RfC: Have pathless hiking routes (no trail_visibility) be some manner of related nodes instead of paths


Deserts are relatively straightforward - sand will cover occasional foot traffic in many places within a year, which helps prevent informal paths from being created (though in some areas you have “biological crust” which should be avoided).

Paths can go onto slick rock as shown in the set of photos earlier in this thread which don’t hold any footprints at all but can be easily cairned. There are a lot of small cliffs in the rippling of sandstone which pose a navigational and safety hazard.

Generally long lines of sight, unless one is in a canyon, at which point things are pretty straightforward. Sedimentary cliffs tend to be problematic with different layers, having undercuts / overhangs along with strata that are very vertical are common, but finding routes that work up/down on fans caused by erosion is pretty easy to spot on topo using slope angle shading.

I’m personally mostly interested in the shorter routes up to a pass, side feature, etc rather than long multi-day routes. The longer ones, such as this previously mentioned 315km mix of paths and routes, I’m unsure about trying to represent in OSM.

Someone created and is selling a guide including “breadcrumbs” but said the following about it “My maps have breadcrumbs, not a line, in order to depict the route. Two reasons. First, there are oftentimes multiple routes to get you there. Second, I didn’t want to steal your fun by showing you the optimal route between points — you can figure that out.” in comments and then regarding a GPS track “No, there is not, intentionally. I would encourage you to ask yourself whether you need or want one. If you need one, the SHR is probably not the right route for you. If you want one, you probably know how to create one, or you can use this as an opportunity to learn.” Further comments showed that person found one online and it was useful for them. I haven’t bought the guide as I’ve done bits and pieces of nearly the entire SHR over the years just on my own trips.

I personally don’t want nodes in way so close together that they’d create a certain interpretation of a route, or create paths of that interpretation (though of course myself and others would be free to disregard it). That’s a pretty common feeling in the conversations I’ve had elsewhere was well. That said I am totally open to there being regional differences for the precision at which these routes are rendered. :slight_smile:

People die from being off route in the US fairly regularly (which is why people need to know how to routefind!. That said the terrain in NZ tends to be incredibly vertical (and in the alps from what I know), both ranges have significantly more glaciation than a lot of the ranges in the Western US and don’t have the nice hanging basins that I and others enjoy so much, which would limit terrain. A lot of their normal trails are SAC T3-4 lol, which surprised me, and there’s not as many pleasant options for off-trail travel given vertically, thick brush, and areas that are boggy.

There’s been a useful back and forth on the US Trails group channel on node_networks. Someone in Germany came up with a “basic network” that could be worth looking at for ideas.

I think the structure will be defined by how much precision is wanted. I prefer just having some key “digital cairns” so having a grouping of nodes being more cumbersome seems fine, and even helps promote that thoughtful minimalism.

If people want a more defined route to follow then the amount of nodes would lend itself to a way. The latter could be more appropriate for some of the formal “alpine routes” in the alps etc.

I’m not sure it’s a good idea, but there could be the option of a grouping of nodes for “looser routes” and a way for “tighter routes” to cover different use cases and community norms.

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Could we try some terminology exercise? Creating formal definitions for words like “OSM way”, “physical way”, path, route, etc ?

Perhaps it might help structure debates and reveal where we have different use cases in mind.

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I really raised these examples so we avoid just thinking about use-cases of wealthy people in the Northern Hemisphere. There are others we encounter though, as well, routes across tidal areas, and some wetland areas (examples below).

Looking from Little Eye to the two larger Hilbre islands (route is on OSM)

Top of Kinder Scout after traversing the peat, again a non-discernable route is on OSM. Amazingly this used to be part of a national trail. For some odd reason there are few photos in the centre, but this one is authentic. People regular lose their bearings which can become serious if darkness falls. Also about 2.5 million people live within 20 miles.


A story, terms in bold: Recently, I learned of a POI. It was not on OSM. I found it on aerial imagery. No way leading there was on OSM. I looked at aerial and DTM of the area and in my mind several routes formed, starting from the closest mapped way to the POI on top. I hiked to the bottom of where my preferred route started. To my surprise, there was an unmapped path there, right before my eyes. Turned out, the promise did not hold for long. I soon lost the path. Searching for the continuation, to my next surprise, I noticed dark green trail blazes on trees, telling me, that I am on track. Having the top marked on my hiking map app, I would have found my way there without path or trail, especially as the cliffs in the area were mapped in good detail. Having trail blazes certainly helped with staying in the space, that one could call a path and in addition enforcing belief, that this route was not only my own idea. All in all, a fun endeavour.

Update2: How to loose the path? Two things come to mind: 1) Follow something, that looks like a path, but is something else instead, e.g. erosion or a game trail, 2) the bootprints become so faint, that their traces indiscernibly blend into the surroundings.

