pocketknife

Make your point: What’s your unit’s knife policy?

In Scouting, knives are a double-edged sword.

Used safely, they’re part of a rite of passage for boys and a chance for leaders to impart important lessons to help Scouts become “Prepared. For Life.”

But inevitably, some Scout will do his best Crocodile Dundee impression and show up at summer camp with the 10-inch sheath knife his uncle bought him.

The BSA keeps its knife policy intentionally vague (see below), offering suggestions but leaving specific policies up to individual units.

Does your pack, troop, team, or crew have a policy? 

Units with knife policies often set a specific maximum blade length and other restrictions. Others leave it up to their Scouts’ common sense and only intervene if the need arises — such as confiscating a Scout’s big sheath knife or butterfly-style knife and returning it to his parents after the trip.

Whether you have a policy or are considering creating one, first read what the Guide to Safe Scouting says:

Knives

A sharp pocketknife with a can opener on it is an invaluable backcountry tool. Keep it clean, sharp, and handy. Avoid large sheath knives. They are heavy and awkward to carry, and unnecessary for most camp chores except for cleaning fish. Since its inception, Boy Scouting has relied heavily on an outdoor program to achieve its objectives.

This program meets more of the purposes of Scouting than any other single feature. We believe we have a duty to instill in our members, youth and adult, the knowledge of how to use, handle, and store legally owned knives with the highest concern for safety and responsibility.

Remember—knives are not allowed on school premises, nor can they be taken aboard commercial aircraft.

The Guide to Safe Scouting doesn’t get more specific than that, but most states do. Some states restrict knife length — in Texas, for example, a knife with a blade longer than 5.5 inches is deemed “illegal.” Others forbid certain kinds of knives, such as throwing knives.

This site aggregates state knife laws, so check your state’s laws today and be in the know. (Note: Some of these state laws may be outdated, so check your state and county and city laws just to be safe.)

How to create a policy

In keeping with the youth-led spirit of Boy Scout troops, Venturing crews, and Varsity teams, you’re better off letting the Scouts set their own policy.

Involving them in the process ensures that they’ll take ownership in the policy and will more effectively follow and enforce it.

Suggest they address knife length, kinds of knives allowed, how many knives each Scout can bring, proper storage, Totin’ Chip requirements, and anything else that addresses specific needs in your unit. And don’t forget to print out your state’s knife laws and give that to your youth leaders to consult.

Pretty soon, you’ll have a policy that allows — encourages, even — the safe use of knives in Scouting.


Take the poll

What do you think?

I’d love to know whether packs, troops, teams, and crews have specific knife policies. If so, what do they include? Do you specify a maximum blade length? What about quantity — can Scouts carry multiple knives? Leave your thoughts below.


Photo by Flickr user herzogbr.

77 thoughts on “Make your point: What’s your unit’s knife policy?

  1. We are tend to over constrain our units by imposing too many rules. Yes, knives are dangerous if misused. So is playing in a swimming pool. The whole idea of Scouting is to provide the skills young people need to be productive and self sufficient. How to use all kinds of knives (including sheath knives) are included in that tool learning.

  2. I am so glad this topic came up. We were at Scout Camp with summer and another Troop’s ASPL whipped 4 knives out of his backpack to “brag” to some younger Scouts. He then proceeded with them standing around him to sharpen his K-Bar (Marine fixed blade knife). When I asked him for his Tot-n-Chip to cut a corner because he started playing with his knife with young boys within reach, he told me his Troop doesn’t require them and then proceeded to argue and yell at me for then asking for his knife. He went to get his Scoutmaster and I waited for him but when the boy returned he told me his Scoutmaster was “busy”.

    Our policy is no fixed blade knives and not blades longer than an adults palm of their hand.

    Knives are tools, not toys.

    • This brings up an interesting situation: How are knives handled when there are multiple units involved with possibly conflicting knife policies? What if you are not at a camp with its own knife policy?

