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

What would those be? You can clearly document that unverified_walking is either casual_walking or attentive_walking but never surefooted_walking.

The problem with dropping scrambling is that we already have lots of scrambles in the database as highway=path and people will want to tag those. What do you suggest they do? Continue to use sac_scale? If we don’t cover the full range of what is considered a highway=path in OSM then isn’t that going to be confusing? If we go down that route, I can already see people tagging hard scrambles as surefooted just because that’s the highest value in the dropdown menu.

Therefore I quite like having use_of_handholds as the top value. That would encompass everything from grade 2 scrambles upwards, and other tags could be used in addition to provide more detail.

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Here to the English wording of UIAA I:

It is the easiest kind of scramble. Frequent use of hands is required to support balance and hand and foot-holds must be trusted

In German, UIAA I colloquially gets described as “kein Gehgelände” - crude translation, “not walkable terrain.” Note that the scale aims at seasoned rock-climbers, their understanding might not match with that of tourists exploring the neighbourhood of the cable car top station (OSM data users and potential contributors?)

What’s this in response to?

Are you saying that because it’s an argument against calling it foot_scale, or is it something to do with my concerns about dropping the top two values?

Hello @osmuser63783 , I am all for foot_scale. There will be quite some time until presets for editors arrive. The less typing, the easier the name, the better.

UIAA came to mind. Here picture of (not-existing) UIAA 0 a.k.a. “Gehgelände” (walking terrain) - there are more in show - The location is in Lower Austria:


Is the picture showing use_of_hands?

PS: I’d be curious how others grade the picture I posted above (attentive or casual?)

Much as I appreciate the goal of intuitive human readable tag values, I’m starting to feel like grade1 through grade5 would work just as well. It would sidestep discussion of whether scrambling can be called casual or how necessary the use of hands really is. @erutan has described each of the five grades very well in my opinion. Each description is fairly concise, but still complex enough that condensing it down to just several words in order to fit in a key value is nearly impossible. Are we really sure mappers will intuitively understand what foot_scale=surefooted_hiking means? And more importantly that different mappers won’t have different interpretations? foot_scale=grade3 would require mappers to read the wiki in order to understand the meaning, but perhaps that is not a bad thing.

I do not understand the high value given to footwear - this depends too much on the abilities of the person rather than the properties of the path. I think the SAC turned that into a footnote in the 2023 revision of its scale, for good reasons, in my opinion.

I am still curious about use of hands in the picture I linked two posts above. From a mountaineers/climbers perspective, that might indeed not be the case: Picture showing surefooted walking, no more no less.

PS: The blue marking to be seen in front, not sure if that is meant as a difficulty rating, in my area this should be red at least.

PPS: In openstreetmap this might qualify for via_ferrata_scale=1, if only due to there being a rope :wink:

Just watched this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gvku5ezqn5U – There are lots of videos on youtube for this trail. The presentor calls it a Walk – in UIAA terms, that seems just. That makes it look like along two or more kilometres, there is a single place, five meters of scrambling, 2:40 in the video, likely Node: ‪The Chimney‬ (‪6953495486‬) | OpenStreetMap – that goes beyond walking. If openstreetmap gets a new key, I hope it will be something that people apply more correctly than how sac_scale is applied in the area.

I am not at all certain, that naming the values for such a key W1…W5 will help in any way by forcing users to consult the wiki. Editors will create short descriptions.

Still, casual_scrambling in my mind describes that Ridge perfectly fine and looks to me the most likely candidate for W4.

W5 should then be something like “too far beyond walking”, just to tell that fact, not giving any specifics, leaving that for other scales.

I’ll just post where it is now since the second take is mid-thread and the top is uneditable.

updated: 2023-10-26, downgrading use_of_hands to hands_for_balance. You can see the original one in the first post, I’m basically just dropping mantling to keep it more consistent. I’ve also tweaked requirements a little bit.

updated: 2023-11-08 change scrambling to use_of_handholds

It looks like I can’t update the original post anymore, so here’s updated values for the T1 - T2 range of hikes.

