Here are the most- and least-popular merit badges of 2013 and of all time

The reign of First Aid merit badge continues.

More Boy Scouts earned this Eagle-required merit badge in 2013 than any other. And it wasn’t even close.

Not only was it the most-earned merit badge in 2013, it also topped the list in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 … you get the idea.

In all, 6.9 million Scouts have earned First Aid merit badge since its debut in 1911. Yep, you guessed it; that’s more than any other in history.

Which other merit badges made the Top 10 last year? What was 2013’s most-earned merit badge that isn’t on the Eagle-required list? And which merit badges were in the Bottom 10 (or “the rarest,” as I like to call them)? Let’s find out … 

Where I got these numbers

As with my 2013 analysis of the 2012 data, these figures come from Local Council Charter Applications. That means they’re based on the actual number earned, not on sales of the badges. Some troops purchase extra emblems in anticipation of future badge earnings, so sales numbers can be skewed.

The Top 20

Not surprisingly, No. 1 through No. 12 on the list were all Eagle-required. Scouts have extra motivation to earn these merit badges on their journey toward Boy Scouting’s top rank.

But the remaining members of the Top 20 have some fascinating takeaways.

No. 13 and 14, Rifle Shooting and Fingerprinting, are offered at most summer camps, giving Scouts a fun, accessible way to complete them. Same goes for summer camp favorites LeatherworkArchery, Wilderness Survival and Woodcarving. All those were in 2012’s Top 20, as well.

One of two newcomers to the Top 20 is Cooking. The jump from No. 30 in 2012 to No. 15 in 2013 is likely the result of Scouts knowing the badge would become Eagle-required on Jan. 1, 2014. Plus, some Scouts probably wanted to earn it using the old requirements; the new requirements become mandatory Jan. 1, 2015.

Kayaking, which launched in July 2012, also made its debut in the Top 20 in 2013. This was its first full year of availability, and Scouts grabbed double-bladed paddles and earned this one in droves.

The Bottom 10

The Boy Scouts merit badge program works because of its diversity. So even those merit badges in the lower ranks serve a purpose if they keep Scouts engaged and introduce them to a hobby or potential career. If even one Scout earns the badge, it’s worth it, I say.

Last year’s “rarest” merit badges (much better than the negative-sounding “Bottom 10,” don’t you think?) were: Composite Materials, Drafting, Surveying, Stamp Collecting, American Labor, Journalism, American Business, Sustainability, Bugling and Programming.

To give you an idea of their rarity, consider that more Scouts earned Search and Rescue merit badge last year than all 10 of these combined. That said, we can throw out Sustainability and Programming because they were released in July 2013 and didn’t get full years of availability.

See the exact numbers in the chart below.

Biggest movers

Search and Rescue merit badge had the biggest jump from 2012 to 2013, leaping from No. 128 in 2012 to No. 58 in 2013. But it debuted in August 2012, so those numbers are skewed.

Same story with Welding (No. 101 to No. 55), released in February 2012.

Top 5 gains:

  • Search and Rescue: 128 to 58 (+70)
  • Welding: 101 to 55 (+46)
  • Cooking: 30 to 15 (+15)
  • Kayaking: 32 to 20 (+12)
  • Safety: 103 to 95 (+8)

Top 5 drops:

  • Railroading: 63 to 74 (-11)
  • Whitewater: 99 to 109 (-10)
  • Home Repairs: 95 to 103 (-8)
  • Theater: 112 to 119 (-7)
  • Backpacking: 91 to 98 (-7)

I wouldn’t read too much into that second list. The changes are small enough that they’re probably attributed to normal fluctuations from one year to the next.

The 2013 List

Curious where the merit badges you teach fall on the list? Take a look.

I’ve included the merit badge’s 2013 rank, the total number earned in 2013, the 2012 rank and the change from 2012 to 2013.

Those marked in blue are Eagle-required. Those marked in yellow are new, meaning they debuted in December 2009 or sooner.


* On required list for Eagle Rank

** Required for Eagle (must complete Cycling, Hiking or Swimming)

*** Required for Eagle (must complete Emergency Preparedness or Lifesaving)

**** Required for Eagle (must complete Environmental Science or Sustainability)

Here you go, Excel wizards

After I posted the merit badge rankings in 2012, I heard from several Scouters who wanted to play with the numbers themselves.

This Excel spreadsheet should make that easy for you! It includes the numbers earned from 2009 to 2013.

Please leave a comment below with any interesting facts you discover.

Historical merit badge numbers

Almost 7 million Scouts have earned First Aid merit badge in its history. Check out the chart below to see where currently available merit badges rank on the all-time list.

One interesting note is that Safety merit badge, which ranked No. 95 in 2013, is No. 9 on the all-time list. The badge was created in 1927. Same story for Home Repairs, created in 1943. It was No. 103 in 2013, but it’s No. 14 on the all-time rankings.

Do those two reflect a change in our nation’s priorities? Perhaps.

Two notes before you look at this list:

  • It doesn’t include merit badges that have been discontinued. Go here for a great list of those, but I simply don’t have those numbers to rank them here.
  • The list will be naturally skewed toward merit badges that have been around the longest. That’s why you’ll see newer merit badges near the bottom and “classic” ones at the top.


