staying in guesthouses, hotels, and B&B’s shouldn’t require additional gear beyond what’s on the general lists.

Complete Guide to Camping on the WHW

  • Get our Complete Guide to Camping on the West Highland Way for only $4.99 USD! All payments are securely processed via PayPal and your guide will be sent directly to your inbox. Save yourself the trouble of searching all over the internet and get access to everything you need to plan your adventure in an easy to read guide. All for only $4.99!

West Highland Way Packing Basics

There are limitless ways to hike the West Highland Way; you can customize the length of your walk, your accommodation preferences, your meal options, and so much more. Your West Highland Way packing list will need to be tailored to your individual itinerary and needs. Someone who is using a luggage transfer service and staying in B&B’s will have a significantly different kit than someone who is carrying all of their own camping gear and cooking their own meals. Despite all of this variability, there are a few basic truths about packing for the West Highland Way that apply to everyone. These include:

  1. Keep your backpack as light as possible! (see the next section for more on this)
  2. It is essential to dial in your footwear.
  3. Bring hiking poles and learn how to use them prior to your WHW trek.
West Highland Way trail

The winding path through the Larigmor.

 

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? 

As a very general rule, campers should keep their pack weight below 13kg, including food and water. Those staying indoors should carry no more than 9kg. If having your luggage transferred along the trail, most transfer services will limit you to 20kg, and your daypack shouldn’t exceed 4kg. If you are backpacking for the first time or have a chronic injury, the weight of your pack should be significantly less than these guidelines.

Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for lightening your load:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry. Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.
Hiking boots

Your trusty boots are one of your most important pieces of gear.

 

Footwear on the West Highland Way

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the West Highland Way, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the WHW! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly, muddy terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

The trail conditions on the West Highland Way are notorious for causing blisters. If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Trekking Poles

These are a total game-changer on a tough walk like the West Highland Way. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Backpacking backpack

The type of pack you’ll need for the West Highland Way will depend on your individual itinerary.

 

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and with the same weight) you’ll carry on the West Highland Way. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. Those staying indoors will find that 30-40L is perfect. If you’re purchasing a new pack, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the West Highland Way (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Most accommodation providers will allow you to charge electronics, but this isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind.

No outlets to be found here!

 

Guidebook

The Trailblazer Guide is an excellent resource for anyone planning a West Highland Way walk. This thorough guide covers everything from the history of the walk to accommodation recommendations, and of course provides a comprehensive breakdown of every stage.


Camping Gear

If you plan on camping along the West Highland Way, there’s a lot more gear you need to think about than just your hiking basics. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered! 

Use this camping gear list in conjunction with the personal items list, miscellaneous list, and men’s or women’s clothing list to put together your perfect kit. 

Quintessential Highlands camping at Strathfillan.

 

Camping on the West Highland Way is definitely worth carrying the bigger backpack. We loved the flexibility and independence it gave us. Plus, campgrounds along the trail are plentiful, convenient, and generally quite comfortable. With the right gear and a manageable pack size, you are guaranteed to have an amazing experience conquering the WHW with your own tent.

Most valuable piece of camping gear: Nemo Astro Sleeping Pad

Confession: This was the third sleeping pad I purchased in a three year quest to find the right fit. Until I got the Nemo, I just assumed it wasn’t possible to get a good night’s sleep while camping. Not only do I sleep warm (thanks to its 20 degree insulation) and comfortably, but this is also one of the most compact and lightweight options out there. It’s relatively quick to inflate and a breeze to pack away. A good night’s rest and extra space in my backpack make this my favorite piece of camping gear. Check it out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
TentSierra Designs - Clip Flashlight 2
or
MSR Hubba Hubba Tent
The Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 is the best budget tent on the market, while the MSR Hubba Hubba 2 is the best overall tent you can buy.
Sleeping bagMarmot Trestle 30A 30° F or 0° C sleeping bag should keep you plenty warm on the West Highland Way.
Sleeping padNemo Astro Insulated Sleeping PadIf you are a side sleeper this is a must! Even if you're not, this is one of the most lightweight and comfortable sleeping pads out there.
PillowTherm-a-Rest pillowIf you're camping more than a few nights you will be glad you packed this!
StoveMSR Pocket Rocket StoveIan has used this stove for nearly a decade and highly recommends it!
Backpacking potGSI Halulite
UtensilsHumangear Spork Best $4 you will ever spend!
Plate/Bowl/MugMSR 2-person mess kitWe find this bowl and mug combo to be light, durable, and perfect for camp dinners.

 

Bunkhouse & Hostel Specific Gear

If you’re planning on sleeping in bunkhouses and hostels along the West Highland Way, you can keep your pack relatively small. However, there are some specific items you’ll want to make sure you pack. While you don’t need much, there are some essentials that you’ll be glad to have for these communal accommodation situations. Use this list in conjunction with the other lists (except for the camping gear list) to ensure that you’re well prepared for your WHW adventure. 

Note: there are some repeats on this list that we’ve also included on the other lists. However, we wanted to highlight items on this list that are especially important for anyone who is staying primarily in dorm-style accommodation.

Most valuable item for bunkhouses & hostels: Mac’s Ear Plugs


ItemOur recommended gear 
EarplugsMack's EarplugsThe perfect defense for that snorer next door!
Sleeping maskAlaska Bear Sleeping MaskPerfect to block out light while sleeping in bunkhouses.
Sleep sheetVumos Sleep SheetA nice item to have for nights in bunkhouses and hostels.
Travel towelSea to Summit Drylite TowelSome hostels and bunkhouses on the West Highland Way do not provide towels.
Sandals/SlippersCrocsWhile not the most stylish, Crocs make the perfect bunkhouse shoes!

 

Personal Items

Whether you’re camping or staying indoors, these items are must-haves for your West Highland Way packing list. While we’ve included some toiletries that are absolutely essential for this trek, we’ve left it up to you to determine your personal list of additional self care items (comb, toothbrush, prescription medication, etc). 

Use this list in conjunction with the camping gear list OR bunkhouse/hostel list, and the miscellaneous and clothing lists to build your perfect West Highland Way packing list. 

Most valuable personal item: Midge Net Hat

Midges, those tiny biting flies that come out in swarms when the sun goes down and in cloudy, still weather, are an unfortunate reality on the West Highland Way. When they are bad, they are really, really bad. If you’re caught unprepared, they can drive you mad and threaten to ruin your day. Don’t let them! A good midge net is essential for keeping the nasty little guys out of your face. We particularly liked the hat model because it kept the net from touching our face, giving us more breathing room and keeping the midges further away.

Whatever you do, get a good quality net that is specifically designed for midges. Our friends bought cheap insect nets and the holes in the mesh turned out to be too big. They ended up with midges getting trapped inside their nets! Learn from their mistake and make sure you invest in the right gear when it comes to this one. Check our favorite midge hat our here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
Multi-toolGerber Suspension Multi-PlierPerfect for cutting cheese and bread!
First-aid kitAdventure Medical KitsA good backpacking first aid kit is essential. You hope to never have to use it, but will be glad you have it when you need it.
Hydration bladderPlatypus 3L Hydration BladderWay easier than a water bottle! We suggest carrying a 3 liter version.
Small day-packCotopaxi Luzon 18L DaypackOptional item that is great for walking around town.
Pack-coverSea to Summit Pack coverThis is a truly essential piece of gear given how hard it can rain on the West Highland Way!
Men's backpackOsprey Atmos 65LWhile backpacks are a very personal item, we find Osprey to make by far the most comfortable packs on the market.
Women's backpackOsprey Aura 65LOne of our favorite features of Osprey packs is the 'anti-gravity' mesh. So comfortable!
Trekking polesBlack Diamond Trail Trekking PolesEssential for long downhills!
Travel towelSea to Summit Drylite TowelGreat to have in hostels and campsite showers.
HeadlampBlack Diamond Storm HeadlampGreat headlamp with long battery life and adjustable brightness.
Dry bagsSea to Summit Ultra-Sil dry bagsKeeps your clothes and other items dry in a downpour!
Hiking gaitersOutdoor Research Rocky Mountain High GaitersOptional. These will help keep your boots dry when walking on muddy trails.
Midge hatMidge Net HatDo not leave home without one!
SunscreenWe recommend a waterproof sport version with SPF 30 or higher.
Bug sprayBen's Insect RepellentYou'll be glad you brought this when the midges come out.
Toilet paperAs any hiker will tell you, it's always better to be prepared! Plus, not all of the bathrooms you'll find along the West Highland Way provide toilet paper.

Miscellaneous Gear

These odds and ends are the unsung heros of the West Highland Way packing list. From getting your stinky shirt clean to keeping your phone charged, these items help your trek run smoothly. Make sure to use this list in addition to the other categories to complete your WHW kit. 

Most valuable miscellaneous gear: Anker Powercore 10000.

Chances are, you’re getting out on the trail to get a break from the constant demands of screens and technology and that’s wonderful. However, don’t underestimate the importance of having a charged cell phone on the West Highland Way. Your phone can be your navigational device, your camera, your guidebook, and your notepad all in one. Charging opportunities can be unreliable along the route, so a battery backup can be an absolute lifesaver. This one is dependable, relatively small, and can fully charge your phone 1.5-2 times between charges. Check it out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
GuidebookWest Highland Way GuidebookA must-have resource
Ear plugsMack's EarplugsEssential for the more crowded campsites!
Sleeping maskAlaska Bear Sleeping MaskPerfect to block out light while sleeping in hostels or campgrounds on the West Highland Way.
Travel adapterAll-in-one Travel AdapterGreat for all of your travels.
Digital watchCasio digital watchWe recommend a simple digital watch to keep track of hiking times.
CameraSony a5100 mirrorless cameraIan loves his Sony mirrorless camera!
Battery backupAnker PowerCore 10000Great for charging electronics when you don't have access to an outlet.
Biodegradable soapSierra Dawn Campsuds Outdoor SoapPerfect for doing the dishes or washing a few clothing items.
Plastic Bags- quart, gallon, and garbage bags. We used these constantly for everything from storing trail mix to keeping our sleeping bags dry. A must-have for backpacking.

 

You won’t need as heavy of a jacket as these Highland cattle wear!

 

Women’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for nearly two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious walking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials. Plus, if you’re anything like us, you have no idea how many pairs of socks to bring. This list is also a handy (and experience-backed)  guideline for quantities of items such as shirts and socks. 

Emily’s most valuable clothing item: Columbia Storm Surge Rain Pants 

You are going to get rained on at some point while walking the West Highland Way. It’s Scotland after all-the brooding weather adds to the magic of the hike. However, it can be pretty hard to fully appreciate that special type of magic when you’re trudging along for hours completely soaked to the bone. A good pair of rain pants can be the difference maker between loving (or at least tolerating) and hating hiking on those damp, Scottish days. These Columbia rain pants are simple, effective, comfortable, and easy to get on and off over boots. Check them out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Women's UnderwearVery packable and easy to wash on the go!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Micro Crew SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Sports BraBrooks Women's Rebound Racer Sports BraThis is the most versatile, comfortable, and high-quality sports bra that Emily has found on the market.
Long sleeve base layer (1)Smartwool Women's NTS Mid 250 CrewA great merino wool base layer for chilly mornings.
Short sleeve hiking shirt (3)Smartwool Women's Merino Short SleeveMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Leggings or hiking pantsprAna - Women's Halle Roll-upStylish, lightweight, and great to hike in.
Running shorts (1 pair)Lululemon Run Speed ShortsThese shorts are so comfortable, packable, and quick-drying, that Emily didn't even feel the need to buy hiking-specific shorts.
Down jacketPatagonia Down SweaterLightweight, super warm, and packs down small. This jacket was perfect for this kind of trip!
Rain jacketOutdoor Research Helium II JacketA high-quality all-weather jacket that packs up small.
Rain pantsColumbia Storm Surge pantsFor those heavy Scotland downpours!
Hiking bootsKeen Targhee II Mid Hiking BootEmily has had these boots for five years and hundreds of muddy, snowy hikes, and they are still going strong!
SunglassesSuncloud Loveseat Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you're in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
Basic black dressColumbia Women's PG Freezer III DressFor the nights we went out to dinner in town, it was nice to have one non-hiking outfit. This comfortable, versatile dress was easy to pack and worked great.
Underwire/standard braAfter a long day of hiking in a sweaty sports bra this can be a welcome relief to change into.
GlovesSmartwool Liner GlovesPerfect for cold evenings.
HatHeadsweats Performance Trucker HatHelps keep the sun off your face.
Sandals/Camp shoesChaco Z1Super comfortable around camp with great support.
BandanaIs everything from a towel to extra sun protection.

Men’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for nearly two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious trekking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials.

Ian’s most valuable clothing item: Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks

The conditions on the West Highland Way are such that hikers are at a particularly high risk of getting blisters at some point on their walk. The moisture levels, long mileage, and stony paths conspire to create the perfect environment for blisters to sabotage your walk. Fortunately, a good pair of socks can greatly reduce your chance of foot issues. This is one of those times where you really do get what you pay for. We love Darn Tough socks because they keep our feet dry and comfortable in a variety of conditions. They have just the right amount of cushion without being too bulky in boots. Plus, the Merino wool keeps them smelling fresh for days. Check them out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer BriefHighly recommended! You can bring 2-3 pairs and wash them easily in sinks or showers. A must!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Long sleeve base layer (1)Smartwool Men's NTS Mid 250 CrewVery versatile mid-weight base layer
Short sleeve hiking shirt (1)SmartSmartwool Men's Merino Short Sleeve shirtMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Hiking pants (1)Prana Brion pantsThese are great for hiking and also look great walking around town!
Hiking shorts (1)Prana Brion Hiking ShortsAwesome shorts that are great for hiking.
Down jacketPatagonia Down Sweater HoodySuper warm, and super packable
Rain jacketOutdoor Research Men's Helium II JacketA good rain jacket is a must for the West Highland Way!
GlovesSmartwool Merino Wool Liner Gloves Perfect for cold evenings.
Rain pantsMarmot Precip PantsFor those heavy Scotland downpours!
HatHeadsweats Performance Trucker HatHelps keep the sun off your face.
Sandals/Camp shoesChaco Z1 sandalsSuper comfortable around camp with great support.
Hiking bootsSalomon Men's X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking BootSuper comfortable and super waterproof!
SunglassesSuncloud Mayor Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you're in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
BandanaIs everything from a towel to extra sun protection.

