Climbing Kilimanjaro is a great achievement, and it would be impossible without the help of your porters. As you trudge up the mountain willing your legs not to give out on you, your porters rush by, laden with heavy packages, so they can get everything set up for you by the time you roll into camp.
When you’re standing at the summit of Kilimanjaro and reflecting on what an amazing journey it’s been, your porters are already mentally preparing for their next trek up the mountain.
The life of a porter isn’t easy, and virtually every trekker that goes up Kilimanjaro comes back with a healthy sense of respect, and even awe for this gruelling job.
The best way to show your appreciation for these hard-working people is by choosing to climb with a company that treats them right.
What Does a Porter Do?
As the name suggests, the porter’s main job is to carry all the equipment required for the whole team. This includes not only personal equipment for each guest, but also tents, sleeping bags, food, oxygen bottles, medical kits, stretchers, hyperbaric chambers, toilets, and any garbage that’s generated along the way.
Once they reach camp, it’s time to set up. This includes putting up the toilet, your tents, and sometimes also the sleeping bags and inflatable pads.
The porters are also responsible for sanitizing all the water that’s used for cooking, cleaning, and drinking. They also help the cook prepare and serve the food, and clean the dishes afterward.
As you get higher and higher up the mountain, the porters will cheer you on and just generally have your back – giving you positive encouragement along the way.
Altitude takes a crazy toll on our bodies, and you may find yourself relying on one or more of the porters to do everything you’re not able to do – from tying a shoelace to quickly repairing a boot. Essentially, the porters make it possible for you to climb Kilimanjaro.
Porter Working Conditions
Being a porter is inherently a tough job, but it’s made even tougher if you add substandard working conditions into the mix. Unscrupulous employers routinely force porters to carry as much as 40kg of gear instead of the recommended 20kg.
If they aren’t working for a reputable company, they often have ragged clothes and worn-out shoes, which can translate to hypothermia and even death on cold nights. Factor in the many porters who aren’t provided with enough food or proper shelter, and it’s easy to see why many porters perish on Kilimanjaro.
Most porters are freelancers who don’t benefit from a permanent contract or healthcare. Instead, they show up at the gates and hope someone will hire them.
The recommended minimum wage for porters is 20,000 Tsh per day (around $8.50), but many budget operators pay just half of this, or take way too long to pay them, or in the worst cases, don’t pay them at all. When it’s time to tip, some unscrupulous operators pocket all the money for themselves instead of divvying it out to the whole crew.
Being a porter is one of few job options available to many young Tanzanians who lack higher education or specialized training. But there are thousands of would-be porters and relatively few jobs, which makes it easy for companies to take advantage of the workers on the lowest rung.
Properly clothing, feeding, and paying porters costs money, and many unscrupulous companies try to cut corners by hiring less porters and forcing them to carry more weight than is allowed. If you book a tour that seems too cheap to be true, you can rest assured that the porter welfare is the first thing to suffer.
In addition to the primarily male porters on Kilimanjaro, there are also a handful of female porters. Being a female porter isn’t easy, as most companies prefer to hire males.
Female porters may line up at the entrance to the trails time and time again, and be overlooked on every occasion.
Female porters in Tanzania can also sometimes face problems with sexual harassment. They have limited options and it’s all too easy to end up at the mercy of rangers, guides, and other porters, especially when they’re sharing a tent.
And that’s not to mention the discomfort of dealing with female issues while sharing bathroom facilities with a group of men. A few organizations are working to improve the working conditions for female porters, but there is still a long way to go.
Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP)
The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) was founded with the aim of improving the working conditions for porters on Mount Kilimanjaro.
The organization has set out ground rules that cover everything from minimum wage, to maximum carrying capacity, to the recommended number of porters per trip, and per guest.
At Climbing Kilimanjaro, we place an emphasis on ethical porter treatment. Based on KPAP guidelines, we staff every trip with enough porters – usually three or four per hiker – so that no porters are overloaded.
We also ensure proper food, sleeping conditions, and trekking gear for our crew, and carry out daily health checks on all our workers during the trek in just the same way we do for our clients.
We are committed to ensuring that each member of our team gets adequate rest, and “downtime” during the course of the trek, and we use the same evacuation protocol in the case of illness or injury.
How Can I Help?
To avoid feeding into porter abuse on Mount Kilimanjaro, the first thing you can do is to make sure you book your trip with a responsible tour operator who treats their porters properly. Tempting as it may be, it’s never ethical to book a dirt-cheap trip.
When you are conducting your research, ask questions of the company you are thinking of trekking with, and let them know that you are concerned with ethical porter treatment. Discuss how they address this, and what their policies are.
You can also help by tipping porters directly, instead of pooling the tip money and giving it to the guide. In addition to monetary tips, porters appreciate gifts of clothing and trekking gear.
These items wear out quickly when you’re hiking Mount Kilimanjaro multiple times a month! As with the tip, it’s best to give these items directly to the person you intend them for.
And lastly, when packing for your trip, remember that it’s your porter’s job to carry your duffel bag. We limit the weight of these bags to 15kg, but you can help by keeping it as light as possible (without forgetting any of the essentials!)
Do you have any questions? Feel free to get in touch with our friendly crew. Or why not check out our itineraries and book your trip now!