Tag trail_visibility: Proposed Improvements for this Descriptive Tag

@erutan It seems you’ve been reading the original description of trail_visibility on the wiki here Key:trail_visibility - OpenStreetMap Wiki while my proposal for a clarified text is on the wiki talk page here Talk:Key:trail visibility - OpenStreetMap Wiki What do you think of the revised version? Is it better? Can it be improved?

When reading the original text, the reference to both path and markers confused me (and not only me). My first idea was that it makes logical sense to split these into path visibility and markers visibility, but the discussion here convinced me it doesn’t make practical sense. A map user would like to have an idea of what to expect from a path he sees on the map before he decides to take it: how (physically) difficult it is to hike (which sac_scale describes), and how easy it is to follow (not to get lost). With trail_visibility we are trying to describe the last. Here I don’t think it makes any practical sense to separate markers from any other visual clues: anything that helps to follow the mapped trail (the thin dashed line on the map is what I mean by “path” or “trail”) should be taken into account.

Until this discussion, I didn’t know this tag existed, I’ve never added it to the map, and maybe I won’t ever. But I can imagine a hiker would like to have some info on how easy it is to follow the itinerary he planned to follow by following the trail blazes. So trailblazed:visibility only really matters when he has to make a choice between different paths, i.e. at junctions. There it could be useful info (to know how much attention he needs to pay, to know how much time he might need to spend on finding trail markers and on walking down the wrong path, etc.).

Here I don’t think it makes any practical sense to separate markers from any other visual clues: anything that helps to follow the mapped trail (the thin dashed line on the map is what I mean by “path” or “trail”) should be taken into account.

I disagree, there is a difference. If the trail visibility is good and it refers to the physical path, one will expect to see it on aerial imagery, or similarly if it is bad to not see it. People will map accordingly. It should be clear what this refers to, and there should be a way to express whether the trail is visible on the ground

Aerial imagery fails for this. A trail can be very visible on the ground, but due to trees, not very visible from aerial imagery.


I wouldn’t throw aerial imagery in the discussion about on the ground visibility.


Aerial imagery fails for this. A trail can be very visible on the ground, but due to trees, not very visible from aerial imagery.

sure, this is very frequent until you reach a certain height. Still many hiking trails can be seen very well in aerial imagery, also on rocky ground, for the parts that aren’t hidden by canopy, that’s why I mentioned it.

Yes! I agree and that’s why I think Richard’s suggestions are good. That’s very similar to your Solution 1.

I think they’re both equally important because the two combined make it easier to follow the path/trail.

I have nothing against breaking down trail_visibility further into trailblazed:visibility and trail_surface_visibility. It could be useful for renderers, they might want to show an indistinct but well-signposted path differently from a well-worn but unmarked one. It’s just that I can’t see myself using trail_surface_visibility much: we’re debating edge cases here but for the vast majority of paths I imagine the value will be identical to that of trail_visibility.

That is also how I see it. I think it all boils down to the question what the key is going to be used for. What I have in mind is that hiking apps can use it to show a warning message such as “the planned route leads over faint and indistinct paths and requires good navigation skills”, general-purpose pedestrian routers can avoid them and renderers can show them less visibly. Practically, what matters most to me is if I’m going to get lost, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse (which is when trail visibility becomes most important.)

This is directly related to the navigation skills required. (It doesn’t take navigation skills to follow a well-marked path even if it’s not visible on the ground.)

This is better, and essentially describes a path_visibility replacing the original intention of what I’d call trail_surface_visibility.

The key is not about route visibility (how easy it is to choose the right trail at a trail junction)

Route visibiliity sounds strange - I would change it to routing (and mention the more formal term route relations). Pathless paths are often called routes as a route is just the specific path you are doing or want to do regardless of any physical conditions around it, where routing is trying to get from one place to another. This really has very little to do with the trail, and more to do with junctions & signposts as the parenthesis makes clear. It could be worth adding a link to

Path sometimes invisible, route partly pathless

Here you are using the definition of route I am referring to - unless this somewhat means that routing between paths is mostly pathless? That doesn’t make any sense to me. Using the word route does not automatically make something about routing, which seems to confuse people that are used to thinking about general map routing.

trail_visibility=no can be useful to indicate that a route is passable, but no path is visible.