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I’ve been using the following / have been educated on them:

path - something which has a visible surface, or human markers to follow and has some degree of verifiable ground truth. very OSM centric. if you took a lot of GPX recordings of different people on a path, they would not have significant variation.

trail - closely related to the above, used mainly for foot traffic but can include bicycles, horses, etc. generally formal / official, but not necessarily. may be pathless for short segments despite being shown as a path in OSM for routing purposes (getting to a destination via one or more paths/awys), but for the most part should have “ground truth” / can be visually verified.

route - while more general, in this thread I’ve been using it to describe pathless paths, or routes which either due to terrain do not show a surface to follow, and have not been marked via cairns, blazes, or poles to have a set path to follow. these are generally fairly low traffic, and require some degree of “routefinding” which is the US way of saying “orienteering” which is either an OSM or European phrase. if you took a lot of GPX recordings of different people on a path, there could be significant variation, though the variation would tend to contract and expand at times given on how passable terrain is.

node - a single coordinate / object on OSM.

way - a linear collection of nodes in OSM which generally form some sort of path, but which could be rendered in a way to not show a connection between nodes.

node_network - a specific way of relating numbered nodes (guideposts) at junctions of ways/paths in OSM to allow for routing (junction 32 to 11 to 789).

“group of related nodes” - my attempt at taking the idea of a node_network, but using nodes for key decision points within a route, rather than having them at the junction of paths. ideally less nodes than there would be in a way, but each one is significant.

This seems like a fun challenge for all of us: to come up with examples around the world of such routes or itineraries that are best described as a series of way points, where the connections between them cannot really be described as a path.

Thinking about concrete examples and whether and why they should be on OSM could also motivate us to think about what makes a route verifiable when it is not signposted or directly visible on the ground.

It could be that a route is verifiable because it is local knowledge, where if you live in an area then you just know that the best way to go from point A to point D is via B and C. Similar to how the name of a path might be acceptable to have in OSM even if it’s not on any signs.

Or maybe a route might be considered verifiable because it can be found in guidebooks? Copyright and database rights issues would need to be considered of course, and notability is an issue. But I imagine that there are some routes that have been printed and reprinted in many guidebooks for decades and cannot be considered the intellectual property of any one publisher.

Maybe past discussions mentioning trail visibility can help us identify candidates… though many of them seem to be about short connections (examples 1, 2). Another option is to check on Overpass for trail_visibility=no tags, or to reach out to communities in different countries.


Turns out that we have a 650 km unmarked hiking route on OSM in Scotland. Quite a few sections of the route are entirely pathless, such as this section of a variant. I found it because I have walked this, long before the Cape Wrath Trail was devised, and because there are quite a lot of Strava traces.

The “trail” has a paper guidebook, set of dedicated professional maps, and a webpage. Parts of the trail have been known for a long time as wilderness walks: my parents crossed the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, which forms part of the trail, before I was born.

This single superrelation probably offers quite a few examples in addition to the one I’ve linked to.

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I think there is something to “unmarked” routes created and generally known by locals and others familiar with the area. We could place a node at each of natural landmarks used to create the bounds of the otherwise unmarked route. These can be considered to virtual route marker.

(veering slightly offtopic from “pathless” routes into “verifiability if no signage”)

Unmarked trails will usually fail the verifiability test and on that basis should not be in OSM. The tricky bit is where do you draw the line? Often trails are “well known” (similar to what @IanH suggests) even without on the ground markings.

In the UK, the Lyke Wake Walk and Wainright’s Coast to Coast were historically largely unsigned. I’ve added guideposts et al to both OSM relations from survey and as you can see, they’re now very well signposted. Another “borderline” one is this one. There is some signage, but not much. Should it be in OSM?

As someone recalled me recently, most state borders in Europe are not verifiable on the ground but only from legitimate sources. In France we have chosen the same approach for routes because some do not have their own signing. The tricky part of course is to define what a legitimate source is, but it’s manageable.


I think most map users will appreciate being shown such “paths”, so I’m in favour of showing them.

This is pretty close to what I was envisioning. Say a few points that would illustrate how you would describe a trail in a brief spoken description like “drop down from the pass to the little pond, then keep to your right once you hit the pond and drop down a series of ledges until you reach a set of cliffs where you can find a crack down near a meadow” - you’re not going to be telling them GPS coordinates for a node every 5 meters, but a note for the pass, the pond, then the crack through the cliff band near the bottom etc.

There could be a use case for tighter / more accurate ways in some cases.

If I’m reading this correctly you’re asking if something with trail_visbility=intermediate, trailblazed=no, and no guideposts at intersections should be a path to be included in OSM?

