RFC: hiking_technique key (or a better name!) to describe movement on paths by hikers

If you look at the “Falls Under” it maps to SAC pretty evenly aside from splitting T1 into casual and attentive walking. I added in unverified_walking for T1 to account for that - it could then be switched to whatever is more appropriate (casual or attentive). T2 and T3 should map cleanly and T4-T6 are collapsed into one value.

There is a larger issue of SAC not being well understood so there being some bad data in there (or values boosted for exposure). That bad data still exists whether it’s mapped to this or not. This system feels more intuitive so should have less of that going forward, and mapping it to regional systems helps clarify it to some extent for people familiar with existing international systems.

I would imagine that this would create less confusion in the future, and existing misuses of SAC would be more easily corrected.

That would make sense to me. I come from a mountaineer-lite perspective so thinking of how “technical” something is drew me to technique - mostly to avoid “difficulty” which can mean many different things.

foot_scale or something similar seems the best choice, there’s also a mtb_scale in use. pedestrian makes me think more of the walking end of the scale. It sounds a little weird, but everything else I’m thinking of is even weirder.

Technically scrambling isn’t really foot as it uses all four limbs, but scrambling is niche. I would envision people putting whatever technical scale is local alongside it - YDS, BMC, SAC, UAII, etc for more clarification for those that actually care while keeping the key simpler for 99.9% of everyone else. :slight_smile: If this eventually does get migrated we’d have existing T4-T6 there anyways for more detailed information.

Before attentive_walking existed (which got added due partially to @F_Weinmann’s very detailed post and noticing myself a gap when hiking this summer on trails) surefooted_hiking was just surefooted_walking, but I renamed it to break it away from the two walking levels under T1 in terms of being able to migrate this cleanly.

Some of the ideas around strollers and walking aids and how they impact obstacles are directly from the post mentioned above. :slight_smile:

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I need to doublecheck the mappings for casual_walking and attentive_walking actually - I just copied them off of the old walking and then split NFS trail classification ratings, but it’s been enough time I don’t remember the details of some of the other systems.

I haven’t had the time to go through all the current related topics and think it all through. But before I forget it, here is small nitpicky comment: The SAC scale uses the labels “typical terrain and possible difficulties” and “requirements”. There, the requirements are fairly broad, so “requirements” fits. The terrain in the SAC scale is more specific and, thus, they write “typical” and “possible”. Here, you mention, e.g., “Enough upper body strength to pull up your body”, which may be necessary some times, but not other times. So I would also label it as “typical requirements” or “range of typical requirements” or something similar.

Apart from this: Thanks for putting all the effort in pursuing this!

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That makes sense to me - the language here definitely isn’t final and I appreciate the constructive feedback. I actually like how T3 is along the lines of “someone would likely use their hands for balance” vs YDS 2 in which people can get a little dick measuring about not using their hands “it was Class 1 for me, might not be for you hur hur”.

I was able to walk up the light gray granite colored slab without using my hands by picking good lines, having vibram soles, and some experience. My partner who is shorter and a little less risk prone used her hands, as did most people in another party we saw going up.

It’s an interesting case for that difficulty, as the smoothness=* of it is less of an issue than being somewhat exposed and needing to micro-route find.

This a somewhat ambiguous example (as it would be in SAC or YDS), but I’d probably put it a step above surefooted_hiking, though that is what it was for me going up. Going down we stayed tighter in and I was definitely using my hands for balance on that route.

While the photos above are of a no visibility route that doesn’t belong in OSM, I’ve come across trailed places that are similar. Most that spring to mind have Via Ferrata which obviously shifts things (one spot in NZ was similar to this, but the cables didn’t seem useful outside of during rain).

Mantles in use_of_hands??

One thing that I would really want feedback for is including short mantles in use_of_hands. I feel they are closer to hands_for_balance which is what the value would be without them than proper scrambling, but probably not worth making an entirely new key around. I could see dropping that from the value, keeping it hands_for_balance then maybe just marking mantles as a hazard or feature as a node when they occur. In the southwest there’s a lot of trails that are mostly surefooted_hiking with stretches of hands_for_balance but then there’s an occasional mantle or two.

While this is more for “routes” than proper trails, steep loose terrain has always been perplexing for me in YDS. This does occur on some abandoned trails with horrible visibility that have slid out, and is similar to the tops of some trailed passes (the east side of Franklin pass in Mineral King iirc). There’s an established route/trail near Bariloche that had a nice boot ski on it.

