Tuesday Talkback: Does your troop hike in field uniform (aka ‘Class A’)?

Tuesday-TalkbackIf you’re not meant to hike, sweat and get dirty in your field uniform, then what’s with all the pockets for storing stuff? Why do the shirts come in an option made from breathable fabric? And have Scouts who hike in “Class A’s” been doing it wrong for decades?

Though you’ll see fewer Scouts wearing the field uniform (unofficially called the “Class A”) while hiking or doing muddy service projects these days, that wasn’t always the case, I recently discovered.

Hal Daumé, a member of the National Advancement Advisory Panel and a former Scouting magazine What I’ve Learned subject, did a little bit of research and found that not only have Scouts hiked in their field uniforms throughout history, the BSA at one point did everything short of requiring them to do so through its official handbooks. Lines like “the uniform [is] the clothing of the outdoorsman” made it pretty clear.

You won’t find an official declaration of when to wear the field uniform these days, but Hal’s research gives us an interesting look into the BSA’s past. And it makes an interesting case for wearing field uniforms any time you’re involved in Scouting activities. Take a look after the jump, and weigh in with your own unit’s policy in the comments section.  

Here’s an excerpt from Hal’s research, lightly edited for style and length and used with permission from the author:

I still have my own Handbook for Boys — the book that guided me for some seven years, and beyond. It was the Fifth Edition, first published in 1948 and not replaced until 1959. Mine was the sixth printing, in 1953 — the same year I became a Boy Scout.

So let’s start with its cover, and there they are: Two Scouts and one Explorer sitting around a campfire. Hey, look! They’re all in uniform! Turning to the chapter titled “Signs of a Scout,” I flip to Pages 50 and 51. There it is: “The Scout Uniform — What it Stands For… The Scout uniform stands for the out-of-doors (italics in the handbook). It is made of rugged, tough material, that is suited for outdoor use… Wear it when you go Scouting … [and] in all Scouting activities such as Patrol, Troop, and Tribe meetings, hikes, camps, demonstrations, etc.”

Hey, but that was back in ancient times! Maybe not the Jurassic Period, but pretty close to the Stone Age. Let’s do some more searching.

Now I’m looking at the Sixth Edition (1959-1965). There’s the cover again, with a Scout in full uniform. And he’s wearing a backpack! Maybe he’s wearing it to a troop meeting? Nope, I don’t think so, because, in the background there are other scenes of Scouts camping and hiking and such, and they’re in their uniforms too. I turn to Page 20: “Your uniform is a part of the thrill of being a Scout. The moment you put it on you feel ready for hike or camp or other vigorous activity … The [uniform] color blends with the hues of forest and field.” What, you mean the color wasn’t designed to blend with the motley array of stuff in my closet, or with the inside of a troop meeting room? Well how about that!

But hey, we’re still in the dark ages. Six more editions of the handbook have been published since these two. The Seventh Edition ran from 1965 to 1972. The cover of this one shows three Scouts on the trail, with backpacks. They’re in uniform, too, but I can’t see their pants. Maybe, like so many Scouts today, they’re wearing jeans or khakis below the waist? Gotta check some more here.

Turns out, all the illustrations show Scouts in the out-of-doors in uniform (I guess they haven’t forgotten the Scout pants and shorts after all!). And there is it, on Page 56: “Put on your uniform and immediately you feel ready for hiking and camping.” I read on. Page 57: “The uniform [is] the clothing of the outdoorsman.” Well, that seems pretty clear to me! But we’re not done yet.

The Eighth Edition (1972-1979) represented a complete revamping of the Boy Scout program, and had two different covers (the second one arriving in about 1977). The illustrations, while newly drawn, continued to show uniformed Scouts in camping and hiking settings. But the language on uniforming (Page 14) got shorter and less specific: “Your uniform is neat, yet tough. It will give good service during the years you are a Scout.” The version with the second cover says even less, but the cover itself now clearly tells the story: There’s our Scout, in his uniform, and — guess what — he’s carrying a backpack.

Next, I move to a more contemporary era. The Ninth Edition (1979-1990) was entirely rewritten by none other than William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt. Let’s take a look at the cover. It’s by Norman Rockwell, depicting Scouts on a campout, and guess what they’re wearing — Scout uniforms! On Page 52, Bill returned to earlier language: “Wearing the Scout Uniform — Wear it at all patrol and troop meetings, hikes, camps, and rallies.”

In the 10th Edition (1990-1998), “wearing your Scout uniform” moved to the back of the book (Pages 566-567), but the language held fast: “Wear your complete uniform proudly and correctly at all Scouting events. At patrol and troop meetings, hikes, camps, and rallies.”

The 11th Edition (1998-2009) changed the language but not the intent (Pages 12-13): “The uniform … might be brand new, or it might be an experienced uniform already worn by another Scout to many meetings and campouts … wear your uniform proudly whenever you are taking part in Scout activities … ” But this edition for the first time offers an alternative: “For outdoor activities, Scouts may wear troop or camp T-shirts with the Scout pants or shorts.”

Today, the BSA continues to state:“Since 1910, the Boy Scout uniform has been a recognizable part of the American scene. Wearing the uniform helps boys develop a sense of belonging to their patrol and troop. It reinforces the fact that all members of the BSA are equal to one another.” The uniform, in fact is one of the eight stated methods of Scouting, employed to achieve the movement’s aims of character development, citizenship training, and mental and physical fitness.”

Interesting stuff, Hal! And it certainly debunked a notion I previously stated on the blog that the BSA never instructed Scouts to wear the field uniform outdoors. In fact, it’s quite clear they did.

As a postscript to Hal’s research, I’ll add that the 12th Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, published in 2009, has very few pictures of Scouts wearing the field uniform outdoors. Same is true of recent issues of Scouting magazine and Boys’ Life. Take that information as part of the larger picture Hal explained in detail above.

You tell me

Does your unit hike and camp in field uniforms? How did you set this policy? Continue the discussion below.