Technical Difficulties
New Route Difficulties

We’re introducing a new Technical Difficulty rating for routes in OS Maps web & mobile, with four difficulty levels: Easy, Moderate, Difficult, and Severe. These will give you an indication of the experience and/or technical skill required, but not necessarily the fitness level needed.

For example a ‘Severe’ route doesn’t necessarily require high fitness – it might be a short scramble up an exposed rock face. Likewise, an ‘Easy’ route could be a 20km walk along a canal towpath – not technically difficult, even if you would have to be fairly fit to do it!

You’ll still be able to use the other route information such as distance, duration ascent, and elevation to help guide you.

How Does It Work?

We’ve put together a guide to provide an overview of what you could expect at the different levels, but you may prefer to get used to the levels by trying routes. If in doubt, always err on the side of caution when picking a route! We want everyone to enjoy safe experiences outdoors, and these technical difficulty levels are there to help you do that.

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What About The Old Difficulty Ratings?

We’ve decided not to convert the old Difficulties across to the new Technical Difficulties. 

Our focus is to make sure we have a difficulty rating system that our users can trust and this change is designed to help make sure all future routes are accurately graded, so there are no surprises when you're out and about! This change does mean that existing routes will not have their ratings carried over and therefore will have no difficulty rating assigned. 

There are two main reasons for this:

  • The old scale related to fitness levels, whereas the new Technical Difficulty scale focuses on experience and/or technical skill required which means there’s no direct comparison between the two scales.
  • Sticking to the new system means we can remove some of the grading errors that existed in the old system and make sure each route has the correct rating.
Does This Differ To Other Grading Systems?

There are many ways of grading routes, often blending ‘fitness’ and ‘technical difficulty’. With the variations in routes and individual ability, there isn’t one perfect system. We’ve used feedback from our users and drawn on different systems to deliver a helpful guide, but of course, four levels will never capture the variety of the 2 million + routes you can find in OS Maps so always use all the information available to assess a route.

Here's How It Looks For Different Activities
Walking / Running / Hiking
Easy
Moderate
Difficult
Severe
Gradient Generally flat  Moderate gradients  Steep ascents and descents  Very steep ascents and descents 
Remoteness Never far from the road or an access point  Route could be exited in around one hour  Route could be exited in a few hours  Upland or very remote areas far from any habitation; could take over half a day to exit the route 
Path type Generally accessible paths, surface usually paved or hardened  Narrower paths but mostly firm and stable surfaces, rocks and other obstacles may be present  Mountainous with steep, rocky sections requiring very good coordination; may involve crossing streams or marshes  Involves non-existent or unmarked trails and scrambles, technical equipment such as a rope may be required 
Navigation Well-marked paths, only basic navigation required  Paths generally well defined, signage or marking may also be present  Little signage, paths may be poorly defined; map and compass skills essential, particularly in poor weather  “Off-the-beaten-track”: extensive navigation experience using compass required 

Easy

Gradient Generally flat 
Remoteness Never far from the road or an access point 
Path type Generally accessible paths, surface usually paved or hardened 
Navigation Well-marked paths, only basic navigation required 

Moderate

Gradient Moderate gradients 
Remoteness Route could be exited in around one hour 
Path type Narrower paths but mostly firm and stable surfaces, rocks and other obstacles may be present 
Navigation Paths generally well defined, signage or marking may also be present 

Difficult

Gradient Steep ascents and descents 
Remoteness Route could be exited in a few hours 
Path type Mountainous with steep, rocky sections requiring very good coordination; may involve crossing streams or marshes 
Navigation Little signage, paths may be poorly defined; map and compass skills essential, particularly in poor weather 

Severe

Gradient Very steep ascents and descents 
Remoteness Upland or very remote areas far from any habitation; could take over half a day to exit the route 
Path type Involves non-existent or unmarked trails and scrambles, technical equipment such as a rope may be required 
Navigation “Off-the-beaten-track”: extensive navigation experience using compass required 
Road Cycling
Easy
Moderate
Difficult
Severe
Gradient Generally flat  Could include some steeper gradients, up to 10%  Steep descents with tight turns, up to 25%  Extremely steep ascents / descents, 25%+ 
Remoteness Through built-up areas, or popular recreation areas.  Away from build up areas, but never too far from civilisation  Countryside areas away from villages  Upland or remote areas, far from any habitation 
Road type  Route uses virtually traffic-free roads or cycle lanes  Mainly low capacity roads with some short sections on busier single carriageway roads  May include some sections of busier dual-carriageway roads 

Easy

Gradient Generally flat 
Remoteness Through built-up areas, or popular recreation areas. 
Road type  Route uses virtually traffic-free roads or cycle lanes 

Moderate

Gradient Could include some steeper gradients, up to 10% 
Remoteness Away from build up areas, but never too far from civilisation 
Road type  Mainly low capacity roads with some short sections on busier single carriageway roads 

Difficult

Gradient Steep descents with tight turns, up to 25% 
Remoteness Countryside areas away from villages 
Road type  May include some sections of busier dual-carriageway roads 

Severe

Gradient Extremely steep ascents / descents, 25%+ 
Remoteness Upland or remote areas, far from any habitation 
Road type 
Off-Road/Mixed Cycling
Easy
Moderate
Difficult
Severe
Gradient Shallow climbs and descents  Moderate climbs, possibly including short sections of steeper climbs  A wide range of steeper, tougher climbs and descents of a challenging nature  Any rideable or usable gradient, including steep descents 
Remoteness Never far from the road or an access point  Route could be exited in around one hour  Route could be exited in a few hours  Upland or very remote areas far from any habitation; could take over half a day to exit the route 
Path type Rail-trails, towpaths, reservoir trails, estate or forestry tracks, traffic quiet roads; smooth with minimal loose surfaces  May include bridleways, byways, un-surfaced unclassified roads and lightly trafficked lanes; mostly stoned surfaces  Any usable trail, likely to include singletrack and other technical sections  Technical trails, with unforgiving terrain, severe climbs and descents 
Hazards Generally very low risk but may include short, more difficult sections  Some loose surfaces, ruts, potholes or tree roots  Unavoidable berms, boardwalks, large stones, moderate steps and drop-offs; cambers, water crossings and 'North Shore' may be present  Unavoidable obstacles with large steps and drop-offs; prolonged steep, loose and rocky surfaces; can include exposed open hill sections and some man-made structures 

Easy

Gradient Shallow climbs and descents 
Remoteness Never far from the road or an access point 
Path type Rail-trails, towpaths, reservoir trails, estate or forestry tracks, traffic quiet roads; smooth with minimal loose surfaces 
Hazards Generally very low risk but may include short, more difficult sections 

Moderate

Gradient Moderate climbs, possibly including short sections of steeper climbs 
Remoteness Route could be exited in around one hour 
Path type May include bridleways, byways, un-surfaced unclassified roads and lightly trafficked lanes; mostly stoned surfaces 
Hazards Some loose surfaces, ruts, potholes or tree roots 

Difficult

Gradient A wide range of steeper, tougher climbs and descents of a challenging nature 
Remoteness Route could be exited in a few hours 
Path type Any usable trail, likely to include singletrack and other technical sections 
Hazards Unavoidable berms, boardwalks, large stones, moderate steps and drop-offs; cambers, water crossings and 'North Shore' may be present 

Severe

Gradient Any rideable or usable gradient, including steep descents 
Remoteness Upland or very remote areas far from any habitation; could take over half a day to exit the route 
Path type Technical trails, with unforgiving terrain, severe climbs and descents 
Hazards Unavoidable obstacles with large steps and drop-offs; prolonged steep, loose and rocky surfaces; can include exposed open hill sections and some man-made structures 
Horse Riding
Easy
Moderate
Difficult
Severe
Gradient Generally flat  Moderate gradients  Steep ascents and descents  Very steep ascents and descents 
Remoteness Never far from the road or an access point  Route could be exited in an hour  Route could be exited in a few hours  Upland or very remote areas far from any habitation; could take over half a day to exit the route 
Path type  Route uses virtually traffic-free roads, bridleways, byways or forestry tracks; wide enough to accommodate two way usage (likely to be multi-use and encounters with other users including cyclists, walkers and runners to be expected)   May include sections on some slightly busier roads and sections of single tracks  May include crossings of busy roads, and more frequent single track sections  May include sections of non-existent, narrow, unmarked trails  
Obstacles  Relatively obstacle free  May include shallow fords, equine suitable bridges and gates that require opening and closing  May include river crossings and more variable surface, rocks and tree roots or stumps  

Easy

Gradient Generally flat 
Remoteness Never far from the road or an access point 
Path type  Route uses virtually traffic-free roads, bridleways, byways or forestry tracks; wide enough to accommodate two way usage (likely to be multi-use and encounters with other users including cyclists, walkers and runners to be expected)  
Obstacles  Relatively obstacle free 

Moderate

Gradient Moderate gradients 
Remoteness Route could be exited in an hour 
Path type  May include sections on some slightly busier roads and sections of single tracks 
Obstacles  May include shallow fords, equine suitable bridges and gates that require opening and closing 

Difficult

Gradient Steep ascents and descents 
Remoteness Route could be exited in a few hours 
Path type  May include crossings of busy roads, and more frequent single track sections 
Obstacles  May include river crossings and more variable surface, rocks and tree roots or stumps  

Severe

Gradient Very steep ascents and descents 
Remoteness Upland or very remote areas far from any habitation; could take over half a day to exit the route 
Path type  May include sections of non-existent, narrow, unmarked trails  
Obstacles 
Paddling
Easy
Moderate
Difficult
Severe
River grade  Ungraded, easy Grade 1  Grade 1 and easy Grade 2  Harder Grade 2 and Grade 3  Grade 4+ 

Easy

River grade  Ungraded, easy Grade 1 

Moderate

River grade  Grade 1 and easy Grade 2 

Difficult

River grade  Harder Grade 2 and Grade 3 

Severe

River grade  Grade 4+