* On required list for Eagle Rank

** Required for Eagle (must complete Cycling, Hiking or Swimming)

*** Required for Eagle (must complete Emergency Preparedness or Lifesaving)

**** Required for Eagle (must complete Environmental Science or Sustainability)

Download the Lifetime Chart

NEW: Click here for the Excel file for the lifetime chart!

See Also

I keep my Calendar of New Merit Badges updated regularly with what’s next and what’s new. Check it out!

Thanks to Lynn Adcock for getting these numbers for me.


  1. Why is there not a merit badge for martial arts? While it appears to be a “fighting” sport, it is actually a means of self defense. It also teaches such values as respect, self discipline, and honor. I am sure there are many Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts who are active in martial arts, and I would love to see a merit badge to recognize their efforts and dedication.

    • There was a Master at Arms merit badge from 1910 to 1911. The BSA has had a prohibition on martial arts since, and it continues in the Guide to Safe Scouting.

      • Page 33…2013 Guide to Safe Scouting…”Boxing, karate, and related martial arts–EXCEPT judo, aikido, and Tai Chi–are not authorized activities. So Judo, Aikido, and Tai Chi are acceptable. On the chart it’s listed as acceptable for Boy Scouts and Older Boy Scouts, Varsity, and Venturers.

    • Baseball, football, and soccer all teach values of teamwork, dependability, sportsmanship, etc. and they don’t have one either. I think you’ll see that most of the badges aren’t sport-related and the ones that are physical are typically those that support the Boy Scout program, like camping, swimming, etc.

        • Another one that should be brought back for Eagle. I had several friends in scouts as a boy that we all-state athletes. Now I hear from Parents that say Scouts is for boys that don’t play sports.

        • I think you hit on two different issues here, Joe. Should a physical fitness/athletics MB be required? Yes. It’s part of the well rounded expectations of an eagle. It’s in the oath after all. Is the relative emphasis on athleticism in scouting related to the “scouts is for non-athletes” stereotype? No. That, I believe, is related to the ongoing pressure to specialize and/or dedicate year round energy to a particular sport. Baseball is not longer ten weeks in the spring. Nor is basketball 10 weeks in the winter. Basketball players are on ESPN. Scouts are the butts of jokes. It’s a no brainer for the athletic 12 year old who is forced to choose. That same 12 year old used to be able to do both. This dovetails with the tremendous decline in community groups. “Bowling Alone” is the standard citation for that sad development. Community engagement is at an all time low for a variety of reasons but being a scout is much more like being a rotarian than being on a soccer team. It’s about community engagement and pride that has simply fallen off over the past few decades. It’s no longer important to parents, children, or most anyone. Culturally, sport is more important than civics.

        • I believe the Personal Fitness MB is to provide focus on a lifetime of healthy, physical activity. It is just not one sport (Athletics rqt) or two sports (Sports rqt). The 12-week fitness program can incorporate all sorts of sports into it including those team sports to which a Scout belongs.

  2. Can you add a column to the historical data for “year introduced”? That gives everyone a better idea of their average popularity year over year.

      • Thanks! It’s easier to see some trends now.

        The years also have the additional impact of showing BSA and national priorities over time. Cold War? Nationalism! 21st Century? STEM! Climate!

        It’s also fun to map the proportion of indoor vs. outdoor merit badges over time.

        • Broadly. In fact, moments before posting I deleted quotes around both. There are purely indoor classroom badges (personal finance, textiles, programming), purely outdoor badges (camping, hiking, cycling, etc.), and some that can be done either way or with a mix of both (photography is a good example).

          I don’t have any MB reqs committed to memory but a quick scan of the list shows 50-60 MBs that can be completed entirely indoors.

        • Textile is not a purely indoor MB. I know of camps that do it outdoors and use an Indian theme. The camp has chosen one of the Indian tribes and that is their focus for Archaeology, Basketry Indian Lore, Leatherwork, Pottery, and Textile. I submit that each of these MBs, except Archaeology, could be done either indoors or outdoors.

    • Even if they were restricted, an individual could buy extras to replace lost/damaged ones. Sales are never a precise indicator of scouts earning awards.

        • Have him to look deep under his bed or in spaces between the couch and chairs. I found my Theater and Automotive merit badges that way. Theater was in a corner under the bed and Automotive was deep between the crevice between seat cushion and “baseline”. *grinning*

          How they jumped there, I’d never know. Or remember at this age.

  3. I think it is strange we as “putting more outing in scouting” and the Backpacking merit badge is 83rd on the list. I think it should be a required merit badge.

    • It is a difficult merit badge to earn. 3x 2-night, 15-mile backpacking trips, and 1x 4-night 30-mile trek. How many troops are doing more than 1x 15-mile backpacking trip a year? Plus, many religious-organization-chartered units aren’t going to be doing 2-night weekend trips (Fri-Sat-Sun) due to formal religious observances. This merit badge takes a motivated group of senior scouts (14+) to do, with adult leader support to match. Commendable, and rare.

      • While I agree it is a rare merit badge, over 70% of our Troop has earned it. Most of our Troop is under 14.

        However, we are also chartered by a church. We hold service on the trail. See that is why you have a Troop Chaplain (Adult) and several Chaplain’s Aides to ensure that during our adventure we are also honoring God in what we do.