On one hand, it’s more surefooted_hiking despite the lack of obstacles / being very smooth just due to the slope and the fact it’s a bit beyond what someone will normally do on trail. Heel plunges, sidesteps, avoiding rock under/around sand, zig zagging to reduce erosion impacts / not be below something collapsing etc.

On the other, poles are VERY helpful going down this, especially with a full pack, and poles are essentially an arm extension. I personally lean towards this type of terrain into YDS 2 (which would be T3 / use_of_hands / hands_for_balance).

These are two very “smooth” examples.

These two are less smooth.

Having an example photo of this along with the more typical “some talus to hop” would be useful I think (along with a steeper slab route, outlined in the post above, which is pretty smooth but IMO definitely above T1 / attentive_walking). These use cases are why I mention slope itself as a potential obstacle in use_of_hands.

Of course any scale is subjective, but hiker ‘skill’ or climbing ‘skill’ comes to mind as as a possible tag. Does not seem to be a word pegged for anything yet according TagInfo but for once in a description of navigation_skill.

Skill is similar to technique while being more colloquial, but it seems a better fit for higher levels than lower ones. I suppose casual_walking isn’t much of a technique, but it seems less like a “skill” (though it something people have to learn how to do).

I think to be precise, it’d be mode_of_travel or mode_of_transit but that’s even more of a mouthful. It describes the manner in which terrain is traversed.

Having spent lots of time thinking about this: Any scale that includes both walking and scrambling is about to get horrendously complicated. Keep it simple, three points scales rule!

Walking_skill: none, surefooted, hands-for balance.

This is for hiking/rambling. Casual, attentive, hands-on. Blue, Red, Black rendering on guideposts in Austria pretty much follows that.

Then have a different scale: Scrambling_skill: the BMC has a three-points classification, it is a bit eager. Overlaps with SAC scale but goes far beyond.

spirit_skill: father, son, holy_ghost

This maps well with existing SAC values (for what’s that worth, SAC fails outside of Swiss mountains IMO). There’s a reason everything above T4 / YDS 3 / etc is just collapsed into scrambling - I don’t think at that technique level it makes sense to try have a global scrambling scale. Is it harder than use_of_hands / hands_for_balance - toss it in scrambling and be done. I

Casual walking is casual walking, wherever it is. Same with attentive, surefooted, and use_of_hands / hands_for_balance (however that gets finalized). Those are all pretty easily understood concepts. I originally didn’t have an attentive between casual and surefooted, but I think it makes a lot of sense and describes a lot of trails. At least in my local area the majority of trails have obstacles in them for “wilderness feeling” (or budget constraints) but they’re trivial and one can usually walk around them. They do pose an issue for some, average, real, recreational hikers and not “wilderness lovers” however.

There is a very big gap between “clear of all obstacles” and “you are walking on obstacles” that needs to be addressed IMO.

Scrambling gets into sem-technical to technical terrain, and honestly it makes more sense to switch to local systems. Someone in Switzerland is familiar with SAC, someone in the UK BMC, someone in the US YDS. At this point there’s more risk involved and having a scale that you know and is used locally makes sense. This is also some fraction of a percentage of people out in wilderness and chances are they’ve already done some homework on the route anyways.

I have a clear idea of the difference between YDS 3 and 4. I have a less clear understanding of T4, T5, and T6. Someone in the UK knows what to expect from a BMC 2.

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Holy trinity :slight_smile: The point I wanted to bring across - Confine the scale and you get by with less grades.

One of the voters in the failed hw=scramble propose struck my heart: Use of hands is an important notion. What is left do decide: For advance / for balance are delicate to gauge objectively - A clear distinction rambling/scrambling looked out for!

PS: Back then, I leaned on the BMC - hands for balance already enough for scramble=grade1.

Hmm. I think putting YDS 2 or T3 as scrambling is setting the bar too low. Such terrain can get into that territory, but most of the time it’s far simpler. I think the T3 sample photo on the wiki has far more in common with T2 than T4.

This was a section of trail in Banff that was T3 and I think could be considered borderline scrambling. It looked sort of T4 from afar but ended up being more of an uneven staircase.

