Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Tour du Mont-Blanc Trek – The Gear with Trip Report Snapshots

Article by Dominique Winebaum including a review of the TOPO Athletic Trailventure 2 by Annie Cole 

Our last day hiking on the TMB  La Flégère to Les Houches - we gave each other trail names: “Ibex, Wildflower, and Gentian” - with a view of the Mont-Blanc.

Tour du Mont-Blanc Trek – 3 countries (France, Italy, and Switzerland), 100+ miles, over 35,000 ft of elevation gain (and loss), hiking the distance in 11 days.   This was my third round of the Tour du Mont-Blanc, with two prior editions in 2005 and 2010 with RTR Editor Sam.  

With 2 friends we trekked around the Mont Blanc in June-July in 11 days carrying all our gear. It was my 3d Tour and based on past experience selected the following gear, most but not all provided by RoadTrailRun partners at no charge for this article

Gear Covered in the Article

(RTR partners where indicated)


Mammut Trea Spine 35L (Backcountry)


TOPO Athletic Trailventure 2 (REI)

AKU Footwear Selvatica Mid GTX  (REI)

Ultimate Direction:  Ultra Jacket V2, Ventro Jacket, Vellum Shorts & Nimbus Tee

Backcountry: Ripstop Trail Short & Tahoe 2 Sun Hoodie

Buff Sun Bucket Hat, Solar Gloves, & Half Buff

OOFOS, OOcandoo Sandals


Drymax® Lite Hiking Crew (Amazon)

Danish Endurance Merino Wool (Amazon)


LEKI MCT 12 Vario Carbon Running and Trekking Poles (Amazon)

This article is a follow-up to my RTR June 13th article “Tour du Mont-Blanc Trek – Gear Selection Preview” – after completing our Trek with Annie Cole and Liz Durkin.  

The TMB has become an increasingly popular destination and all our accommodations were full but for our first night at Refuge de Miage even as we were hiking prior to the high summer season (we started on June 22nd).  Aside from the backpackers, we were among a minority of hikers having self-booked our trek in addition to carrying all our own gear.  Many hiking/trekking tour operators offer  “menus” such as self-guided but with reservations and detailed directions provided and with optional gear transport all the way to fully guided tours.

PC: Liz Durkin 

Overlooking Val Veni and Cabane du Combal where we overnighted in a room for 3 with its own ensuite bathroom, which also had a bidet, being Italy. For a hut the comfort level was distinctly superior although the ambiance was a bit lacking.   

I was truly grateful for my equipment, not everybody was as well prepared and/or fortunate to be testing and reviewing high performing gear on their TMB.  Making friends along the way sharing our respective stories was one of the many highlights of going on the tour .   


Post-Trek Gear Report


Mammut Backpack Trea Spine 35L ($300).  (Trion is the men’s version).

A mountaineering backpack designed for women, I reviewed the Mammut Trea Spine 35L back in 2019 when hiking from Rorschach to Romont, Switzerland (200 miles on the Via Jacobi).  Designed for mountaineering, backcountry skiing, and trekking, I opted to hike the TMB with my Mammut Trea Spine 35L, primarily for its suspension system, aka Mammut’s patented Active Spine, which provides greater freedom of movement - shoulders and hips move more freely -  along with optimum load distribution.


PC: Annie Cole   

We all took part in the ritual of adding a small rock to the large cairn at the top of the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. 

Hiking 6-8 hours a day with a heavy backpack over an 11-day period can take a toll on your back and shoulders.  In truth, there were days I would be hiking without thinking about the load on my back, which I credit to Active Spine Technology.  The suspension system adds to the weight of the backpack (2 kg / 4.4. Lbs for 35 L), however, when carrying a heavy load as I did (12 kg / 26.5 lbs), the benefits of the Active Spine Technology are well worth the extra weight. The back has an integrated adjustment system to fine tune the fit of the backpack depending on your height.  