        I will tell you that if you are like me, the COR, and a member of the church you communicate with the leadership about the benefits of young men expressing their faith openly in the back country over a campfire, next to the lake as the sun comes up, and you honestly get to see first hand the glory of God, they might let up a little with the be back for Sunday service if there are not strict travel/work limitations on worship days as some faiths have.

        For those of you chartered by Christian denominations, remember “church” is the body of believers, not the building you are standing in and where two or more are gathered in His name, so shall He be.

        • One of our Committee members “offered” our Scouts to work on the hiking MB last march. They met before the regular meeting to go over the basic non-hiking parts of the requirements. In May, we had a hike. The Philmont Crew did over 10 miles on Saturday and more on Sunday. The rest of the Troop had the option to go 5 miles (rank advancement requirement) or 10 miles.

          The Troop voted for 10 miles to knock out their first hike for the hiking MB. It was fairly rough terrain, especially for the new crossovers. We stopped and cooked a trail lunch while we are out. Due to a couple of wrong turns by the older Scouts reading the map, we took about 6 hours to hike the 10 miles NOT counting the stop for lunch. Since that was the program for the day, the Scouts probably were not moving at the quickest pace.

          Now the MBC is a marathon runner and normally covers 26 miles in a little over 4 hours. Evidently she did not understand what she was in for with Scouts hiking 10 miles (and eventually the 25 miles), it was going to be a lot more time consuming than she thought. Her son has already aged out of the Troop and after camp 2013 (she is a nurse & came down for several of the days), I don’t think I have seen her since.

          I haven’t heard anything more about completing the hiking MB from the SM/ASMs. I’m already looking at alternative ways for my son to complete the MB by linking up with other Troops as they go on hikes.

    • Page 13 of the Boy Scout Handbook contains BSA’s promises to scouts. To become an expert Hiker and Camper. When you take into consideration the requirements of the hiking and BP MBs you can see how difficult and time consuming earning both would be. Especially considering that BSA does not allow the hikes/miles counted for one to be counted for the other.

      • Why would they allow hiking and backpacking miles to count toward each other? They are two separate and distinctly different activities. I am always wondering why folks want the two for one instead of rearranging priorities and doing the work?

    • As others said, backpacking is a fairly intense badge to earn, it also requires a lot of specialized gear, that you pretty much have to purchase on your own just because it will be used continuously. Hiking is good for scouts that may not have the gear, and it is an option for eagle. And I know the work required for hiking, as I have earned it.

  4. Safety was dropped as an Eagle required in 1999. The link below offers an interesting history of the comings and going of merit badges from the ER list. At one time swimming was an either or with Personal Fitness. The top two makes a lot of sense to me, we generally have our first year Scouts take First Aid and Swimming at their first year at summer camp. Environmental Science and Emergency Prep come their second year. And Lifesaving is rarely taken, and not recommended for a Scout younger than 13 or 14. My own son took Emergency Prep and never finished his partial, instead he took Lifesaving his 3rd year at camp. Left the BSA as an Eagle with one palm with a partial in Emergency Prep and as I recall Basketry. I could never get him to finish the square basket.

    • Great link – it was surprising to see how swimming have come and gone from the eagle-required list through the years.

    • “we generally have our first year Scouts take”………

      Going by the Spirit of Scouting (and the Advancement Guide), why not leave it completely up to the Scout and just mentor him through the advancement process with advice rather than additional restrictions?

      There is no BSA age requirement for Lifesaving but some camps choose to impose a prerequisite or two to help manage the volume of Scouts who are interested in taking the badge (like taking Swimming first). It should never be discouraged due to age, however. In fact, the longstanding “Scouts in Action” section of Boys Life provides copious examples of younger Scouts performing successful water rescues. Why not train as many as we can in the fundamentals of lifesaving?

      • We also have our 1st year scouts take Swimming just because it’s hard to do around home. It’s not mandatory, but we highly encourage the Scouts to do it. A couple of the boys didn’t pass the swim test, so they obviously didn’t take Swimming. Also last year, we encouraged them to take Cooking under the older requirements. For Scouts under First Class we recommend taking 2 Eagles and a few fun ones. For Scouts over First Class, we recommend taking 3-4 Eagles and 1-2 fun ones. In the end, it’s up to the Scout and we generally let them take what they want.

        • Personally, I think the new Cooking requirements are easier and frankly better than the old.

        • We make all our Scouts do swimming 1st year camp, Lifesaving 2nd year. Anyone not in Swimming or Lifesaving gets Mile Swim.

          Yup I said it…make. Want to know why?

          We live in SC and it’s 100 degrees and 95% humidity. This way we know they got at least some time to cool off in the water and at least 1 shower a day!

          Ok so I’m joking…or am I?

          Smile…if you have smelled a teenager at Summer Camp before.

        • Our Scouts don’t smell at camp because about every other night, we have the SPL take the Scouts to the shower house for a mandatory shower for everyone. One of those nights is the evening before Family Day.

          I would have never made it in your Troop. I have never swam a mile in my life and never want to do so. I would have been lucky to make the 150 yards necessary for swimming. Putting me in the pool for a mile swim would have almost been a death sentence. In the Army, I struggle with my annual swim test which was 100 yards with boots, equipment, & rifle. The one time I forgot to unblouse my boots was the worse.