This is awful. I can literally make hundreds of routes that contain “passable” terrain to the same location - do we really want OSM full of paths that are just “passable terrain”? See Tag trail_visibility: Proposed Improvements for this Descriptive Tag - #80 by erutan

Is there a formal movement away from using “ground truth” to map paths? I had thought this was a core tent of OSM, but perhaps I’m wrong.

If the overall path visibility is “no” then it should be a node network of digital “markers” to keep people on key points or decisions. IMO it is no longer a path, by definition it is “pathless”. If someone can’t routefind on their own they shouldn’t just be staring at a random person’s GPX track creating new trails by packing use on a concentrated area. If nothing else they will never be accurate enough to truly routefind in semi-technical terrain (even ± 3 meters can get you in trouble). I guess we could make a highway=pathless lol

Doesn’t the original definition of trail_visibility (which was accepted at the time) also help when trying to find an intersection? If you have no markers but an excellent clear trail surface junctions are straightforward, if you have no trail surface but a lot of markers and a larger marker at a junction (plus further markers heading in more directions) junctions are straightforward. Is there a clear argument as to why only the latter is important and the first case isn’t?

In terms of pure routing, overall path visibility is what matters. Trail surface, marker visibility, and overall path visibility don’t always add up - I gave a recent example where surface visibility is horrible, markers are intermediate, that sort of averages out to the overall experience of the path visibility is bad. I can honestly see an argument for just simplifying things and relying on the new trail_visbility and trailblazed without the related :visibility but at the point where people are arguing that trailblazed:visibility is important I can’t see why trail surface is somehow irrelevant.

It’ll come down to a regional thing, as well as how often people are hiking on abandoned or informal trails.

In areas of heavy vegetation, dirt, or sand you will tend to have paths that express themselves by solely trail_surface_visibility unless you are briefly crossing a streambed or something (wet or dry) in which case there will be markers. In areas of long stone slabs (alpine granite, desert slick rock / sandstone) or consistent snow/ice coverage paths will tend to be driven by markers. In the past few weeks I’ve hiked on areas that were excellent on one and no on the other, and vice versa.

One interesting case are trails that have a good surface visibility, and are occasionally marked where surface visibility is poor so the overall visibility of the path is still excellent. In that case I think just having trailblazed=cairn, trail_surface_visibility=good, and trail_visibility=excellent would tell the story pretty clearly - you will lose the trail at times, but if you look for a marker you can find yourself back on the path again.

In the past few weeks I’ve also hiked on multiple pathless paths that I created from my own routefinding, but that I think are not appropriate for OSM or any general use mapping. I shared some screenshots of my personal waypoints with a local that enjoys off-trail, and he may share them with people he knows and trusts, etc and that’s fine but I wouldn’t put them up as a “path”. His “route” will be slightly different from the one I had taken as we have difference preferences for terrain, directness, exposure, etc… that’s part of the fun IMO.

I just deleted a path (after reaching out to the creator) that looked like it could be a path using imagery (it followed a wash and some game trails) but in reality was no stronger or weaker than many areas around it. It also violated the LNT off-trail ethos of the area it was in as some of those game trails that were more direct had living biological crust around hoof prints, so I ignored it and kept to washes, but was curious if it actually had some historical basis. It didn’t.

That said tracing old jeep roads or tails based on imagery vs relying on a bunch of smoothed GPX tracks or old USGS lines makes sense.

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Yes, in my opinion, when trail_visibility is a combination of markers and surface, there are only very limited use cases for entering a path with trail_visiblity=no into OSM at all. We could add a warning about ground truth and verifiability to the entry for the no value.

