High altitude trekking - PORTERS' RIGHTS

It's tempting to think of your porters, Sherpas or guides as heroic individuals who trek up Kilimanjaro or to Everest Base Camp carrying two packs, while wearing flip flops and cast off sweaters with no discomfort. Whilst many porters and guides do have indeed have incredible strength and stamina, it is also very easy for vacation companies and trekkers to take advantage of them – with overloaded packs, low wages and poor treatment.
At Responsible Travel, we have selected the trekking companies we work with based largely on their treatment of porters and Sherpas. One advantage of booking a tour through us is that we have already done the hard work for you in ensuring your porters are well looked after – which we believe makes for a much more enjoyable tour, as well as a more ethical one.

Porters around the world



In Nepal, Tourism Concern discovered that porters suffer four times as many accidents and illnesses as trekkers. Reports of porters being forced to carry up to 40kg are not uncommon, although 25kg is the recommended maximum, enforced by all responsible tour operators. Due to the extreme altitude reached on many Nepal treks, conditions in the Himalayas are even more dangerous for porters here than in other popular routes around the world, and life insurance, accessible medical care, and proper clothing and shelter for porters are essential.


In Peru, porters reported that “We are victims of a mixture of abuses, discrimination and attacks on our basic human rights. The wages we receive don't match the physical effort we put in, and take advantage of our need to work. Even though the tour operators are meant to offer us equipment like sleeping bags and waterproofs, they don't. This means we have to sleep outside on the rocky floor, or improvise our own shelter out of branches, or sleep in caves. We often don't have the most basic equipment such as raincoats, harnesses or ropes, so each porter has to make do in the most uncomfortable conditions.”


The Kilimanjaro Porters’ Assistance Project (KPAP)reports that essentials such as a minimum wage (as set by Tanzania National Parks) and maximum weight that a porter can carry are treated as recommendations only, with many companies ignoring these rules. While porters’ unions have agreed a wage of 15,000Tsh per day, many are paid less – with some receiving just a third of that. The 20kg weight allowance is also ignored – some porters have been found carrying packs weighing up to 30 or 35kg. In addition, they will not be eating the same high quality food as the tourists (ugali – maize or millet porridge – is a staple) and if sleeping in mess tents they will have to wait, sometimes in poor weather, until all climbers have finished their meals before they can sleep or rest.

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Fair treatment of porters

Ensure that your trek is even more enjoyable by having a good relationship with your guides and porters – for many travelers, this can actually become the highlight of the trek. Here are our suggestions for ensuring the proper treatment of porters and guides on high altitude treks:
Ask your tour company what their policies are on porters' rights and working conditions. Ensure that your porters have proper clothing and footwear. Check your own luggage to ensure it is not greater than the amounts stated above – or ask about local weight regulations. Remember, this is the maximum – less is better. Porters will be carrying their own belongings in addition to tourists’ packs. Ask about porters’ insurance and provisions made for them should they fall ill. Sick or injured porters should never be forced to continue working, and they should be accompanied back down the mountain rather than sent down alone. Ensure that porters’ sleeping arrangements are adequate. Ensure that your porters and guides are paid fairly – inquire about and agree rates before you set off to avoid uncomfortable conversations at the end of your trek. Some companies may have their own tipping policies, but the KPAP always recommends giving your tip directly to your porter, rather than to the guide, to ensure they receive the full amount. Learn a few words of the local language to greet and thank your guide. It’s a great icebreaker! Count the number of porters every day to ensure none have been sent back down to save money. They will not receive their tips, and the remaining porters will be overloaded. If you see or experience something that you feel uncomfortable about then make it clear to your tour company that this is not acceptable.

High altitude trekking

All of our high altitude trekking tours use local porters – as we believe this arrangement benefits both parties. Local guides’ and porters’ knowledge of the mountains is invaluable, as well as their experience of local culture and traditions. Think of them as traveling companions, rather than people who are simply there to carry your bags. Ask them how to say things in the local language, share stories about where you are from and perhaps offer to send them photos once you are able to get some printed. Finally, income from your trek will often provide for the extended family of your porter – thus supporting huge number of people in the surrounding region.
While some of our operators have signed up to organisations such as KPAP, others have their own projects in these trekking regions, working to provide education and support for local communities. Following the Nepal earthquake, many porters and their families lost their homes as well as friends and family members; responsible tour companies raised funds, helped in the rebuilding process and ensured that the porters continued to have jobs.
For this reason, we always encourage trekkers to hire porters or Sherpas, even if you think you may be able to carry your own backpacks, as it creates jobs in regions which often have few employment opportunities. But they must be paid fairly and treated well in order for this exchange to work.
For more specific information on each location, see our guides to climbing Kilimanjaro, trekking in Nepal and walking the Inca Trail. See about our stance on people in tourism.
Photo credits: [Page banner: DMSU] [Porters rights intro: Mahatma4711] [Porters Nepal: Rick McCharles] [Porters Peru: Ariel Seidman] [Porters Tanzania: Abir Anwar] [Peruvian porters: My favourite pet sitter] [Porters kilimanjaro: Nano Anderson] [Sherpa porters: Steve Hicks]