      • First aid and swimming are the classic meritbadges to be earned by a first year camper, if not just for the fact that it paves the way for other meritbadges as well as early rank advancement. By instructing your scout to take them early, these leaders are actually helping them to advance in scouting.

        • While many camps highly encourage first year campers to take first aid and swimming, there are many camps that do not. Several of them “encourage” while others dictate that campers have to be in the 2nd year for either MB. For swimming, many of these camps do the MB in cold mountain lake water. I have even seen a camp or two that does not allow anyone under 13 to take the First Aid MB. It all depends on your council and how they look at the “difficulty” level of various MBs.

    • While having a good variety of badges offered in summer camps is good I think the the adults involved should steer the boys towards the badges that are ” outdoor and camp related”. Badges such as citizenship in the world and first aid can be easily done at home whereas canoeing, rowing, bird study, astronomy etc are better in camp. It is a little sad when a scout completes three eagle badges in camp and his only real outdoor experiences for that year are walking in the rain to and from the badges and the dining hall.

  5. I have a Wolf starting his bugling practice now – hoping that 1911 merit badge will still be around when he’s ready to earn it!

      • They tried to roll Bugling into music about 5 years ago and the Buglers Club of America fought back to keep it a separate MB. There was an upward trend right after the BCA won the battle with BSA, but now the Bugling MB is once again on the decline. It will be interesting to see if the BSA prevails the next time. [By the way, there is no such thing as the BCA]

        • As long as Bugler is a position of responsibility, I’d like Bugling to remain a separate merit badge. True that it shares the book with Music MB (at least it did), but it should be its own MB outright.

  6. Chet,
    A scout needs to have swimming before he takes Lifesaving. It also requires more strength than the average 11 or 12 year old. There are always exceptions but in general I wouldn’t recommend a Scout younger than 13 take Lifesaving. I’d say most of our Scouts earn Emergency Prep instead of Lifesaving. Both are worthy merit badges, Emergency Prep is less physically demanding than Lifesaving and can be earned “easily” by a motivated 12 year old.

    A Scout is free to take what he wants, we recommend First Aid and Swimming (provided he can pass the BSA swimming test) their first year. We then steer them towards arts and crafts types of merit badges from the camp’s offerings. If they follow our recommendations for which Eagle required badges they take at camp they will generally earn all the Eagle required badges the camps offer by their third year at base camp. They then are able to participate in the high adventure offerings the camps offers.

    • Jeff…not true. Lifesaving MB does not require Swimming MB…used to but not any longer…dunno why.

      There are 3 MBs that have other MBs as requirements. Eprep requires First Aid; Scuba requires Swimming and Whitewater requires Canoeing if you are using that option for the MB. Whitewater requires Kayaking BSA not the MB if you use that option. I don’t know if that will be changed in the future.

      • Matt,
        You are correct, you only have to pass Second and First Class swimming requirements for Lifesaving. Kind of dumb though, I’d never recommend Lifesaving to a Scout that doesn’t have Swimming MB. I think some camps may require Swimming first, but that shouldn’t stop a Scout from Scout from taking it.

        • I believe the swimming mb be completed first. But it is important that the scout be physically strong enough to work on and complete the badge. It is very destructive to an individual when they realize that they don’t have the skills for success when they attempt something. I have seen many skinny small boys who excelled on swim teams have horrible experiences climbing out of pools, pulling other swimmers out of pools, completing back boarding tasks. When some worked on the badge again several years later it was a breeze to complete. This also applied to the archery and rifle merit badges. I have seen several boys walk away with tears in their eyes after receiving their partials, they were not strong enough to hold the necessary gear.

    • See here is where I respectfully disagree. For starters, not a single merit badge is required for up to and including 1st Class which should always be the focus for young men in their fledgling Scouting careers.

      If they want to try Lifesaving, let them try. If they get a partial, great. If they get the badge great. If they never do Lifesaving again and do the alternate, great. The MB program is designed to expose Scouts to different activities.

      Being a 30 year Veteran I have spent a little time places with lots of units and Scouts. Often I find advancement is driven from the adults. Boy Scouting is supposed to be Boy Driven (Led). What are his interests and goals, not the parents, not the leaders, or the other Scouts. The individual Scouts are responsible for their advancement.

      If a 65lb soaking wet kid thinks he can fetch the 10lb brick off the bottom of the pool and tred water with it, then let him try. Who are we to place limitations on his abilities or his goals? We are here for supervision and to ensure he is safe, so if he passed the Swim Test as a Swimmer, let him try. If he fails, build him up. If he succeeds tell him you knew he could do it all along. Help him grow, not earn patches.

      • Don: back in the 70s we (the BSA) experimented with having First Aid merit badge required for the First Class rank. It was not the success the BSA envisioned. Many of those Scouts got poor First Aid instruction other than the Band-Aid kind required for the then First Aid Skill Award, also required for First Class. Some places allowed the ARC or AHA (American Red Cross/American Heart Association) to conduct first aid classes which were a bit beyond “first aid for the outdoors” which is what First Aid merit badge was based upon.