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One thing that I’ve found useful and has come up in the #trails channel in slack is using node networks for these routes that are pathless. I think node networks cover the limited use cases while being more true to the spirit and skills required.

This is already a commonly accepted practice in the general alpine off-trail community (don’t share tracks but waypoints, don’t create new trails, etc). While I personally think the proliferation of acronym routes is a bit overdone and I think defeat the purpose of XC, this image is an example of how a “route” can be loosely described https://andrewskurka.com/wp-content/uploads/kchbr-map-11x17-scaled.jpg

I’ve done portions of that independently, and the marker saying to keep on the W shore of South Guard lake is poor advice early season when there’s steep snowbanks along it, but that’s the nature of routes and why people should be able to improvise based on conditions. If “connecting the dots” is too hard for them, they should stick to paths or do simpler routes until they have that skillset.

I had to look that up. There are quite some Silver Creek Trails on OSM, I found this, Earlier today, I found a different one, but this seems just approriate as well.

I am in awe about the vastness of wasteland that is on offer in the US! Do the USGS references say, that the trail is officially sanctioned as something existing on the ground? Mooving troops? What would be the reason?

West of the rockies the US has a lot of amazing wilderness - there’s a lot of truly wild (and gorgeous) land to explore. East of there I’d say there’s more wasteland, or at least cattle ranges and farms heh.

That particular trail appears on USGS maps, and was maintained at one point but the lower elevations of Sierra NF were more heavily used in the past when more people used pack animals, the area has a lot of abandoned trails due to lack of funding and lower use (most recreational backpackers want to get to sub-alpine or alpine environments), I’m not sure if it was part of the old cavalry trail network (they’d mostly run out shepherds that were responsible for the decimation of a lot of the high meadows over a century ago).

We did it on day 8 of a 10 day trip crossing over to the big Margaret lakes area from a trailhead on the eastern side of the range, improvising the ridge Sharktooth mountain as a pass (the pass we were planning on using had really sketchy loose large talus) and then over Sharktooth Lake Pass (which is now completely pathless but was a trail many decades ago, aside from the very occasional informal cairn and two cut logs we saw one of which was rotting).

Here’s a junction sign along it lol

Was going to add a photo of an old blazed tree and about as strong as the trail got next to it, but I can only embed one photo per post. :slight_smile:

I’m not pointing fingers in any particular direction, however, I’ll say I am personally not a fan of the word “wasteland.” At least for anywhere on Earth. Even nuclear waste dumps, toxic landfills and vast deserts have something to teach us…to offer to either some living thing or greater knowledge for humanity.

We might discover other (potentially habitable?) planets in our present or future and declare some of them “less desirable for potential human habitation,” but really, calling anywhere “wasteland” is pretty harsh.

I hike and camp (and love) wilderness. These are some of the most important places we have. It’s nice to see the respect for history and mapping (and knowledge of environments…) in this thread, but…“wasteland?” Really?

If English is not your first language, that is something that might be mentioned, as I am constantly amazed by the English-as-a-second-language (or more!) usage I see in this project. (Thanks to all who study English! My mother was an ESL teacher for 45 years). If you mean “wilderness” or “wild and untamed land,” the w-word “wilderness” is much preferred (by me, anyway) to the w-word “wasteland.” Thanks.

Yeah, he’s from Austria as he said earlier in this topic - I assumed he meant desolate or undeveloped and wasn’t going to call him on it (not pointing fingers, but it’s pretty clear who you were referring to heh). Europe is heavily developed and doesn’t have much true “wilderness” though it has some incredible mountain scenery - you can’t really dispersed camp in many mountain areas, many valleys have villages in them, etc.

I have a friend that used to manage a small ranch in Idaho who had some guides in the Swiss Alps ask where he was from. He was like, pssh, Idaho is embarrassing next to the Alps but they got super excited and mentioned they go to Idaho for a month every year to have actual “wilderness”. I’ve seen similar reactions in Germans when we drove through long stretches of untamed forest in BC (well aside from the clearcut sections).