In terms of an average person using the scale presented here I think it works well:

  • casual_walking can be the only option for someone that uses a cane or some walking aid, has bad balance, wants to use a stroller, etc wants
  • attentive_walking is something that 99% of people are probably still comfortable on, but they might have to adjust expectations a bit or wear vaguely reasonable footwear (and it won’t work for certain people or if they do want to push a stroller or whatever).
  • surefooted_hiking is where normal people can get uncomfortable (judging by all trails comments, people I’ve seen on trail, etc). the very elderly etc may have an unpleasant time or feel unsafe on it. here is where footwear starts becoming more important.
  • use_of_hands is getting into terrain where someone should probably have some experience hiking and be more fit and prepared
  • scrambling is basically “here be dragons” to the average person, then we can switch to specialist scales

There’s essentially two T1s to focus more on “everyday” situations, T2, T3, then the scale stops being interested in details and puts everything in a bucket of scrambling. We can drop scrambling and make it four grades, but then we need a seperate global scrambling scale (or just a one off tag someone uses and then puts in a local scale) - I’m not sure that’s a good idea.

If we cut attentive_walking then do we push that terrain into casual_walking? That could be harmful for people that need that distinction for whatever mobility issues they have. I suppose it could be some mix of smoothness=* and perhaps an obstacle_density=* tag but that makes it less user friendly.

We could push it into surefooted_hiking, but that dilutes the meaning of that level. Sure there are obstacles, but can you walk around them or do you have to walk on them? The latter is where you really start having people become uncomfortable.

I hope one day we can get by without so many references to SAC scale. The scene in the photo above looks T4 to me, Ouch! It also looks to me BMC scrambling grade 1, in the lower end, scrambling 0.5 as they call it here → Scrambling skills: the grades explained ← Scrambling sits on the border between walking and climbing. Little Use of hands for balance I have no problem with calling that walking/rambling/hiking.

As to the classes you suggest: I agree, the first three all are warranted to cater for prospective uses: casual/strolling, attentive, surefooted – These seem to me chosen in a way, so that grading should not lead to much controversy!

I’d advise against a grade that matches anything above what the scale is about :wink: Maybe that helps find a less contrived name? As for the hands-on grade, that comes ambivalent - this will lead to debate – This summer I went a path hands-free that was graded T4. I made some of it, my moves may have looked comical at times, but I wasn’t progressing quick enough to keep projected pace for the last bus, so I had to use hands in the end.

I see chances for this going forward. The starting three terms seem much more intuitive to apply e.g. to the scene at River Plym than the SAC one. I know plenty of use cases, all in the T1-2 range.

PS: I got told an anecdote, why our mountain paths sometimes meander so much: It was a time when Britons came here and paid locals to guide them up there. Yet, being noble Gentlemen they could not use hands – perhaps too animal like? So some locals spent time to find passages that made the summit a walk-up. The reporter of mine is historian at the local alpine club, so there should be substance to the story.

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Same, it’s useful now because it’s in use in OSM and realistically it would need to port over to this.

It’s a fairly popular trail in a national park and that ~2-3m bit is the crux. In YDS it’d be Class 2, which is how I think of T3. The rest of the trail was simpler with 1-2 short sections of larger talus that’d be more clearly hands_for_balance (though I was able to do them in a surefooted_hiking manner,) and the rest more pure walking.

I don’t have any personal experience with trails or routes rated by SAC or BMC though. :slight_smile:

A move further up definitely looks more T3. The fact it’s a 13mm lens also probably makes it seem more vertical than it was in reality.

Footholds were much stronger and simpler than they looked from afar - I was thinking my partner would take a nice YDS 3 photo, and it ended up being more YDS 2 when I got closer and then did it. I would say it’s at the upper end of that, or possibly the very lower end of T4 / YDS 3 which is why I brought it up as an example. I’m sure some people hold onto the rock with their hands.

I think having a node as obstacle or hazard would make more sense than creating a tiny segment of a higher rating.

I’m thinking of bumping use_of_hands down to hands_for_balance which will map it very closely to T3 (which would help get this scale adopted). Short mantles are something that bug me - they are technically T4 / YDS 3 but they’re not really “scrambling” or “simple climbing” so I tried to fit them in there - by their nature they’re short enough they should probably be a node and not a way. They’re not quite a “hazard” so perhaps we also need a node called “obstacles” (or just keep in mind that hazards can be used loosely).

update: I did RFC: hiking_technique key (or a better name!) to describe movement on paths by hikers - #25 by erutan

My partner regularly uses her hands where I don’t, she’s shorter so has less reach and is also more risk averse. If something is wet I’ll sometimes treat T2 like it’s T3, T3 like it’s T4 etc. I think providing multiple examples will help show terrain. I do like how T3 isn’t “you personally had to use your hands” but more “it’s reasonable that someone would”. I’m sure there will still be some disagreement, but hopefully less than there is in the current SAC regime. I personally think it’s fun to do challenges like you did, but hopefully most people capable of doing so can think about it and still realize that even though they can do T4 without using their hands to climb or T3 without using them for balance that the terrain shouldn’t be rated around their outlier experience.

