Since commercial travelers first began trekking the world’s trails, porters have been the unsung heroes of the industry. Now, a global research project by The Intrepid Foundation aims to shed light on the issues they face in a bid to affect positive, industry-wide change.

In 2016, Belgium-based physiologist Norman Heglund flew to Nepal to figure out how porters walk. It was, at the time, a mystery.

Heglund had spent years studying the Kikuyu women of Kenya, who are famous for carrying huge loads on their heads—often 20 per cent of their own bodyweight. But Himalayan porters had been clocked at 125 per cent bodyweight, which seemed to defy the basic laws of biomechanics. No-one could walk with such weight, reasoned Heglund, and still have knees.

During his time with the Kikuyu, Heglund discovered a unique, rolling, pendulum gait, which allowed them to conserve energy. Under the right conditions, a heavy load actually made Kikuyu women walk better.