 

What’s Next?

Be sure to read our entire series on the West Highland Way to learn everything you’ll need to know to prepare for your trip!

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Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List

Making smart choices about what to pack (and what to leave behind) is a vital part of setting yourself up for a successful and enjoyable Tour du Mont Blanc experience….

Making smart choices about what to pack (and what to leave behind) is a vital part of setting yourself up for a successful and enjoyable Tour du Mont Blanc experience. It’s simple- the heavier your pack, the harder your effort. However, with a little thoughtful planning, you can keep your pack weight manageable while still ensuring you have everything you need to be comfortable on the trail and while relaxing at the refuges, campgrounds, and villages along the way.  

Crossing a snow field on the TMB

You’ll need to be prepared for everything from sunshine to snow fields!

 

Below you’ll find a detailed Tour du Mont Blanc packing list that will provide you with great, trail-tested gear that won’t weigh down your backpack too much. This list reflects our personal packing list which will vary for each individual’s specific needs. However, this should serve as a great starting point for planning your own TMB adventure!

LEARN MORE

 

 

Tour du Mont Blanc Packing Basics

There are limitless ways to hike the TMB; you can customize the length of your trek, your accommodation preferences, your meal options, and so much more. Your Tour du Mont Blanc packing list will need to be tailored to your individual itinerary and needs. Someone who is using a luggage transfer service and staying in refuges will have a significantly different kit than someone who is carrying all of their own camping gear and cooking their own meals. Despite all of this variability, there are a few basic truths about packing for the Tour du Mont Blanc that apply to everyone. These include:

  1. Keep your backpack as light as possible! (see the next section for more on this)
  2. It is essential to dial in your footwear.
  3. Bring hiking poles and learn how to use them prior to your TMB trek.
Hiker on the TMB.

Don’t forget to bring a good pack cover for stormy days like this one.

 

How much should my pack weigh?

This isn’t easy to answer, since there are a ton of factors that influence how much is too much for any individual hiker. Some things to think about…

  • How fast are you hoping to hike? Generally speaking, lighter=faster
  • Have you completed a multi-day through hike with this specific backpack and this amount of weight before? 
  • Are you injury-prone or do you have any chronic knee, hip, or back issues? 

As a very general rule, campers should keep their pack weight below 13kg, including food and water. Those staying in refuges should carry no more than 9kg. If having your luggage transferred along the trail, most transfer services will limit you to 18kg, and your daypack shouldn’t exceed 4kg. If you are backpacking for the first time or have a chronic injury, the weight of your pack should be significantly less than these guidelines.

Need help with your itinerary? We’ll create a custom trip plan just for you!

Generally speaking, less is more. Here’s a few tips for lightening your load:

  1. You only need a couple of shirts. Same goes for underwear and socks. Before you write us off as total dirtbags, hear us out. First, you’ll have plenty of time and sunshine to wash and dry laundry. Second, clothes are heavy, so cutting out everything but the absolute essentials will make a huge difference.
  2. Plan out when/where you’ll restock food provisions and don’t carry more food than you need.
  3. Consider leaving your bulky camera equipment at home. Unless photography is your passion, most smartphones take great photos and save a ton of space and weight.
Hiking boots

Your trusty boots are one of your most important pieces of gear.

 

Footwear on the Tour du Mont Blanc

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the TMB, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail. A nasty blister can be catastrophic on a multi-day trek like the TMB! That being said, you also don’t want your boots/shoes to be too broken in, as you need them to hold up faithfully for many miles of gnarly terrain. I know we’re asking you to work some Goldilocks magic here, but it’s definitely worth it!

In terms of other specifications, we feel that the only other must-have is a good, grippy vibrum (or similar material) sole for steep descents and loose paths. Otherwise it’s up to personal preference when it comes to how much ankle support you need, waterproof versus quick-dry, sturdy versus lightweight, and so on.

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game changer. Once again, try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out how what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them. Other tried-and-true blister prevention tactics include putting bodyglide on potential hotspots or wearing toesocks.

Trekking Poles

BRING THEM. Enough said. Seriously, these are a total game-changer on a tough trek like the TMB. You (and your knees) will be so glad to have them on steep sections, and this is especially true for campers who are carrying heavier loads.

Backpacking backpack

The type of pack you’ll need for the TMB will depend on your individual itinerary.

 

Backpack

The same rule for shoes applies to backpacks: make sure you complete several hikes with your bag packed the same way (and with the same weight) you’ll carry on the TMB. Also similar to shoes, backpacks need to be broken in through use, and your body needs to get used to the feeling of wearing it for extended periods of time. In terms of size, most campers will need between 45 and 65 liters. Those staying in refuges will find that 30-40L is perfect. If you’re purchasing a new one, most good outdoors stores have experienced staff that will help you find the right fit and style for your needs.

Don’t forget to bring a pack cover (included with many newer backpacks) to protect against rain. This is an absolute must-have.

Battery Backup

If you plan on using your phone as a GPS to navigate along the TMB (which we highly recommend!), it’s imperative that it stays charged. Most accommodation providers will allow you to charge electronics, but this isn’t a guarantee everywhere. Carrying a small battery backup or one of these nifty portable solar panels will give you a little more freedom and peace of mind.

Cell phones charging

Charging electronics can get a little crazy on the TMB.

 

Puffy down jacket

We’ve found this to be a perfect piece of gear for the Tour du Mont Blanc. It can be quite chilly in the Alps in the early morning and evenings, but a heavy fleece or bulky jacket can really sabotage a lightweight pack. Down jackets are warm, super packable, and very lightweight. Besides a light waterproof rain jacket, this is the only outer layer you should need.

Guidebook

The Ciccerone Guide to the TMB is an excellent resource for anyone planning a TMB trek. This thorough guide covers everything from the history of the hike to interesting sights you’ll see along the way, and of course provides a comprehensive breakdown of every stage. It is also available as an e-book, meaning you can download it to your phone to really optimize your packing!

We also love Trailblazer’s Tour du Mont Blanc Guide. It is incredibly detailed and has great resources for finding accommodation and other services at every point along the trail. Plus, it was just updated in 2019, so it’s the most current guidebook on the market right now. In our opinion, the Ciccerone guide feels more organized and easy-to-navigate, while the Trailblazer guide has more in-depth and comprehensive information. The bottom line? You can’t go wrong with either, and you’ll be glad to have at least one of these great resources!

Camping-Specific Gear

If you plan on camping along the TMB, there’s a lot more gear you need to think about than just your hiking basics. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered! 

Use this camping gear list in conjunction with the personal items list, miscellaneous list, and men’s or women’s clothing list to put together your perfect Tour du Mont Blanc packing list. 

Camping on the Tour du Mont Blanc is definitely worth carrying the bigger backpack. We love the flexibility and independence it gives us, and many of the campgrounds are downright luxurious. With the right gear and a manageable pack size, you are guaranteed to have an amazing experience conquering the TMB with your own tent. 

 

Tent at Le Peuty Campground

Camping ensures you’ll always get a room with a view!

 

Most valuable piece of camping gear: Nemo Astro Sleeping Pad

Confession: This was the third sleeping pad I purchased in a three year quest to find the right fit. Until I got the Nemo, I just assumed it wasn’t possible to get a good night’s sleep while camping. Not only do I sleep warm (thanks to its 20 degree insulation) and comfortably, but this is also one of the most compact and lightweight options out there. It’s relatively quick to inflate and a breeze to pack away. A good night’s rest and extra space in my backpack make this my favorite piece of camping gear. Check it out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
TentSierra Designs - Clip Flashlight 2
or
MSR Hubba Hubba Tent
The Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight 2 is the best budget tent on the market, while the MSR Hubba Hubba 2 is the best overall tent you can buy.
Sleeping bagMarmot Trestle 30A 30° F or 0° C sleeping bag should keep you plenty warm on the TMB.
Sleeping pad Nemo Astro Insulated Sleeping PadIf you are a side sleeper this is a must! Even if you're not, this is one of the most lightweight and comfortable sleeping pads out there.
PillowTherm-a-Rest pillowA camping pillow can be great when you're spending 10+ nights sleeping in a tent, but this is an optional item for those looking to save weight.
StoveMSR Pocket Rocket StoveIan has used this stove for nearly a decade and highly recommends it!
Backpacking potGSI HaluliteFor those planning to cook their own meals this pot will serve you well.
UtensilsMSR Deep Dish plate , MSR Stainless Steel mugHumangear Spork Best $4 you will ever spend!
Plate/Bowl/MugMSR 2-person mess kitWe find this bowl and mug combo to be light, durable, and perfect for camp dinners.

 

Want more info on trekking the TMB with a tent? Be sure to check out our amazing Camping Guide!

GET YOUR CAMPING GUIDE NOW!

 

Refuge-Specific Gear

If you’re planning on sleeping in mountain refuges and hotels along the TMB, you can enjoy the benefit of a shorter packing list! This list has a few items you’ll need specifically for sleeping in gites and refuges. While you don’t need much, there are some essentials that you’ll be glad to have for these communal accommodation situations. Use this list in conjunction with the other lists (except for the camping gear list) to ensure that you’re well prepared for your TMB adventure. 

Note: there are some repeats on this list that we’ve also included on the other lists. However, we wanted to highlight items on this list that are especially important for anyone who is staying primarily in refuges. 

 

Rifugio Bonatti

 

Most valuable item for Refuges: Mack’s Earplugs

Getting quality sleep is so important for your body to feel recovered and fresh on a long-distance trek. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to sleep well in the dorm-style sleeping arrangements commonly found in TMB refuges. Being packed like sardines into a room full of Olympic level snorers doesn’t have to ruin your night though! It’s amazing what a difference some good earplugs can make. We find that we sleep much more soundly with these comfortable, effective earplugs. They’re a huge step up from those cheap foam ones- these stay in place and block out way more noise. Sometimes the little things can make the biggest difference! Check them out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
EarplugsMack's EarplugsThe perfect defense for that snorer next door!
Sleeping maskAlaska Bear Sleeping MaskPerfect to block out light while sleeping in refuges.
Sleep sheetVumos Sleep SheetRequired in most of the refuges along the TMB.
Sandals/SlippersCrocsWhile not the most stylish, Crocs make the perfect refuge shoes!

 

Now that you know what to pack, do you know where to go? Let us help you design your perfect trip! LEARN MORE

 

Personal Gear

Whether you’re camping or staying indoors, these items are must-haves for the TMB. While we’ve included some toiletries that are absolutely essential for this hike, we’ve left it up to you to determine your personal list of additional self care items (comb, toothbrush, prescription medication, etc). 

Use this list in conjunction with the camping gear list OR refuge list, and the miscellaneous and clothing lists to build your perfect kit. 

Most valuable personal item: Black Diamond Trekking Poles 

We absolutely love our Black Diamond poles for their lightweight design and durability. I can’t imagine tackling some of the steep, loose sections of the TMB without my trusty poles! The make a significant different in our perceived effort on tough climbs and descents, and they’ve saved me (a serious klutz) from falling countless times! Their telescoping feature makes them easy to pack away for international flights. Check them out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
Multi-toolGerber Suspension Multi-PlierPerfect for cutting cheese and bread!
First-aid kitAdventure Medical KitsA good backpacking first aid kit is essential. You hope to never have to use it, but will be glad you have it when you need it.
Camel BakPlatypus 3L Hydration BladderWay easier than a water bottle! We suggest carrying a 3 liter version.
Small day-packCotopaxi Luzon 18L DaypackOptional item that is great for walking around town and hiking up to Lac Blanc!
Pack-coverSea to Summit Pack coverThis is a truly essential piece of gear given how hard it can rain on the TMB! The best pack-cover we've ever used.
Men's backpackOsprey Atmos 65LWhile backpacks are a very personal item, we find Osprey to make by far the most comfortable packs on the market.
Women's backpackOsprey Aura 65LOne of our favorite features of Osprey packs is the 'anti-gravity' mesh. So comfortable!
Trekking polesBlack Diamond Trail Trekking PolesEssential for long downhills!
Travel towelSea to Summit Drylite TowelGreat to have in huts and campsite showers.
HeadlampBlack Diamond Storm HeadlampGreat headlamp with long battery life and adjustable brightness.
Dry bagsSea to Summit Ultra-Sil dry bagsKeeps your clothes and other items dry in a downpour!
SunscreenWe recommend a waterproof sport version with SPF 30 or higher.
Toilet paperAs any hiker will tell you, it's always better to be prepared! Plus, not all of the bathrooms you'll find along the TMB provide toilet paper.

 

Interested in camping on the TMB? Our in-depth guide makes it easy!

LEARN MORE

 

Miscellaneous Gear

These odds and ends are the unsung heros of the TMB packing list. From getting your stinky shirt clean to keeping your phone charged, these items help your trek run smoothly. Make sure to use this list in addition to the other categories to complete your personal Tour du Mont Blanc packing list. 

Most valuable miscellaneous gear: Anker Powercore 10000.

Chances are, you’re getting out on the trail to get a break from the constant demands of screens and technology and that’s wonderful. However, don’t underestimate the importance of having a charged cell phone on the TMB. Your phone can be your navigational device, your camera, your guidebook, and your notepad all in one. Charging opportunities can be unreliable along the route, so a battery backup can be an absolute lifesaver. This one is dependable, relatively small, and can fully charge your phone 1.5-2 times. Check it out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
GuidebookThe Tour of Mont Blanc: Complete two-way trekking guideA must-have resource
EarplugsMack's EarplugsEssential for sleeping in huts!
Sleeping maskAlaska Bear Sleeping MaskPerfect to block out light while sleeping in refuges or campgrounds.
Travel adapterAll-in-one Travel AdapterGreat for all of your travels.
Digital watchCasio digital watchWe recommend a simple digital watch to keep track of hiking times.
CameraSony a5100 mirrorless cameraOptional item for the photography lovers. Consider using your phone to save weight.
Battery backupAnker PowerCore 10000Great for charging electronics when you don't have access to an outlet.
Biodegradable soapSierra Dawn Campsuds Outdoor SoapPerfect for doing the dishes or washing a few clothing items.
Plastic Bags- quart, gallon, and garbage bags. We used these constantly for everything from storing trail mix to keeping our sleeping bags dry. A must-have for backpacking.

