In an edgy decision, the BSA sets limit on knife-blade length

(Update, April 2, 2013) Please read a special message at the end of the post.

Knives. They may be the source of the most confusion within Scouting circles.

I’ve heard people tell me sheath knives are banned in Scouting (they’re not), that Scouts can only carry one knife (not true), or that blades can’t be longer than five inches (wrong again).

Today, though, BSA Health and Safety team lead Richard Bourlon announced a new knife policy that changes things a bit. For the first time in the organization’s history, the BSA is mandating a maximum blade length for knives used within Scouting.

The magic number:

60 inches. The policy is effective beginning today, April 1, 2013.

So grab your tape measures, Scouters, because bladed objects used at the unit level now must be no longer than five feet. If you forget your tape measure, consider identifying a Scout who’s five feet tall, hold the blade vertically, and ask him to stand next to it.

“The hope is that we cut down on the number of Scouts carrying blades that are longer than they are tall. That can get unwieldy,” Bourlon says. “We also heard from some Scout leaders who simply didn’t have space in their compact cars to transport a half-dozen six- or seven-foot blades to the state park every month for troop campouts.”

Bourlon says he understands some Scouts might think bringing their medieval longswords to a Scout event would be fun. “Believe me, I loved Braveheart as much as the next guy,” he says, “but we have to put safety first.”

Along those lines, Bourlon wants to remind everyone about the “blood circle” β€” that no-go zone any Scout with a Whittling Chip should know about. When someone’s using a knife, nobody else should come within that circle.

“But it expands the larger your blade is,” Bourlon says, “so with those seven-foot blades we were forcing Scouts to stand hundreds of feet apart.”

What’s next for the Health and Safety team? In the coming months, Bourlon hopes to officially limit the number of helmets that can be worn simultaneously to one.

April Fools!

April 2 update: As many of you guessed yesterday, the above post was an April Fools’ Day joke. Thanks to everyone for playing along and allowing me to have a little fun yesterday.

And lest anyone think there’s a Scout out there brandishing a sword, the photo above the post was doctored in Photoshop. I added the sword to an actual photo.

In truth, there still is no official blade-length restriction, but I’d encourage you to help your Scouts exercise caution when using bladed objects of any length.

The best place to start is the Whittling Chip. Consider requiring each Scout to carry one before he can use a knife while on a campout.

Photo Illustration. Original photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious


  1. You’re a regular cut up type of guy. I guess this is a continuation of the edge method. I an not real keen on the idea though. But I know you are a sharp person.

  2. I was wondering why in hell would any scout need a 5 foot blade for, until I realised that its April fools day. Nice one Bryan, 10/10

  3. Bryan –

    Is there any official rule on knife types appropriate for BSA? If yes, please send. I have always wondered why BSA did not add a blade lock to the official pocket knives. Much safer for the youth (& adults who think they are youth).

    Thanks for your blogs. Keep up the great work.



  4. When I began to read I expected that our Scouts would have to give up their swords. What a relief.

    BTW don’t forget to listen to All Things Considered this afternoon. May learn more about exploding maple trees, zip codes that you can take with you when you move, etc.

    • Chuck,
      What a great idea, movable zip codes, wish we had that over hear would make snail mail so much easier

  5. Our re-enactment Venturing Crew is distressed at the explicit prohibition of “medieval longswords”. Venturers are older and usually much taller than the Boy Scouts this regulation was designed for.

  6. ok, I’m confused now??? Real or not? I’m very mystified that any scouts would ever take anything more than 3 inches or so…guess I’m too new to leadership w/in Scouting…:(

    • Definitely not real – just a fun April Fool’s joke! Check out the Guide to Safe Scouting for guidelines on what types of knives are recommended and what are prohibited.