Walking while using your hands for balance still fits into the foot_scale quite nicely I think, more so than trying to fit in short mantles - then we’re just left with scramble as the here be dragons bit.

That’s amusing - there are trails in the western US that take unnecessarily convoluted routes because they had to work for laden stock trains of mules and horses.

I really like this scale. You’ve clearly put a lot of work into this, and it seems to fit terrain around the world much better than sac_scale.

Aside from practical issues - like how to introduce such a tag when sac_scale has been so widely used - I have just a few concerns about the wording.


  1. How would you grade this path: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBum6rjl8yU (You don’t have to watch the whole video - it’s pretty much the same difficulty throughout)

  2. And how would you tag the one in the first video on this site: Scrambling skills: the grades explained (We should probably consider the question separately for the part that starts at 1:35 and the part that starts at 2:37)

I’m asking because I think it will help us refine the wording :slight_smile:

Those wide angle shots betray, some of the BMC footage also has them. They make it really hard to gauge from photo/video. Perhaps they flatter the scrambler?

Glad that this is not just a dialogue: If I may chime in, about the Centennial path - I recently did grade an informal path, that went by deep (50+m) drops in much the same close manner over some stretches not so easily to evade a T3, reasoning that no security measures at all are there, so T1/2 rule out. This is a good sample, as hiking_technique should be satisfied with “attentive” – on the path I graded – the Centennial I consider surefooted applies in sections.

PS: On that path that I took late this summer, there were four or more memorials. It has not been on openstreetmap before, but it may be well known among the locals.

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I prefer shooting with the 24mm equivalent lens, but there wasn’t enough room for my partner to step back and get the obstacle. :slight_smile: I wasn’t trying to show off or give myself a challenge I was ready for YDS3 / T4 and then was like “huh I can just walk up this”. I guess technically there’s a short fall risk so it could be T4 for that aspect, it looks more exposed than the T3 example on the wiki if very short (I’m really guessing on SAC details).

It wasn’t that much harder than the following sequence which I think is clearly YDS 2 and (most likely) T3. In poor weather, or if someone wasn’t confident for whatever reason they could hold onto it with their hands (and should at that point!), but I don’t think it counts as “simple climbing” vs walking up something steep enough that using hands_for_balance is expected.

I think for the most part we can do a direct mapping from SAC, allowing for the “unverified_walking” where T1 is clearly split. I’m sure there will be some inconsistencies (people don’t understand SAC, terrain doesn’t meet some sub-requirement, etc), but those already exist and going forward I’d imagine less of them.

From what I saw (skipping around a few times) I’d put it at attentive_walking there are often obstacles, but I only saw one that couldn’t be avoided and it was a pretty simple step up. Most of the obstacles were low angle and well spaced. I think having sets of examples would help - I have a LOT of off-trail photos that I’ve been saving and cataloging for a separate project (with some overlap with this one). I do agree that having more specific language around obstacle types and frequency would be useful. surefooted_hiking would be more in the vein of the T2 example on the wiki, where you’re basically just walking on medium-high angle obstacles for an extended period of time.

update: was looking for some previous photos in a thread here, found it! the first photo here would be casual_walking (unless we want to specific a surface type for it, sand could be problematic for some?). The next four are attentive_walking, the stream crossing would be surefooted_hiking, then there’s a hands_for_balance that leads into technically a move of scrambling but which should probably be a obstacle=mantle or something instead.

This is one I took recently with this value in mind - the sandy bit of easy trail goes over a piece of uneven slab, but it’s only slightly uneven.

1:35 is a great example of surefooted_hiking - but it should either have a path_fall_risk or an exposure hazard on it! I think that’s a perfect example of disambiguating exposure and technique, as marking that as T5 or something due to exposure would be misleading. It is also very different psychologically from the T2 example on the wiki.

2:30 would be hands_for_balance until he starts to go up the pinnacle itself around 2:40 which is definitely scrambling.