 

Courmayeur

It’s an added bonus if you can pack clothes that will work both on the trail and in town.

 

Women’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for nearly two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious trekking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials. Plus, if you’re anything like us, you have no idea how many pairs of socks to bring. This list is also a handy (and experience-backed) guideline for quantities of items such as shirts and socks. 

Emily’s most valuable clothing item: Ex officio underwear

Perhaps this may seem like a strange choice for my favorite piece of gear, but it truly was a game changer for me on the TMB. As a woman, I’ve found it to be so annoyingly difficult to find good quality, comfortable underwear designed for outdoor sports and travel. And not that it should matter, but most of the ones that do exist are extremely ugly. Ex officio changed all that for me. I love the “hipkini” variety because they provide full coverage and stay in place while still being low profile under shorts, pants and even leggings. What’s even more amazing is that you can rinse them out at the end of each day and they’ll be totally fresh and dry by morning. This makes it so you can get away with packing just a few pairs. Check them out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Women's UnderwearVery packable and easy to wash on the go!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Micro Crew SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Sports BraBrooks Women's Rebound Racer Sports BraThis is the most versatile, comfortable, and high-quality sports bra that Emily has found on the market.
Long sleeve base layer (1)Smartwool Women's NTS Mid 250 CrewA great merino wool base layer for chilly mornings.
Short sleeve hiking shirt (3)Smartwool Women's Merino Short SleeveMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Leggings or hiking pantsprAna - Women's Halle Roll-upStylish, lightweight, and great to hike in.
Running shorts (1 pair)Lululemon Run Speed ShortsThese shorts are so comfortable, packable, and quick-drying, that Emily didn't even feel the need to buy hiking-specific shorts.
Down jacketPatagonia Down SweaterLightweight, super warm, and packs down small. This jacket was perfect for this kind of trip!
Rain jacketOutdoor Research Helium II JacketA high-quality all-weather jacket that packs up small.
Rain pantsColumbia Storm Surge pantsFor those heavy downpours!
Hiking bootsKeen Targhee II Mid Hiking BootEmily has had these boots for five years and hundreds of muddy, snowy hikes, and they are still going strong!
SunglassesSuncloud Loveseat Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you're in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
Basic black dressColumbia Women's PG Freezer III DressFor the nights we went out to dinner in town, it was nice to have one non-hiking outfit. This comfortable, versatile dress was easy to pack and worked great.
Underwire/standard braAfter a long day of hiking in a sweaty sports bra this can be a welcome relief to change into.
GlovesSmartwool Liner GlovesPerfect for cold evenings and mountain passes.
HatHeadsweats Performance Trucker HatHelps keep the alpine sun off your face.
Sandals/Camp shoesChaco Z1Super comfortable around camp with great support.
BandanaIs everything from a towel to extra sun protection.

 

Men’s Clothing

When you’re wearing the same clothes for nearly two weeks in various weather conditions and while doing some serious trekking, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials.

Ian’s most valuable clothing item: Smart wool T-shirt. 

After years of hiking and traveling in synthetic tech tees, switching to Merino wool was a major upgrade. Like synthetic materials, Merino is quick-drying and moisture-wicking, but unlike the synthetic materials I can hike in it for days without any funky smells. Plus, I find it to be more comfortable and stylish, since it looks just like a normal t-shirt. This was convenient for times when I wanted to wear it off the trail. Smart wool makes an all around great shirt that is well worth the price. Check it out here:

ItemOur recommended gear 
Underwear (2-3 pairs)ExOfficio Men's Give-N-Go Boxer BriefHighly recommended! You can bring 2-3 pairs and wash them easily in sinks or showers. A must!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Long sleeve base layer (1)Smartwool Men's NTS Mid 250 CrewVery versatile mid-weight base layer
Short sleeve hiking shirt (1)SmartSmartwool Men's Merino Short Sleeve shirtMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Hiking pants (1)Prana Brion pantsThese are great for hiking and also look great walking around town!
Hiking shorts (1)Prana Brion Hiking ShortsAwesome shorts that are great for hiking.
Down jacketPatagonia Down Sweater HoodySuper warm, and super packable
Rain jacketOutdoor Research Men's Helium II JacketA good rain jacket is a must!
GlovesSmartwool Merino Wool Liner Gloves Perfect for cold evenings and mountain passes.
Rain pantsMarmot Precip PantsFor those heavy downpours!
HatHeadsweats Performance Trucker HatHelps keep the alpine sun off your face.
Sandals/Camp shoesChaco Z1 sandalsSuper comfortable around camp with great support.
Hiking bootsSalomon Men's X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking BootSuper comfortable and super waterproof!
SunglassesSuncloud Mayor Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you're in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
BandanaIs everything from a towel to extra sun protection.

 

LEARN MORE

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc Packing List

 

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GR20 | Maps

The GR20 takes hikers on a spectacular trail across the island of Corsica and is one of the most renowned long-distance treks in the world. The route is broken into…

The GR20 takes hikers on a spectacular trail across the island of Corsica and is one of the most renowned long-distance treks in the world. The route is broken into 16 stages and is traditionally walked from north to south, starting in the town of Calenzana and finishing in the little village of Conca. This post give you all of the GR20  resources you need to familiarize yourself with the GR20 map, route, location, and all other things navigational so you can be sure you’re ready to take on this incredible trail!

What’s in this post?

Where is the GR20?

The GR20 is located on the semi-autonomous French island of Corsica. Corsica sits in the Mediterranean Sea off the coasts of both France and Italy and just north of the island of Sardinia. GR20 hikers are likely to pass through at least one of the major towns in Corsica en route to and from the trail. These towns include Bastia, Calvi, Ajaccio, and Porto Vecchio.

Map showing the location of the GR20

The GR20 takes trekkers across Corsica.

 

Many trekkers are surprised to find that the GR20 visits very few Corsican towns along its route, instead staying high in the mountains and stopping mainly at mountain refuges and bergeries (former shepherds’ huts). However, the GR20 does pass through the town of Vizzavona, which is the approximate halfway point of the trek.

Given this fact, many hikers will want to add a few days to their itinerary, if possible, to ensure they are able to visit some of the beautiful towns and villages in Corsica.

The GR20 is traditionally hiked from north to south, beginning in the town of Calenzana and finishing in the town of Conca. However, it is possible and not uncommon to walk the GR20 from south to north.

The stages for the traditional north to south route of the GR20 are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Calenzana to Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu
  • Stage 2: Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu
  • Stage 3: Refuge de Carozzu to Ascu Stagnu
  • Stage 4: Ascu Stagnu to Auberge U Vallone or Refuge de Tighjettu
  • Stage 5: Auberge U Vallone to Hotel Castel di Vergio
  • Stage 6: Hotel Castel di Vergio to Refuge de Manganu
  • Stage 7: Refuge de Manganu to Refuge Petra Piana
  • Stage 8: Refuge de Petra Piana to Refuge L’Onda
  • Stage 9: Refuge L’Onda to Vizzavona
  • Stage 10: Vizzavona to Bergeries d’E Capanelle
  • Stage 11: E’Capanelle to Bocca di Verdi
  • Stage 12: Bocca di Verdi to Refuge d’Usciolu
  • Stage 13: Refuge d’Usciolu to Refuge de Matalza
  • Stage 14: Refuge de Matalza to Refuge d’Asinau
  • Stage 15: Refuge d’Asinau to Village de Bavella
  • Stage 16: Village de Bavella to Conca

 

Map of the GR20 in Corsica.

The GR20 take trekkers across the island of Corsica.

 

In addition to the traditional route, the GR20 also includes several ‘alternates’. These trails connect the same start and finish points, but take walkers on a different route between the two points. These alternate routes can be used to add challenge, visit nearby summits, avoid certain sections, or provide a low-level route in the case of bad weather. Additionally, there is an alternate route that allows trekkers to skip an entire stage of the GR20 by going directly from Refuge d’Uscioulu to Refuge d’Asinau.

Here are the common alternate routes on the GR20, which are also shown on the map below:

  • Low level route on Stage 1 allows trekkers to avoid exposure in bad weather.
  • Low level route on Stage 2 allows trekkers to avoid exposure in bad weather.
  • High level route on Stage 8 between Refuge de Petra Piana and Refuge L’Onda.
  • High level route on Stage 9 between Refuge L’Onda and Vizzavona.
  • Ascent of Monte Renosu on Stage 11 between Bergeries E’Capanelle and Bocca di Verdi
  • High level route between Refuge d’Usciolu and Refuge d’Asinau, shortening the GR20 by a day.
  • High level route between Refuge d’Asinau and Village de Bavella
Map of the GR20 with common trail variants.

The GR20 also includes many alternate routes, shown in the map above.

 

Interactive GR20 Map

The interactive GR20 map below will allow you to zoom in on the various stages as well as view the traditional stops along the route. The map also displays the common alternate routes that are a part of the GR20. You can click on each stage to see its total length, listed in both kilometers and miles.

 

How long is the GR20?

The GR20 is approximately 113 miles or 182 kilometers long. This is based on following the traditional route and not taking any of the alternates. Of course, many trekkers will opt to take several of the alternate routes, which will lengthen or shorten the total distance, depending on the routes chosen. You’ll have the option to walk less or more depending on the weather, your preferences, and the conditions encountered on the trail.

The maps below show the approximate distance of each stage in both miles and kilometers, giving you a sense of the distances encountered on each section of the GR20. For more detail on each stage be sure to check out our interactive map in the section above!

Map of the GR20 showing stage distances in miles.

Approximate stage distances of the GR20 in miles.

 

Map of the GR20 with stage distances in kilometers.

Approximate stage distances of the GR20 in kilometers.

 

What is the elevation profile of the GR20?

Over the course of all 113 miles, the GR20 has a staggering 34,500 feet or 10,500 meters of elevation change! Averaged out over 16 stages this means that each day you’ll have over 2,150 feet or 655 meters of elevation change per stage. Many trekkers will complete the GR20 in fewer days, meaning they’ll have an even greater challenge!

Of course, the elevation gain and loss isn’t spread out evenly from stage to stage. You’ll have days with a tremendous amount of climbing and you’ll also have days with much less (although always some!). Given that the GR20 is a point to point trail (meaning it does not start and finish in the same location) you’ll lose a tad more elevation that you’ll gain over the course of the entire route.

The elevation profiles below, displayed in both imperial and metric units, will give you an overview of what each stage of the GR20 is like in terms of total elevation change and distance. Elevation is shown on the left side while distance is shown on the bottom. Each blue dot represents a stop along the traditional 16-stage GR20 route, with the stop name shown at the top.

The steepness of the line between any two points reflects the steepness of the trail for that particular stage. The distance between the two points shows the length of the the stage. So for instance you can see that the stage from Refuge de Carrozu to Ascu Stagnu is rather short in distance, while the stage from Ascu Stagnu to Auberge U Vallone has a lot of elevation gain.

When thinking about how many days or stages you’ll take to complete the GR20 be sure to reference these elevation profiles. They’ll give you a sense of how hard each day is and will let you see which stages may make sense to combine

Elevation profile of the GR20 in feet and miles.

Elevation profile of the GR20 in feet and miles.

 

Elevation profile of the GR20 in meters and kilometers.

Elevation profile of the GR20 in meters and kilometers.

 

Which maps should I carry on the GR20?

The GR20 is the best marked trail we’ve ever hiked. The notorious red and white paint flashes guide the way through gullies, across boulder fields, and past mountain peaks. The saying on the GR20 is that if you’ve gone more than 20 feet without seeing marker you’re probably off the trail, and this is true! However, it can still be easy to get turned around, mixed up, and generally off the main trail in some capacity. You may find yourself walking in an early morning mist, struggling to look up to find a trail marker with the blazing sun, or simply have missed the last trail junction. For this reason we highly recommend that all trekkers have some form of wayfinding for the GR20.

When we hiked the GR20 we did not rely on traditional, paper maps that are available for the route. Instead, we preferred utilizing GPS maps on our phones to ensure we knew where the trail was as well as where we were in relation to it. Cell phone service is very limited along the GR20, so it is critical to have a good offline mapping app such as Gaia GPS to ensure you’ll be able to view the map at any point along the route.

With all this considered, we still recommend carrying a paper map, or map booklet. While technology has done a tremendous amount to make navigating while hiking easier, there is simply no replacement for carrying a physical map with you. If your phone runs out of battery or you drop it in one of the many swimming holes along the GR20 you’ll be glad you had your handy paper map to rely on.

To cover the entire GR20 at a good scale (1:25,000) we recommend bringing the following IGN maps:

. A weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.

GR20 GPS/GPX

If you’re interested in getting access to the GPS data used to create all of the maps in this post, we are happy to offer our GR20 GPX files for only $4.99. When you download the GPX file, you’ll get route data for each of the traditional stages of the GR20 as well as all of the common alternate route, plus waypoints for each stop along the way.

You’ll be able to load the GPX file into the mapping software or GPS phone app of your choice!

BUY NOW

 

GR20 map app/offline mapping

As mentioned above we utilized offline downloadable GPS maps on our smartphones to navigate while hiking the GR20. This is a great way to navigate on the trail as it allows you to see your progress for the day and also doesn’t require a cell phone signal (which you likely won’t have) to display the map. Our GR20 Offline Mapping post has all the information you need to get set up using an app for your GR20 map. This step-by-step article will teach you how to quickly and easily turn your phone into a GPS device.

Check out all of our great GR20 resources:

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The Complete Guide to Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

  If you’ve read any of our other posts on this blog, you’ve probably figured out by now that we really love to hike.  If you ask me, there’s only…

A frozen and snow covered Dream Lake, seen while snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake in all of its frozen beauty.

 

If you’ve read any of our other posts on this blog, you’ve probably figured out by now that we really love to hike.  If you ask me, there’s only one thing more fun than hiking…hiking in the snow! And the only thing better than hiking in the snow? Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park! You might be thinking, “Well, no… It’s cold and difficult and boring.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “She’s crazy. Skiing is WAY better.” Before you click over to one of the six other tabs you have open right now, hear me out. 

Snowshoeing allows you to see familiar trails in a completely new way, it’s a challenging and rewarding workout, and it gives you the opportunity to experience popular hikes without the crowds. Oh, and unlike skiing, you don’t have to get up at 4am to battle traffic for hours just to get there. You can rent or buy snowshoes for a very reasonable cost, especially when compared to skis.  Snowshoeing for the win!