Thanks for your reply.

True wilderness is certainly a wonder to behold!

In German there is the term Ödland, this is what I had in mind. On another day I might have written Badlands instead, that might be another word for word translation. Wikidata links it to barren, which is only halfway true. We have lots of Ödland here, e.g. the Sölden commune has it on ⅔ of its area.

The term may sound pejorative, but it is used regularly by all parties. It just states the fact, that it is not usable for production (agriculture, forestry) or housing/industry. Curiously, I find it hard to translate wilderness. From top of my head, the closest I can come up with is “(unberührte) Natur”. There is indeed some overlap. Quite some protected areas are on Ödland.

Update: I just looked up, what in awe means. This I got right :slight_smile:

I’m sure the interpretation of these words is just a cultural difference. It sounds like Ödland doesn’t have a negative connotation for native German speakers and is just a neutral word to describe a landcape which has no potential economic use and supports very little life. Although wasteland technically means the same in English, that word carries a much more negative connotation to the modern American ear. It makes one think of truly destroyed places like bombing test sites, the aftermath of war, strip mining, or similar.

The southwestern United States contains vast deserts which can appear to be barren at first. I grew up in a forested region and when I first visited these deserts they certainly appeared lifeless to me. After spending time there I realized they were vibrant ecosystems teeming with life that I had previously been unfamiliar with. The term wasteland certainly does not apply to these deserts, but to those unfamiliar (as I was) it is easy to mistake them.

Deepl translates the English word wilderness to the German word wildnis. Does that seem an accurate word for “a wild place” or “a place undisturbed by human activity”?

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It doesn’t sound very negative to me (British English).

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Actually I think “Ödland” in German has a fairly negative connotation, and this is because of the mere fact that land where nothing is growing is not very attractive and maybe even suspicious (there might be something harmful for humans as well, if plants have a hard time, at the least it may lack water.). If some land was simply not used, but might eventually be attractive for use, you would use a different term like “Brache” (it is also negative, but has the prospective maybe even imperative to being turned into something).

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Thanks for the excellent culture-language expositions, these can be (and are in this case) fascinating.

Just today on [OSM-talk] Intercultural differences / cultural diversity / OSM communication behaviors, @ImreSamu shared a short essay on “Intercultural differences / cultural diversity / OSM communication behaviors.” It specifically addressed cultural and language differences between German and “U.S.-American” (I’ve never seen that moniker but it works for me) aspects of large project / team meeting behaviors. Our Etiquette Guidelines were mentioned as needing to be bolstered and an important takeaway was this:

Probably the EU/German OSM community needs to learn how to wrap their raw, honest messages in a sugar coating, making it more palatable for those with an American cultural background. Conversely, the American community should strive to be less sensitive towards differing norms from other cultural communities, embracing the deep-level diversity that comes with global collaboration.

(As a “U.S.-American,” I’ll say “point taken, thank you”).

Often, individuals communicating in this project are simply “the messenger,” inevitably a product of their / our culture, and what this is or how it may affect or come across to another in the world is wholly unknown with potentially unknowable side effects. So, I guess it’s good that we both talk about these things and remain as sensitive as possible to any (perceived) offense as not actually intentional offensive behavior, but simply cultural and language differences. This can be difficult. As always, I am appreciative of those those who strive to understand and respect these differences.

Now…trail_visibility again? (A fascinating discussion all its own!)

Edit: Added link to Imre’s post.


Might be ! Not a native English speaker though. While germane German, It did not occur to me, because: 1) We do not have much of that, 2) people commonly do not like to go there, they prefer the next hut with servings not too far :wink: And no bears.

Update: 3) With a cellphone in your pocket, mountain rescue is always just a call away, except in the Wildnis, where Android asks you to connect over Wifi instead