P.C. Annie Cole

Made with waterproof material, no need for a cover (unlike the majority of hikers’ packs on the trail), yet for added protection and organizational purpose, I kept all my belongings in waterproof bags.  Content is easily accessible via a large front zippered pocket in addition to the top of the backpack.  Like a traditional backpack it has a top pocket, yet this is a compact backpack so it has no mesh pockets on the sides.  I used rubber twist ties to hold my recovery sandals outside my pack and relied on a 2 liter hydration bladder, both making up for the lack of mesh outside pockets.  I used the side ski attachments to hold my folded trekking poles (when climbing ladders).  

Some days, I wore a belt pack for additional storage so as to be able to easily access my phone and to carry a small water bottle as well.  However, when wearing my Ultimate Direction Vellum short, which has a 360 degree pocketed waistband, I would gladly do away with the belt pack by storing my phone in my shorts while completely filling my hydration bladder with water. 

View from Rifugio Bonatti of Glacier de Frébouze and Petites Jorasses. 

The glaciers have considerably receded and the difference was notable since my first TMB in 2005 not to mention when I was growing up vacationing in the Alps (1960s-1970s) when glaciers looked like great expanse of white.     

I prefer hiking carrying my own gear as opposed to relying on a shuttle service and the load on my back did not create pressure points on my back or shoulders.  Backpacks would line up on benches in the morning for pick up by a shuttle service.

Auberge La Boerne in Tré-Le-Champ – little did we realize we would be hiking the trail with the ladders! 11 in total as we hiked to the Refuge du Lac Blanc. Thank goodness for my “compact” Trea Spine which is designed for Alpine trekking. 

Priced at $300, the Trea Active Spine 35 L is a bit of an investment for sure, yet it is made with durable materials designed for mountaineering, backcountry skiing, and trekking alternatively.  A very supportive backpack with plenty of technology integrated - Active Spine - and which is more oriented for technical alpine adventures requiring carrying ropes, ice ax, or skis, yet it proved to be a great selection for my 11 day trek on the TMB and before on the longer and more mellow terrain Via Jacobi.  Careful not to overpack, I selected fewer and lighter items when I could do so – read on below for all my high performing and lightweight gear!  

AKU Selvatica Mid GTX ($190)

Back in February, I was introduced to my first pair of AKU Footwear hiking boots when testing and reviewing the Ultra Light Original GTX.  At the same time, Sam reviewed 2 pairs of AKU, the Rocket DFS GTX and the Selvatica Mid GTX – See our RTR Reviews

Refuge de Miage – airing my AKU after our first day hiking from Les Contamines (no cable car) and via the Col du Tricot.

Like my Mammut Trea Spine 35 L, I primarily selected the AKU Selvatica Mid GTX for its exclusive built-in technologies, AKU’s long standing as an Italian brand (it was recently launched in the US), and for being a good fit for my 11-day trek in the Alps.  

AKU’s motto is “to create the most comfortable and highest quality footwear available” with a commitment to reduce its environmental impact by manufacturing “85% of its production in company-owned facilities in Italy and Romania” and to “trace the geographical origin of 100% of each product’s components.” AKU calls it “traceability.”

To be noted, my AKU Selvatica Mid GTX boots were made in Vietnam.   

AKU is also well known for outfitting militaries worldwide and in fact is the supplier of the Swiss alpine troops’ official boot. My Selvatica is actually also a “tactical” boot and in that line as well as in the AKU trekking and hiking line.

My AKU Selvatica Mid GTX shown on the top of Col de la Seigne, border between France and Italy, amid the gentians (there are many varieties) and with a background view of the Mont-Blanc (Italian side).  

I was fortunate that the sizing is true to size as I ordered the last pair of Selvatica Mid GTX available in my size just a few weeks before the TMB.  Likewise, the fit is perfect and extremely comfortable.  

The toe box is fairly narrow (in comparison to some models), however, its height adds room around the toes. I experienced zero points of friction though at first I was a bit concerned about the fairly rigid collar rubbing against my ankles. This proved to be a non issue.  In fact, I really like the hold of the boot around the ankles along with the shoelaces system, which goes beyond “mid height” boots hold such as the Hoka Toa I wore on the Via Jacobi or Annie’s Topo. Especially so with a pack and on rough terrain. 

Shoelaces glide easily through the webbing eyelets (no holes or hooks) keeping the foot securely and comfortably in place. 