As I’ve gotten into the sport in recent years, I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to find good information about snowshoeing near the Front Range, especially snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this post, I’ll share everything you need to know in order to have a fantastic snowshoe outing in one of our favorite places: Rocky Mountain National Park.

But first, a few reasons why you should showshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park…

-It has a pretty consistent snowpack throughout the winter months.

-It is significantly less crowded in the off-season, allowing you to enjoy its natural wonders in peace and solitude.

-It has a wealth of trails of varying lengths, difficulty levels, and terrain types, making it a great destination for snowshoers of every ability and experience level.

Also, be sure to check out our Snowshoeing Packing List to be prepared for any winter adventure!

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How Much It Cost Us to Hike the GR20  

There are endless ways to fail at the GR20. It’s got a reputation for being the toughest trek in Europe, and for good reason. In fact, some statistics indicate that…

There are endless ways to fail at the GR20. It’s got a reputation for being the toughest trek in Europe, and for good reason. In fact, some statistics indicate that over half of those who start the GR20 don’t complete it. There are a ton  of genuinely legitimate reasons for quitting, and those are totally understandable. 

Want to know the stupidest, least excusable reason for quitting the GR20? Running out of money. 

Chalkboard menu at Refuge de Carozzu

There’s plenty of delicious food available along the trail, but it’s definitely not cheap!

 

Nearly everything you purchase on the GR20 will need to be bought with cash. There are no ATMS along the route, not even in Calenzana, Vizzavona, or Conca, and most establishments do not accept credit cards. If you’re prepared, this is no problem at all. However, without advance planning this could be catastrophic to your trek. Indeed, when we hiked in 2019 we met multiple hikers who were forced to leave the trail due to a lack of cash. Don’t let that happen to you. 

Since you’ve clearly got your act together enough to find this article (and hopefully you checked out our Ultimate Guide to the GR20 too), we feel pretty confident that you won’t earn a place in the GR20 Hall of Shame (at least not for this reason…we can’t vouch for what anyone will do after a couple of Pietras!)

Now that you know you need to carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses along the trail, you just need to figure out exactly how much cash that will be. That’s what we’re here for. 

 

Tents outside the Refuge de Matalza

Camping is a fun and budget-friendly way to do the GR20.

 

Below we’ve outlined what you can expect to pay for all sorts of common goods and services on the GR20. Obviously, you can expect some variation in prices from place to place, but this should give you a general idea of things so you can more confidently estimate your budget. 

 

The GR20: Average Price List

Accommodation:

  • Dorm bed in a PNRC Refuge: €15
  • Hire tent at a PNRC Refuge: €11 tent rental fee + €7 per person
  • Camping (bivouac) with a personal tent at PNRC Refuge: €7 per person
  • Dorm bed in a gite d’etape: €20 per person (€45 per person for half board)
  • Camping at a bergerie with personal tent: €8 per person
  • Camping at a bergerie in a hire tent: €20 per person
  • Double room in a hotel: €100 

 

Food and Drink:

  • Evening Meal at a bergerie, gite, or PNRC Refuge: €22
  • Breakfast at a bergerie, gite, or PNRC Refuge: €8
  • Picnic lunch from a bergerie, gite, or PNRC Refuge: €8
  • Meal at a nice hotel restaurant: €30
  • Large can of Pietra Beer: €6
  • Half liter of wine: €6
  • Large coffee or tea: €2.5
  • Can of soda: €3.5
  • A-la-carte omelette or sandwhich: €7-9
  • Charcuterie or cheese plate: €10
  • Large chunk  of local cheese: €11
  • Bag of pasta: €2
  • Jar of pasta sauce: €3
  • Can of ravioli: €3
  • Saucisson (cured Corsican sausage): €10
  • Bag of peanuts: €2
  • Bar of chocolate: €2
  • Loaf of bread: €2

 

Transportation: 

  • Bus from Bastia Airport to Bastia city center: €9 per person
  • Train from Bastia to Calvi: €16.2 per person (see the full list of train prices here)
  • Bus from Calvi to Calenzana: €8 per person
  • Navette from Conca to Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio: €4- €6 per person (depending on number of passengers)
  • Bus from Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio to Bastia: €23 per person + €1 per bag
  • Train from Vizzavona to Bastia: €14.6

 

Miscellaneous: 

  • Hot shower: €2 for 6 minutes (This varies quite a bit; some refuges offer free hot showers, while others only offer cold showers
  • Electronics Charging: €2 per device (this is also free at some refuges and unavailable at others)
  • Stove fuel: €6
  • Roll of toilet paper: €0.50
  • Compeed blister bandages: €9
  • Sunscreen: €12
The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio

Hike all the miles, eat all the snacks.

 

How to estimate your expenses on the GR20

First, think about the type of accommodation and meals you plan on purchasing. Are you going to sleep in refuges and hotels as much as possible? Are you going to eat most meals at the refuge or will you choose  to buy provisions to self-cater? Will you pay for any of your accommodation in advance? (PNRC reservations require full payment when you make your booking). Don’t forget to account for your meals and lodging in Calenzana, Vizzavona, and Conca. Once you’ve taken all of these variables into account you can get a general idea of what you plan to spend on accommodation per day. 

Next, consider all of your other miscellaneous expenses. These include transportation to and from the trail, electronics charging and hot showers, any needed toiletries or other necessities that arise. Use our list of average prices (above) to determine the amount of money that will cover all of your miscellaneous items. Our advice? Expect the unexpected and give yourself a little extra cushion here! 

Before you get any further,  be honest with yourself about what you’ll want and need on the trail. It’s easy to think you’ll adhere to a strict budget, but once you’ve been hiking all day in the blistering sun that cold beer or bag of crisps is going to be awfully tempting, and you’ll get far greater enjoyment out of your GR20 experience if you allow yourself a few indulgences here and there. Plus,  you’ll be exerting yourself much more than in your typical day-to-day life and therefore your calorie needs will be significantly greater. Keep this in mind when calculating your food budget- hiker hunger is no joke! 

Block of Corsican cheese.

That block of local cheese may be calling your name after a long day!

 

Finally, the amount of money you’ll need will depend on how long you plan on being out on the trail. If you are hiking for longer, that’s more days of food and lodging you’ll need to pay for. We recommend building an extra day into your itinerary to allow for bad weather or other issues that may arise. 

Here’s a breakdown of average daily costs for a few different budgets. Drinks, treats, and unexpected necessities have been accounted for in the “Miscellaneous” category. 

 Food & DrinkAccommodationMiscellaneousAverage Daily Expenses
Budget€6-10€7€5-10€18-27
Mid-Range€25-35€12-15€10-15€47-65
Luxury€45-65€45-60€15-20€105-145

NOTE: All hikers, regardless of their budget, should add at least €65 to their overall estimate to account for transportation costs

Clear rock pool and waterfall on stage 5 of the GR20

Luckily, the best parts of the GR20 are completely free, like this perfect spot for soaking tired feet.

 

Okay. I made my budget, but WOW that’s a LOT of cash! Is it safe to hike with that much money? 

Generally speaking, yes. The GR20 attracts a really awesome community of humans who just want to conquer a challenge and savor the outdoors. There is a sense of camaraderie among GR20 hikers, and people tend to look out for one another. Plus, pretty much everyone you meet on the trail is in the same boat as you, so you really shouldn’t be any more susceptible to theft as the next trekker.   

That being said, you should take the same precautions you would take in any other situation where you’d be walking around with a big wad of cash. These include: 

  • Keep your money on your person or within sight at all times. Many hikers choose to wear a fanny pack for easy and safe access to their valuables.  
  • If traveling with others, split up the money among the members in your group. 
  • Report any suspicious activity to the warden. 
  • Listen to your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. 
  • Keep your money and valuables in a waterproof pouch. 
Hikers sitting on picnic tables outside the Gite U Fagone

Making new friends on the GR20.

 

Can I even take that much money out of an ATM, especially in another country? 

Yes, sort of. It will depend on your specific institution, but some banks limit withdrawals to €500 at a time. If this is the case for you, you may need to make a series of withdrawals over the course of a couple days or use multiple accounts. Hopefully you are using a card that reimburses you for ATM fees! And of course, make sure to notify your bank prior to any travel to prevent fraud alerts and/or getting your account frozen. 

Bus ticket for Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio to Bastia

Don’t forget to factor in your transportation costs when estimating your budget!

 

So are you going to share how much you spent or what? 

Time for the big reveal on how much the GR20 cost us! But before we do, we’d like to preface it with a few important points. These are very necessary to take into account in order to truly understand our expenses:

– Our spending number only accounts for what we spent while actually on the GR20. It does not include our flights to Corsica or any gear we purchased for the trek. 

-This number is based on the cost for two people who camped on nearly every stage with our own tent.  We were on the trail for 17 days, including a rest day in Vizzavona. 

-We brought about four days’ worth of meals, which we purchased ahead of time. The cost of that food is not accounted for in this total, and reduced our on-trail spending. 

-We are vegetarians who were happy to cook our own dinners every night (seriously, we ate so much pasta) and snack on peanuts and bread. Due to our natural frugality in this area we tend to spend much less than the average person on meals. 

-A great way to save money, which we made sure to employ on a near-daily basis, is to drink wine. Too good to be true? Not at all! Two people can happily split a half liter of decent wine for the same price as just one beer. Who can pass up a value like that? 

So, in total, we carried €1200 with us on the GR20.

We actually only spent around €700 of that, but we tend to do things very, very frugally. Most people will spend significantly more than this, but this shows that it’s definitely possible to hike the GR20 for this amount or even much less!

 

View from Bocca Piacca Stage 2 GR20

Whatever your budget, we know you’re going to have an amazing trek!

 

Conclusion: 

It is totally possible to hike the GR20 on nearly any budget and have a great time doing it. With a little advance planning and a good sense of your personal travel style, you can eliminate many of the stressors that come with managing finances while on the trail. If you found this article helpful, make sure to check out our other great GR20 content. Happy trails! 

Check out all of our great GR20 resources:

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The Ultimate Guide to the GR20 

“The toughest trek in Europe” “One of the top trails in the world” “More rock climbing than hiking” “Unimaginably rugged mountains” “Awe-inspiring scenery” “Mythical.” With so many legendary stories surrounding…

“The toughest trek in Europe” “One of the top trails in the world” “More rock climbing than hiking” “Unimaginably rugged mountains” “Awe-inspiring scenery” “Mythical.”

With so many legendary stories surrounding it, what can we say about the GR20 that hasn’t been said already? We’re here to tell you that the legends are legit. The GR20 is all of those things and more. If you’re a passionate hiker, consider this trek to be your piece de resistance, your Superbowl, your ultimate adventure. Due to its challenging reputation, many hikers feel too intimidated to take on the GR20, and among those who do attempt it, a large percentage don’t complete it. Don’t let that be you!

View from Bocca Piccaia.

Some of the stunning scenery you’ll encounter on the GR20.

 

With the right preparation, you can tackle the infamous GR20 and even (gasp!) have a ton of fun doing it. The key is having realistic expectations and doing some advance planning. Our guide will walk you through everything you need to know to prepare for this epic adventure. Trust us, it is so worth it. 

What’s in this Guide:

Hiker on the GR20

You can expect rugged landscapes like this one throughout the GR20.

 

About the GR20

The GR20* runs roughly north to south across the island of Corsica. Corsica is a semi-autonomous French territory located in the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Granite Isle,’ Corsica owes much of its beauty to its rich and diverse geologic history. This relatively small island boasts a wide array of spectacular natural scenery, including towering granite spires, lush wooded valleys, and turquoise rock pools.  

* GR=”Grande Randonee,” a term for a collection of Europe’s greatest long-distance footpaths

How long is the GR20? 

Distance: 180 km (112 miles)

Elevation gain: 10,000 meters (32,808 feet)

How long does it take to hike the GR20?

Typically 12-15 days, depending on fitness and pace. Many hikers may want to give themselves 16 days to allow for a rest day and flexibility in the case of inclement weather. Attempting to complete the entire route in less than 12 days is only recommended for the very hardcore hiker who is up for spending long days on the trail. It is important to keep in mind that the GR20 is different from many other hikes due to the amount of scrambling required. While you might have a good sense of your hiking pace on normal trails,those estimates tend to go out the window on the GR20.

Our advice? Give yourself more time than you think you need and don’t try to “double up” on stages. The trek is way more enjoyable (and still plenty challenging) when you’re not rushing through it or pushing your limits too far. That said, when we were hiking, we met a superhuman who was trying to do the entire thing in five days. Different strokes for different folks I guess! 

Auberge on the southern half of the GR20.

The landscape becomes much gentler on the southern half of the GR20.

 

I only have time to do half…should I hike the North or South?

The GR20 is neatly divided into two sections, the northern (“nord”) and southern (“sud”), with the town of Vizzavona at the midpoint. This makes it relatively easy to hop on or off the trail at Vizzavona in order to only hike one half.  If you have to choose, take comfort in the fact that the GR20 is truly spectacular from start to finish and you can’t go wrong with either section!

In our opinion, the north has the most rugged and beautiful mountain scenery and it’s more fun and interesting to hike. The trade-off, however, is that it also entails the most scrambling and greater sections of trail that are steep and technical. The south is a bit mellower, but it definitely isn’t easy. There are still plenty of tough climbs and parts that require scrambling. If you choose to only hike the southern half, you’ll still get some beautiful mountain views, but you’ll also spend a good amount of time down in the forests and valleys. 

How difficult is the GR20? 

There’s no doubt about it- the GR20 is a challenging trek. Some of the major factors that contribute to its difficulty are the large amount of scrambling, steep ascents and descents, overall distance, heat and weather, and exposed nature of the trail. We believe that most reasonably fit people can complete the GR20, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldYou’re much, much more likely to actually enjoy it if you are in good hiking shape and have backpacking experience. Most of the scrambling is pretty manageable; it is just tricky and awkward at times and can become tiring after you’ve been at it for awhile. If you are judicious about avoiding storms and careful on exposed sections, it really isn’t much more dangerous than other hikes. 

Our top tips for making the GR20 less challenging:

1. Carry the lightest backpack possible. 

2. Only hike one stage per day. Don’t try to double-up stages and take on more than necessary. Give your body time to recover in the afternoon rather than spending 8+ hours on the trail every day.