Value 0: unverified walking


This value would exist for data ported over from the existing sac_scale T1, as the trail could be either casual walking or attentive walking and that would need to be done manually later.

Value 1: casual walking


Falls under: Class 1 YDS, ~NFS Class 4-5, SAC T1 / Yellow, Austria Blue, CAI T, AWTGS Grades 1, PWS W1 & W2

Obstacles: The ground may not be entirely smooth and have some irregularities, but it has few obstacles and they tend to be smaller or have a large amount of space around them. It isn’t uncommon for these trails to use imported materials for their surfaces, but can also be on compacted or naturally even ground.

Slope: Flat to moderate.

Typical Requirements:

  • Be able to casually walk. Casual walking paths that wheelchair accessible should be tagged with wheelchair=yes. In generally people will mobility issues, need to use a walking aid, or are very old or young can safely traverse this terrain.
  • Almost all casual footwear will be adequate.
  • Little to no focus needed for traction, people can walk and talk and not pay much attention to the path surface.

Value 2: attentive walking

Falls under: Class 1 YDS, ~NFS Class 2-3, SAC T1 / Yellow, Austria Blue, CAI T, AWTGS Grades 2, PWS W1 & W2


The trail has some ankle to knee high obstacles like roots or rocks, but these can almost always be walked around and it’s possible to walk on an even or nearly even surface.

Typical Requirements:

  • Be able to walk in a coordinated manner and avoid obstacles. People that need to use aids when walking, or have some kind of issue that impacts their mobility can have problems in sections.
  • Sneakers or other casual footwear should be fine barring specific terrain like mud etc.
  • Focus occasionally needed for traction, people can walk and talk at times but will need to look at their feet.

Slope: Flat to moderate.

Value 3: surefooted hiking (or surefooted walking)


Falls under: Class 1 YDS, NFS Class 1-3, SAC T2 / White-Red-White, Austria Red, CAI E, AWTGS Grade 3?, PWS T1-T2

Obstacles: The path has around ankle to knee high obstacles (roots, rocks, etc) that need to be stepped on / passed through to proceed forward. It’s common to have long stretches of trail that are on uneven surfaces.

Slope: Generally flat to moderate.

Typical Requirements:

  • Able to walk with balance, coordination, and sure-footedness.
  • Footwear is more consequential but lightweight but outdoorsy shoes like trail runners or approach shoes should be perfectly fine, flip flops and high heels will be awkward or unsafe. People with bad ankles or that lack experience may want traditional mid or high top boots.
  • Attention will need to paid to footing in places to avoid loss of traction or tripping.

Value 4: hiking while using hands for balance


Falls under: Class 2 YDS, NFS Class 1-2, SAC T3 / White-Red-White, UAII 1, Austria Black, SWW White-red-white, CAI EE, AWTGS 3-4?, PWS T3-T4?, BMC Grade 0.5?

Obstacles: This ground that is uneven or steep enough that it’d be reasonable to expect people to occasionally use their hands or trekking poles for balance while hiking. If talus isn’t so large you need to climb over it, but it’s larger than in surefooted_hiking and you need to put a hand on a piece here or there to support yourself it falls into this category. Note that while this type of terrain is commonly talus, it can also be steep enough slopes of any surface.

Slope: Even flat terrain can have obstacles on it that require use of hands to surmount. Additionally once terrain gets close to or over 30° hands (or trekking poles) are generally used for support and balance as the slope itself becomes an obstacle. Nearly all highly developed trails are explicitly designed to avoid such steep angles, but there are exceptions.