The color of my Selvatica Mid GTX, Black-Light Blue, against the rocks on the trail leading up to the Col du Bonhomme (rain in the forecast). They are attractive and sleek looking which is always a bonus! 

A GTX boot with enhanced breathability, the upper provides a comfortable and secure fit while being protective.  To keep my feet from overheating, which can happen when hiking on hot summer days, I wore socks designed to help keep my feet dry – Drymax® Lite Hiking Crew (above) as well Danish Endurance Merino wool (below).  

The Elica Natural Stride System, which is an exclusive AKU technology, was one of the reasons I was pretty adamant about hiking the TMB in the Selvatica Mid GTX.  

AKU ELICA Natural Stride System


The ELICA Natural Stride System  “follows the anatomical shape of the sole of the foot and adapts to normal heel and forefoot inclination to reduce impact and strain.”  The sockliner, lasting board, midsole, and even outsole are all anatomically shaped.

We hiked the distance in 11 days which resulted in not overly stressing my feet unlike prior TMB editions where we often hiked two stages in one day. There is something to be said for moderation, yet I knew I could count on my boots for an uplifting pain free hiking experience.  I had zero issue with my feet the entire trek – no blisters either -  and enjoyed the overall feel of the boot as I would put one foot in front of the other.   

My friends started to call me “Ibex” midway as I would take off on difficult uphills for which my Selvatica Mid GTX are well designed for.  Agile, lightweight, supportive when carrying a multi-day pack, steady on the trails which were mostly smooth, but not always,  as I had secure footing on boulders (Fenêtre d’Arpette) and occasional snow crossing.  

In great form hiking to Fenêtre d’Arpette, (2,665 m / 8743 ft) -  I asked a French hiker with a camera hanging around his neck to take the picture with my IPhone. 

In Courmayeur, I stopped at a sports store and saw shelves of AKU hiking boots, mostly the SLOPE (men) / Ultralight Original GTX (women)  in an array of different colors, which was the model I reviewed back in February.  No Selvatica Mid GTX!

A hiking boot with a lightweight platform yet sturdy and secure, extremely comfortable and reliable, as well as durable, I am not retiring my Selvatica Mid GTX anytime soon. 

P.C. Liz Durkin.  Last day on the TMB hiking from La Flégère to Les Houches, via Col du Brévent (shown here).  Trail was somewhat challenging and it was a long day. 

Back in NH I look forward to wearing my Selvatica Mid GTX in the White Mountains  where for the most part the trails are much rougher than around Mont-Blanc, yet by all means, the TMB has its own challenges.  Happy Hiking! 

Topo Athletic Trailventure 2 ($160)

Review by Annie Cole

As I prepared for my adventure on the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), one aspect that concerned me was my feet. I have been plagued with a neuroma on my right foot for years, and usually, after about six or seven miles of hiking, I start to feel it and my toes go numb and I need to move them around in my boot. My friend and hiking partner, Dominique Winebaum of Road Trail Run, suggested that I try the Topo Athletic Trailventure 2 as an alternative to my other boots because of its roomy toe box.  I received a free test and review sample from Topo Athletic. 

So in preparation for my trip, I got out in the New Hampshire mountains and tested the boots. I hiked in all conditions, (still snow in Tuckerman Ravine on Mt. Washington), and varying distances, the longest being 10 miles. I did not do any multi-day hiking. The boots felt good and most importantly, no neuroma pain. 

I was pleased with several aspects of the boots as I hiked 100 miles on the TMB over 11 days carrying a 20 lbs pack. The Trailventure 2 is a lightweight boot with substantial support and a comfortable, secure fit. It also is quick drying. We got caught in several electrical storms with rain and hail and I was always happy with how quickly my boots dried out (quicker than my hiking partners’). It is the non waterproof version of the Trailventure 2 WP,  which RoadTrailRun reviewed here. I did not regret not having a waterproof boot. 

Whether in the White Mountains of NH or on the TMB, I was always confident in the grip of the outsole, which is made of Vibram® XS Trek EVO rubber, and features a new design for increased durability and traction on all terrain.