Isn’t this one of the points of the informal tag? If there is a desire path created from human traffic that is visible it doesn’t need signs or guideposts to have ground truth.

An interesting consideration for this thread from the bottom of the verifiability page.

We have a general rule that says stuff must be verifiable. General rule doesn’t mean “no-exception-made set in stone”, but it means: You need a very good reason for mapping something not verifiable. Such a reason could be that the data is of a relatively high usefulness to relatively many people, or that the data is useful for mappers in their work.

I think in regards to guidebooks, something where the author “creates” a new route - like Skurka or Roper probably shouldn’t be included, as that would undermine their work (or at the very least it should be very vague, like a start/end). If a guidebook like Secor which has brief descriptions of hundreds of passes and peaks, then it seems fine to include things from it as they (with a few exceptions) existed before that and the guidebook is documenting them vs creating them a commercial product and/or service to the community.

(just to clear this one up**) no, not really. I’ll not use the word “trail” in what follows because of the obvious double meanings that has.

This route was created by a person who wrote a book about it. Most of the OSM ways it goes over are obvious paths (mostly trail-visibility=good or better). None of the paths are informal=yes in the OSM sense. Other routes over the same OSM ways are very well signposted - the ways aren’t tagged as such in OSM, but if they were you’d tag each way as trailblazed=yes or similar. Similarly, the other routes aren’t tagged in OSM, but if they were you could perhaps tag each route as trailblazed=yes, although for the avoidance of doubt https://taginfo.openstreetmap.org/keys/trailblazed#overview suggests most usage of that tag is on ways (which the discussion above has concentrated on).

The relation I was asking about has only a few guideposts - not enough to follow the whole route. There isn’t really a trailblazed value in use for that. If there were no signposts for the route at all then it probably wouldn’t be verifiable and probably wouldn’t belong in OSM at all. There are however a few signposts.Hence why I asked the question - how to tag routes that are signed a bit, but not much?

** logically this may be something that belongs in another thread, of course.

Ok, that makes more sense looking at it closely. I came across something similar in another mapping program recently, and created a new thread for the topic.

On the note of node_networks, in the US Trails Working Group (which I am in no way a key part of) someone brought up this system of mixed use frontcountry trails in New Mexico, which made me think of Acadia National Park’s carriage road system. So node_network’s do exist in the US too!

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If the labeled nodes are actually found at the junctions, AND point to one another by their labels, these are true node networks as defined in OSM. If the numbers are only a help for finding itineraries on the paper map, they are not. Have these networks been mapped as node networks?


Acadia National Park has numbers on their signposts.

Here’s some images from junctions (they also have general “this thing is over here” typical US junction signs for the US public). Perhaps that makes them a hybrid network? I’m not an expert on node_network concept and only learned of it recently as part of this discussion and similar ones elsewhere. :slight_smile:

Here is the area on OSM: OpenStreetMap

La Tierra

It appears the one in New Mexico does as well, and points to the actual numbers. This showed up in a google images search:

Their website map has the following:

Here it is on OSM la tierra trails | OpenStreetMap

Acadia: not a Node Network, because the numbered poles have no pointers to adjacent numbered poles.

La Tierra: definitely a Node Network! With nothing more than a number strip you can follow your planned itinerary. This one could be mapped as a Node Network. Knooppuntnet Planner can then be used by recreants to plan their trip, then print the number strip or transfer the gpx to an app or device for convenient voice navigation.
Knooppuntnet Analyser can check and monitor the integrity of the network.

Note that you don’t have to know the exact geometry of the connections between the nodes. You will find the arrows on your way. Suppose there are no arrows, you would have to make your own way to the next Node. For that to work, you’ll need to be able to see the next Node.

PS My suggestion to a few route operators was to have a large anchored balloon, coloured like the route symbol, floating over the Node location. Think giant flying Pokéball. So far, noone has done that, can you believe it?

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Thanks to another thread, I inadvertently found another example which is defined as a Scottish core path & which I have walked many times. This is a famous beach just N of the Mull of Kintyre (with views up towards Paul McCartney’s farmhouse at Tangy). The beach is around 4 miles long and makes a pleasant walk in all but the worst weather. This picture from Geograph shows the views out to Islay and Jura.

The beach is popular with locals and is accessible from the N (Westport with car park) or from Machrihanish village at the S, although the most heavily used parts are within 200 m of either end. Machrihanish is a well-known surfing destination and surfing clubs may drive on to the beach S of Machirhanish Water. The best walking is just below the high tide line as the sand is more compact. Above the tidal zone the sand is loose and walking demands more effort. Continuous wind ensure that even above the tidal zone footprints get erased quickly.

For some reason the beach has never been incorporated into the local long-distance footpath and was never marked as a path during the times I visited frequently.

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