RfC: Highway=Scramble

Did some more research and found another another argument that goes against both highway=scramble and my semi-proposed alternative highway=trail. Quoting from Key:highway - OpenStreetMap Wiki

Note that highway=* distinguishes roads by function and importance rather by their physical characteristic and legal classification. Usually these things are highly correlated, but OSM is not obligated to copy official road classifications.

I’d argue that both scramble and trail are most definetly describing “physical characteristic”. The appropriate thing to do, then, is to vote on reverting this previous decision as part of a vote on highway=scramble. This also means that the proposal should detail an alternative way of breaking up the highway tag. Hope you take this into account in your proposal @Hungerburg.

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I do not see any evidence that classification by importance is used for anything but roads from residential to primary. (at least in Germany trunk is determined by physical characteristics and motorway by legal status, this might be different in other countries). The vote had only roads in mind. It was very early in OSM’s history where there was a focus on roads. If this would apply to all of highway= some cycleways in the Netherlands might be highway=primary because of their importance but this is not current practice. Also note “These are the principal tags for the road network. They range from the most to least important.” refers only to the first section of the table in Key:highway - OpenStreetMap Wiki

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the importance ranking is for actual roads and does not extend to footways, paths and tracks etc, and there are some exceptions on the upper and lower end (motorway is defined legally, requiring signs, trunk has different definitions but in some places is about construction standard (like motorways), tracks are distinguished from paths by width, bridleway and cycleway and footway are classified by designation, …)

… also highway=steps is clearly based on physical characteristics.

I think highway=construction is also relevant here. We could convey the same information with e.g. highway=motorway, construction=yes - but we don’t. I would guess this is at least partly to allow data consumers to make an important distinction without considering second-level tags.


The word ‘scramble’ sounds very much like a function to me: this path is here mainly for mountaineers to have fun.

And maybe this would be a much better way to approach this whole issue. Instead of trying to describe what it looks like, start with what it was made for: recreational value for hikers and climbers.

To contrast that: a “normal” highway=path has the main function to provide access to places. It is mainly for modes of transport that require a single track (as opposed to highway=track which allows double-track modes of transport). Usage requires no special experience or gear other than what is required to use the chosen mood of transport (i.e. knowing how to ride a bike or horse is not considered ‘special experience’).

From a router’s point of view this is truly valuable information. Usually a router knows if its purpose is to find a route from A to B or find an interesting route for an outing.


For anyone who isn’t following all 3 threads, this topic is being discussed in:

While the thrust of each discussion is similar, there are a few interesting ideas that have popped up in one versus another and slightly different key suggestions have been discussed (highway=mountaineering, highway=scramble, highway=demanding_path, etc).

Here to the solution of the quest I posted above, Von der Station Eigergletscher | Berg- und Alpinwandern | Guggihütte SAC | Schweizer Alpen-Club SAC - The route running there is graded “T4” (alpine_hiking), so the scramble on the photo by definition must be UIAA I at most. The route is drawn dashed green in the SAC overlay. The OSM Route of same is graded T5 (demanding_alpine_hiking), Relation: ‪Zustieg Guggihütte‬ (‪12822598‬) | OpenStreetMap - the contained ways are all tagged T4 though. It got mapped as a path in 2013. A bit more than a year ago, mid 2021 the path was split to tag trail_visibility. Curiously, the splits were made in such a way, that the sections would make it possible for a renderer of OSM data to create very much the same cartographic signatures as on display on the swisstopo basemap beneath the SAC overlay. I wager to say, this coincidence reflects just what is there, and consequently, the swisstopo signature is based on the visibility of the trail on the ground.

I only know YDS through Wikipedia. I’d say, UIAA I might be mapped to YDS Class 2. From the photo, this looks an understatement. I have not been there on location, and photos may betray.

Update: The wording of the SAC for its T4 class seems compatible with YDS 3, at least how I understand YDS from Wikipedia reading.

That is exactly, how I perceive of it and what prompted me to propose under this title.

Still, I would not have done that, if the term would not merit an extra entry in the “highway=*” class. To me, using all four extensions, and that is what the term stands for, is the deciding factor to go for it. I still have to reread User:Joto/How to invent tags - OpenStreetMap Wiki

paths in the mountains usually are not made for fun, they are there to provide access to places, e.g. pastures for animals, remote dwellings, connections between villages, many of them are very old.

It very much depends on where in the world you are: There are paths in the mountains near me that were explicitly built for recreation.

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Both statements can be true and the same path may serve multiple purposes. Some paths may be easy to classify into those that are mainly for fun or recreation and those that are mainly for providing access to places. A great many others are used for both, and the primary use is not so clear.


