Soft and boggy paths

I’d be interested to know what people are using to tag soft and boggy paths, particularly with a view to suitability for cycling.

In the uplands of mid-Wales, there are numerous paths which are legally accessible to bikes, but in practice are very hard going even on a mountain bike.

Often these have a soft surface which is ok for walking (assuming you have good boots), but a bike will just sink into it. It might be obviously boggy/wet, or it might be more “tussocky” - “a compact tuft especially of grass or sedge, also: an area of raised solid ground in a marsh or bog that is bound together by roots of low vegetation”.

Here’s some example reading:

There isn’t an obvious surface tag value. mtb:scale is more about technical ability - obstacles and gradients - than about paths which are just difficult going by virtue of their surface. Similarly tracktype and smoothness are mostly about the roughness of the surface. I’m a bit stumped and I suspect most other mappers are too, as I haven’t seen anything widely in use for this sort of path (in the UK, at least).

Any suggestions?


tracktype is mostly about surface firmness, so it would help, but not sufficient. It seems we don’t have enough surface tags :smile: Surface:mud seems close enough?

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I am carrying the same subject in my bag “needs clarification” … just not yet put into writing so far. We have similar tracks in our region here - not in the open grassland but more in forest areas. Tracks which are subject to constantly trickling water, following the track for some distance and then finding another way down to the next stream. Depending on weather conditions these tracks are soaked with water for many month and drying only in longer periods of dry conditions. Hard to walk and even worse to ride a bike.

Another issue are tracks covered by dry wood, scattered over the way sometimes in many layers and nearly impossible to ride by bike unless you are a pro. This deadwood problem has significantly increased over the past few years due to the hot and dry summers causing great damage to our forests.

My idea for these issues was not to define further surface tags but to make use of the obstacle key instead. For the given examples (in the opening post an above):

  • surface=ground + obstacle=bog or swamp
  • surface=grass + obstacle=tussock
  • surface=ground + obstacle=deadwood

and the like. I am aware the obstacle key acutally is not that much in use but it could be helpful to describe such environmental features in addition to the surface and smoothness tag imho.

I’ve used surface=mud for a trail that was built just before a wetland restoration project was more successful than anticipated. (The trail in question is underwater during spring and early summer, and is only really practical in winter, once the ground freezes.)

I’d use surface for (whatever fits the surface - maybe grass or dirt here), and I’d use smoothness to try and show how hard it is to navigate with a wheeled vehicle. It’d not perfect, but it is at least a scale that allows you to compare places with each other.

As an example of the problems, the section of track here has been mapped with smoothness on a “how easy would it be to drive a car” basis (as described n the wiki), and unfortunately the difficultly in cycling it doesn’t map perfectly only that - on the “bad” sections at the south end you can just cycle around the potholes, but the “intermediate” sections to the north are worse on a bike because you can’t.

The other bit is the “may get boggy” part of the question. This is orthogonal to flood_prone, and I’m not sure OSM has a good tag for it. There are lots of notes and descriptions containing “boggy” though.

I think we need a separate softness tag to be used alongside smoothness with similar implications from surface. For me soft beach sand is probably the softest “dry” surface I’ve encountered. It can be surprisingly tiring to even walk over and I wouldn’t expect a typical bike to have any chance, the “fat tyre” ones might even struggle. Oddly has the opposite effect to mud generating soils when wet and tends to firm up until actually underwater, but I digress.

Would it be worth tagging firmness in the dry and wet separately? I know they use a scale for the day’s track conditions in horseracing but I don’t really think that’s a good starting point for OSM.

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sogginess=mushy|mucky|sodden|soaked|waterlogged :melting_face:

I would consider inventing a new surface value or qualifier.

I initially wanted to answer surface=mud but it seems to not really fit.

The problem with a surface tag for “can get a bit boggy” is that there might be some other entirely valid surface tag tat can also apply (dirt, grass, and in a few bits of riverbank near me, concrete).

Another option might be something like hazard, but the values there are a bit of a hotch-potch.


or obstacle …?!?.. as already suggested earlier.

Maybe, but as you noted earlier there isn’t really anything properly established for that sort of thing there. I’d be more than happy to support any suggestion - currently the web maps I create use wider spaced dashes to “de-emphasise” certain paths for various reasons. Currently obstacle=vegetation is one of those, as is informal=yes and low trail_visibility.