        The BSA abandoned this and encourage Scoutmasters and others to have Scouts to consider earning First Aid as one of their first merit badges.

        • I was one of the last crop of 1st class scouts who had to earn First Aid as part of the requirements. I am glad it is required, and I am glad it is no longer a requirement for rank advancement per se.

      • I have mixed emotions about this. Last year, my son & another were the only 1st year Scouts. I knew my son was not the best swimmer in the world, but the other Scout was a non-swimmer. Instead of letting my son go to camp and try to earn his Swimming MB with 30 other Scouts in a pool, I found a local program where he could work with 4-5 other Scouts on it. Turned out my son met all the rqts except diving from the side (not allowed due to the low depth of the pool) and the emergency flotation with their clothes. The Troop Campmaster (the ASM in charge of camp paperwork) coerced the other Scout into signing up for the Swimming MB. At camp, he did not pass the Swim Test (white band only) and thus now had an unplanned opening in his schedule. For that hour a day, he got to sit back at the camp while the rest of the troop was off doing MBs.

        Since I am one of the few that actually read the Leaders Guide from front to back, I pulled out the section of MBs and went over it with my son. We marked off the ones that my son could not do as our Camp is really draconian on prerequisites (Lifesaving MB before any waterfront MBs; Swimming MB before Lifesaving; 1st Class for Orienteering & Pioneering; Age 14 for Radio & some others; etc). After that was done, we looked at the remaining MBs & what the prerequisites were so the MB could be completed at camp.

        Our camp is unusual that it is 10 days long with 4 MB sessions a day. Some MBs take 6 days & others take 3. days. Day 1 & 10 do not have any classes nor does Family Day (Sunday during the session). Day 9 is a makeup day for any MB. He gravitated to the arts/crafts MBs & the ecology lab completing 5. He spent 1 session doing the Trail to first class & another session doing Nature (6 days). The other 4 were 3-day ones (Art, Basketry, Wood Carving & Geology).

        The bottom line is the my son had a great camp experience while the other Scout did not. The Campmaster did a poor job of advising the other Scout based on what the adult wanted him to do. On the other hand, my son had the input to what MBs he wanted to do tempered by my touch of realism. We continue to do the same when my son attends a Merit Badge College. We look at the MBs, all the rqts, & the prerequisites so my son chooses the ones that he not only likes but will likely complete. While we should let the Scout choose his own path with MBs, we should not recklessly let him lead himself down a path that leaves him frustrated but lets him find success in achieving something that maybe he did not think he himself could do.

        • We try to do a BSA swim test with our first year Scouts prior to signing up for merit badges at camp. If they can’t pass the BSA swim test we put them into beginner swimming at camp.

    • When you say “a scout needs to have swimming before he takes Lifesaving” are you intending to express your opinion of do you believe it is a requirement? A common misconception is that a Scout must earn Swimming MB before he can earn Lifesaving MB -this is wrong -check the requirements for Lifesaving. There is NOT a requirement to earn Swimming MB. Remember, no one can legitimately add to or take away from the merit badge requirements as written.

  7. Ok some data is type wrong

    You said that
    •Home Repairs: 103 to 95 (-8) <- This implies a increase not a drop
    •Theater: 119 to 112 (-7) <- This implies a increase not a drop
    •Backpacking: 98 to 91 (-7) <- This implies a increase not a drop

    I assume you have the numbers backwards based on the 2013 chart.

    • Ha! I agree. i remember taking drafting in high school. I skipped typing class, because I figured I would never need to know how to use a typewriter!

  8. I am surprised that Hiking isn’t higher up on the list. For many boys who aren’t great swimmers, it is a great alternative. My son is a Life scout who did the required swimming for 2nd and 1st class and isn’t really interested in any more swimming. He has already done two of the 10 mile hikes and looks forward to the other hikes. It is an excellent alternative for non-swimmers!

    • Same for my son. He takes the required swim test each year for camp, but has no interest in doing the MB. We have 3 hikes done.

      • My son doesn’t even take the swim test at camp. He finds other things to do at camp and doesn’t bother with the swimming or other water activities. He spends his time in the Nature, Tech, or Handicraft areas. That is what is so great about scouting. It allows boys to learn and be individuals!

        • The world we live on is 74% water. Knowing how to swim should be one of the first things that a child learns. It could save that child’s life. With kids being dared to do things, cars going off roadways into water, flooding, accidents around docks and boats I don’t understand how every parent is not screaming at PTA meetings that they want all schools teaching swimming to all youth at every grade level. We spend time on fire safety when drowning is right there on that same list of horrors. Please encourage all people learn to swim. You never know when a ferry might sink, or a bridge collapse, or a driver is dumb enough to drive in water too deep to pass through.
          I definitely agree that having the opportunity to do experience different activities is great but when it comes to safety and staying alive those skills should be mandatory for all.

        • As I said, my son DOES know how to swim. He knows what to do in case of a water emergency. He just doesn’t enjoy it! That is why I am glad he has an alternative. Why should he be forced to do something he doesn’t enjoy? He enjoys hiking instead.