      • No matter the policy, if a boy is “using a knife within arms length of another boy”, I don’t care what the policy is. The boy is putting himself and another Scout at risk. As an adult, we have to step in.

        • That is a situation where the answer is clear. But I’m wondering more generally, with less clear-cut situations. What if a boy has a 3.5 in knife when another involved unit has a 3 in limit? What about a unit that allows small fixed blades and another that does not? What if a unit only allows boys to carry one knife and another does not?

          And what about situations where it is getting close to dangerous and the units disagree on where exactly that line is? In that case, one unit will have very strong opinions and the other will think the line has not been crossed. What then? We’ve seen here that each unit draws the line differently. So what happens when there is conflict with that line? That is the question I am more interested in.

        • Also, you say that you “don’t care what the policy is”. What happens when somebody has a very strong opinion against a particular unit’s knife policy, even if the policy is technically acceptable by the BSA’s standards and all relevant laws? What happens then?

        • I think when units disagree, that is OK. Adults and youth leaders need to come together to discuss it but in the end if one unit feels like the other has stepped over the boundaries, simple don’t spend time with the unit. Clearly my unit and the boy’s unit above that I disagreed on policy and I would have disagreed with his Scoutmaster but in the end, that Scoutmaster is responsible for his boy and his boy’s actions with a knife. That boy’s Scoutmaster has the final say about a boy carrying 4 knives, two of them fixed blade, one “spring loaded” and the other a typical knife. I can only direct my boys to stay away from a boy who is preparing to fight zombies with 4 knives.

          I meant to say I don’t care what the policy is if someone is potentially going to get hurt. Say something, have someone move away, don’t just sit there.

        • Brian – this sort of reminds me of one of the first times I took my Team out camping. I asked them to build a fire. Each boy replied “My Mom and Dad don’t let me play with matches.” Just like a knife, matches are a tool. Some may let their boys carry them, some may not.

          My boys carry matches now.

    • Our Council’s camp has its own knife policy. Fixed-blade knives are not allowed, although exceptions are made for special-purpose knives such as a fillet knife or kitchen knives when used for their intended purposes.

  3. No policy on type of knife. Only policy is that everyone have one (or cutting implenent). Most carry sheath knives, but we’re a scuba diving Crew.

  4. Our Cub Scout Pack has a basic policy that no Cub Scout may bring a knife to any meeting, activity, or outing unless they have completed the requirements for their Whittling Chip card; meaning that only Bear aged boys who have completed this requirement or Webelos that have also completed this requirement either as a Bear or as part of earning their Bobcat & Webelos badge upon joining. They are only allowed pocketknives, no sheath knives, and must maintain knife safety or lose the opportunity to bring a knife to a camping trip. They must carry their Whittling Chip card in order to use the knife at camp and must surrender it to any Adult Leader that finds them using their knife unsafely or leaving it unguarded or protected from younger Scouts or siblings who may be curious. Violations of basic knife safety results in them losing a corner of their card, four violations leads to complete removal of knife privileges until the requirements to earn it are re-certified. While we have, in my almost 10 years, had to take a corner from a couple boys, we have never had to completely revoke knife privileges within our Pack. While knives are interesting to boys, we regard them as tools and teach that they are to be used within the confines of Scouting, especially, but also at home and in the “real” world as they are intended, tools and not toys. However, after reading this blog, a real policy needs to be introduced, in writing, that we should hold our youth (and adults) to, including knife types and blade length. Thanks for the information and conversation, hadn’t thought of this issue but will introduce it in our next Pack Committee Meeting.

  5. We require the Whittling Chit for the boys to bring a knife on a camp out. also must be at least in the near den.

    But we really stress that a Cub Scout shouldn’t be carrying a pocket knife. If they need something they should have an adult supervise.

