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Backroads for hiking or biking tours?

Can anyone provide feedback on this company, either positive or negative? I am looking at one of their Japan hiking trips. We have enjoyed two trips to Japan with MT Sobek, but their third option is longer than we would want (13 days), and has many nights in ryokans. Those are lovely, but after the past two trips my husband says no more sleeping on futons on the floor. Backroads offers a nice-looking itinerary for hiking in the mountains, with overnights in high-end resort hotels with (I assume) Western beds.

But their price is very high, compared to MT Sobek—-like $2000 to $3000 more for an 8-day trip. So I wondering what they do to earn that? The MT Sobek trips are very nice, and provide great food and lodging, so it can’t be that the hotels are that much more expensive.

Posted by
405 posts

I've been on many Backroads trips, both hiking and biking, but none from MT Sobek,
so you're getting the other side of the fence, I suppose. Also will note that I have not
been on one of their trips in 5 years, so things could have changed.

Backroads is an excellently run company. Their trips and guides are first rate. They
use excellent accommodations.

I would say that the possible cost differences you mention could be due to:

  • their support structure. They utilize a large # of American guides who spend a
    season in a particular region. So they have to house and pay guides for an entire
    season, and fly them around, as opposed to local guides.

  • the research involved in putting together routes and support in many regions around
    the world. The bikes are high-end, for example, and they have to get shipped all over
    the place.

  • guide and staff training. You don't need support for abnormal events most of the time,
    but when you do, you'll be glad the guides are trained in what to do and know what they're
    doing. And they are excellent in tending to customer needs and making the experience
    memorable. In the same domain, they use multiple support vehicles and 3 or 4 guides, so
    they don't scrimp on the level of support either.

  • And, their clientele, which I think tends towards active, busy, professionals who are
    willing to pay a higher price for a premium experience. So to a certain extent, their
    trips are expensive because they can be. But that is not unique to Backroads. There
    are a lot of high-end bike touring companies that are in the same price bracket.

Posted by
1458 posts

I’ve been on two Bacroads trips. A biking trip in North America and a hiking trip around the Italian Lakes. They are expensive because they are all inclusive, stay at 5 star hotels (eg: Villa Serbelloni) arrange for private guides and are seamless. You can pack a steamer trunk and they will transport it for you. We took their trips back when we were busy professionals without the time to plan and didn’t want to have to decide anything except what to order to eat. I would definitely take another of their trips, but now I’m on a fixed income. 😉

Posted by
2 posts

I've been on both Backroads and MT Sobek trips. Backroads focuses mainly on accommodations (5 star or 5-star plus) and flies their guides in from the US or Europe which you end up paying for. For Mountain Travel Sobek Japan hiking tours, they use their own local guides and more stay at unique 4-star ryokan accommodations so you a definitely more local/regional Japanese experience.

Both are excellent outfits - it all depends on what is important and valuable to you.

Posted by
16930 posts

Thank you for your comments. I have come to the conclusion that the Backroads trip is not what we want, too expensive, too high-end, and less of a cultural experience. Since we have had several good experiences with MT Sobek, both in Japan and elsewhere (their Patagonia hiking trip was stellar), I Amy contact them about a “custom” trip for 6-8 people that is a bit shorter than the standard 13-day Sacred lakes and Mountains trip.

Posted by
124 posts

I didn’t see your post earlier and sounds like you’ve made your decision, but I’ll add my two cents for others who may find it helpful. We have done 3 Backroads trips and have a 4th booked this summer. We really love them, but they are more focused on the physical activity/outdoors and minimally on cultural experiences. You do get some though food and evening activities, but no guided tours in cities, no museums, etc. Guides, itineraries, and hotels/food have always been top notch.

Posted by
16930 posts

Thank you. The tours we have taken are hiking-focused too: that is what we travel for. But the 4 MT Sobek hiking tours we have done (2 in Japan, 1 each in Patagonia and the Alps (France/Italy/Switzerland on the Tour du Mont Blanc) have all had a significant cultural component, in that the local guides offered little “lessons”, sometimes with visual aids, on the culture, customs, traditions, religion, history, natural history, and politics of the country or region. We didn’t visit museums or go to concerts.