Typical Requirements:

  • Along with being surefooted, you need a stronger sense of balance and coordination than on surefooted_hiking terrain.
  • Footwear with grippy soles meant for hiking is recommended (boots, approach shoes, etc).
  • The ability to think a few steps ahead and a little bit of confidence when focusing on the path are very helpful. :slight_smile:

Value 5: Use of Handholds


Falls under: Class 3-4 YDS, Bouldering VB, NFS Class 1, SAC T4-6, UAII 2, Austria “Alpine Route”, CAI EE, AWTGS 4-6?, PWS T3-R?, BMC Grade 1-3

Obstacles: High angle obstacles that need to be “climbed” for significant lengths of time finding handholds and footholds and pulling oneself up, but are simpler than technical climbing which use of a rope and harness are expected (see grading systems above). Feet are off the ground for more than a few moves, or there are repeated sections of short climbing. This is going to be a slim minority of paths in many regions.

Slope: Generally moderate to high angle.

Typical Requirements:

  • Physically fit, being able to pull up a decent portion your body weight with upper body strength.
  • Approach shoes, “high route shoes”, cross trainers, or boots are recommended. You’ll generally want either more traditional boots with “structure” or a lightweight shoe that conforms to the foot for better feel and independent use of foot muscles for control.
  • While not considered “technical climbing” significant risk can be involved. Previous climbing or mountaineering experience is highly recommended.

No, that’s not what I was saying.

There are times when I think an obstacle node is more appropriate (a mantle, stream crossing, etc) but that doesn’t there is T3+ terrain that should be a way because it lasts for a long enough time that it’s not a node.

I started a thread here, which is getting detailed over the details of stepping stones in streams.

I can understand a healthy debate on whether to include scrambling, but T3 / hands_of_balance still seems clearly in the realm of being on foot.

I was also thinking this - you’re still on foot but using your hands as well. I do think that say the very top of scrambling gets into the territory of the very simple climbing=* (T6, YDS 4, BMC 3) but the lower end more clearly “on foot” and I think the upper end is still pretty simple to toss into “on foot with use of handholds”.

We can do that, and I’m not strongly opposed to it, I just think there’s simplicity in having the *-walking all in the same set. One issue with SAC is that the value names themselves are pretty meaningless and not everyone reads the wiki.

You’re not going to be doing T4 in high heels. I think people are too aggressive on footwear recommendations (anything above T1 needs high laced boots) but it’s probably worth bringing up a range of options to help casual people prepare or picture terrain.

The person is literally using their hands for balance in that photo, so I doubt it would be downgraded that much. It’s hard to tell from a single photo what it would be - it could be hands_for_balance along with an exposure hazard, or if the majority of people actually need handholds to progress (vs feeling more secure due to being nervous) then use_of_handholds.

It would, but I feel like things are consolidating quite nicely.

The question of surefooted_walking vs surefooted_hiking is more of a meta debate about consistency vs ease of porting. The only reason I changed it from walking to hiking was to make unverified_walking clearer, but I agree that having hiking on there isn’t necessary.

So what other scale?

  • Do we have a single scramble=yes or something that then goes into local ratings (that’d be my preference) scramble:yds_scale=4 scramble:yds_scale=5`
  • Do we just have some made up OSM scale, or just rename T5 and T6?

I personally just prefer keeping it with a simple “you are on foot, but you have to use handholds” then you can have foot_scale:yds_scale=4 and foot_scale:yds_scale=5.

I think one advantage of human readable names is that once someone reads the wiki it’s easier to remember when someone comes back it later.

If someone steps away or gets busy and comes back to edit values later, it’s more likely they’ll remember the difference between attentive and surefooted than grades 2 and 3.

(Sorry for dropping off the radar, on a work trip to Honolulu and haven’t been spending time here).


It can be, although personally I find it easier to remember the distinctions between tracktype=grade1-5 than smoothness=excellent|good|intermediate|bad|etc. Could just be that a smaller number of scale values is easier to remember. At any rate, I find the first three proposed values quite fitting and clear. Values 4 and 5 ( hands_for_balance and use_of_handholds) don’t seem to explain themselves so well on their own (the full descriptions are clear to me though). Also, between use_of handholds, surefooted_hiking, and hands_for_balance it may not be entirely clear to some people which value is higher or lower on the scale (same problem with sac_scale values). This would be clearer with numbered grades, although not perfectly clear since one can forget if 5 is highest or lowest.