3. Start early! High temperatures increase your effort level significantly. Avoid the worst of the afternoon heat (and storms) by getting on the trail at sunrise.

These three simple things can absolutely be the difference-maker in terms of whether or not you complete the trek (and do so without hating every second of it). 

Hiker scrambling on the GR20.

Sections like this one that require scrambling are frequent on the route.

 

When to Hike the GR20

The typical hiking season for the GR20 lasts from June through September. It may be possible to hike in the later part of May, but you’ll need to be prepared for snow and ice on the trail. 

  • If hiking in May, the refuges will be open but not staffed, meaning that you’ll need to bring all of your own food and fuel. 
  • Beginning in June, the refuges will be staffed and supplied, but you may still need to negotiate some sections of snow and ice along the trail. The weather in June will be warm, but not too hot. 
  • July and August are the most popular months for hiking the GR20. All of the services (accommodation, busses, etc) will be fully operating and the trail should be clear of snow. Expect very hot weather and afternoon thunderstorms. 
  • September brings cooler temperatures and fewer crowds. The refuges remain staffed through the end of the month, but the bus services are reduced and some of the bergeries start to close. 
  • Hiking is possible in October, but the refuges will not be staffed (they will remain open) and snow is likely from mid-October onwards. 

May and October are the least crowded times on the trail. June and September are quieter than the peak season, but still quite busy. The trail is the most crowded in July and August. We recommend making advance reservations for all accommodation (unless carrying your own tent) if you’re planning on trekking anytime between June and September. 

Sunrise on the Spasimata Slabs

Not only will starting early help you avoid getting caught in afternoon storms but you will also get to see beautiful sunrises.

 

Weather

Mountain weather is always volatile, and the GR20 is no different. However, the GR20 is rather unique in the sense that the trail stays high up on exposed ridges for long stretches, making it more important than ever for hikers to be vigilant about the conditions. Getting caught high up in the mountains during a storm is extremely dangerous, but you can greatly minimize your risk by taking a few important precautions.

  1. Always ask the wardens at the refuge for the latest weather forecast and heed their advice.
  2. The Meteoblue App is arguably the best resource for checking the weather. It allows you to see the forecast for specific peaks or coordinates, plus it has excellent radar displays and wind predictions. Check it every time you have cell service.
  3. Start hiking early in the day! Not only will you enjoy gorgeous sunrises, get to camp before the crowds, and avoid the heat, but you’ll also greatly reduce your risk of getting caught in afternoon thunderstorms. 
Looking down on Lac du Cinto

These clouds may look pretty now but the weather on the GR20 is unpredictable.

 

Which Direction?

The traditional GR20 route starts in Calenzana in the north, passes through the midpoint in Vizzavona, and finishes in Conca in the south. However, it is possible to hike in either direction. The northern half of the GR20 has a reputation for being the toughest, while the southern half is a bit gentler. Some trekkers prefer to start in the south to get accustomed to the trail before tackling the tougher sections in the north. Others would rather start in the north in order to put the biggest days behind them early and do so with fresh legs.

It is totally a matter of personal preference, although we hiked from north to south and would definitely recommend it. We benefited from the confidence boost that came with conquering the most challenging sections early on, and we felt the ascents and descents were more manageable in this direction. While slightly less people hike in the northbound direction, you probably won’t notice a significant difference in crowds since hikers headed both ways stay at the same refuges. 

Trail sign showing the GR20 Nord and GR20 Sud

Either direction you choose to hike is bound to be a great adventure!

 

Food and Drink

As we’ve mentioned before (and certainly will remind you about again!), keeping your backpack as light as possible is essential for having a successful GR20 trek. Fortunately, you don’t need to carry much food, which will significantly reduce your pack weight. Food can be purchased at all of the refuges along the route. However, there is a lot of variation in terms of what’s available at any given refuge on any given day. It’s not cheap, but it doesn’t have to be super expensive either, providing that you cook your own meals. On the other hand, if you order meals at the refuges, expect to pay upwards of 20 for a glorified bowl of pasta.

Most refuges on the GR20 also have small shops where you can get basics like bread, pasta, sauce, canned fish, canned meals, chocolate, and biscuits. All of the refuges also serve dinner and breakfast, and some offer a-la-carte meals throughout the day as well. Beer, wine, soda, coffee, and tea are sold everywhere. There are no grocery stores along the GR20. The closest you’ll get to a supermarket are the larger, better-stocked shops available at a few refuges and campgrounds along the route. We’ve noted the locations of these within the guide. On the trail between the refuges, there generally isn’t anywhere to purchase food, save for the rare exception of a bergerie selling cheese and charcuterie. 

Refuge de Carozzu menu

Typical food and drink on offer at the refuges.

 

Dietary Restrictions

The GR20 is not very accommodating to those with special diets. Vegetarians will be alright, provided they are okay with eating pasta for dinner every night and consuming large amounts of cheese and bread. We recommend carrying at least one “backup” meal in case you can’t find veg-friendly food at a refuge. Those who are vegan or gluten-free should plan on bringing most of their own food, as their options will be very limited. 

Cooking

Nearly every accommodation along the route provides a cooking area that is free to use for all who are staying there, campers included. All of these cooking areas have a gas-powered cooktops, many have pots/pans, and some have dishes and cutlery. It isn’t necessary to bring your own stove and fuel, but many people choose to do so, as the cooking areas can get crowded. If planning to self-cater regularly, you’ll probably want to bring your own pot and bowl/utensils, since those aren’t provided at most places. Also, you’ll need to bring your own lighter to ignite the stoves. 

Water

All of the refuges provide potable water (usually from a tap labeled “source”).  It is generally safe to drink, and most hikers choose to do so without filtration. There are some water sources along the trail, but they are not always at regular intervals, they’re not on every stage, and many are season-dependent. Some of these require filtration, due to the proximity of livestock (Corsican cows are amazing hikers and you’ll see them in shockingly high places!) Our advice would be to fill up at the refuges before setting out and carry enough water for the entire day (2-4 liters, depending on stage length, heat, and personal preference).

Cheese, bread, and coffee on the GR20

If nothing else you’ll always find good views and excellent local cheese along the route.

 

GR20 Accommodation

You’ll have a range of lodging options along the GR20, although most will be at the PNRC-run refuges and nearly all will be “rustic” at best. We’ve outlined what you can expect from each option below. 

Sleeping Indoors

Refuges

If you prefer not to camp along the GR20, you’ll spend most of your nights in the park-run mountain huts (or refuges). These offer basic, dorm-style accommodation. Beds are provided, but you’ll need your own sleeping bag and pillow. All offer an evening meal and basic breakfast for an additional charge. The refuges vary in terms of their amenities; some refuges have hot showers, proper toilets, and electronics charging, while others have only a couple of cold showers and squat toilets.  Refuges can be reserved through this website

View of Refuge d' I Paliri.

Refuge d’ I Paliri is one of the most beautiful along the GR20.

 

Bergeries

In addition to the PNRC Refuges, there are some privately-owned bergeries along the GR20. These are quite similar to the refuges in that they offer basic dorm-style accommodation and the option for half-pension (dinner and breakfast). 

Auberge U Vallone

Auberge U Vallone is an example of the many bergeries you’ll encounter.

Hotels

There are a few opportunities to stay in hotels while hiking the GR20, typically these opportunities arise when the trail brings you closer to civilization. These hotels offer the typical amenities you’d expect from this level of lodging, such as hot showers, private bathrooms, bedding and towels, and WiFi. 

 

View of a room at Casa Alta Hotel in Vizzavona.

Lovely views from a room at the Casa Alta B&B in Vizzavona.

 

Sleeping Outdoors

Renting a tent

Many GR20 hikers choose to stay in the “hire tents” that are available for rent at all of the refuges and most bergeries. This option costs less than sleeping in dorms, but more than camping with your own tent. Hire tents are typically the Quechua pop-up style for two or three people, and include a sleeping pad or mattress. They offer a good option for those who want the perks of camping (more privacy, less risk of bedbugs) without having to carry all of the gear. While you can reserve a place in a hire tent ahead of time, you cannot reserve a specific tent. The tents vary quite a bit in terms of location within the camping area, levelness of the pitch, and general niceness. Get there early to have your pick of the best tents. 

Hire tents at Refuge de Petra Piana

Hire tents at Refuge de Petra Piana.

Carrying a tent

Carrying your own tent will cost you the least and give you the most flexibility. Wild camping is forbidden on the GR20 (with the exception of one designated spot between Refuges d’Usciolu and Refuge d’Asinau). However, you can pitch your tent outside all of the refuges along the route, and most of the bergeries and gites allow camping as well. Campers have access to all of the facilities at the refuges, including the toilets, showers, cooking areas, and meals. Carrying your own tent is the only accommodation option that does not require advance reservations. That being said, in the busy season you’ll still want to arrive at the campground early to snag a good spot. All of the camping pitches are definitely not created equal! Many pitches are uneven, rocky, and quite far from the facilities, and the campgrounds can get very full by about 4:00pm. If you’re considering carrying a tent, you’ll want to carefully weigh the benefits of added comfort and flexibility versus the added weight in your pack. 

Tent at Refuge d' I Paliri

Carrying your own tent gives you more flexibility and freedom.

 

A few other things you should know about GR20 accommodation:

Reservations

The GR20 is an extremely popular trail with limited accommodation options. Unless you are hiking very early or very late in the season, you can expect the refuges and campgrounds to be full at every stage of your hike. Hikers with their own tent do not need reservations (and we wouldn’t recommend making them), but all others-those using hire tents, those staying in dorms, and those staying in hotels- must make advance bookings.

Bookings can be made online at http://reserver.sitecresa.fr/centraleresa/parcnaturel and need to be paid in full to be confirmed. Wardens at the refuges expect you to print your reservation and present it upon arrival. If you need to change your reservation, you’ll need to call or email the PNRC using the information provided on your booking receipt. Reservations can be cancelled within 15 days of the initial booking date for a full refund. 

Other Important Information:

You need to provide your own toilet paper. Some refuges sell it, but it is not available everywhere. It pays to be prepared! 

-Toilets, showers, and dormitories are almost always mixed gender

Bedbugs are a common problem in the refuges. Bring bedbug spray and be vigilant. 

Sunrise on the GR20

Wherever you choose to spend the night you can bet on waking up to a beautiful sunrise.

 

GR20 Logistics

Corsica is known for a lot of great things, such as its mountains and beaches, but not necessarily for its well-connected, timely, easy-to-navigate transportation system. However, it is certainly possible to get to and from the GR20 without too many headaches, provided that you plan ahead and give yourself enough time. Check out our logistics article for all of the details. 

Wayfinding

The GR20 is extremely well-marked with red and white paint flashes every 20 feet or so. Keep a close eye out for markers, as sometimes the trail heads in seemingly improbable directions! The markers show you the easiest way up or down, so follow them closely, especially when scrambling. If you choose to take one of the many alternate route options, you can expect these trails to be less well-marked. We recommend carrying a map at all times and using a GPS. 

Red and white trail marker.

Can you spot the next trail marker?

 

Money on the GR20

The most important thing you need to know here is that the GR20 is pretty much a cash-only economy. There are no ATMs along the route, not even in Calenzana and Conca at the endpoints, nor in Vizzavona at the midpoint. Therefore, it will be essential for you to estimate your expected daily costs (food and lodging), plus some cushion for transportation and other miscellaneous or unplanned items. Multiply your daily costs by how long you plan to be on the trail, again factoring in some cushion for rest days, bad weather, and your time in Calenzana and Conca. If you make reservations for refuges or hire tents, you will have paid in full for this accommodation ahead of time and won’t need to carry quite as much money.

A small number of places accept credit cards, (such as the campground shop in Vizzavona and many of the hotels) and you might be lucky enough to get cash back in a pinch. In general, things are relatively expensive in Corsica, especially along the trail. Check out our How Much It Cost Us to Hike the GR20 article for more on what you can expect to pay. 

Cows near a tent at Refuge de Manganu.

Unless you’re a cow you can’t camp for free!

 

What to Pack for the GR20

Deciding what to pack (and not pack) for the GR20 is one of the most crucial steps in preparing for a successful trek. The trail demands that you pull yourself up chains on sheer rock faces, squeeze through awkward gullies, and ascend and descend endless scree slopes.  Trust us, this is hard enough without a big, bulky backpack throwing off your center of balance and increasing your overall exertion…no need to make it any harder than it has to be! The good news is, with a little strategic planning you can minimize your pack size while still having everything you need, and you don’t need to go out and buy all of the fanciest lightweight gear to do so.

A few of our top tips:

  • Only carry 1-2 days’ worth of food, since provisions can be purchased at every refuge.
  • Unless you are a passionate photographer, leave your bulky camera at home. Most smartphones take excellent pictures. Plus, you won’t have many chances to recharge a camera battery. 
  • Only pack clothes that you absolutely need. Two shirts will be plenty, as you can rinse them out and dry them in the sun quite easily. 
  • You can cook at the refuges, so you don’t need to carry much stove fuel (if any).
  • Bring trekking poles. They are invaluable on many of the steeper sections. 
  • Many hotels will let you store extra luggage if you have an upcoming reservation with them. 
  • Either hiking boots or trail runners will work, just make sure they are comfortable and supportive.  They should be broken in a little, but otherwise fairly new (the gnarly GR20 trail conditions put a lot of wear and tear on shoes). 
Hikers on a steep trail.

You’ll be happy to have a light backpack on steep trails like this.

 

Electronics 

Charging

Some of the refuges and other accommodations along the GR20 will allow you to charge your electronics, but there is a lot of variation from place to place. Many refuges require a small payment for charging (typically €2) and will only allow you to charge your phone (not your smartwatch, camera, etc). Others will do it for free and allow you unlimited access to plug in whatever you want. Still others only provide charging during a set time in the afternoon, due to the fact that they rely on solar. We’ve noted the availability of device charging within each stage of this guide. If you plan on using your phone for navigation, we strongly recommend bringing a battery backup or portable solar panel. 

Cell Phone Service

Cell phone service is unreliable along the GR20. You might get signal at the high points on the trail and at some of the accommodations that are close to a road or town. WiFi is even less common; you’re only likely to find it at a few of the fancier hotels along the route. 

Cell phones charging

Charging electronics can get a little crazy on the GR20!

