Traditional knowledge is increasingly recognized as valuable for adaptation to climate change, bringing scientists and indigenous peoples together to collaborate and exchange knowledge. These partnerships can benefit both researchers and indigenous peoples through mutual learning and mutual knowledge generation. Despite these benefits, most descriptions focus on the social contexts of exchange. The implications of the multiple cultural, legal, risk-benefit and governance contexts of knowledge exchange have been less recognized. The failure to consider these contexts of knowledge exchange can result in the promotion of benefits while failing to adequately address adverse consequences. The purpose of this article is to promote awareness of these issues to encourage their wider incorporation into research, policy, measures to implement free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and the development of equitable adaptation partnerships between indigenous peoples and researchers.