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If we opt for numbered grades, editors will probably still want to display short descriptions, so to make the job of developers easier and to ensure consistency, these should still need to be in a proposal I would think: otherwise they would have to invent their own.

See how iD shows tracktype.


I see what you mean… can you think of better names?

It’s always hard to judge from a picture but in the latest version of the scale, I would say hands_for_balance.

I personally would not want to loose the “scrambling” level from this scale. I’ve been on a number of hikes where the expected route got more into the YDS 3-4 range and some of the [more fearful/less athletic] members of my party declined continue further. This is common enough and enough of a planning/safety challenge that I wouldn’t want the scale to skip it.

While also seen in rocky mountain terrain, I’ve also encountered this use_of_handholds/scrambling level of difficulty while following high-use, but informal trails that climb along waterfalls up gorges. Yes you can continue up the gorge to see even more waterfalls, but you’re going to have to scramble to do so. The particular informal trail below had poor traction and is usually wet and muddy. Going up requires scrambling with significant use of roots and trees as hand and foot-holds to progress:

(trail goes up and around this waterfall off-frame to the left)

No one would approach this trail aiming to do technical roped/solo climbing or something like being secured on a via-ferrata cable. It is approached on foot while hiking and then hands are used to scramble through and past it – if one feels capable of doing so.

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At all - really enjoying the back and forth here!

Yeah smoothness is impossible for me to remember. 10 values with 3cm differences between them. I think these are more memorable although I agree that reading the descriptions will be helpful or necessary for the average person.

At least in the ID editor the values get presented from lowest to highest. I suppose we could do something like 1_casual_walking > 2_attentive_walking > 3_surefooted_walking > 4_use_of_hands_for_balance > 5_use_of_hands_to_scramble but that feels clunky.

How about use_of_hands_for_balance and use_of_hands_to_scramble or use_of_hands_to_climb?

Perhaps renaming surefooted_hiking to surefooted_walking would make the jump up to using your hands for balance clearer - it goes from 2 points of contact to 3 or 4 intermittent, then from that to 4 with handholds / scrambling. Something like requires_hands_for_balance would indicate a step up in difficulty, but as @Hungerburg points out there will be a small amount of people capable of crossing such terrain without use of hands due to experience, skill, for the fun of it etc - I do like how SAC tries to keep it at “most people would think it’s reasonable to use hands occasionally” vs “omg I did it without using my hands brah”.

That was my thinking as well - technically SAC T6 gets into UAII 2 which is “climbing”, and YDS 4 overlaps with the lower grades of YDS 5 (rofl) but I think that most of the time it indicates a sort of “here be dragons” or “this might get scary use your discretion”. The fact that this terrain tends to be much better described on localized scales makes me want to just say “hey it’s scrambling, that’s all - if you know what you’re doing then check SAC/BMC/YDS/etc for details if not be prepared to turn around” vs trying to re-invent the wheel with a system that no one will know off the bat. 99.9% of people don’t care about the distinction between T5 and T6.

Honestly even if we don’t opt for grades we should make our own blurbs! Apparently different editors in the community can be inconsistent due to different people maintaining them coming up with their own takes on what to emphasize in them or how to describe the values in general.

So do I, though I think it is high time for this to show some results!

Problem with this: There is a grade3 track joining another track - people compare and see, this one is better graded than the other, so the other invariably gets grade4, no matter what the documentations says. A concise description is needed so grading (this word has so many senses) remains consistent across the field.

This then is not in line with how UIAA and YDS use the term. Of course, this is OSM and we can redefine to our own pleasure. We are in a massively multiplayer online game with little connection to outside players? I’d prefer to not (ab)use terms well known in the field and redefine their meaning.

What is preventing you from using SAC, YDS or clibming:= to tag such sections? My fear: If foot_scale spans the same as sac_scale, the community will say, no need for a duplicate. BTW the photo PXL…82 makes this scene look like T2, surefooted_walking.