There certainly are old mountain paths, e.g. this one is said to have existed for 6000 years - Weltkulturerbe Transhumanz: Bergtour vom Ötztal ins Schnalstal I Tirol - YouTube - but it does not qualify as a scramble. The scrambles in the surroundings certainly are not made for the stated uses. There is no reason to fear, that introduction of proposed tag will hide lots of pastoral or commercial highways from interested consumers of openstreetmap data.

Looking forward to getting briefed about situation in the Rockies, the Andes, the Himalayan.

Nearly two weeks passed since the RfC started. Quite some changes have happened. I’d like to invite a second reading, to help weed out remaining problems. Proposed features/highway=scramble - OpenStreetMap Wiki

Please comment in the medium of your choice.

Can you explain more why climbing=route is not chosen? If =route is an issue, you could use climbing=scramble? Unifying under climbing:*= would be cleaner than being highway= while none of its usual attributes apply.

Reason number one, I consider scrambling and climbing different activities. I am not a climber, I like to hike, scrambling sections are part of the game, at least on the hikes of mine. Yosemite Decimal System - Wikipedia mentions scrambling literally in-between hiking and climbing. From comments in previous discussions, native English speakers (both UK and US) seem to have little problems with differentiating.

Reason number two, Climbing - OpenStreetMap Wiki is quite clean and looks like the work of a small openstreetmap community that enjoys this pastime. There is no mention of “scramble” there, so (ab-)using their “route”, something that has a very well defined meaning, for scrambles seems to me the wrong thing to do. Inventing a new kind of “climbing” brings us to:

Reason number three, using climbing=* without a top level tag will trigger validators and QA tools. I consider the warnings justified. I rather leave that up to the climbers to make e.g. Way: ‪Bear's Reach‬ (‪706285415‬) | OpenStreetMap validate. Here to the video of somebody that makes this look like a scramble Dan Osman - Awesome - YouTube - I do not see such a performance a measure for openstreetmap tagging though. This definitely is not a highway=scramble.

  1. By using highway=, conceptually it is oriented closer to hiking. This and highway=via_ferrata are unlike other highway=. This has the further difference of having no physical structure. It is “worse” than other usual highway=path + informal=yes. and the trail_visibility has a different meaning.
  2. What is “without a top level tag”? You are proposing a new one anyway.
    What I mean is you are already using climbing:grade:*=. Why not climbing=scramble then? Other climbing:*= attributes could be applicable too, not a climber so only guessing maybe climbing:quality= and climbing:rock=? Then you would be mixing them inhighway=.

Yes, indeed, scrambling is much closer to hiking than it is to climbing. And yes, indeed, hiking paths sometimes have no physical structure. It is just people going all the same way, that makes them stand out of the surroundings. Even on those that are managed, management often reduces to cutting branches from trees, that would grow into the air-space or digging small gullies to redirect water. The surface mostly is just bare ground. People love that. I strongly disagree with your judgement on via ferratas: They come with a very pronounced physical structure. The steel cable to plug the carabiners.

As far as I am confident with openstreetmap markup: What makes a tag top-level is the key. The highway key makes the tag a top-level one. The climbing key does not. The validators will still complain, when presented “highway=scramble”, because the value is unbeknown. It will just be a matter of community appeal to change that. I do not see any use in creating yet another attribute of “highway=path”, there are so many already.


It’s highway=scramble having no physical presence compared to =path (+ informal=yes) and =via_ferrata. So it is again more suitable to climbing= to me. (and even climbing=route will have climbing:bolt*=)

climbing= is top-level. That’s the validator’s problem. Shouldn’t tag for them. I can equally suggest we not bloat highway= any more. =scramble= is not about walking, or walkable infrastructure. Adding this there is less relevant and similar.

During the discussion I learned, that for not a few, a scramble on a hiking path is similar to steps on a footway. The proposal, to use “climbing” as a base for such scrambling sections is a sure fire way to make the combination of “climbing=*” and “highway=path” a lot more popular than it is now.

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Been hiking today, openstreetmap chose the destination :slight_smile: From talk on the railway station, I recently learned, that a path was graded too easy, T3 hiking, so I had to research the location. Here a picture:

There is a steel cable running along the wall. I did not use it going up, I prefer hands on rock over steel, but used it a bit going down. @ezekielf I would like to have your opinion: Does such a section merit highway=scramble.

If you say no, I will immediately change the wiki to show this, as an example of what a highway=path is. Not that I think, this would stay for long…

PS: Where the scramble starts, there was a nice depot of walking sticks.