  7. This new policy is in direct conflict with requirement 4b of the Medieval Culture Merit badge, “Demonstrate proper care and use of a European Longsword, and use it on at least 3 overnight campouts with your unit.” They are going to have to grandfather in all of the scouts currently working on this merit badge. I am a Medieval Culture Merit Badge Counselor for the entire National Capital Area Council and I have several scouts who were planning on completing this next weekend, including one scout who’s approaching his 18th birthday with this one requirement left for him to reach Eagle Scout. He recently traced his family tree back to to the 13th Century and he is a fourth generation Eagle Scout candidate and is also the youngest of six boys, with all five of his brothers having reached the rank of Eagle Scout. I certainly hope they will make an exception for those already working towards their MC Merit badge in light of this new ruling.

  8. So, are we measuring the ENTIRE length of the blade including the tang? Or are we strictly measuring the “blade” as in the part that sticks out of the hilt? My broad sword has a full tang, which adds another full 6 inches to the overall length! πŸ™‚

    We always carried a sheathe knife on camp outs or a hike. Most Scouters worn them most of the time, even at meetings. The problem began when they started sending kids from the inner city to scout camp.
    They would ignore the program and hang out near the Trading Post. I believe at Camp Owasippe, the second largest Scout Camp in the U.S. They destroyed over 200 trees. (Maybe in one week?) These were boys without any Scouting experience who they decided to get off the street, and send them to Boy Scout camp. “Well they brought the Street with them!” A LESSON LEARNED! It was about that time word got around “NO MORE SHEATHE KNIFES! (I think it was the late sixties I
    Everyone suffered because of some bad apples who should not of been there in the first place, because no one took the time to train them.
    There were some good inner city units who played by the rules. They were not the problem. They were Scouts!

    “Medieval Culture Merit Badge” is supervised. They should be able to do there thing. Lets not get carried away.

  10. Why are these long blades being used in scouting- referring to “Guide to Safe Scouting”- [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.

    Rememberβ€”knives are not allowed on school premises, nor can they be taken aboard commercial aircraft.
    References: Boy Scout Handbook, Fieldbook, Bear Handbook, and Wolf Handbook]

    I can understand some exceptions- for those campouts where a “European Longsword” is required for the merit badge, however, the longswords have an average length of 39-48 inches, so with this new policy, they would still be legal.

    I really think BSA should reconsider their policy- a KNIFE typically has a shorter length to it, whereas a SWORD would have a longer blade. Other than reenactment or historical purposes, BSA really shouldn’t allow swords.

    • Shawn, remember that Baden Powell was a lieutenant-general in the British Army, which dates back to the early 1700’s. While a European Longsword may have an average length of 39-48 inches, they have been hard to find, so BSA modified its Medieval Cultures merit badge requirement 4B in 2004 to allow Two Handed Greatswords in the absence of a European Longsword (which not only are rare, but quite expensive as well, fetching an average of $20,000 each among collectors dealers). Recognizing the cost, the much more common Greatswords were written into the MC MB as an acceptable alternative, which range in size from 60 to 70 inches. Due to their popularity, many much more affordable replicas are available at a much more affordable price of around $1,200 each. This is why they’re much more widely used for the MC MB. I have accumulated a small collection of about 50 of these through the years and I loan them out to scouts working on their MC MB as long as they promise to return them when they’re done practicing their skills with them. BTW, while it’s true that knives are not allowed on school property, they are allowed on planes now, provided the blade is less than 5″ and the blade does not lock.

      • This also is in conflict with MC MB requirement 5b, “to properly manintain a European Polearm of your choice on at least 3 outings.” While you may be able to find some Polearms under 5 feet, most are well over that … some are as long as 14 feet.

        • Frank, I’m pretty sure you are ok. After all the handle isn’t part of the measurement. I’m more concerned about double bladed weapons. I think they need to be more clear. Is it per blade or overall blade length attached to a single handle?

    • Bryan, I’m also a Medieval Culture merit badge counselor, and I have to remind you of the Scottish option, where proper handling and care of a claymore has to be demonstrated. Claymores routinely are up to 12 inches longer than the user is tall, meaning that the 60 inch limit on fixed-blade knives would mean that only Scouts shorter than 4 feet tall could complete this merit badge under these new Safe Scouting rules. That’s discriminatory, as only the older and taller boys are secure enough in their own identities to wear the required kilt and sporran.