        • I too am NOT a fan of swimming (I know how to swim; my Scoutmaster taught me how to swim and I later held the high school 100m butterfly record for almost 10 years!) but I know how. Like Beth’s son, I enjoy hiking a lot more. Scouting has allowed me to learn new things over time…and put up with things I don’t enjoy but “haveta do”. *grinning*

    • I look at Swimming as probably one of the most important merit badges. Every Scout that is physically able should know how to swim, it could save their life. Same with First Aid merit badge. When I look at the Eagle required badges I see skills and knowledge for life. The only one that is really “Scout related” and could be of limited use post Scouting is camping. Not knocking Camping, but a lot of Scouts may never camp again once they leave Scouts. All will likely have to cook, perform minor (or major) first aid, know how government works, communicate, maintain their personal finances, maintain personal fitness, understand the family structure, understand what do to in an emergency and how their actions can impact the environment.

      • My son knows how to swim and what to do in a water emergency. He just doesn’t enjoy being in the water. That is why I am happy he has an alternative.

      • As beth said, not all of us are swimmers, I never earned the meritbadge, but I did earn my Eagle, as well as cycling, hiking and backpacking. I have also even taught swimming merit badge and instructional swimming while working as a lifeguard.

    • Could be the fact that they see a continuous 20 mile hike and shy away. My son loves both hiking and swimming, so he did both. Out of the two, swimming he laughed at the difficulty. Hiking he took a really long nap that day when the 20 miler was finished.

  9. In my son’s Unit, they recommend First Aid MB as the first one earned because if also fulfills requirement for Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class. Same goes for Swimming MB and now Cooking MB. Get these three Merit Badges and half the requirements for First Class have been achieved. Our Unit doesn’t require First Aid but it is recommended. Finally, several merit badges have a first aid element as a requirement anyway.

    • Actually Robert it’s the other way around. The Rank requirements for FA and Swimming are completed before the MB.

      • I think what he was getting at is because the the rank advancement requirements for swimming and first aid are tougher and more thorough, by completing those badges, the scout fulfills those requirements, and is only missing the ones involving knot work, personal fitness, citizenship, etc.

        • You really think Rank requirements for Swimming and FA are tougher? For example 2nd Class swimming requires 25 Feet and 1st 100 yards and the MB requires 150 yards and the ranks have no survival skills or pant inflation

        • I don’t think he does, Matt. I think what Brandon is trying to say is, “Scouts will gain a more thorough training by doing the MBs than just the rank requirements and by doing the MBs they’ve satisfied the rank requirements anyway so it makes sense to encourage the MBs right off the bat.”

        • Matt, forgive me, I meant to say the rank requirements were easier. I just crossed them up, I have taught both first aid and swimming for rank and advancement, so I know for the most part what each entails.

    • The new Cooking Merit Badge requirements CANNOT be used for Rank Advancement so no “double dipping with them.”

      Some camps go over the 2nd & 1st Class First Aid requirements as part of the First Aid Merit Badge. Others have the SM certify they are met. Others have the Scout demonstrate the skills.

      Many camps are different. The First Aid MB is required for Emergency Preparedness. Some camps make you have the First Aid MB before taking E Prep. Other camps let you take both MBs concurrently. Even though the First Aid MB is Rqt 1 for E Prep, it actually does not have to be done first. Many camps, however, read it that way.

      Just because the Scout has the First Aid MB, it does not automatically “qualify” the Scout for the MB Counselor to sign off on the requirement at the start of many MBs to discuss possible injuries, etc. for the activity. The Scout is suppose to show the MB Counselor that they know the First Aid and having the First Aid MB alone should not be proof, especially if the First Aid MB was earned 3 or 4 years earlier.

  10. @Robert “Popcorn Guy” Moore You can’t double count Second and First Class Cooking for Cooking MB. You can double count Camping MB cooking requirements towards cooking at least with the 2014 requirements.. Bryan outlined in the blog a while back and here is the text at

    *Note: The meals prepared for Cooking merit badge requirements 5, 6, and 7 will count only toward fulfilling those requirements and will not count toward rank advancement. Meals prepared for rank advancement may not count toward the Cooking merit badge. You must not repeat any menus for meals actually prepared or cooked in requirements 5, 6, and 7.

  11. I am a stats nerd (did a whole PhD dissertation with lots of stats) and a LOVE this post every year. Thanks for getting all the information together for us!

  12. A very interesting post. It saddens me, though, that so many of the old outdoor oriented merit badges and agricultural or farm-related merit badges have been jettisoned in favor of indoor computer and electronic badges.

  13. Bryan, I would appreciate the spreadsheet version of the historic look back …..or add it to the spreadsheet that is already there (Add a sheet). Thanks,

  14. May be off topic, but are there statistics of the average number of merit badges that some boys earn? Is that recorded at the Council or National Level? Also, are there statistics of boys that have earned all the merit badges?

    • As Ed Palmer wrote, there is an *unofficial* website which tracks those few Scouts who have indeed earned all of the available merit badges. The BSA (nationally or through your local Council) doesn’t track such things because it has NEVER been about “earning the most (or all) merit badges” but earning the merit badges in which the SCOUT (and every Scout is different) feels he would enjoy learning about, doing the various tasks and projects, and most importantly interacting with adults in that field or having that shared interest. For the same reason the BSA won’t be developing a “Got ‘Em All” badge, certificate or card for those overachieving Scouts.

