Proposed features/via ferrata

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Status: Proposed (under way)
Proposed by: Kaspi
Tagging: highway=via_ferrata
Applies to: linear, node
Definition: A mountain route equipped with fixed cables, stemples, ladders, and bridges.
Rendered as: Proposal rendering sac scale via ferrata.svgsymbol for overlay:Karabiner.svg
Drafted on:
Proposed on: 2010-08-22

This is draft version 2, old proposition was here Proposed features/via ferrata version 1 RFC e-mail sent on tagging list


There is no accepted tagging scheme for via ferratas in OSM. Some easier ferratas could be mapped as highway=path with additional keys describing difficulty but this is inappropriate for the more difficult ferratas which have more similarities to climbing routes, require ferrata kits and skills and are completely unsuitable for casual hikers, bicycles, horses and anything else which is by default allowed on highway=path. Also, highway=path is already fraught with enough confusion (see eg Path controversy) and used for anything from roadside bike paths to demanding alpine paths.

Hence highway=via_ferrata is proposed. While there is some overlap of easy ferratas and difficult alpine paths this should not pose any fundamental problem as explained bellow.


See the full definition on wikipedia [1]

A via ferrata is a route equipped with fixed cables, stemples, ladders, and bridges in order to increase ease and security for climbers. These via ferrata require equipment : climbing harness, shock absorber and two short lengths of rope, but do not require a long rope as for climbing.

For paths with safety ropes which do not require special equipment see the approved proposal safety measures on hiking trails.

Main tags

Key Value Element Comment Example
highway via_ferrata Node Way via_ferrata on the whole length of the iron rope. If it is too short to be tagged as a way (according to your recording precision) tag it as a node
name * Node Way usually via ferratas do have a common name to be easily found on the map

highway=via_ferrata by default implies:

  • unsuitable/forbidden for bicycles, horses and similar
  • wheelchair=no

Easy ferratas which are useable by hikers may also be mapped with highway=path as described in the next section. sac_scale=* and via_ferrata_scale=* can be used for either of highway=via_ferrata/path where appropriate.

Criteria for taging as either via_ferrata or path

There is some overlap between easy ferratas and difficult hiking paths. If you have a hard time deciding which one is more appropriate than the mistake if you choose either of those is probably not a big one.

When deciding whether to map something as highway=via_ferrata or highway=path with safety measures on hiking trails you may consider following points:

  • use highway=via_ferrata where people commonly use ferrata kits
  • a path is way where a hiker can walk without a ferrata kit and without extensive use of arm muscles and climbing techniques. The difficulty of routes mapped as path should not exceed that of sac_scale=difficult_alpine_hiking (climbing up to second grade)
  • if a ferrata kit makes the route safer in bad weather map it as highway=via_ferrata
  • use highway=path where a ferrata kit is not required/recommended or none or very few people use ferrata kits
  • do not use highway=path instead of highway=via_ferrata just for the (mapnik) renderer! At least OpenAndroMaps and MRI render via ferrata and the way type should not be decided on the ground what is or isn't rendered.

If tagging easy ferratas as highway=path it is important to tag the access and usability for pedestrians, bicycles, horses etc as well because paths are by default expected to be open to all non-motorised vehicles.

Rating via ferrata's difficulty

There is no "world wide scale" for via_ferrata diffculty, The "German" Huesler scale (as taken from Wikipedia 1 ) seems to be the only one with quite objective qualifications. Therefore it is used for OSM with the addition of very little difficulty / French F.

Key Value Element Description Conversion Examples
via_ferrata_scale 0 WayNode Subjective Difficulty very little

Way/Surroundings Flat to steep, Exposed sections possible

Securance Steel cables, chains, stemples (metal rungs) and partly short iron ladders. Short and easy.

Exigencies Surefootedness and being free from giddiness recommendable. No problem for unsporty

Equipment Basic Via-Ferrata kit may be recommended but is not used by most people


German: none - very easy

via_ferrata_scale 1 WayNode Subjective Difficulty little

Way/Surroundings Flat to steep, usually rocky. Exposed sections possible

Securance Steel cables, chains, stemples (metal rungs) and partly short iron ladders. Most parts are usable without using the artificial securance

Exigencies Surefootedness and being free from giddiness recommendable. Being as sporty as a white collar employee enough (for the ferrata itself, depending on the overall journey it may be different)

Equipment Basic via ferrata kit recommended. Experienced ferrata users are often met without self-securance

French: PD

German: A-K1 - little difficult

via_ferrata_scale 2 WayNode Subjective Difficulty litte to slightly difficult, in parts a bit demanding or exhausting

Way/Surroundings steep rocky area, in parts small steps, exposed terrain is common

Securance Steel cables, chains, stemples, Tritttifte??, long ladders (also vertical). Usage bypassing securances possible, but then climbing up to UIAA III / French 3 are to be expected

Exigencies Same as for 1, but better shape and a bit more power and endurance in legs and arms are advantageous

Equipment Via ferrata kit recommended. Usage also possible as rope team

French: AD

German: B-K2 - moderately difficult

via_ferrata_scale 3 WayNode Subjective Difficulty largely difficult, exigeant and straining

Way/Surroundings steep to very steep rock faces, mostly only small steps, longer or many exposed sections

Securance Steel cables, stemples, Trittstifte, often longer ladders, even overhanging ladders and stemples to be expected, sometimes in vertical sections only steel cables existing, Usable bypassing securances usually possible, but then climbing up to UIAA IV/ French 4 is the norm

Exigencies Good shape, longer ascents in difficult sections are demanding as ferratas of this difficulty are already among the bigger ferratas (sic! better translation?)

Equipment Via ferrata kit heavily recommended. Unexperienced or children should eventually even be roped in

French: D

German: C-K3 - difficult

via_ferrata_scale 4 WayNode Subjective Difficulty very difficult, very demanding and very straining

Way/Surroundingsvertical, often overhanging areas, largely very exposed

Securance Steel cables, stemples, Trittstifte (often spaced with large distance), in exposed section often no more than a steel cable

Exigencies Same as for 3, but general good body shape needed. Good power in hands and arms as longer vertical to overhanging sections are possible. Also small climbing sections up to difficulty UIAA II / French 2 may need to be cleared.

Equipment Via ferrata kit obligatory, even very experienced via ferrata users will be met in a rope team. Not recommended for children or inexperienced

French: TD

German: D-K4 - very difficult

via_ferrata_scale 5 WayNode Subjective Difficulty Extremely difficulty because very straining and exceedingly arduous.

Way/Surroundings Vertical to Overhanging; consistently exposed, very small steps or slab climbing

Securance As for 4 but much more climbing parts

Exigencies Lots of power in hands (fingers), arms and legs. Increased levels of fitness, flexibility needed. Long section may need to be cleared with main weight carried by the arms

Equipment Via ferrata kit obligatory. Rope teams especially for those sections without steel ropes or other securances considerable; not recommendable for beginners or children

French: ED

German: E-K5 - extreme difficulty

via_ferrata_scale 6 WayNode Subjective Difficulty More than extremely difficulty because very straining and exceedingly arduos and very good climbings skills are needed.

Way/Surroundings Largely Overhanging; exposed, very small steps or slab climbing

Securance As for 5 combined with climbing

Exigencies Like 5, but good climbing technique obligatory

Equipment Via ferrata kit obligatory. Top rope recommended. Only for people that feel safe and have experience using scale 5 ferratas. Note currently the only known ferrata of this difficulty in the European Alps is found on the Buergeralm Klettersteig (Austria) with "Arena Variante" 1

French: ABO

German: F-K6 more than extreme difficulty

  • Note: You can add a + or a - after the value to indicate that the via ferrata is on bottom or top of the grade.
  • sac_scale=* may be added where advanced hikers might still securely use the via ferrata.
  • Note: I took out the two French beginner sections as the German scale does not make a differentiation. I propose to enter it as 0 - very easy with a classification like "Basically demanding_mountain_hiking but in exposed sections. For frightened or inexperienced people steel cables or short ladders or a few stemples might be part of the way. Is in general not considered as a via ferrata but a normal way featuring via ferrata objects. Via Ferrata kit in general not used and only insecure people use the eventual steel cables. --Extremecarver 18:29, 18 November 2010 (UTC)

Details along the way

Those tags have to be added to the main one if used (i.e not alone) some are already approved so they are part of this proposal as an extension use

Key Value Element Comment Example
bridge yes WayNode An unspecified bridge type along the via ferrata route Left
bridge:structure simple-suspension Way "Tibetan" or other very simple hanging/swinging bridges including 2 or more rope bridges see bridge:structure=simple-suspension for more details Left
cable_number 2 or more WayNode For cable bridges the total number of cables, in addition to bridge=yes and bridge:structure=simple-suspension Left (here a 3 cable bridge)
aerialway zip_line WayNode A zip line along the via ferrata route see Proposed feature/aerialway=zip line  
oneway yes Way It the via ferrata is not allowed both ways  
ladder length in m WayNode Steel ladder
tunnel yes WayNode A tunnel/cave along the via ferrata route Left
overhang yes/no/ length in m WayNode Overhanging sections of significant length  

Related tags

Please discuss on talk page

Talk:Proposed features/via ferrata