  6. Our troop policy, developed by the PLC and myself is:

    Personal knives must be folding and have a blade of three inches or less. Fixed blade knives used for cooking must have a sheath or be stored in a case or kit and may not be carried on the person.

    Reasoning:

    * The Code of Virginia prohibits the carry of dirks, switchblades and ballistic knives. Machetes are unlawful when carried on a person and concealed. Knives, except for “a pocket knife having a folding metal blade of less than three inches” are prohibited in school. (A dirk is a long dagger or short sword, but I don’t know how Virginia would define one. Swords are not covered.)

    * If the local schools have different policies, they aren’t publicizing them. But we recommend that Scouts do not test this.

    * Camp Shenandoah here in the Stonewall Jackson Area Council prohibits sheath knives.

    Ed Palmer
    Troop 84, Stuarts Draft, VA

  7. Our Council has a policy for all council employees that nobody is allowed to carry a knife. (Including Camp Rangers, and those Rangers are required to wear business attire at all times) So while some Cub Scouts in the council are allowed to carry knives, the adult employees at the council office are barred from doing so.

      • I wish I was. It’s part of a policy that the new Council Executive is rolling out this year. Even worse in my opinion, is that almost every council employee thinks it is perfectly logical because knives are dangerous weapons.

        • Nope. We’re a mid-level but large council and execs passing through have generally been in the BSA for a while and are working their way up to some of the star councils in the country when they leave. Actually, the Exec’s son is a Webelos, so while the son can carry a pocket knife, the father cannot.

  8. Our Troop allows Scouts to carry a pocket knife with toten chip card. Troop policy is NO sheat knives, this is Boy Scouts not Special Forces. Also NO serraged blades. Blade cannot be longer that 3.5 inches. I tell them the “perfect” knife is the old Official Boy Scout pocket knife, the old ones made with quality steel, made in USA, not communist china! I recommend they find them online.

    • One problem with the idea of “…NO sheat knives, this is Boy Scouts not Special Forces.” is that I have and older Official Boy Scout sheath knife. Why would this be considered unacceptable? I have often wondered why councils (mine included) ban sheath knives, as they are safer than folding ones.

    • “Troop policy is NO sheat knives, this is Boy Scouts not Special Forces.”

      Having been in both organizations you mention, I don’t quite understand your point. Do you think we all carry machete-length knives just waiting for the opportunity to skewer someone?

  9. When I was a Den Leader, I took my boys to a local sporting goods store and we had a gentleman there (who was a Scout leader in another unit) lead the boys through their whittling chip, and I then bought knives for each boy. They were allowed to carry them on campouts (with parental permission, which was shown by Mom or Dad signing the back of the card along with the Scout).

    Our Troop prohibits sheath knives, mostly because most of our council properties prohibit them. It’s a lot easier just to say “no sheath knives, ever” instead of “okay here, not OK there”. But we’re pretty strict on enforcement, too. Anyone pulls out any sort of pointed item at camp, they’re likely to hear “Safety Circle” from a lot of other boys.

  10. We are working on a written policy with the basic concept that knives should be “outing appropriate” A small pocket knife or multi-tool at a minimum should be carried at all times unless there are restrictions where the outing is taking place. Same at most camps. We check with camps on their policies (they have them). Our town camp, fixed blade is fine. Size & type of knife is always controversial and boy you picked a good one… I was a Boy Scout & my two oldest sons went through the program a few years ago. I always owned & carried fix blade knives since I was a scout. I’m a merit badge councilor for 6 MB including Wilderness Survival. I am friends with Dave Canterbury (Co-host of Discovery’s Dual Survival) and have many other friends in the Bush-craft, Self Reliance community. I carry a full tang fixed blade knife & multi-tool. Always in the woods! The way I look at it is simple:

    A knife, no matter what kind, is a tool.

    With the permission of the Scout’s Parents, Scouts should be taught the proper use & safety of tools. Where else are they going to learn it? on their own?

