RfC: Have pathless hiking routes (no trail_visibility) be a type of node_network instead of paths

Overview & Issue:

There’s a number of paths that are… shockingly straight lines that completely ignore contours. I haven’t been on all of them, but I’ve been on some and they feel much more like a route in the western US sense of the term - a cross country path (think Roper or Skurka) where users are expected to use their own discretion routefinding but make their way from described locations or waypoints to the next ones. Drawing lines in between widely spaced nodes to make a path is a poor experience.

Having routes be a set of numbered waypoints would have some clear upsides:

  • less impact created by people focusing on an arbitrary track and creating a trail where none existed
  • lless confusion by people that expect a trail when it shows up in a mapping client
  • clarity that it is meant to be an XC route leading to some location (usually a peak or named feature)

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.

A major use of them would be for commonly used but informal routes, but these formally exist in Austria as “alpine routes” and they’re just being added as paths at the moment.

Proposed General Solution

After some discussion, come up with a node_network for such off-trail pathless routes ala Climbing Routes, which was also suggested by the OSM Trails working group.

This is already a commonly accepted practice in the general alpine off-trail community in the USA at least (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 by waypoints/nodes

Aside: I’ve done portions of that independently of any guide, 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 have a solid mind for systems, but am pretty new to the details of OSM, so feel free to suggest major changes to this section!

Have the overall map object be something like:


Climbing - OpenStreetMap Wiki already exists and can be used for inspiration. Some suggested nodes:

pathless-hiking=top would generally be a peak or pass. note that a lot of off trail passes & cols are already somewhat arbitrary and are not natural saddles, so these are really standalone nodes for pathless routes that exist because they are a “named place” if informally.

pathless-hiking=bottom would sometimes/often not exist, a lot of times a pathless_route up to a pass starts from the shoreline of a lake, or the side of a trail and is up to individual routefinding preferences until the terrain gets steeper/tighter. this could be a way as well as a node, indicating a general starting area?

pathless-hiking=important could be a part of the route where more attention to routefinding / orienteering is necessary to avoid having to backtrack and/or adding extra risk. this could also be pathless-hiking=decision_point, pathless-hiking=crux, etc with a description on it. In the Sierra Nevada, the Class 2 ledge (SAC 2-3) which is the only way around a Class 4 drop (UAII 3) for Finger Col, or the small pond along the Cirque Pass route with a deceptive grassy shoot leading to exposed wet cliffs to the left, or straightforward terrain on the right when dropping.

pathless-hiking=key-marker a location of a key cairn or marker on the route. should be used sparingly as to not just create a node_network of hundreds of cairns essentially creating a path

Not having these be rendered in mapping clients off the bat seems fine to me, IMO they should be an optional map layer (Gaia GPS), or rendered very softly (Caltopo).


So far everyone has been supportive of the general idea (or abstained) in the #trails channel on OSM Slack and in a related thread here on trail_visbility. I can link to those in a follow up comment for visibility.

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Ce sujet de discussion accompagne la publication sur https://community.openstreetmap.org/t/rfc-have-pathless-hiking-routes-no-trail-visibility-be-a-type-of-node-network-instead-of-paths/98815