It would be useful to have the trail be hands_for_balance up until the base of the pinnacle - I know some people that would basically go to the base of the pinnacle and call it good enough. How to handle the pinnacle itself gets into the node vs way idea that’s been kicking away. I wouldn’t mind the trail at that point having a little “climbing” icon like at the base of climbing routes of boulder problems to clarify the shift.

Thanks. I agree with your tagging suggestions.

This brings up two problems.

  1. “Hiking” means different things to different people. The trail is advertised on the website of the park it’s in as a “very demanding trail” and rates it as “difficult”. Many people in the Google reviews call it a strenuous hike. (For context, it’s 10K and a total elevation gain of maybe 300m)

@hungerburg pointed out that people misuse sac_scale=hiking to mean it’s a countryside walk. How do we ensure that surefooted_hiking doesn’t meet the same fate?

If two tags are called something_walking and one is something_hiking, won’t people apply their ideas of what is a walk vs what is a hike to the tag?

To avoid this, I would prefer surefooted_walking.

  1. Scrambling means different things to different people. The BMC calls Crib Goch a Grade 1 scramble, but it’s nowhere near the top of the proposed scale, which you propose to call “scrambling”.

If one of the values is called scrambling, won’t people apply their ideas of what is scrambling to it and just tag that walk, and similar ones, as scrambling regardless of the definition, because the BMC says it is?

How about something like hands_for_balance and hands_for_progress for the top two grades?

Thanks for the critical feedback - we’re having some good discussion here. :slight_smile:

I changed surefooted_walking to surefooted_hiking so that if we do an automated port from SAC that the two T1 values casual_walking and attentive_walking could be translated to unverified_walking which means it’d (most likely) be one of those two until someone came in and clarified the distinction (but at least someone knows it’s one of those two).

On the flip side someone could consider attentive_walking terrain hiking and therefore think it’s invalid, but I think that can be clarified by defining it well on the wiki. It is nice having values that speak for themselves for people that don’t check the wiki though.

I’m open to another word, but I feel there’s some utility in not having it be walking and hence in the same bucket as casual and attentive. That said SAC use is enough of a mess maybe we should just convert all T1-T2 into unverified_walking?

That’s fair, the SPS Scrambler Rating actually describe YDS 2-4 as scrambling (T3 to T6) which honestly seems really dumb. If it means everything it means nothing.

Crib Goch a Grade includes proper scrambling if you include the pinnacle/peak but I’m not sure of the details of their system and if the rest of the route takes that into consideration. It is also called 0.5 I think, though that’s informal.

hands_for_progress is… a little odd. Sounds like a strange non-profit organization. :stuck_out_tongue: Someone might also need to use their hands for balance to safely progress.

hands_for_climbing I think is clearer, but then you get into @Hungerburg’s why not just put it in climbing=*. I suppose because YDS 3 / SAC T4 isn’t considered proper climbing by many, and that it makes the conversion process a little simpler.

Secor describes YDS classes the following way:

“Class 1 is walking.”

“Class 2 is defined here as difficult cross-country travel. In the High Sierra this is usually talus hopping, which requires the occasional use of hands for balance.”

“Class 3 is where the climbing begins. Hands and feet are used not just for balance, but to hang onto the rock."

hands_for_hanging sounds even worse.

hands_for_pulling is kind of more accurate, but again sounds kind of dumb.

If we drop hands_for_foobar then…

use_of_handholds - I think this is closer to what we want. How does that sound?

I think a large part of this coming from SAC being a scale used by people in an alpine club, so they have very firm ideas of mountainous terrain etc, to the point of being baked into the value names.

I do think that having some kind of scrambling in between hands_for_balance and proper climbing is useful. Once that is there, people can use the existing climbing:grade:foobar for YDS 3-4, BMC 1-3, SAC T4-T6, etc to add more detail that will be properly understood by local scramblers.

A related issue are mantles, which without either adoption as an obstacle or some kind of scramble value would fall under technical climbing which doesn’t feel correct to me.

If that is solved I’m not completely opposed to just migrating T4-T6 to climbing:grade:sac_scale=* or just keeping them at SAC T4-T6. The nice thing about having them in a sort of generic scramble container is it then makes it simple to append more information with climbing:grade:bmc or climbing:grade:yds or whatever depending where in the world someone is.

I dislike having to use SAC, but I wouldn’t force someone else to use YDS. :slight_smile: