What’s the difference between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts?

This goes way beyond blue vs. khaki.

The difference between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts encompasses critical categories like unit structure, leadership, parental involvement, advancement and camping.

Both programs are built on Scouting’s time-tested values. And beginning in May 2015, both programs will use the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

Beyond that, though, you’ll find more differences than similarities — for good reason. You wouldn’t teach a third-grader the same way you’d teach a ninth-grader. That same logic tells us your approach to Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting shouldn’t be the same.

So, gathered from several Scout leaders in the know, here’s a rundown of the ways in which Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts differ.

Unit structure

Cub Scouts: Boys are in dens, which are part of a pack. Their den is made up of other boys of the same Cub Scout rank. Dens usually meet weekly or biweekly; packs meet monthly.

Boy Scouts: Boys are in patrols, which are part of a troop. Some troops prefer mixed-age patrols (in which an 11-year-old and a 17-year-old could be in the same patrol), while others prefer to keep boys of similar ages together. Troops meet weekly. Patrol meetings are part of the weekly troop meeting, typically, though patrols are welcome to meet on their own.


It’s pretty simple: Cub Scouting is led by adults; Boy Scouting is led by the boys.

Cub Scouts: Adults plan and conduct the meetings and promote advancement, teamwork, fun and character-building.

Boy Scouts: The boys plan and conduct meetings and outings. Adults step in when asked for help and model good behavior. “We’re striving for boy-led,” in Boy Scouting, says Illinois Scoutmaster Dale Machacek. It’s “not always as organized or successful as if adults were running things, but kids learn from their mistakes.”

Leadership roles: This Scouter’s unofficial blog shows Cub Scouting positions and the equivalent position in Boy Scouting in this handy chart:

Cub Scouts Boy Scouts
Den Leader Patrol Leader
Cubmaster Senior Patrol Leader
Unit Committee (planning functions) Patrol Leaders Council
None Scoutmaster
Unit committee (administrative functions) Unit Committee

As you can see, adults hold all of the Cub Scout positions, while boys occupy most of the Boy Scout roles.

Why is there no Cub Scout equivalent to Scoutmaster? Because Scoutmasters, unlike Cubmasters, are mentors who sit on the sidelines. “The way to think of Scoutmaster is as ‘chief adult guide’ and the assistant scoutmasters as ‘adult guides,'” the author explains.

In this letter to parents, New York Scoutmaster Richard Buzzard explains that things might get hectic in Boy Scouting, but that’s the point.

When you see Scouts struggling a bit, or not doing a job as well as you know that YOU could do it, resist the temptation to do it for them. A little help is always welcome. But let the successes be theirs as much as possible, as well as the learning which comes from those temporary setbacks.

Parental involvement

Parents are a critical part of both Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting. This chart from Niles, Ill., Troop 175 offers this comparison:

Cub Scouts: The parents are expected to assist the pack with planning or helping with at least one activity or event annually. They may also take a leadership role in the pack or den. Parents are usually required to accompany their son on overnight campouts.

Boy Scouts: The parents are expected to continuously assist the troop by supporting the boys and participating in those tasks that the boys can not do. This may include: transportation to an activity, shopping for a trip or chaperoning a trip. It also may include assisting with fundraisers (finances and organization) and coordinating special events. It is expected that each family take an active role in the troop. Unlike Cub Scouts, parents aren’t required to camp with their sons. They’re encouraged to do so, however.


Cub Scouts progress through the ranks to earn the Arrow of Light. Boy Scouts progress through the ranks to earn the Eagle Scout Award.

The Troop 175 chart offers these extra details:

Cub Scouts: Cub Scouts rely on their den leaders, den chiefs and parents to plan and assist with all advancement activities. Achievements/books are signed by either the den leader or parent. Ranks are based only on age or grade. Even if a boy did not earn the rank for his age, he moves to the next one as his den moves. The levels are: Tiger, Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, Webelos and Arrow of Light.

Boy Scouts: Parents can guide, but advancement is planned and assisted by patrol leaders and adults. Unlike in Cub Scouts, advancement is individual, not by patrol. A Scout works at his own pace, meaning a 13-year-old in the Dragon Patrol might be a Life Scout while a 15-year-old in the Dragon Patrol is still a Star Scout. A Scout cannot advance to the next level until all activities are completed in the lower rank. The ranks are Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle. (Eagle Palms may also be earned after Eagle.)


Again, from the Troop 175 chart.

Cub Scouts: Limited to Scout and parent weekend or day trips. May have some camping in tents or cabins. Summer camp is limited to two or three nights, usually. Campouts usually have a very structured schedule.

Boy Scouts: Monthly or bimonthly camping trips as well as additional outdoor day activities. Much of the program involves activities that can only be done in the outdoors (nature, ecology, pioneering, orienteering, conservation etc.) Also available to the Scout is at least a week of camping each summer. Not every minute of the campout is scheduled. Free time is important. Boys normally get a couple of hours of free time to hang with friends, walk in the woods, work on advancement, sleep, play sports, or do nothing at all. This is “one of the hardest concepts for Cub parents to grasp,” Machacek says.

Chain of command

Where do Scouts go with a problem or question?

Cub Scouts: They’ll ask their parent, den leader or Cubmaster.

Boy Scouts: They’ll follow the “chain of command.” Boy Scouts are taught to go to their patrol leader, then their senior patrol leader and finally the adults. Where safety or health is an issue, though, Boy Scouts may go straight to the adult.

Other differences

What differences weren’t covered? Share your wisdom by leaving a comment below.