      On a slightly more serious note, I DO wear a maclaren tartan kilt with my uniform to Wood Badge functions, but I started wearing it while I had a catheter for bladder cancer. One young Scout asked why I also had the sporran, ad I told him it was where a Scotsman kept his wallet and keys. The young man thought that this might discourage pickpockets! he was especially impressed when I described the length of the claymore that went with the kilt and sporran,

      • Yes, great point! being of scottish decent, I would only let my son do the scottish option…..but he is already 67″ tall, so I guess he needs to get his butt in gear and earn Eagle before the Medieval Culture merit badge is mandatory for Eagle in 2014!

  11. My question is how do we handle curved blades? For example, I have a Scout who brings a rather large agricultural type sicle to many outings. It’s overall blade length is well in excess of 60 inches, but because of the curve it reaches only about 4.5 feet. I’ve tried to talk to his father about Grim’s behavior, but it is very difficult to talk to him since he refuses to remove the robes that cover his head based on “religious reasons.”

    • I’m with you on this one. Also I had been told that a Scout can not “earn” a knife (ie popcorn prize) until they have their totin’ card…would love to see what the true rules are for this topic.

      • Ann, when in doubt turn to the Guide to Safe Scouting which will tell you absolutely what you can’t do. Many camps and units will set their own policies that are more stringent than the GSS to help avoid possible issues and injuries. Section VIII. “Sports and Activities” of the GSS is where you want to look. Knives has their own little section.

        • No, it does not when it comes to knives. It does recognize our duty to teach the safe use of sheath knives where they are legal to own.

  12. Not funny! I had to take possession of a butcher knife from a Scout in my provisional troop at summer camp in 2000. The Scout’s parent felt that he needed protection in the “wilderness.” I then arranged a quick totin’ chip session and later presented the blade back to the Scout’s mother.

  13. Irving, Texas
    April 1, 2013

    Today, the Boy Scouts of America is announcing a new Merit Badge, Shooting

    The badge will combine three shooting sports elements including automatic
    rifles, shotguns and pistols. Requirements to earn the new badge will be
    announced soon. A demonstration of the skills need to earn the new badge
    may be viewed here:

    In conjunction with the release of the new merit badge, a Venturing Bronze
    – Shooting Sports Award is also being introduced.

    According to a BSA spokesman, the Shooting Sports Merit Badge and Bronze
    Shooting Sports Venturing Award are being introduced to increase
    membership enrollment by teenage boys and girls.

  14. I think its a really good idea. Maybe this way ppl wont get hurt as often and who these days use use 6 or 7 foot knives and even 5 ft knives

  15. That makes perfect sense. There is not a knife in the world that even near 60 inches. After a point it becomes a sword

  16. I guess I’ll have to go back and get one of the kids taking metal foundry or blacksmithing merit badges to bring my claymore down to size.

    • Zero, David. Exactly zero.

      Fortunately, I think it’s safe to give scouters the benefit of the doubt to spot an April Fool’s joke when they see one. And in the outside chance they can’t, that they’d read any number of the 70+ responses to this blog to get the idea. And if they still don’t, and common sense still doesn’t prevail, then they really shouldn’t be placed in a position of responsibility with children. I think the others who were in on the gag would agree that if we thought there was any chance a responsible adult took any of this seriously, we wouldn’t have supported the joke.

      If any of this is not the case, then you’re right. We’re in a heap of trouble. In more ways than one.

  17. I’m assuming April fools and no I really don’t find it funny due to the ambiguity of the policy this would almost make sense.

    • I don’t it funny either! As a safety issue this isn’t something to play around with. Luckily I read the comments that made me realized I forgot what day it is today… April Fool’s Day

      • There isn’t anything ambiguous about the BSA knife policy. They want common sense to prevail, and not depend on an arbitrary policy. Just go to Guide to Safe Scouting and find the policy that fits.