    A full tang fixed blade knife is one of the hardest things to replicate in the wilderness yet with it you can make so much to aid you in a bad situation. (I have done survival scenarios)

    Just with every tool, There is responsibility. If a Scout is witnessed misusing or mishandling it, he is retrained. If his misuse continues, the responsibility is taken away for a period of time until he can demonstrate proper use & responsibility.

    Never, and I mean never! go into the back country without a dependable full tang, fixed blade knife.

  11. There is a lot of nonsense spoken about sensibly sized sheath knives by many scouters. After all, once a folding knife is opened, what is the difference between it and a sheath knife? As long as a knife is legal where it is used, I think that the intent and manner in which it is used is far more important. I would rather see a scout using a combat knife in a safe and proper manner than one abusing a small pocket knife or using it in an unsafe manner.

    • I’m with you–fixed blades tend to be inherently safer than folders, even when being carried in a sheath. The one difference between an open folding knife and a fixed blade is that the folding blade, even with a lock, can still fail and cause injury to the user. Folks need to get over their unfounded fears and recognize that a fixed blade knife is not evil incarnate.

  12. I have both folding and fixed bladed knives, and as others have said, they are tools that need to be taught how to be used properly. Are there instances where a folding knife is inappropriate, absolutely. Just as there are instances where a sheath knife is inappropriate. You need the right tool for the right job. And I have used sheath knives and even a machete before in scouting.

    But the key point is you need to follow the laws of your state, and the rules of the place you are going. The link to state laws is great, but some cities and towns do have stricter laws.

    I know my council has a “No Sheath Knife” Policy on the council properties, but it gets violated every OA Ordeal weekend by the ceremony teams who are in regalia, and that includes period sheath knives.

  13. Our Pack has a knife policy. Only scouts who are carrying their Whittln Chip card may carry a pocket knife at Scouting Events where the Leader who has organized the events has stated that pocket knives are allowed.

    At the last campout, I confiscated one knife because the scout was not carrying his Whittn Chip card and I cut the corner off of another scout’s card because he was whittling while walking on a hike. And I did it with a Smile!

    • Following the same logic, I presume that you also ban your scouts from handling hatchets and axes as both of these can be thrown.

  14. “in Texas, for example, a knife with a blade longer than 5.5 inches is deemed “illegal.”

    Must be a pain to work in a commercial kitchen in Texas. :)

  15. No written policy for us. Several years ago the previous SM had taught no locking blades. He couldn’t produce a reason other than “BSA policy” and I’ve just spent the last two hours searching the interent for a reason. His verbal policy is still ingrained. Personally I see the danger in the large sheath knives worn on a belt. I also see the benefit they bring to a kitchen and feel the need for a clarification for kitchen knives. I would rather see a boy with a folding lock blade sans cerated edge. That being said you can find all manner of knives for sale in Counsel stores and camp stores across the nation. Many of my boys make the arguement that if they sell it and they have a Toten Chit they should be able to have it.

    • It was part of the last SM’s verbal policy, and something I would like to stick with. I’m and engineer in an Industrial environment and the cuts we see more often than not are from this pocket blade type and in general are exponentially worse when compared to a flat blade pocket knife. I do feel though that there should be a distinction on Kitchen knives and their use, as opposed to folding pocket knives. A good serrated blade on say a bread knife can make all the difference in the world when slicing bread.

      • I ask, as a serrated blade is ideal for cutting natural fiber cordage, such as that used in pioneering projects. I personally prefer a plain edge for general purpose use, but having a serrated blade can be awfully handy at times.

  16. i believe that Scouts need instruction in all kinds of blades they might need/encounter in day – to – day usage, including sheath knives. i, too, teach backpacking and wilderness survival and i keep one particular knife on my person at all times when hiking or backpacking. i carry a Puma White Hunter – the actual cutting edge is 6 inches, while the overall knife measures about 10 inches. it has a reinforced blade to be used for small scale wedge-work in splitting firewood, as well as a curved end for skinning, and is full-tang, fixed blade, stainless steel. as mentioned above, a knife similar to this can be a vital tool in the backcountry. i expect to teach my son the proper use of this knife when he is old enough (as my knife is a duplicate of my father’s), and i’ll expect him to respect it and carry it out in the woods. that said, it isn’t proper for in the city. Scouts need to learn that – which knife is needed where, which knife is inappropriate for which situation, and what the law says about knives in their area and any area they might go (scout camp, backpacking, etc.) they can’t learn this if they don’t get to handle and be around the various types of knives. whether it be a Leatherman, a Swiss Army, a Gerber, or a larger Buck.

  17. We handled this issue very simply in the 1960′s. We required each boy to prove proficiency by earning the “Totin Chip” award and we told all the boys to sew it on their pockets with snaps because it was the only award that could be revoked. (And occasionally some were) The boys could earn them again. We didn’t permit fixed blade knives. The “Totin Chip” program was very popular and effective. It also covered hand ax use. We had to show proper ways to pass a knife of ax indicating that you didn’t release it until you heard “thank you” indicating the recipient had a good hold on it. We learned proper sharpening of knife and ax. We had to use an ax to make a tent peg. Only folding “pocket knives” were permitted and it was never questioned. Having and using a knife or ax at a scouting activity is a privilege not a right. The Totin Chip program was very effective. It was good at providing recognition for responsibility and discipline.

  18. early scouting promoted sheath knives. We never had a problem. I never found punishing the mass for one persons bad judgement. if so, next year it will be forks and spoons. My parents had a watchful eye on me and my brother. I don’t see that today. need classes on better parenting.

    • You reminded of an incident in JROTC. My battalion was doing an FX on weekend, and we were told we could bring knives as we may need them. Now the ceremonial drill team that I was on and color guard had a prior commitment, so we showed up late to the FX. When we showed up I got some strange looks and didn’t know why until someone told me what happened prior to our arrival and it involved a knife. The battalion CO was playing with his knife and cut himself. As a result, only cadet officers and SNCOs could have knives on them.

      Now I thought it was a joke because the battalion CO still had a knife on him, so I kept my sheath knife on my deuce gear. BUT, because he was a cadet officer, he got to keep his knife, despite being the reason for the knife ban.

  19. Our camp kitchen chuck box has many knives that are fixed and longer than 5.5 inches. Most of them are kept in sheathes in the chuck box to keep them safe. In addition, if a boy wants to earn his cooking merit badge (or even Tenderfoot requirement #3), they should be able to demonstrate safe use of a cooking knife.

    I note this because there isn’t much functional difference between a “personal” knife and a “kitchen” knife. If you are going to make a rule against sheath knives, then you need to examine your unit’s cooking chuck box.

    As Scout Leaders, it is our job to manage risk, not eliminate it. We train boys to use knives and axes safely; that is the point of the Totin Chip and the Paul Bunyan programs (and the Whittling Chip for Cubbies).

    I just got back from Summer camp, where I took off several Totin Chip corners, mostly for whittling around the campfire way too close to one’s neighbors …

  20. Ours is “no longer than your palm” and the blade must need to be opened with two hands.

    We find that encouraging Scouters to follow the same policies as the boys is the most effective (e.g. no cellphone use at camp if the scouts aren’t allowed to have them).

  21. Our troop does not have a policy for carrying a knife other than a verbal that they must have their tot’n chip. I like the idea that the scouts are free to choose what they think is the best knife for the job while staying within the bounds of the tot’n chip for usage.

    We openly encourage the scouts to carry a knife on all scouting functions. They have come to expect me to ask them, “lemme see your knife”. If they don’t have one with them I ask why. We set high expectations for our scouts and in return they have some freedom to make their own decisions. This freedom and expectation to think, I believe, is part of the great lessons of scouting.