      If you earn all of them, good for you; but no special “cookie” or “prize” will come your way. The unofficial website provides an unofficial square knot for those Scouts to purchase and wear with local permission; I say it is completely unnecessary as we already have the Bronze, Gold and Silver Palms which may be earned and worn in the highest combination of merit badges earned over Eagle.

  15. I noticed if you add the spreadsheet numbers there were about 65000 less MBs earned in 2013 than 2012

  16. Matt, Didn’t Bryan say recently that 2013 had the second highest number of Eagles in history, just behind 2012. There was probably a big push to get the 100th anniversary of Eagles patch in 2012 and a rush to complete Eagle before cooking MB kicked back in after too long an absence from the ER list. My son got his Eagle in 2011, missing both the 100th Anniversary of the BSA and 100th Anniversary of the Eagle award patches. I’m still a happy dad that he finished his Eagle.

  17. I see that a popular summer camp merit badge is still Woodcarving. About 75% of the boys I review have not even come close to completing the merit badge even though they receive the badge at camp.I am a 48 yr. veteran Scouter and teach Woodcarving at our Merit Badge Challenge course.

    • No, not “weird”, Laura Ann…unless of course he’s one of those kids who love Brussels Spouts and broccoli! *grinning* He was “hiking his own trail” toward Star, Life and Eagle…and the merit badges he chose he did so because HE was interested in them…

  18. Sad to see Pioneering off the list of required merit badges for Eagles. A tree fell on my house a couple of years ago and if it wasn’t for the knots and lashings, I would have not been able to keep the tree from doing more damage. My tree guy said he never saw a rope bear so much weight and keep a tree that was dangling stay still while being cut down.

    I also think programming should be higher on the list. So much technology in the world and if we had scouts that knew how to program, we could rock the tech industry.

    • Joe…you’re going way back since Pioneering dropped off as ER in 1952 and Programming is pretty much a brand new MB

  19. I would hardly call a required merit badge “popular.” I suspect 5 or 6 of the required badges would drop like rocks if they became electives.

  20. Taking last year’s post information and this year’s about MBs, I had a chance to look at a 6-year trend for MBs as well as historical trends. Methodology: # of MBs earned in last 6 years divided by years available (1-6) in those years to come up with current popularity & rank. Same thing for all MBs earned divided by years available for historical trends. My key take aways:
    1. Many MBs showed an increase from 2008 to 2011/12 before a dropoff. This could be so Scouts could get their Eagle during the centennial year.
    2. Increasing trend with increases in at least 5 of the last 6 years for: Animal Science, Archaeology, Architecture, Astronomy, Automotive Maintenance, Bird Study, Chemistry, Electronics, Energy, Engineering, Insect Study, Landscape Architecture, Model Design & Building, Movie Making (Cinematography) Nuclear Science, Plant Science, Public Health, Public Speaking, Pulp & Paper, and Salesmanship. Could the increases be because of the STEM initiative?
    3. Basketry, Leatherwork, Pottery, & Wood Carving all show a decliding trend. Have some camps stopped offering these MBs?
    4. Canoeing has had a significant drop since 2011, which is when Kayaking was added.
    5. Cooking almost doubled in number from 2012 to 2013 as it is now Eagle required.
    6. Fly-Fishing jumped 10-fold in 2011 & has leveled off at that number.
    7. Has the economy affected some MBs such as Golf, Motor Boating, Snow Sports who show a steep downward trend?
    8. Safety (19th most popular historically) and Public Health (42) are no longer popular now that they are no longer required for Eagle as they rank in the bottom quartile.

  21. So out of the 113 boys who earned Scuba Diving last year our Troop had 13~ 11.5% nationally..can’t wait to high 5 those boys when I see them! Great job T9212!

      • Guess reading the blog on the iPhone…wasn’t the best idea. Glad to see more kids making bubble though. Still happy that 13 of them knocked it out. The badge is not hard, it’s the cost that holds most back. Thanks for correcting my numerical misread.

  22. Here are some things I found …

    –After cooking and the badges that started in the last few years, AMERICAN LABOR saw the biggest percentage increase over last year. WHITEWATER saw the biggest decrease over last year.

    –Removing outliers like above, from the data we have since 2008, PLANT SCIENCE and INSECT STUDY have seen the largest percentage rise with about 235% since 2008. ROWING and GOLF have the largest decrease at 69% since 2008.

    –The total number of Merit Badges in 2013 was 2,110,878 … a decrease of 3% from last year but still an increase of 10% from 2008. And about the same number as was earned in 2009.

    –For some reason, FLY FISHING (started in 2002) saw a jump from 475 in 2010 to 4,605 in 2011 and has been going up ever since.

    –Sadly (to me), Bugling decreased from last year down to 515 and is still the lowest earned Merit Badge in the group (not including programming that was introduced last year).

    • There’s nothing like getting your American Labor merit badge with a MADE IN CHINA sticker on the back. Gotta love that.

      • Doing a merit badge event yearly and researching places for Troops’ program planning that incorporate merit badge, I’m not surprised at American Labor boast. Found that the American Labor organizations have been spreading the word that they can help Scouts with earning American Labor merit badge while promoting the history of this area and their organization.