So, one more take of mine for W4, promise, the last one: casual_scrambling - Lots of people will use hands for balance or progress or for comfort although not warranted for the skilled except in very short sections that are not more demanding or dangerous than climbing a low apple tree. Either for terrain too jaggy or too airy. W5: unwalkable, please look at other tags to learn about what to expect - a cousin of smoothness=impassable. W1…3 agreed with what is written above.

Me again! Researching where my impression of what “hands-for-balance” means in YDS remained without success. I seen it on video: navigating steep terrain with somehow advanced moves that want quite a good command of body posture careful of centre of gravity, spot on assessment of friction and so on, yet not pulling.

Instead I found this is very personal view on subject matter - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rAK4LYBTew - Still having problems to move this “improved” as well as what is portrayed as above YDS to foot_scale below and beyond surefooted walking.

I also stumbled over this very recent document - https://www.sierraclub.org/sites/www.sierraclub.org/files/sce/sierra-peaks-section/files/Definitions%20for%20Scrambling%20Ratings.pdf - If hands-in-pockets meant casual, there will never be casual scrambling. Curiously when out for a walk in the woods today, a cold November afternoon, when attentive_walking was commanded, I noticed my hands in the pockets to keep them warm.

Finally, youtube the sent me here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5Sudi45WVE - how ever fun that looks like, I’d hesitate this to get classified as “walking”. I’d see UIAA I terrain. It is missing exposure that would force three points of contact, the main criterion to make it UIAA II. In my opinion 3-points mostly a safety concern.

If – as identified above – having bodyweight mostly supported by the legs turns a trip a a walk, here some footage, where bodyweight mostly supported by hands https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFfkOM8RgAU (Apologies to e-mail readers, posted wrong link first.)

YDS Class 3 was downplayed above - From this, it is not for the faint of heart neither, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nK6PzpDEulo&list=PLNFmKwFsj1S77sdtYSMkduiil_0L7HFRL&index=2 – Is this walking still, or already beyond?

Good videos, particularly this “wiser” description of YDS. I like the term “simple scrambling”. That or “basic scrambling” could be a good alternative to “casual scrambling”. I also like how he calls class 4 basic, non-technical climbing rather than extreme scrambling. It makes sense to call it climbing once you are pulling yourself up with handholds, limiting scrambling to all other use of hands (balance, bracing, safety). Given that, perhaps this set of values would work:

  • 1 casual_walking
  • 2 attentive_walking
  • 3 surefooted_hiking
  • 4 basic_scrambling
  • 5 advanced_scrambling
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Only nitpick: The mode shifts three times - walking, hiking, scrambling. Two times should suffice - walking, scrambling. Walking/hiking difference is in intent/mood of person, not something inherent in the feature (path).


If foot_scale - I like the name of the key - ever goes proposal, maybe one should be aware of Proposal talk:Obstacle - OpenStreetMap Wiki - Right now, I think foot_scale covers most of what sac_scale covers (not sure abut UIAA II), but in a way, that does not lead to un-consequential mapping of something=hiking, just because there are not mountains close by but where surefootedness is definately required. If this ever goes draft, perhaps pictures are more of use than words?

That makes sense to me.

I’d say that picture fits into YDS 2 vs YDS 3, though it’s more exposed than most Class 2 is. It doesn’t seem to show someone using their hands to pull themselves up the terrain e.g. simple climbing but it’s more than just walking up it without using hands for balance given the person in the picture has their right hand on rock.

T3 or YDS 2 should not fall into climbing=* - use_of_hands_for_balance definitely belongs in this scale. I was on a little social trail along a creek that was ~50m above sea level that had a few sections where I had to step up onto rocks and use my hands for balance, but I was definitely “walking” and not “scrambling”.

So this would be the equivalent of T3-T4 and YDS 2-3 collapsing in hands for balance and using handholds? YDS2 and T3 are NOT proper scrambling IMO, but they’re different from YDS3 T4.

I don’t see the need to change or collapse value 4.