    We see all manner of knife from the boys. After initially lugging around some minimally useful, Rambo Style Survival knife, most guys settle on a garden variety folder or swiss army style. This has worked very well. I can’t think of a single injury related to use of one knife over another.

    For what it’s worth, our local schools have a zero tolerance for carrying a knife. As such, we use this as a lesson about “A Scout is Obedient”. The school’s policies on this subject are painfully small minded, yet we need to obey them.

  22. Interesting subject since it surfaced on our trip to Philmont this summer. Not being a knife aficionado, I had never heard of “spring-assisted” knives, which are akin to switchblades. And I had never seen one until our Philmont ranger used his. I believe the BSA should ban their use. The BSA sells a line of knives that are not made to threaten others. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about spring-assisted knives is that there are roadside vendors in Cimarron selling them — and Scouts buying them as cheaply as $15 each!

    • I am a scout, my main knife is a small bsa folder and a summit leathermans style knife, but before that I used a spring assisted knife, they are no more dangerous that the bsa whittling knives or the Swiss army knives, both of which can easily close on your hand. Now for me knife safety is important, but others see thems as weapons and toys,. My point I it depends on maturity.

      • The problem with the “spring-assist” knife is that they are more of a weapon instead of a tool. Plus, you will find the boys playing with them unlike a Swiss Army or Leatherman.

        • Yes, ASM, anything with a sharp edge can be dangerous. That is where proper training and supervision comes into play. And so that I am clear on my earlier remark; “spring-assist” knives are great tools for those such as Firemen or Paramedics where one-handed operation is very handy. When I see today’s youth carrying “spring-assist” knives everywhere they go I see “weapon”. I don’t see a need for a Scout to carry a “spring-assist” knife, especially the ones now turning up that are 100% spring assisted (and illegal in some states).

        • Completely agree that where legislatures have determined that they are not appropriate sharp edged tools should not be carried by scouts. However, my point remains that ANY sharp edge can be dangerous and should be treated with the same care and respect. Using your example, it is not the spring assist that causes the danger, rather the scout’s ‘playing with them. Playing with ANY edged tool is a bad idea. Once we get this behavior based point across to scouts, and scouts use edged tools with the care and respect necessary for safe operation, it will become unnecessary to ban certain edge tools.

  23. OUr policy is not in writing, but we tell the kids and parents it kust be a small knife that is collapsible and has a locking blade. When we see a kid using the knife incorrectly we make it a teaching moment for the Crew. If the misuse is a problem we take it away.

  24. As a 2010 Jamboree Leader of a Los Angeles Area contingent troop I found the boys were carrying a wide variety of knives, some questionable. That led me to pose the question to the National Jamboree with the response I received cut and pasted below;

    “It is the policy of the Boy Scouts of America not to permit the carrying of sheath knives, commando knives, switchblades, or machetes. You may,
    if you wish, carry a pocketknife.”

    Thanks,

    (name removed)
    Administrative Assistant
    Jamboree Department
    Boy Scouts of America

  25. No specific policy. Just raw common sense. Scouts need a Totin’ Chit. Use the most appropriate tool for the job. Observe safety protocols.

    One of my favorite knives is a fixed-blade sheath knife with a 5″ blade. I don’t carry it at Scout Camp because of camp policy, but it is an extremely useful wood tool when I am camping.

    I carried a serrated lock-blade folding knife on my person for years and years. It was the right tool to have on my person when I was an EMT and a flight medic in the Army. It is not a very useful camping knife, unless you want to slash ropes and webbing.

    Most Scouts just want a knife to whittle with. Let them whittle and whittle safely. A sheath knife is not a good tool for this. Encourage them to use the right tool for this job (a small SHARP non-serrated lock-blade) and all will be well.

    Scouts like to sharpen their own knives. Rare is the Scout who knows how to properly sharpen a serrated blade. Let them practice this useful skill with small knives, in safety.

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