At 4810m Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps. The ascent of Mont Blanc is a classic mountaineering challenge, an awesome peak in a huge range. On a clear day there are spectacular views all the way across to the Matterhorn. As you’d expect from a challenge on this scale some specialist equipment is necessary to help you overcome the sometimes extreme terrain and conditions. We’ll take a look at all of the gear needed.
Classic mountaineering style, at least 50cm long, up to 75cm. Typically the length depends on your height – it should be just off the ground with it held arms relaxed by your side.
See Chart below:
|Your Height||Axe Length|
Tip: Remove any wrist loops, as these are not necessary on Mont Blanc and can be a hindrance when swapping hands.
Any standard steel mountaineering crampon with anti snow plates is fine. These should however be compatible for your boots. I.e. make sure the strap system will work for your boots. Take your boots to the store and get them to fit them if you can.
Tip: Don’t go for technical ice climbing models (these can be too heavy and cumbersome for walking), or lightweight aluminium based ski mountaineering crampons (these are not strong enough and could break on the mixed ground in the lower part of the climb).
We recommend a fully stiffened B3 boot, able to support crampon use for many hours at a time.
Tip: Generally speaking, B2 classified boots do not give enough support for the amount of snow and ice work entailed in a Mont Blanc ascent, what’s more they are generally less warm. Shops often advise that B2 is sufficient for climbing Mont Blanc; this is true in some conditions, but as the conditions on the mountain are unknown in advance, it’s best to be prepared.
Any standard mountaineering helmet is suitable for climbing Mont Blanc.
Tip: We recommend a hard plastic helmet over the expanded foam versions that are available. Foam helmets are lighter, but the plastic types are much stronger and less fragile.
You’ll need a simple lightweight mountaineering harness, as opposed to the heavier and more technical climbing spec versions.
Tip: Adjustable leg loops which allow the harness to be easily put on over boots and crampons are a real advantage.
We suggest a 40 litre pack, for optimum size vs. weight. Go for the lightest model you can find.
Tip: Pick a rucksack design without excess side pockets – these can be up to a kilogram lighter when empty. It’s best to try a rucksack on before buying, so you can ensure that the shape suits and is comfortable for you to wear.
You don’t necessarily need a thick, heavy duty waterproof jacket for this challenge – it’s more useful to have something relatively thin and lightweight which can be used as an outer shell.
Tip: Don’t try to combine insulation and waterproof technology in the same garment, this will give you less flexibility. You’ll most likely (hopefully) spend much of the time carrying your waterproof jacket, so go for something simple and light.
Fleece Jacket or Soft Shell
A synthetic soft shell or fleece jacket is light, warm, and quick drying. A down or micro-down type jacket can be effective, as long as it’s suitable for layering underneath and with your waterproof outer shell.
Tip: Avoid a jacket that has a membrane in it.
Mid Weight Layer
This can be any form of mid-weight top layer to give a bit of extra warmth on the mountain itself or to use on its own when it’s not cold enough to warrant your thicker soft shell layer.
Tip: As a general rule, it should be roughly half the thickness of your main fleece or soft shell layer.
Thin Thermal Top
Your thermal layers must be synthetic, have long sleeves for protection from the sun, and be reasonably thin and fast drying so they’re not too uncomfortable to keep on in the heat of the afternoon.
Tip: A zipped top can be useful for venting in higher temperatures.
The same applies for waterproof trousers as for waterproof jackets – the lighter and simpler the better, as you’ll likely spend a lot of time carrying them.
Tip: Try to get full length side zips so you can put them on/take them off, without removing your boots and crampons.
These are your main non-waterproof trousers which you’ll generally be wearing in the mountains; when it rains, or if it gets particularly cold or windy, you can add your waterproofs over the top.
Tip: It is a common misconception that waterproofs are always needed when climbing in snow and winter conditions. Given reasonable weather, most of the time on your legs you’ll just be wearing your trekking trousers with gaiters and boots, so it’s important that they’re comfortable.
Light Thermal Pants
Lightweight thermal pants for wear under your mountain pants can be a really useful addition, providing additional warmth on the cooler legs of the climb.
Tip: These can be particularly useful for the summit day. Put them on from the hut and take them off when you get back.
Gaiters stop snow going into the top of your boot and also make a neat finish to your trousers to stop them catching in your crampons.
Tip: Make sure the gaiter you pick fits over your mountaineering boot!
The best system with socks is to wear a very thin liner pair next to the skin, with a heavier layer on top; this way the two socks rub one against the other, rather than against your foot.
Tip: The heavier socks can be any strong trekking socks, but don’t get anything too thick. Roughly midweight is about right so that the combination of the two layers is not too thick.
We recommend that you take one thick warm pair and one thin backup pair or a liner.
Tip: The combination of mittens and thin gloves together also works, but be aware that you will need to take the mittens off every time you need remove your crampons or take pictures, etc.
This indispensable piece of gear seals the gap between your jacket collar and your neck, and can also be pulled up to cover the jaw/chin.
Tip: Pick a version of this product that will wick the moisture away from your skin, as otherwise it could become uncomfortable.
Any mountain hat or Beanie will do, try to get something that covers your ears and can scrunch down easily in your rucksack – just don’t go too large as it needs to be able to fit under a helmet.
Tip: A brimmed hat or cap can also be useful when it’s too warm for a beanie.
These need to be able to deal with the intense sunlight high on the glaciers, and should have a wrap profile with side shields if possible, to prevent light entering the corners of the eyes. Any sunglasses suitable for skiing are fine for this challenge.
Tip: It’s worth carrying a spare pair of glasses in case you break or lose them. This can happen easily in a crowded mountain hut! The addition of goggles can also be advantageous.
The new small and light LED type headtorches that you generally see have allowed significant weight savings for alpinists in recent years, and there’s plenty of choice – just make sure that the head strap can be adjusted so that it fits over a helmet!
Tip: Don’t go too small as the headtorch still needs to be powerful enough for climbing in the dark. Make sure you have fresh new batteries and a spare set for the climb.
Walking/trekking poles provide stability and help take some weight off your knees on the steep rocky paths to and from the mountain huts and on the glaciers (especially in descent). These are not essential, but many find them helpful.
Tip: Pick a model that features a Flick Lock system so that adjustments can be made easily while wearing gloves. Some choose to carry just one pole for Mont Blanc as it’s easier to handle. and the combination of pole and axe works well for the ascent above the Gouter Hut.
The Maximum Adventure Mont Blanc Ascent course includes six guiding days, giving you the chance to learn crampon, rope and ice-axe techniques and explore some of training routes on the smaller peaks prior to attempting the climb.
We have many years of experience in different conditions both on foot and on skis enabling us to devise a programme ensuring the optimum chance of success. Read more here.