The Trailventure 2 WP features a Rock Protection Plate, which the non WP version does not have.  However, the Vivram® XS Trek EVO provided plenty of protection against shocks and rocks that I felt I was not missing on the Rock Protection Plate.  I was happy for the great traction and protection of my outsole during my ascent to the Fenêtre d’Arpette, which was one of the most challenging days on the TMB, with plenty of boulders and rocks to cross over along with a very steep uphill and equally steep downhill!   

I have an average width foot and did not ever feel that the roomy toe box was “too roomy”. I was pleased that I was not bothered by the numbing pain of my neuroma. 

However, by the third day of the trip I developed large blisters between my big toe and the one next to it, and a few days later on a callus on the bunion area of my foot. (I don’t have bunions, just that area). Luckily I wrapped them all in Compeed® and did not feel them at all as I hiked. It seems I traded the neuroma foot pain for blisters. I am scheduled to hike The Bonds, an 18 mile trek in the White Mountains, later in July and I am going to take my Trailventure 2.  I would prefer a blister wrapped in Compeed® than neuroma pain. And as you can see, the sole and the upper of the boot held up well to the rigors of the tour and my hikes before in them. 

Annie Cole is an avid hiker who is quickly approaching 60. While the majority of her hiking is done in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, you might also meet up with her in Maine, Montana, Alaska, Jordan and the Alps. She is always excited about a hiking adventure. 

Ultimate Direction – Ultra Jacket V2, Ventro Jacket, Vellum Shorts & Nimbus Tee.

On the trail and at the huts/refuges, we met trail runners running the TMB in 5 to 6 days – it is typically 11 days. Ultimate Direction gear is more specifically designed for trail runners and fast packers - and ultra trail runners - with a line of running vests, ultra-light fast packs, running belts, and more recently apparel.   

Trail runner wearing a UD Fastpack 20L.

I was not trail running, just hiking, but had plenty of UD gear – two tester samples (V2 and Ventro jackets) and a running/hiking outfit (BD present from Sam).  I was quite happy with my UD gear which I reviewed in an earlier article

Hiking the TMB in 11 days, I carried a fairly heavy (when empty) backpack so it mattered that I was able to lighten up the load a bit – both my UD Ultra Jacket V2 and UD Ventro Jacket were extremely lightweight and both are packable into built small size pockets, as was my UD short and top.  In terms of my own experience,  UD gear provided added protection and extra comfort while enhancing my hiking experience. 

At the top of Grand Col Ferret (2,713 m/8,323 ft), barely time for a picture before the storm – a heavy downpour with thunder, lightning, and even hail.  

Ultimate Direction Ultra V2 Jacket 

In comparison to my friends' jackets, my V2 jacket was much lighter yet provided the same rain and wind protection, in addition to being breathable, which meant I was not sweating under my jacket hiking up or down.  Admittedly, cooler weather brought by the rain made it more comfortable hiking in my V2.  It has an extremely high breathability/ waterproof rating of 30,000 mm water entry pressure and 30,000 moisture vapor transmission rate, so 3x the UTMB race’s requirements.  RTR Review

It was drizzling on and off as we climbed the Col du Bonhomme.  This was the day the Mont-Blanc 90-km race was cancelled due to “extreme weather” which began as we made our descent to Les Chapieux from the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. 

Notably, the V2 jacket is very comfortable to wear being so lightweight and breathable, yet is also highly protective. 

P.C. Annie Cole. I made use of jacket's stowable mitts hiking down to Les Chapieux in the stormy weather keeping my hands from getting cold and numb.  

Ventro Jacket ($200)

While my V2 jacket protected me against the rain and the wind, I would wear my Ventro jacket for warmth when stopping for lunch on the trail or when at the huts/refuges. It features "Clo® Eco Vivo insulation which increases breathability by 30% without sacrificing warmth and is made with 90% recycled fibers". It has a very high warmth to breathability ratio and I agree!


P.C. Annie Cole.  Enjoying a cookie break - and my Ventro jacket + Vellum short -  on the high balcony route via the Mont Favre spur hiking from Cabane du Combal to Courmayeur.  

The view from our “cookie break.”  Glacier Miage moraine – “is a good example of the transformation of a white glacier into a debris-covered glacier, partly as a consequence of global warming.” Article  here.