 

The GR20

A Stage-by-Stage Guide

Below you’ll find a brief description of every stage of the GR20 in terms of the accommodation options and services you can expect to find there. This guide is written for the typical north to south direction, but could easily be reversed.

Prices for accommodation at the PNRC Refuges are as follows:

  • Dorm Bed: 15 per person
  • Hire Tent: 11 per tent, plus €7 per person
  • Camping (bivouac) in personal tent: €7 per person

These prices are the same at every PNRC refuge, and therefore we haven’t listed prices for each individual refuge. For all other accommodations, prices have been noted in the guide whenever possible or links are provided fo r the most up-to-date information. 

Stage Zero: Calenzana

We strongly recommend that you stay in Calenzana the night before starting your hike, as it’s essential to get an early start on stage one. Calenzana is a pretty town with a good range of accommodation options and services available. If you absolutely don’t want to spend a night in Calenzana, you could stay in Calvi and arrange an early taxi to the trailhead the next morning. 

Accommodation in Calenzana:

  • Dorm beds and camping are available at the Gite d’Etape Communal on the edge of town. Contact them at 04 95 62 77 13 or gite-calenzana@wanadoo.fr for reservations and prices. 
  • Hotel Bel Horizon and the Chambres d’Hote L’Ombre du Clocher offer hotel accommodation in a more central location. Expect to pay around €150 for a room at either hotel.  
  • There are also a few AirBnBs available in town which offer nice apartments for a reasonable price. 

Services in Calenzana

There is a Spar Supermarket in town which sells  a wide range of items, including stove fuel. A bus operated by Beaux Voyages which runs between Calenzana and Calvi, although it’s pretty infrequent (once or twice daily, depending on the time of year). There are several restaurants and bars in town offering everything from casual pizzas to hearty Corsican fare. A post office is located in the center of the village. Keep in mind that there is no ATM in Calenzana

A street in Calenzana, Corsica.

Calenzana is a great place to start your trek.

 

Stage One: Calenzana to Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu

In his Cicerone Guide, author Paddy Dillon describes this first stage of the GR20 as a “baptism of fire” Personally, we think this is a little dramatic, but it’s certainly no cakewalk. Regardless of how tough your first day on the trail feels, you’ll be thrilled to get to Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu. With its friendly warden and sweeping sea views, it is the perfect introduction to your GR20 experience. When we hiked in 2019 the refuge building had recently burned down, but they were still providing a wide range of services and accommodation was available in hire tents (no dormitory though). There are many good, flat campsites available, most of which are on hard-packed dirt. 

Services:

Hire tents, camping, warm(ish) showers, composting toilets, sinks, potable water available from a spring a few hundred yards down the trail, a small shop, a-la-carte food items (omelettes, charcuterie, sandwiches, etc) available until dinnertime, electronics charging possible (ask the warden), cell phone service, picnic tables. 

Sunset at Refuge d'Ortu di u Piobbu

Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu is known for its spectacular sunsets.

 

Stage Two: Refuge d’Ortu di u Piobbu to Refuge de Carozzu

PNRC Refuge de Carozzu is tucked into the woods in a way that gives it summer camp vibes. The refuge has a dormitory with 36 beds, as well as a kitchen and dining room. There are camping pitches in an open area next to the refuge, as well as dotted in the surrounding trees in every direction from the refuge. Keep in mind that the campground can get very crowded, making it difficult to find a good spot. The warden doesn’t arrive until 3:00pm, so if you get there earlier you can pitch your tent (or grab a hire tent) and pay later. There is a lovely terrace in front of the refuge with lots of picnic tables for enjoying the amazing views down the forested valley. 

Services:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping, composting toilets, cold showers (available after 3pm), potable water, shop with very limited offerings, a-la-carte food items available all day, indoor kitchen, outdoor cooking area, sinks, clotheslines, picnic tables. 

Sunset at Refuge de Carozzu

Views from the terrace at Refuge de Carozzu.

 

Stage Three: Refuge de Carozzu to Ascu Stagnu

Many hikers approach stage three with a sense of trepidation, as the trail requires the crossing of the Spasimata Slabs (nicknamed the “slabs of doom” by some hikers). These large, tilted rock slabs are set in a dramatic gorge, and they are fitted with chains and cables to aid crossing in some places. You can relax though; in dry conditions, especially when traveling uphill, they really aren’t scary at all and the surrounding gorge is seriously beautiful!

In any case, you’ll have earned a bit of luxury by the end of stage three, and that’s what you’ll get when you reach the Ascu Stagnu ski area (also known as Haute Asco). What it lacks in prettiness, it makes up for in services. In addition to the 32 dorm beds in the PNRC refuge, hikers can also stay in the Hotel le Chalet (€100 for a double room) or in a dorm bed in the hotel-run gite d’etape (€45 for half pension). Campers will have tons of good pitches to choose from. If camping, you can pay at the PNRC refuge and use its facilities. 

Services:

All of the accommodation options offer indoor flush toilets, sinks with hot water, hot showers, and electronics charging. The refuge has a well-stocked shop, provides meals, and sells snacks, drinks, and charcuterie. It has a nice indoor kitchen with a wide assortment of pots, pans, dishes, and cutlery available, plus a large indoor dining room and some outdoor terrace seating. The refuge also has an outdoor cooking area and clothesline. There is a casual snack bar across the parking lot from the refuge which sells hot meals, drinks, and ice cream. There’s also a fancier restaurant and bar attached to the hotel. Transportation to the town Ponte Leccia can be arranged and laundry services are also available. 

PNRC Refuge at Haute Asco

The PNRC Refuge at Haute Asco.

 

Stage Four: Ascu Stagnu to Auberge U Vallone or Refuge de Tighjettu

You’ll have two choices for your accommodation on stage four. The first option you’ll come across is the PNRC Refuge de Tighjettu, located on a hillside with big valley views. This is a good option if you want to stop a bit earlier (this stage is one of the longest and most difficult of the entire trek) or if you like the predictability of the PNRC Refuges. Tighjettu is also a bit less expensive than your other option, the Auberge U Vallone. If you continue another 30 minutes on the trail past Tighjettu, you’ll reach the privately-run Auberge. In all honesty, the place is a little odd, but the gorgeous views from the terrace, easy access to perfect rock pools, and piping hot showers more than compensate for its quirks. 

Services at Tighjettu:

Dorm beds, hire tents,camping, showers (sometimes warm), toilets, indoor kitchen and dining area, potable water, small shop, meals, sinks. 

Services at Vallone:

Hire tents and camping. Hot showers, flush toilets, terrace, potable water, electronics charging, very limited shop, restaurant, camping and hire tents available. There is no cooking area here, and camping costs €8.5o per person (if carrying your own tent). Reservations for hire tents can be made on their website

Pointe des Eboulis

On Stage 4 hikers will climb to Pointe des Eboulis, the highest point on the GR20.

 

Stage Five: Auberge U Vallone to Hotel Castel di Vergio

The Hotel Castel di Vergio is another example of a stop along the GR20 that you might just fall in love with, certainly not because of the natural beauty of its surroundings (there’s not much of that), but because of the little luxuries you’ll enjoy there. Due to its roadside location, the hotel shop is one of the best along the entire GR20 route, stocked with everything from duct tape and batteries to fresh produce and warm bread. The camping area is one of the few along the route that has nice soft grass (instead of hard packed dirt) on which to pitch one’s tent. It’s the little things in life, right? 

Services:

Hot showers, electronics charging, cell service, flush toilets, sinks, potable water (available from the cooking area sink),  well-stocked shop, and a bar and restaurant located in the nearby hotel. Camping (€7 per person) is available for those with their own tents, but there are no hire tents for rent. Lodging is available in the hotel (€100 for a double room) or in dorms in the gite (€20 per person). Both campers and those staying in the gite have the option for half pension. A complete list of prices and booking information can be found here

The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio

The well stocked shop at Hotel Castel di Vergio.

 

Stage Six: Hotel Castel di Vergio to Refuge de Manganu

After the challenges of the first five stages, stage six is a welcome and relaxing change of pace. The hiking is capped off perfectly by a stay at the PNRC Refuge du Manganu. This small refuge is located on a scenic rocky outcrop and enjoys tranquil views of the valley below. There is a dorm with 21 beds, plus many hire tents and camping pitches scattered around the refuge. Despite its sprawling size, it can still get quite crowded and lines for the sinks and toilets are pretty common. Manganu has a fun and lively atmosphere- hikers gather on the rocks to drink beers and enjoy the views or to take a dip in the picture perfect rock pool below the refuge

Services:

Dorm beds, hire tents, camping, composting toilets, sinks, potable water, electronics charging (€2), hot showers (€2 for six minutes), outdoor cooking area, a-la-carte snacks available all day, meals, and a shop with limited provisions for sale. 

Trekkers sitting on rocks at Refuge de Manganu.

Kicking back at Refuge de Manganu.

 

Stage Seven: Refuge de Manganu to Refuge Petra Piana

PNRC Refuge Petra Piana gets a bad rep for its cold, cloudy, inhospitable location. In fact, many trekkers choose to double-up on stages and continue all the way to Refuge L’Onda in order to avoid staying at Petra Piana. It’s true that Petra Piana is often shrouded in layer of chilly fog, but it’s a charming spot nonetheless. The tiny refuge houses a small dorm and a cozy kitchen with a couple of picnic tables where hikers can gather to enjoy the warmth and camaraderie. If you decide to keep hiking instead of stopping at Petra Piana, be aware that there is no lodging available until you reach Refuge de l’Onda. Many trekkers mistakenly think they can stay at one of the bergeries along the way to L’Onda and end up setting themselves up for a much longer day than they anticipated. 

Services:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping, squat toilets, sink, hot showers (€2 for six minutes), meals, small shop, well-stocked indoor kitchen, and potable water. No electronics charging. Credit cards may be accepted here. 

Kitchen at Refuge de Petra Piana.

The cozy kitchen at Refuge de Petra Piana.

 

Stage Eight: Refuge de Petra Piana to Refuge L’Onda

The setting for Refuge L’Onda couldn’t be more different than that of Petra Piana. Instead of the high, misty mountain top location of the previous stage, L’Onda sits down in a sunny, pastoral valley. There is a PNRC refuge up the hill, but most hikers choose to camp down in the valley next to the Bergeries L’Onda. In fact, unless you took the high-level variant to get there, you probably won’t even get close to the actual refuge. If you do intend to stay in the refuge, make sure to inquire ahead of time as it isn’t always open. If camping, hire tents are available, as well as grassy (though not super flat) pitches for those with their own tents. While you are technically camping at the bergeries, everything runs the same as at the PNRC campsites and prices are identical. Insider tip: though not immediately obvious, there are some lovely rock pools nearby, perfect for cooling off after a hot day on the trail! 

Services:

The campsite next to the Bergeries has squat toilets, sinks, a cooking area with pots, pans, and dishware, showers (€2 for hot water, free if cold), lots of picnic tables, and a clothesline. The bergeries sells a la carte items all day, plus meals, and it offers a decent selection of provisions at its shop. The refuge has a small dormitory, kitchen, toilets, and showers. 

Mountain views on Stage 8 of the GR20

You’ll pass through beautiful mountains and forested valleys on Stage 8 of your trek.

 

Stage Nine: Refuge L’Onda to Vizzavona

This is an exciting stage! In reaching Vizzavona, you’ll be marking the halfway point of the GR20. Better yet, you’ll get to celebrate this achievement with all of the luxuries that Vizzavona has to offer. In reality, Vizzanona is a tiny town with just a few hotels, restaurants, and a train station, but it is nevertheless a great place to spend the night or even take a rest day if you have the time. There is a range of accommodation available, from dirtbag to deluxe, but all options offer hot showers and electronics charging (things you’ll want at this point in the trek, trust us). With the exception of the campground, most places also provide WiFi, and many of the hotels offer a laundry service

Camping:

Hire tents, pitches, and dorm beds in a small gite are available at the L’Alzarella campsite on the edge of town. This campground has electronics charging, hot showers (€2.50), clothesline, sinks, toilets, a cooking area, and probably the best stocked shop on the entire GR20. It also accepts credit cards. The campground doesn’t take advance bookings, except for large groups. Camping costs €7.50 per person for campers with their own tents. 

Dormitory:

If you want to sleep indoors without spending a fortune, you have a couple of dorm-style accommodations to choose from. There is a refuge at the Bar Restaurant de la Gare, as well as at the Hotel Restaurant I Laricci (no website available). Expect to pay around €20 for either of these options. 

Hotel:

For a little bit of luxury, we recommend staying at the Casa Alta B&B. The friendly owners go out of their way to make your stay special, the wooded setting is tranquil and beautiful, and the breakfast is ridiculously good.  Another upscale option is the Hotel U Castellu

There is also more lodging available in La Foce, which can be accessed by taking a shortcut before reaching Vizzavona. 

Rocky descent with red and white trail markers.

It’s all downhill to Vizzavona from here!

 

Stage 10: Vizzavona to Bergeries d’E Capanelle

There are a few options for accommodation at this stage of the trek, although it can be a little tricky to figure out what they are. Upon arriving from the north, you’ll first come across the Gite d’Etape U Fagone (which also calls itself the Gite de Capanelle). This is the most convenient and popular place to spend the night. There are beds available in small chalets and large dormitories, plus hire tents and pitches available (although space is very limited).

Just above the gite, you’ll find the very small, very basic PNRC Refuge d’E Capanelle. This unstaffed refuge costs less than the other PNRC refuges, and can be paid for in the gite. Our guidebook said that free camping is permitted outside the refuge, but we found that to be false when we stayed there. All campers were required to pay at the gite. You can also travel up the road to reach the Gite d’Etape U Renosu, which has a few small dormitories and a camping area.

Services at Gite d’Etape U Fagone:

Hot showers, flush toilets, sinks, potable water, clothesline, restaurant serving al-la-carte items all day, meals, well-stocked shop, washing room, cell service, shady terrace with sea views.  It costs €7 per person for camping, €10 per person for a hire tent, and €39 per person for half-pension in the gite. Reservations can be made on their website

Services at Refuge d’E Capanelle:

Basic cooking area, picnic table, bunk beds. You’ll need to walk down to the gite to access toilets, water, and showers. Those camping outside the gite can use the cooking facilities in the refuge. 