        • BSA knife policy is anything but clear EXCEPT, BSA sells sheath knives now and says we have a duty to teach the proper use of such knives where they are legal to own – virtually everywhere in the U.S.

  18. Now I suppose Zorro’s great, great grand-child can no longer go to camp with us? That is discrimination base upon the length of one’s blade – not fair! πŸ˜‰

    • JR,
      That’s ok, just add I to all the other discriminatory policies that the BSA have. What I would like to know is how a 4 ft or 5 ft scout would carry a 5 ft knife πŸ™‚

      And yes I do know that this is an April Fools joke

      • I’m sure he’d have it in a scabbard attatched to his belt. Thusly protected, it’s of no concern it if drags along behind. Sure, the boys have to spread out more during a hike, but we don’t want them too bunched up anyway…just in case of enemy attack, y’know? πŸ˜‰

  19. I strongly support this new rule and feel it was long overdue. This means all of our patrol leaders can continue to carry their mameluke swords.

  20. This is an abomination. A religious based CO must have the option to override this to one cubit.
    It is clearly stated in Judges 3:16
    But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh.

    • The policy is completely within biblical criteria. 60 inches equals 3.33 cubits, well above the one cubit length described in your quote.

  21. I read this to the boys in our troop during their meeting tonight. You should’ve seen the look on their face when I read that 60 inches would be the maximum length for a knife for scouts. I think a few of them believed me until I told them to keep in mind what day today is.

  22. I think this is a joke my son hopes not. like I’d let him sheath a long sword. I guess you can say the Boy Scouts have a “Zorro” tolerance for weapons.

  23. Thanks for a great laugh!!! If you can’t poke fun at the organization occasionally then we are taking ourselves far too seriously. Reading your post yesterday was the best part of my day…kep it up ! Dan

    • Looks to me like we have enough interest to start that Medieval Culture merit badge! We already have several (potential) merit badge counselors!

  24. Hi Bryan.
    A Google search for information brought me to your blog and I’m hoping you can help me with a few questions related to the use of edged tools.
    I’ve read a lot about traditions and local troop policies on various web sites, but I’d like to get down to the core of the matter regarding official BSA policy.
    1.) Can you give me a BSA policy reference (document) that outlines the specific requirement that a scout have his Totin’ Chip in his possession any time he’s using an edged tool?
    2.) Can you give me the BSA policy reference that establishes the criteria for a scout to lose a corner of his Totin’ Chip card?
    3.) Can you provide a BSA policy reference that identifies exactly who has the authority to remove a corner from a scout’s Totin’ Chip card?
    I don’t mean to go down the path of being overly “legalistic,” but it seems that a lot of adult leaders are just making it up as they go. They present their interpretation of various rules, personal opinions, and/or the local policies they learned as scouts, as “official policy.” The result is a lot of disagreement, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings.
    I’m fully aware that we can’t have a rule for every situation, but to avoid a lot of upset and turmoil, I’d like to establish (to the extent possible) clear and consistent local policies that are based on established and easily referenced official BSA policy.
    Thanks very much for your time.

  25. Curious if sheath knifes are not banned, then why is it every camping list I have seen given out by either summer camps, camporees etc list them as an item you cannot bring. Also like to point out when my father was a scout he wore an axe on his belt.

    • While National BSA has not banned sheath knives, local councils that operate camps may have stricter rules. Also legal jurisdictions vary on knife policy, and local council’s have the law as well.

      For example because of some incidents very far in the past, think time of the Rambo movies, there were incidents and my council banned sheath knives on council properties. Grant you it is regularly broken, but the council policy is there. And while my 13.25″ kukri knife is perfectly legal for me to own and carry in my state, I go to another state, or even certain cities, my kukri is illegal to carry.

      As for the BSA Belt axe, was it the single belt axe or the belt axe/sheath knife combo? Those are worth a pretty penny.

  26. I’m so happy this is an April Fools gag and not the new policy. I was afraid that I’d have to tell my Scouts not to bring their long swords on trips anymore. They really come in handy when we bump into medieval armies.

Join the conversation