Our Kilimanjaro Porters

Rather like having health visitors in the USA or social workers in the UK, many Kilimanjaro operations ask independent welfare agencies – such as KPAP, the Kilimanjaro Porter Assistance Project – to monitor the safety and care of their staff. Such organisations are responsible for ensuring that porters have clothing and footwear sufficient for high altitude, and that employees and subcontractors of failing operations are indeed receiving their salaries. Team Maasai are not members of any such organisation, but rather trust their own elders and village leaders to represent any concerns or requests that they may have to their operation managers.

Team Maasai Porter Training

For Maasai tribesmen who have no previous experience of carrying weight, working in very cold conditions, or being exposed to high altitude, it is a very difficult transition from the bush to work in the mountains. Because of these, Team Maasai enjoys the oversight of ex-UK military trainers who help us in getting the standard of our porters to the requisite level at which it will be safe for them to operate on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Porter Clothing for Kilimanjaro

Our porters enjoy the rare privilege of access to specialist clothing that our sponsors designed and manufactured for use by their own clients at high altitude. We believe ourselves therefore to be some of the best-dressed and best equipped porters on the mountain. The following slideshow demonstrates three modes of dress:

  1. Traditional. This is how we dress when at home or own duties at low elevations and consists of up to 5 blankets, or ‘shukas’. These blankets are lightweight, but closely woven. Some weaves function quite well as insulators, whereas others are more windproof. We like to bring our traditional dress to the mountain with us, especially for use during the traditional dances which we use to maintain team spirit and raise motivation.
  2. Wet weather gear. We use waterproof jackets derived from the British Royal Air Force, and waterproof trousers that have fallen out of service as kit hire with our sponsors. While showing signs of wear and tear, the protection these garments provide is probably of the highest level available to all mountain porters on Kilimanjaro.
  3. For cold evenings when static, or those porters either carrying day sacks or training towards serving as assistant guides, and therefore joining the assault to the summit, we supplement our attire with summit jackets with dual fill hollow fibre, integral hoods, anti-Bellows gussets, and extended backs.

Porter Footwear

While we bring our Maasai sandals with us for airing and relaxing our feet in the evenings – (these are robust; suitable for running, and fabricated from used car tyres) – our main footwear comprises leather British Army boots that are supplied with a waterproof Goretex membrane. These boots are coveted by senior guides in top-end companies as being superior to what is otherwise locally available.

Equipment Used by Our Porters on Kilimanjaro

Apart from a lightweight allowance of our personal equipment that includes traditional dress, spare undergarments, and items for ablutions, the following are the main unique items of equipment that Team Maasai porters benefit from:

  • Sleeping bags. Happily, we are supplied with sleeping bags that were once hired out to the clients of our sponsor, but which now are thinner than they used to be. Since, like soldiers, we sleep in much closer proximity to each other than paying clients, we absorb lost body heat from our fellows and are easily warm enough with this arrangement.
  • Specialist luggage bags. Traditionally, our brothers in other African tribes are accustomed to carrying loads on their heads, or across their shoulders. As Maasai warriors, however, we are responsible for the defence of our tribe against competing herders and therefore carry on our persons at nearly all times at least two of three different weapons, (a wooden club, a short sword, and a thin beating stick), we are accustomed to having our hands free are thus not raised to carry wood or water like these other tribes.
  • With respect to this situation, our sponsor’s director (an experienced expeditioneer with experience several British Army regiments who co-designs specialist expeditioneering equipment manufactured in Nepal)  has been working with us to develop special robust, waterproof carrying bags that afford the following features:
  1. Shoulder straps that have two adjustment points; a compression strap that brings the bag forwards to sit more directly over our centre-of-gravity, without the need to stoop forward, and a length adjustment strap with ‘belt and braces’ concept non-adjustable back-up webbing, in the event of buckle failure.
  2. A padded waist belt that can bear around 30% of the load
  3. Compression straps on both sides, that allow tent poles to be carried on the outside of the bag, for rapid access on arrival at camp, and for minimal abrasion with other gear that occurs ordinarily when carried within a bag.
  4. Criss-crossed elasticated bungee cord, suitable for rapid attachment of removed layers, reducing the psychological resistance to adding and removing layers as body temperatures rise and fall with changes in weather and physical exertion.
  5. An Ortlieb canoe bag style roll-top buckle closure, again with the ‘belt and braces’ concept of Velcro, to minimise the possibility of equipment loss or moisture ingress.