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.

merit-badges-2013-1

* 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.

merit-badges-2013-lifetime-2

* 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.