        Another factor is numbers like these are being used in planning merit badge events thus making least earned a part of the selections to include. I even compiled our local districts and council numbers with Bryan’s statistics to use in our preliminary list of selections before we rope in counselors for our day event.

    • To comment about bugling, we have a scouter here that wants to learn that but we don’t have a counselor in our area which makes it difficult. The more that don’t have the merit badge the less boys that learn it and the less that can teach it. Sad times!

      • WAscoutmom: May I suggest asking a music merit badge counselor who plays trumpet/cornet/horn (many hornists started out as trumpet players) if he/she would be willing to read the bugling part of the music/bugling merit badge book to gain background knowledge on the bugle calls and fill out the application to become a bugling merit badge counselor?

  23. Not sure if I’d use the word popular. Most and least earned would be more appropriate. Now if you had a survey, I’d say pioneering is gonna be in the top 5 along with any badge having to do with shooting. First Aid is the most “popular” because it’s Eagle required an a Scout needs it to do other badges.

  24. Can’t be of all time I got Interpreting about 1952. It went off the list on about 1953. Didn’t find Civics/Citizenship which disappeared about 1953 when the “new” Eagle requirements came in and there were 4 to replace it

  25. It’s sad to see that backpacking is so low on the list (#98). I would think that this is a product of the fact that it is quite a challenge to earn, rather than an indication that so few scouts are backpacking

    • I think you would be correct, most of the scouts form the unit that I was in don’t even earn it, and we went backpacking quite often with regular crews going to philmont every 2-3 years.

    • I think you would be correct, most of the scouts from the unit I grew up in don’t even earn it, and we went on regular backpacking trips, and even had crews going to philmont every 2-3 years. There is also the fact that it is not eagle required, so even though some scouts may have done all the requirements without even knowing it, they may never submit the paperwork. I only had about 25 meritbadges when I got eagle, but I could have doubled it if I submitted paperwork on ones that I completed just by doing activities that I did.

      • Have you thought about bringing it to their attention, Brandon? Suggest to them too that they’ve done most of the work so it can be one of their elective earned instead of their required.

        • Well there is also the fact that most of our backpacking trips go towards that scout earning hiking, I guess I should have said that. The only reason I earned backpacking is because I didn’t have enough time to do a 20 mile before I aged out, so we put the requirements towards backpacking instead.

    • With the Cooking MB requiring meals to be cooked on a hike or a backpacking trip, more Troops were now need to do those if they weren’t doing them before. Therefore it is likely that the numbers for boking Hiking & Backpacking MB may rise in the future.

  26. Here is the story of 27 of the Railroading merit badges from 2013:

    Earlier in the day I also did 28 Oceanography merit badges. Merit badge academies tend to push some merit badges over others, just because they are easier. I mean there is no way to teach Scuba Diving in an MBA setting. Anyway, the link above is to a national magazine and is hopefully a tool to recruit more merit badge councelors fro Railroading and even a couple of related merit badges.

  27. It’s interesting that Pioneering and Orienteering have dropped so far from the past. It was always a tried and true set of merit badges to get while at Scout Camp. I was a counselor at Camp Woodland Trails in the Miami Valley Council in Ohio in 1982, 1983 and 1984. I taught a lot of kids lashing/knot-tying / and compass work during those years. Has Geocaching taken the place of Orienteering?

    Safety used to be a requirement for Eagle back in the 1970s and 1980s.

    • #26 for 2013; #62 all-time. Rifle & Shotgun were only split out some time in the 1970s so the numbers are a little skewed.

  28. Late to the conversation, but two interesting trends:

    It seems to take 3-4 years for a new merit badge’s place to be established. Even in the 3rd year,you tend to have a peak from scouts catching up on new badges.

    I’m struck by some of the new/old pairings. Kayaking and canoeing are essentially tied, as are orienteering and geocaching. Welding and auto maintenance are close and robotics sits between computers and electronics/electricity/engineering. does BSA ever use this sort of notional pairing to predict popularity of new badges?

  29. I think one reason that the new badges take a while to get established is getting qualified merit badge counselors in place. We had scouts that really wanted Search and Rescue as soon as it came out, but we could not find a program. We had to locate qualified folks that were willing to help, and then get them registered and trained. It was well over a year before those scouts could start working on that badge.
    They had a great experience, so it was worth the wait. On a different note. I find what motivates the scouts interesting and sometimes unpredictable. We have scouts that love to hike, and they attend the hikes put in place specifically for the Hiking merit badge. However, they don’t turn in the required short report afterwards–even with repeated prompting and reminding. I guess they care more about the experience than badge collecting. And they have Swimming already so they don’t have to earn it for Eagle.

  30. Is there any listing of how many of the fairly rare merit badges, such as Foundry Practice, Mining, Soil Management, Rocks & Minerals, and Cement Work, we’re earned during their issuance?

  31. In 1976 my son and several others in the troop earned a merit badge only available to scouts in the Philadelphia area. It was the “Colonial Philadelphia MB” It was available to all scouts in 1976 who visited and did the requirements. Are there any other local historical merit badges available. I think this was a good idea.

  32. As a MB counselor for railroading for the past 16 years, I have found that these young men have shown an interest in railroading in the last 5 years. I hope this MB continues to be a part of scouting. It’s a part of history how the USA has grown.

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