I wore my Ventro jacket just about every day, however, the only time I reached for it while actually hiking was to the Refuge du Lac Blanc (2352 m / 7716 ft), as the weather was chilly.  

Lightweight, with full-on wind protection and plenty of breathability and ventilation - perforated back and underarms panels - this is the best “puffy” jacket I have ever owned.  I am going to get plenty of wear when hiking in the White Mountains  and I am planning to wear it under my alpine ski shell for warmth and comfort and for winter runs and nordic skis.

Vellum Shorts & Nimbus Tee

My Vellum shorts are truly trail running shorts, yet I ended up loving hiking in them though my other pair of hiking shorts from Backcountry were very comfortable too. I had been wearing a belt-pack around my waist in addition to my backpack to make up for the lack of an accessible pocket on my Trea Mammut backpack.  In it, I would store my phone, a chapstick, and a water bottle that I would slide in the front opening.  Well, since I could store my phone in the 360 degree pocketed waistband of my Vellum shorts, at some point,  I decided to do away with the belt pack and extra water bottle by filling my Source hydration bladder with water all the way to the top. 

It was also very freeing hiking in Vellum shorts as they are so lightweight and comfortable.  The length is on the short side with a deep split, yet the coverage is good. 


At the top of Fenêtre d’Arpette.  For better sun protection, I wore a long sleeve hoodie with my Vellum shorts instead of the matching Nimbus Tee, though Nimbus was a cooler option when hiking. 

I wore the Nimbus Tee one day on the TMB as the weather was overcast and we had started hiking in the rain (I had removed my pants by then).   

Here are some of the features of the Nimbus Tee as this is a highly technical top:

  • Advanced Polartec® Delta built-in into fabric for wicking and cooling

  • Hydrophilic fibers pull sweat away from body and hydrophobic fibers dissipate moisture

  • Flatlocked anti-chafe seams

  • Polygiene® antimicrobial odor control technology

  • 47% of fabric is sustainably made.  

I was amazed by the comfort level of my Nimbus Tee and that it was still odor free after a full day of hiking.  

I have been wearing my Nimbus Tee running and loving it, along with the Vellum shorts.  

Backcountry Ripstop Trail Short & Tahoe 2 Sun Hoodie

I really like the design of the Ripstop Trail shorts with its many pockets, 2 front zippered and 2 back pockets, 3.5 inch inseam, integrated and adjustable belt, and lightweight fabric which is 61% recycled nylon, 33% nylon, and 6% spandex.  

There is a bit of stretch and the fit is very comfortable.  I could not store my iPhone in one of the pockets when hiking as it was not comfortable there which is the reason I wore a belt pack in addition to my backpack when wearing my Ripstop trail shorts.  They are great looking and come in 4 different attractive colors. 

Luckily I had two Tahoe 2 Sun Hoodies as I wore them alternately hiking the TMB  but for one day when I wore my UD Nimbus Tee.  I would hike 2 days wearing the same sun hoody as I don’t tend to get overly sweaty and the perspiration odors from hiking were under control.  We were so grateful for a full laundry service at our Hotel in Courmayeur otherwise, I would do “laundry” in the sink of our huts/refuges when the weather allowed it.  

Aside from wearing “short” shorts, I was pretty careful about protecting myself from too much sun exposure, and this in addition to using sunscreen.  This is the main reason I opted to wear the Tahoe 2 Sun Hoodie throughout the trek (but for one day), namely, for its sun blocking properties, but it also proved to be a very comfortable top with a hood, along with the fabric being moisture-wicking and breathable.  I did not overheat in my hoodie though I would have felt cooler on hot days wearing the Nimbus tee.

P.C. Erwin: Top of Fenêtre d’Arpette.  

The Tahoe Sun 2 Hoodie is truly versatile when in need of sun protection. 

Buff Sun Bucket Hat, Solar Gloves, and Half-Buff

We all received a Buff Sun Bucket Hat, Solar Gloves, and Half Buff for our TMB trek from from Buff.  Annie wore her part of the time, Liz preferred her worn cap. I wore mine every day, and all day long, unless I put it away in my backpack due to the weather - wind and rain.

Airing my sun bucket hat at refuge de Miage where we had our own chalet-mazot.  