I’m open to capping value 5. Say keep it at YDS 3 / T4-5? / BMC 1-2 or whatever and then push everything above that into climbing=* - YDS 4 and T6 definitely fall into the lower end of that category. I don’t really have a feeling for T5.

So T4 and below get ported to this scale, T5 and T6 get put as climbing:grade:sac_scale=t6 etc.

That’s some random guy on the internet (skimmed it, don’t have headphones at the moment). No backpacker I know calls Classes 2 to 4 scrambling. There’s a subset of people that call themselves scramblers (basically less technical than climbers, more technical than hikers) and they like to call everything a scramble. That’s a fairly recent niche sub trend.

I’ve been over dozens of passes and peaks that have been classified as Class 2, have written them up for an active online community, and there’s a very distinct difference between that terrain and Class 3 where proper “scrambling” would reasonably start.

“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. Hikers who are not used to class 2 terrain will soon become tired, especially if carrying a heavy pack. Talus can be unstable, and the danger of class 2 terrain is that you may stumble among these blocks—and it is also possible for a boulder to dislodge and roll over a hiker. Split Mountain (via the north ridge) is an example of class 2.”

“Class 3 is where the climbing begins. Hands and feet are used not just for balance, but to hang onto the rock. Steep or large talus can be rated as class 3. Class 3 is more common on steep faces or along ridges and arêtes. Novices may feel uncomfortable, but the holds are large “and easy to locate. A rope should be available to give a belay to anyone who requests it. “My favorite description of class 3 is by Steve Roper in the 1976 edition of The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra: “Imagine climbing a steep, narrow staircase outside of a tall building without benefit of a railing: scary but easy.”

Excerpt From
The High Sierra, Peaks, Passes, Trails
R.J. Secor

The SPS scrambler rating does cram that term in but that’s a recent system with only niche use in the Sierra Club SPS section. It hasn’t caught on and IMO isn’t all that useful as it compresses a lot of different values into a single rating. Pilot Knob & Obseration Peak were 2.1 but had moderate exposure on the ridges and large talus on the way up. Midway Peak was 2.2 but simpler but had a longer stretch of moderate Class 2 so it gets bumped up a rating.

YDS 2 is literally just moving over rough terrain (talus, loose, steep) where you might need to use your hands for balance. It’s very similar to SAC T3 which I don’t think anyone would call scrambling.

I think that maps to T4 if you drop exposure in terms of technique and the parts I saw are at the upper end of YDS 3 using the classic Secor definition. YDS 3 can also cover short simple stretches of scrambling or climbing to gain a ridge.

This isn’t walking_scale it’s foot_scale, someone is still on foot. These are previously shared examples of what would fall into Class 3 that are less extreme. I personally feel trying to include exposure into technique causes a lot of issues, but that’s a separate argument.

Valor Pass is described as Class 3 in Secor, and multiple people on High Sierra Topix have described it the same way.

This is moderately exposed, but still falls into the “simple climbing” category of YDS 3. A lot of people would consider this scrambling as it’s straightforward.

Is that described as YDS 3? The person describing says someone should be roped in, which would put it into YDS 4-5.

If the delineation between scrambling is if it hits UIAA then T3 is definitely not scrambling.

That’s the classic understanding of what Class 4 is.

Class 2 = using hands for balance on rough terrain
Class 3 = simple climbing
Class 4 = non-technical climbing (rope recommended)
Class 5 = technical climbing

Rewording 2-4 as easy/moderate/extereme scrambling isn’t commonly used outside of groups that consider themselves “scramblers”.

“Class 4 is on steep rock, with smaller holds, and a lot of exposure. (“Exposure” is a euphemism for the amount of air beneath your feet.) Ropes and belays should come into continuous use, because a fall will probably be fatal.”

Excerpt From
The High Sierra, Peaks, Passes, Trails
R.J. Secor

I personally don’t like the “lot of exposure” requirement - I’ll go up short sections of YDS 4-5 with a full pack that aren’t exposed, but they’re more difficult than Class 3, but the scale was originally geared for peaks.