Services at Gite d’Etape U Renosu:

Toilets, hot showers, potable water, restaurant, small shop, and cell phone service. It’s €7 per person for camping and €38 per person for half-pension in the gite.  Reservations can be made at +33 6 77 06 25 17. 

Colorful sunrise at Bergeries d'E Capanelle

Corsica’s legendary sunrises can make even the most unsightly ski areas look stunning!

 

Stage Eleven: E’Capanelle to Bocca di Verdi or Refuge de Prati

You’ll need to choose between two different accommodations at the end of stage eleven. There are a few factors to consider when deciding where to spend the night. First, it will depend on whether you take the classic low-level route on stage eleven or if you decide to tackle the high-level variant and the ascent of Monte Renosu. The high-level route is much longer and more challenging than the rather mellow low-level route. Therefore, if you took the classic low-level path on stage eleven, you might want to keep going past Bocca di Verdi to reach Refuge de Prati (another two hours uphill) to get a head start on the long day that awaits you on stage twelve.

Alternatively, if you took the high-level route, you will likely be more than ready to stop at Refuge Bocca di Verdi (Also known as Relais San Petru di Verde) rather than face another two hours of tough climbing after an already long and strenuous day. The other factor to consider is the nature of the facilities at each accommodation option. Refuge de Prati is a PNRC Refuge. Therefore, you can expect basic facilities and the usual prices. On the other hand, Bocca di Verdi is privately-run and provides much nicer facilities at a slightly higher cost (8 per person for camping). 

Services at Refuge de Prati:

Dormitory, large camping area with grassy pitches, hire tents, squat toilets, basic cold shower, meals, very limited shop, potable water. 

Services at Bocca di Verdi:

Flush toilets (with toilet paper provided- a rare sight on the GR20!), hot showers, restaurant, meals, picnic tables, sinks, clothesline, potable water, small shop, cell phone service. Campers can use the kitchen in the main refuge building. Camping costs €8 per person and it’s about €40 per person for half-pension in the refuge.  Beware of the aggressive pigs that wander the campsite in search of food! More information can be found on their website

 

Picnic tables outside the Relais San Petru di Verdi

There are plenty of nice places to relax outside the Relais San Petru di Verdi, but watch out for hungry pigs!

 

Stage Twelve: Bocca di Verdi or Refuge de Prati to Refuge d’Usciolu

Those who claim the entire southern half of the GR20 is “easy” obviously haven’t completed stage twelve. Make no mistake, it is a big day and it’s even bigger if you started at Bocca di Verdi! Don’t worry though, you’ll have a real treat awaiting you at the PNRC Refuge d’Usciolu.  This refuge and its charismatic warden are GR20 legends, and rightfully so. The shop is downright magical, offering a dazzling array of provisions and tasty treats from a tiny shack. The refuge itself boasts an equally magical setting, perched impossibly on a rocky hillside. The only downside of such a setting for campers is that they’ll find themselves hiking a long way up and down that steep rocky hillside to get from their tent pitch to the refuge and its facilities. 

Services:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping pitches, composting toilets, cold showers, sinks for washing up, potable water, clothesline, outdoor cooking area, terrace with picnic tables, restaurant serving a-la-carte items, meals, amazing shop, electronics charging (ask the warden). 

Tents on the hillside at Refuge d'Uscoilu.

Refuge d’Uscoilu boasts an incredible mountainside location, but you may have to hike down the hill to find a good pitch!

 

Stage Thirteen: Refuge d’Usciolu to Refuge de Matalza or Bergerie d’ I Croci

Here’s another stage where hikers will yet again be faced with several  choices. The official GR20 route is broken up into two stages before it reaches Refuge d’Asinau, with Matalza as the first stopping point and Refuge d’Asinau on the following day. However, for those moving at a faster pace it’s possible to take an alternate trail directly from Refuge d’Usciolu to Refuge d’Asinau, effectively cutting out an entire day of hiking. If you opt to stick to the traditional path, you’ll still come across three options for accommodation. First, you’ll pass the Bergeries de Basetta. Keep in mind that if you choose to stop here, you’re in for a very short day with a significantly longer one the following day. Next, you’ll pass the PNRC Refuge de Matalza, which offers a small dorm and camping area. It doesn’t boast the high mountain vistas of some GR20 refuges, but the friendly warden and peaceful pastoral setting more than make up for it. Finally, if you walk another hour along the trail, you’ll reach the privately-owned Bergerie d’ I Croci. The benefits of pushing on to I Croci are the slightly more luxurious accommodations and head start the following day. 

Services at Bergeries de Basetta:

Cabins, dormitory/dortoir, camping pitches, hire tents, well-stocked shop, restaurant, and transport off-trail. Camping is 10 for two people with their own tent, half pension in the dortoir is 38.50 per person, and it’s 43.50 per person for half-pension in a cabin. Reservations can be made at  06.27.25.95.33 o4 reservation@bergeriedebasseta.fr

Services at Refuge de Matalza:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping pitches, toilets, sink, potable water, clothesline, lounge chairs, shady terrace, warm showers (much nicer than they look!), decent shop offerings, electronics charging for a set time period in the afternoon, and a cooking area. 

Services at Bergerie d’ I Croci:

Dormitories, camping pitches, toilets, hot showers, potable water, restaurant, small shop, meals, transport to the town of Zicavo. Camping is €6 per person,  and it costs €10 per person for a bed in the dormitory. Reservations can be made by calling  06 75 49 60 59 and 09 82 12 33 10 and more information is available on their website

Showers at Refuge de Matalza.

The “luxurious” showers at Refuge de Matalza.

 

Stage Fourteen: Refuge de Matalza to Refuge d’Asinau

After being destroyed by a fire a few years back, PNRC Refuge d’Asinau has recently been rebuilt and it’s quite cozy and tidy inside. It has a small dormitory, with space for camping both on the hillside behind the refuge and down below the front of the refuge (many people don’t realize there are pitches down there so you might score something really good!). This is another one of those places where your hiking never really ends for the day, as there’s a long, stony walk to get to the bathrooms and showers. Views from the terrace are wonderful. 

Services:

Dormitory, hire tents, camping pitches, composting toilets, potable water, cold showers, very limited shop, meals, electronics charging (2). 

A rocky trail winds gently uphill on stage 14 of the GR20.

The trail is (thankfully!) a bit gentler on stage fourteen.

 

Stage Fifteen: Refuge d’Asinau to Village de Bavella or Refuge d’I Paliri

Stage fifteen officially ends at Village de Bavella, but if you’re camping, or if you want one last night at a (very beautiful!) PNRC Refuge, or if you want to get a head start on long final stage to Conca, you should keep hiking for about two more hours to the PNRC Refuge d’I Paliri. On the other hand, if you want to spend your last night on the GR20 in a more luxurious fashion, you’ll have your pick of gites and restaurants at Village de Bavella. It’s your final trail decision… it’s Conca or bust tomorrow! 

Services at Village de Bavella:

Dorm beds are available either at Les Aiguilles de Bavella (€34 for half pension) or the Auberge du Col de Bavella (€45  for half pension). Both of these establishments also have restaurants. There is a well-stocked shop across the road from the Auberge du Col de Bavella. Bus and taxi services can be accessed from Village de Bavella. 

Services at Refuge d’I Paliri:

Small dormitories, hire tents, camping pitches, squat toilets, showers (cold, very basic, and a loooong hike from camp-not recommended!), potable water (also need to hike down the trail for this), stunning views of rugged mountains and the sea in the distance, sinks, indoor and outdoor cooking areas, small shop, meals, and electronics charging (2).  

Views of a sheer rock face from Refuge d'I Paliri

Views from the tent at Refuge d’I Paliri…Not a bad way to spend your last night on the trail!

 

Stage Sixteen: Village de Bavella or Refuge d’I Paliri to Conca

You did it! Upon reaching Conca, we sincerely hope you beeline to the first establishment that will sell you a cold beer (FYI-that place is called Bar le Soleil Levant) and toast to your amazing accomplishment. The GR20 is a seriously challenging hike, both mentally and physically, and those who complete it have really achieved something special. Once you’ve enjoyed a celebratory cold one with your fellow badass hikers, you’ll need to think about moving on. If you want to leave Conca that same day, the Bar le Soleil Levant and the Gite d’Etape La Tonnelle offer shuttle services to Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio, where you can catch buses to Bastia, Ajaccio, or Porto Vecchio. You may be able to arrange direct service to Porto Vecchio (instead of transferring at Sainte Lucie) as well. 

If you want to spend the night in Conca, we think that you’ll find it to be quite a nice little town. You can either stay at the more upscale Hotel San Pasquale (around 90 for a double room) or the budget-friendly Gite d’Etape La Tonnelle, which has rooms for 2-5 people and a 7-person dorm (€40 per person for half-pension),and camping (€7 per person). Hire tents are also available for 14 per person. 

Services at Conca: 

Both the Hotel and Gite have restaurants. There are two small shops in town, as well as a post office. The gite and the hotel also offer a laundry service. You can arrange transport to Sainte Lucie de Porto Vecchio through the gite. 

Views over the mountains towards the sea on stage 16 of the GR20.

You’ll enjoy fabulous views of the mountains and the Mediterranean until the very end of your trek.

 

Conclusion

We hope the information in this guide leaves you feeling confident and prepared to tackle the GR20, one of the world’s finest treks. Be sure to check out all of our awesome GR20 resources, and as always, post your questions and feedback in the comments below. Happy trails! 

 Looking down on Lac du Melo from above.

Wishing you an incredible GR20 adventure!

Check out all of our great GR20 resources:

 

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Tour du Mont Blanc | Maps

The Tour du Mont Blanc takes trekkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland on one of the most spectacular trails in the world. Typically completed in 11 stages, the route circumnavigates…

The Tour du Mont Blanc takes trekkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland on one of the most spectacular trails in the world. Typically completed in 11 stages, the route circumnavigates Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe. This post will provide all of the TMB navigational resources you need to familiarize yourself with the route, location, and all things map-related so you can be sure you’re ready to tackle this epic adventure!

What’s in this post?

Where is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

The Tour du Mont Blanc is an approximately 101 mile/162 km trek that takes walkers around Mont Blanc and through France, Italy, and Switzerland. The closest major city to the TMB is Geneva, Switzerland. The route passes through seven mountain valleys (Val d’Arve, Val d’Montjoie, Vallee des Glaciers, Val Veni, Italian Val Ferret, Swiss Val Ferret, and Vallee du Trient) and is typically completed in 11 stages.

Map showing the location of the Tour du Mont Blanc
The Tour du Mont Blanc takes walkers through France, Italy, and Switzerland.

The TMB is traditionally hiked in a counter-clockwise direction beginning in the French town of Les Houches, adjacent to Chamonix. It is also possible to walk the route in a clockwise direction, and trekkers headed this way typically start in the Swiss town of Champex. The TMB also passes through the French towns of Les Contamines, Les Chapieux, and Tre-le-Champ, the Italian town of Courmayeur, and the Swiss towns of La Fouly and Champex. The stages for the traditional counter-clockwise route are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines
  • Stage 2: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux
  • Stage 3: Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta
  • Stage 4: Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur
  • Stage 5: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti
  • Stage 6: Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly
  • Stage 7: La Fouly to Champex
  • Stage 8: Champex to Col de la Forclaz
  • Stage 9: Col de la Forclaz to Tre-le-Champ
  • Stage 10: Tre-le-Champ to Refuge La Flegere
  • Stage 11: Refuge La Flegere to Les Houches

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While for many the mere mention of Mont Blanc conjures up images of the famous French mountaineering town of Chamonix, the route of the TMB does not actually go through the town, instead taking a trail high above the Chamonix Valley.

Tour du Mont Blanc map
The Tour du Mont Blanc leads trekkers around the Mont Blanc Massif.

In addition to the traditional route, the Tour du Mont Blanc also includes several ‘alternates’. These trails still connect the same start and finish points, but take walkers on a different route between the two points. Alternates can be used to add challenge, avoid certain sections, or lengthen/shorten a particular stage. The map below shows the common alternate routes on the TMB.

Tour du Mont Blanc Map with alternate routes shown.
The Tour du Mont Blanc also includes many alternate routes, shown in the map above.

Interactive Tour du Mont Blanc Map

The interactive Tour du Mont Blanc map below will allow you to zoom in on the various stages as well as view the traditional stops along the route. The map also displays the common alternate routes that are a part of the TMB. You can click on each stage to see the total length, listed in both kilometers and miles.

 

How long is the Tour du Mont Blanc?

The Tour du Mont Blanc is approximately 101 miles or 162.5 kilometers long. This is based on following the traditional route and not taking any shortcuts or alternates. Of course, few if any walkers will stick to this route exactly. You could easily walk less or more depending on your preferences, route choices, and the conditions encountered on the trail.

The maps below show the approximate distance of each stage in miles as well as kilometers. For more detail on each stage be sure to check out our interactive map in the section above!

Map of the Tour du Mont Blanc with stage distances in miles.
Approximate stage distances of the TMB in miles.
Map of the Tour du Mont Blanc with stage length in kilometers
Approximate stage distances of the TMB in kilometers.

What is the elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc?

Over all 11 stages, the Tour du Mont Blanc has approximately 37,000 feet or 11,300 meters of elevation change! That averages out to over 3,300 feet or 1,000 meters of elevation change per stage for those who complete the walk in 11 days. Of course, there will be days with more elevation gain and days with less. Given that the TMB is a loop trail, you’ll ascend and descend the exact same amount over the course of your trek.

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The elevation profiles below, displayed in both imperial and metric units, will give you an overview of what each stage of the Tour du Mont Blanc is like in terms of total elevation change and distance. On the charts elevation is shown on the left hand side while distance is shown on the bottom. Each blue dot represents a stop along the traditional 11 stage TMB route, with the stop name shown at the top.

The steepness of the line between any two points shows the steepness of the trail for that particular stage. The distance between the two points shows the length of the the stage. So for instance you can see that the stage from Tre-le-Champ to La Flegere is rather short in distance, while the stage from Les Contamines to Les Chapieux has a lot of elevation gain.

Elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc in feet and miles
Elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc in feet and miles.
Elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc in meters and kilometers
Elevation profile of the Tour du Mont Blanc in meters and kilometers.

 

Which maps should I carry on the Tour du Mont Blanc?

The TMB is a very well marked trail with frequent signs and trail markers. As a result, when we hiked the TMB we did not rely heavily on any of the various paper maps that are available for the route. Instead, we preferred to utilize GPS maps on our phones, as described in the next section. However, that doesn’t mean we didn’t bring paper maps with us. While technology has done a tremendous amount to make navigating while hiking easier, there is simply no replacement for carrying a physical map with you. If your phone runs out of battery or you drop it in a puddle you’ll be glad you had your handy paper maps to rely on.

We recommend bringing the IGN 3630 OT Chamonix and IGN 3531 ET St-Gervais with you, as they provide a detailed view of the TMB route. A weatherproof carrying case like this one wouldn’t hurt to have either.

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Tour du Mont Blanc GPS/GPX

If you’re interested in getting access to the GPS data used to create all of the maps in this post, we are happy to offer our Tour du Mont Blanc GPX files for only $4.99. When you download the GPX file, you’ll get route data for each of the traditional stages of the TMB as well as all of the common alternate route, plus waypoints for each stop along the way.

If you want to learn how to use the GPS data to navigate on the trail, be sure to check out our post on How to Navigate on the Tour du Mont Blanc.

You’ll be able to load the GPX file into the mapping software or GPS phone app of your choice!

Tour du Mont Blanc map app/offline mapping

As mentioned above we utilized offline downloadable GPS maps on our smartphones to navigate while hiking the TMB. This is a great way to navigate on the trail as it allows you to see your progress for the day and also isn’t reliant on a cell phone signal to display the map. Our How to Navigate on the TMB post has all the information you need to get set up using an app for your Tour du Mont Blanc map. This step-by-step article will teach you how to quickly and easily turn your phone into a GPS device.

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Be sure to check out all of our great TMB content for packing lists, camping guides, and much more. We also have a FREE TMB Starter Kit and a comprehensive Tour du Mont Blanc Planning Guide that we know you’ll love!

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Guide to Camping on the Lechweg Trail

We firmly believe that every trail has unique rewards to anyone who is lucky enough to wander along them. Some trails grant the satisfaction of summiting high peaks or passes,…

We firmly believe that every trail has unique rewards to anyone who is lucky enough to wander along them. Some trails grant the satisfaction of summiting high peaks or passes, others promise stark and beautiful solitude, while still others transport their walkers to incredible vistas and uncommon places. If you’re searching for a rugged and demanding high mountain trek, the Lechweg isn’t for you. Instead, the Lechweg gently meanders its way through a variety of landscapes as it follows the wild Lech River from its alpine source, across country borders, and to its terminus in the beautiful hills of Bavaria. It isn’t without challenges, however, and it certainly promises to be a rewarding and unforgettable experience for all who walk it. This is a hike that will appeal to a wide range of walkers: nature lovers, less experienced walkers, dedicated backpackers, gastrophiles, history buffs, and truly anyone who appreciates the good life. If you want to spend your days wandering through mossy forests, passing alpine lakes and crumbling castles, viewing the rushing turquoise river, visiting quaint, friendly villages, and tasting fantastic food, this hike surely won’t disappoint! 

Looking back towards Lech from the trail.

 

We walked the Lechweg over six days in late July 2019. This was the third of five treks that would make up our “trip of a lifetime” round the world adventure. After completing the Laugavegur Trail and then the Haute Route, we welcomed the mellower profile of the Lechweg. Despite its good underfoot conditions and its relatively flat nature, we still felt plenty challenged by the fast pace at which we completed the trek (averaging 13 miles per day) and the added effort of camping along the way. As with all of our long-distance treks, we chose to camp as much as possible along the Lechweg. We prefer camping for its budget-friendly nature, flexibility, and because it allows us to maximize our time outdoors in the wild places we’re experiencing. We had a great time camping on the Lechweg and we highly recommend it to others.  When we began researching the Lechweg,we found very little information out there, especially when it came to camping. This is a relatively new trail (opened in 2012), and hikers are still discovering its awesomeness. We hope this guide will be helpful for our fellow tent-dwellers as they plan for their own Lechweg adventure! 

Lake Formarinsee and the start of the Lechweg Trail.

 

A bit about the hike:

Direction: The Lechweg is traditionally walked northeast from Lech, Austria to Füssen, Germany. This trajectory allows hikers to follow the Lech River from its source at Lake Formarinsee down to its terminus at the Lechfall. Since it follows the flow of the river, the trail is predominantly downhill in this direction. We hiked the Lechweg in the traditional northeast fashion and enjoyed watching the river and landscape change along the way. We didn’t feel that it was too much downhill walking (it’s mostly flat with some undulating sections). You could easily hike in the other direction, however. It would be a bit more challenging, as you’d be generally hiking uphill the entire way, but it’s still very doable. If you hiked southwest, you could simply reverse the itinerary and wouldn’t need to make any major changes to the route or logistics. You’ll see plenty of other hikers going both ways, but we never found the trail to be overly crowded in either direction. 

When to do it: The general season for hiking the Lechweg typically lasts from mid-June through early October, although this window is subject to some variability, especially at the higher elevations. You can usually hike the sections between Steeg and Füssen in May, which is a good option if you wanted to do a shorter variation and skip the snowier stages between Steeg and Formarinsee. Most of the accommodation you’ll find along the Lechweg is open year-round (including the campgrounds). 

Notes:

  • All prices listed in this guide are per person, per day.
  • Campers will obviously need to carry more than other hikers, but you should still make every effort to only bring absolute necessities and keep your pack weight down. 
  • This guide is based on a fast-paced 6-day itinerary. There are many itinerary options, ranging from 6-8 days, but the itinerary we recommend in our guide will allow you to camp as much as possible. 
  • According to the official Lechweg website, wild camping in along the trail is prohibited by law. Fortunately, there are official campsites that are easily accessible along the route. While not entirely cheap, we feel it is important to use these facilities whenever they are available in order to give respect to the local communities and the fragile natural environment. If you choose to wild camp, set up after dusk, pack up at dawn, and utilize leave no trace practices. As the trail remains close to civilization for a large portion of your hike, wild camping would be very difficult in many places. In this guide, we noted areas where it would be particularly easy or hard to wild camp. 
  • Reservations are not necessary for any of the campgrounds along the Lechweg. If you’re worried about getting a good pitch, try to get to the campground before 5:00pm and you should be just fine.
  • Overall, food and water are plentiful along the route. However, you’ll need to be a bit strategic if you want to save money by purchasing your food at grocery stores instead of spending a fortune on restaurant meals. We’ve noted the availability of shops and services along each stage of the Lechweg. Use this guide to plan ahead and stock up ahead of longer stretches without shops. Keep in mind that most stores are closed on Sundays. In terms of water, we filled our hydration bladders in the morning and carried 2-3 liters per day (it was quite hot when we hiked). All of the campgrounds provide potable water. On most days you’ll pass through towns with public water fountains, but this is certainly not guaranteed on every stage of the walk.

Flat grassy pitches and mountain views. What more could you want?

 

A Note on Camping: 

If you are wanting to camp along every stage of the Lechweg, you’ll need to be a bit strategic, as camping options are limited on some parts of the trail. There are no official campsites until you reach just past the village of Häselgehr (Camping Rudi). The first stage of the Lechweg begins at Lake Formarinsee and terminates in the town of Lech. We saw a few possible wild camping spots near Formarinsee and also a few miles past Lech. Keep in mind however, that wild camping is technically not permitted. Additionally, there is quite a bit of agricultural land in this area, so make sure to ask the landowner’s permission before pitching your tent near grazing cattle or farmland.  Further past Lech, wild camping becomes pretty difficult, since you’re never far from civilization. If you want to camp, but only in official campsites, you have the option of using one campsite as a base and then taking the bus (Bus 110 runs between Lech and Reutte and you can the tourist card provided by your accommodation to ride for free) to the start of your hiking stage each day. If you choose this option, we recommend choosing Camping Vorderhornbach, due to the fact that it has the nicest facilities and easiest proximity to the bus stop.

Of course, your other option is to stay indoors for the first three stages of your Lechweg walk and camp for the second half. We opted to stay in an AirBnb in Stubenbach (a small village just south of Lech) and use it as a base for completing the first two stages. We stayed in a hotel in Steeg, and then camped from that point onwards. This was a great way to balance luxury with frugality, and it allowed us to thru-hike the trail more flexibly without worrying about the bus schedule or reservations for the later stages of the hike. 

The first few stages on the Lechweg take hikers through higher mountains.

 

Day One: Formarinsee to Lech 

Camping Availability: None

As mentioned above, you might be able to wild camp near Formarinsee or on the outskirts of Lech, but there are no official campgrounds on this stage. For budget accommodation, consider staying in Stubenbach, which is a smaller more affordable town next to Lech. You could also stay at the Freiburger Hütte before beginning the first stage of your hike. This is a cozy, friendly spot with beautiful views of the lake. 

Nearby: There are two grocery stores in Lech, as well as an outdoor retailer, bakeries, ATM, restaurants, a post office, and bus stop. Other than bus stops, there are no services available in Formarinsee or Stubenbach. 

The first stage of the Lechweg Trail finishes in the lovely village of Lech, Austria.

 

Day Two: Lech to Steeg

Camping Availability: None

Despite the lack of camping availability, we recommend spending a night in Steeg if you’re able to. This was one of the most charming towns we visited on our walk, and it has a variety of options for accommodation and services. 

Nearby: Grocery store, bus stop, restaurants, ATM, fromagerie. 

Great views on the way to Steeg.

 

Day Three: Steeg to Häselgehr

Camping Availability: Camping Rudi

If you’re up for a long day (17 miles), you can finally reach your first real campground on this stage of the walk! The lovely Camping Rudi is located a bit past Häselgehr, and requires a short detour from the trail. Despite a recent fire which damaged the original facilities, the campground still provides very nice toilets and showers in a portable structure. They are in the process of building new facilities in the near future. The campground, like most along the Lechweg, is dominated by caravans and camping vans, but there is a nice grassy area with plenty of flat spaces to pitch a tent. 

Price: €8.60 per person + €4 for small tents + €1.30 tourist tax per person (cash only)

Services: Hot showers, toilets (soap and toilet paper provided), room for washing up, small covered sitting area, outlets in bathrooms, and free wifi. Ice cream, beer,  and stove fuel are available for sale at the reception. Bread and pastries can be ordered for the morning. Trash and recycling available. Tourist card provided (includes bus pass).

Nearby: There are no shops or other services near the campground. You’ll need to walk about 15 minutes to reach the bus stop. 

Camping Rudi.

 

Day Four: Camping Rudi to Vorderhornbach

If you’re feeling tired after the long distances you’ve covered over the previous days, you’ll be happy to know that it’s just a short hike to reach Camping Vorderhornbach. Even though today’s walk will likely take you less than three hours, Camping Vorderhornbach is the most practical next stop for campers. Plus, with its excellent facilities, it’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon off. 

Camping Availability: Camping Vorderhornbach

Price: €9 per person + €12.50 per tent + €1.40 per person tourist tax. 

Services: Very nice facilities including showers with hot water, sinks for washing, and an indoor space with coffee machine. Free wifi available throughout along with restaurant, beer garden, laundry drying racks, and swimming pool (additional cost). Bread and pastries can be ordered for the morning. 

Nearby: There is a bus stop and a restaurant in the town of Vorderhornbach, which is a ten-minute walk from the campground. There are no shops within walking distance of the campground, however. 

The Lech River widens as you make your way towards Fussen.

 

Day Five: Vorderhornbach to Reutte

In order to camp on this stage of the Lechweg, you’ll need to detour from the trail a bit (the detour takes about half an hour).  Reutte, although not officially on the Lechweg, is worth a visit. There are multiple supermarkets, several cute cafes, shops, and good restaurants. The campground is a sprawling collection of caravans with retro-looking facilities (which are rather far from the tent pitches), but it is a convenient stop before your final stage on the Lechweg. Keep in mind that getting to Reutte requires another long day of walking, as well as the additional 30 or so minutes you’ll spend walking back to rejoin the trail the following day. 

Camping Availability: Camping Reutte 

Price: €10 per person + €2.00 per person tourist tax (cash only)

Services: Toilets (TP and soap provided), sinks with hot and cold water, washing up room, covered area near tent pitches with picnic tables and clotheslines, hot showers (€0.5 for 4min or €1 for 8 min), washing machine and dryer, restaurant, free WiFi available near reception, and sauna. 

Nearby: There are a few supermarkets and an ATM within 15 minutes’ walk from the campground. There is a bus stop 5 minutes away. It’s about a 25 minute walk to the shops, cafes, and restaurants in the city center. 

Quaint villages and lovely flowers along the Lechweg.

 

Day Six: Reutte to Füssen

Upon completing your Lechweg trek, it would be quite understandable (and well deserved) if you opted to splurge on indoor accommodation in Füssen. That’s what we did, staying at the lovely, moderately priced, and centrally located Hotel Ludwigs. However, if you prefer to camp, Camping Brunnen is located a bit outside of town, but can be easily accessed via the #78 bus

Camping Availability: Camping Brunnen

Price: €12.10 per person + €1.90 visitor tax per person + €9-15 per tent (depending on type of pitch)

Services: Toilets, hot showers, spa access, laundry, dish washing room, electronics charging, restaurant, beer garden, mini-mart, wifi, and bicycle rentals. 

Nearby: The campsite is located on the shores of Lake Forggensee. Although there’s not much in terms of services in the surrounding area, this large campsite has its own restaurant and shop, and it’s about a 10-minute walk to the bus stop. 

The magical town of Fussen and official finish of the Lechweg.

 

The Lechweg Trail is a truly unique and beautiful hike that can be customized to all paces, abilities, styles, and budgets. Like so many other great walks, we believe it is best experienced by carrying your tent and spending as many nights under the stars as possible. Hopefully this guide will help and inspire you to embark on your own Lechweg adventure! 

 

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Walker’s Haute Route Photo Gallery

Take a visual tour along the Haute Route in anticipation of your upcoming adventure! The Haute Route traverses 112 miles of the French and Swiss Alps and takes you through…

Take a visual tour along the Haute Route in anticipation of your upcoming adventure! The Haute Route traverses 112 miles of the French and Swiss Alps and takes you through a stunning array of landscapes. Walking from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn brings an endless array of unforgettable sights and vistas.

Be sure to check out the rest of our Haute Route posts below:

 

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