All the pictures in this article, even as they feature other gear, show how much I wore my sun bucket hat. It almost became the trademark of my 2022 TMB.  It provided just the right amount of sun protection and was comfortable to wear day in and day out.  The adjustable cord was convenient to keep my hat in place in windy conditions.

P.C. Liz Durkin.  Annie styling her sun bucket hat by folding the front brim and both of us are wearing our solar gloves.  Likewise, for added protection, I wore the Half-Buff around my neck every day hiking.

Along with the sun bucket hat, we all also received SolarGloves™ from Buff.  Versatile, I was at first skeptical that they would be sturdy enough for hiking over an 11 day period. 

Somewhat to my surprise, we all wore them daily, and felt they provided just the right protection against UV rays and from gripping our poles. This must have been the lightest gear that we brought along, yet it made a huge difference in protecting our hands both from the sun and from holding poles many hours a day.  

OOFOS OOcandoo Sandals ($100)

Lightweight with active recovery cushy comfort, I carried my OOcandoo sandals on the outside of my Mammut backpack (no mesh pockets)  by using rubber twist ties to hold them in place.  It did not take any room in my backpack!  In comparison to my friends who wore sandals,  the OOcandoo provides a better foothold as the foot is held in place with a hook and velcro strap and it has a full heel wrap. Also, it was the perfect footwear when refreshing my feet in the cold streams. 

I either wore them with a pair of thin socks or barefoot. 

Available in different colors, I find them quite attractive.  Truly versatile as a recovery sandals, I have been wearing them on a daily basis – walking to the beach, weeding, going grocery shopping since I got back.

LEKI MCT 12 Vario Carbon Running and Trekking Poles

I did not receive a pair to test but borrowed Sam’s, which I was truly grateful for. 

Sam’s review

I made great use of Sam’s LEKI poles stowing them away only when climbing ladders!

To conclude, one more picture featuring my brother René who hosted us like royalty at his chalet in Les Marécottes (just over the border in Switzerland) for 2 days after our TMB.


Gear Covered in the Article

(RTR affiliate partners where indicated)

Gear Covered in the Article

(RTR partners where indicated)


Mammut Trea Spine 35L (Backcountry)


TOPO Athletic Trailventure 2 (REI)

AKU Footwear Selvatica Mid GTX  (REI)

Apparel and Accessories:

Ultimate Direction:  Ultra Jacket V2, Ventro Jacket, Vellum Shorts & Nimbus Tee

Backcountry: Ripstop Trail Short & Tahoe 2 Sun Hoodie

Buff Sun Bucket Hat, Solar Gloves, & Half Buff

OOFOS, OOcandoo Sandals


Drymax® Lite Hiking Crew (Amazon)

Danish Endurance Merino Wool (Amazon)


LEKI MCT 12 Vario Carbon Running and Trekking Poles (Amazon)

Dominique has run for over 40 years, consistently about 25 miles per week at paces between 10 and 11 minute miles. She races rarely, but always surprises more hard core runners in her age group when she does. She has a 1985 marathon PR of 3:16 in her second marathon which, at the time, put her on the top 10 Swiss women’s lists. She is the mother of two grown children, both runners post college, and enjoys nordic and alpine skiing, hiking and trekking, and gardening. 

Some samples were provided at no charge for review purposes, others were personal purchases. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
RoadTrailRun receives a commission on purchases at the stores below.
Your purchases help support RoadTrailRun. Thanks!
Men's & Women's  SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's  SHOP HERE

USA  Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
FREE 2 Day Shipping EASY No Sweat Returns

EUROPE Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

Europe only: use RTR code RTR5ALL for 5% off all products, even sale products 

FREE Shipping, 30 days return policy, Low Price Guarantee


Men's and Women's SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
Use RTR code RTRTOP4 for 5% off all products, even sale products

Men's & Women's  SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
FREE Shipping on most orders over $40

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE

Men's & Women's SHOP HERE


Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by Following RoadTrailRun News Feed

Please Like and Follow RoadTrailRun
Facebook: RoadTrailRun.com  Instagram: @roadtrailrun
Twitter: @RoadTrailRun You Tube: @RoadTrailRun

No comments: