What is snap-to-path?
If you know how to use the OS Maps app to plan a walking route, you’ve probably already used the snap-to-path feature. It’s a useful tool that can take some of the time (and clicks) out of creating an online route by automatically aligning it with existing roads, paths and tracks.
It’s useful but not perfect…yet!
Where can I use snap-to-path?
In previous versions of OS Maps you could select snap-to-path if you were planning a route within a national park.
As you can imagine, developing the detailed dataset for this took a huge amount of time and cooperation between park rangers and Ordnance Survey.
You could also use snap-to-path if you were planning a route on the free standard map version of OS Maps (something I wouldn’t recommend for walkers because it doesn’t show enough detail).
But now snap-to-path is global and you can use it anywhere, with any type of map.
I’ve even tested it on a walking route I’ve planned and completed in New Zealand.
How do you use snap-to-path in OS Maps?
Because I almost always use the web version of OS Maps to create walking routes, I’ll be using it instead of the mobile app for this demonstration.
You will find a few differences.
First you need to make sure Global snap-to-path is enabled in your app settings. To do this go to Preferences then Advanced Preferences.
Once you’ve done that, how to use snap-to-path is up to you.
By selecting or deselecting the snap symbol (a magnet), you can choose whether or not to let snap select your route between two points.
Here’s an example.
I wanted a walking route from the viewpoint on Bellever Tor to the standing stone near Laughter Tor.
- With snap-to-path selected (red magnet symbol). You can see from the purple line that I only selected two points; the snap feature filled in the rest of the route.
2. Without snap-to-path selected (black magnet symbol). Here I had to add several points manually to plot the same route.
How do I know I’m walking on public footpaths?
What’s interesting about snap’s route choice in the first picture above is that it chooses a path rather than the available public rights of way.
Look at the picture below to see what I mean. There are public footpaths (short green dashes), public bridleways (longer green dashes) and other paths that aren’t public rights of way (black dashes).
In this case it doesn’t matter if my walking route sticks to public footpaths and bridleways because the yellowish shading of the background shows us that the whole area is access land (where you can walk at will).
This isn’t the case everywhere.
Does snap-to-path make sure I’m walking on public rights of way?
The answer to this is no (with a bit of yes). And it’s all down to datasets. If you’re using snap-to-path within a national park, you’re accessing data with added local knowledge. Which means you’re likely to be walking somewhere you’re permitted to.
If you’re using snap-to-path outside a national park, the system will be accessing OpenStreetMap data, which because it is provided by a range of different sources, won’t necessarily be accurate about selecting public rights of way.
So how will I know if I’m walking on public rights of way?
It’s time to do a tiny bit of upskilling.
The answer to this is to learn a few map symbols.
Footpath and bridleway symbols are easier than you think.
On a 1:25,000 scale map (best for walking) the public rights of way are green dashes.
On a 1:50,000 scale map (less detail) the public rights of way are red dashes.
There are also orange permissive paths and byways but let’s not get too complicated here.
Will snap-to-path tell me where I can cycle?
I’m afraid this is another YES but NO answer.
Sometimes snap-to-path WILL tell you where you can cycle.
Take a look at the route below. It’s still Dartmoor so it’s inside a national park. You can see that before plotting the route I selected ‘off road cycling’ under ‘Create Route’.
I clicked on exactly the same starting point as the walking route above but because cycling is only permitted on public bridleways (even on access land), snap has taken me to the nearest bridleway.
It’s also used bridleways to get me as close to the standing stone as possible.
It’s been able to do this because I’m plotting my route in a national park.
Sometimes snap-to-path WON’T tell you where you can cycle.
When you’re working with global snap-to-path (remember to switch this on in ‘preferences’) you’ll be working with a less reliable dataset than the detailed one you access without global snap (remember to switch it off again) in a national park area.
This means that snap-to-path may not choose a route that is suitable for cyclists.
But sometimes it will.
Take a look at the map just below. You can see an area that has minor roads (yellow), footpaths (short green dashes) and bridleways (long green dashes). You can also see over on the left that I’ve selected ‘off road cycle’ as my mode of travel.
With your new footpath/bridleway knowledge, you would sensibly select the bridleway and perhaps the minor road for your cycle route.
But will snap-to-path do the same?
In the map below. Snap-to-path has done exactly the right thing. With ‘off road cycle’ selected it’s chosen a route along the bridleway.
Well done snap-to-path!
But what if you inadvertently choose point that isn’t on a bridleway? Will global snap-to-path suggest you go somewhere else?
The answer is almost certainly (but perhaps not always) no. You can see on the next map, with ‘off road cycle’ still selected, I’ve chosen a point on a footpath and it has suggested a cycling route along the minor road (great) then on the footpath.
Not so great.
So how can you make sure your cycling route is on a public right of way?
We’re back to those map symbols here. Just do a visual check of the map; either as you create the route or after you have finished creating it.
Remember, you’re looking for longer green (or red) dashes for public bridleways.
What can I do if snap-to-path in OS Maps isn’t working?
- If you can’t click a point using snap-to-path.
Try refreshing your page. If you don’t remember to save your route first, you can take the option to continue editing. For me this problem sometimes occurs after I’ve clicked ‘undo’ or ‘remove’ to edit the route I’m creating.
2. If snap-to-path isn’t working as well as it used to.
If you’re plotting a walking route within a national park, try changing data sets. In other words, go back into ‘preferences’ then ‘advanced preferences’ and deselect global snap-to-path.
Remember. Global snap-to-path uses an open source dataset, which doesn’t have all the local knowledge information the original national park dataset had.
3. If I still can’t make snap-to-path work.
Check out Ordnance Survey’s easy snap-to-path explanation. If you’re still struggling ask a question through the OS Maps help page (bottom of the page). This team is passionate about its work and wants to get this right for you. They will respond.
A useful tool for planning cycling and walking adventures
So there we have it. The 2023 introduction of Global snap-to-path hasn’t been popular with everyone but it does offer even more people than before the confidence to quickly and easily create walking routes.
Hopefully that will help even more of us to Get Outside. Wherever we are.