13 things to love about the Boy Scout Handbook

By now you’ve heard there’s a new Boy Scout Handbook.

I’ve spent some time with the 13th edition of the guy’s guide to adventure and found 13 things to love about the latest Handbook. (Well, actually I found way more than 13 but figured nobody wanted to read a 3,000-word blog post.) Here goes:

Handbook-11. It could save somebody’s life.

Chapter 4 is a lifesaver. Literally.

The section on first aid teaches Scouts how to respond to a range of injuries both serious (bone breaks, heart attacks or hypothermia) and less-serious (splinters, minor burns or fishhooks caught in the skin).

If you read only one chapter, make it this one. That applies to everyone — not just Scouts.

Handbook-22. It’ll help you predict the weather.

Step aside, Mr. Roker.

Page 217 gives you a rundown of weather lore that has proven surprisingly accurate over time.

Take, for example, this one: “If smoke goes high, no rain comes by.” In other words, if your campfire smoke rises straight up, it’s because there’s no wind. No wind means no rain on the way.

Handbook-33. It has video-ready content.

You can read the Handbook from cover to cover or — the more likely scenario — you can consume it in small bites.

It’s those small bites that inspired the BSA’s #HandbookHacks series. These straight-from-the-Handbook videos offer shareable nuggets of Scouting at its best.

And the best part: You can join the fun by creating and sharing your own #HandbookHacks videos. No Spielberg-level cinematography is needed. Shoot ’em with your phone and share ’em using the hashtag #HandbookHacks.

Here’s an example:

Handbook-44. It talks about the “Bearmuda Triangle.”

Anybody who has been to Philmont knows about the “Bearmuda Triangle” — that three-sided area in which no tents should be set up.

The cooking area, the sump and the bear bag make up the three points of the triangle, and tents should be set up at least 50 feet away.

The 13th-edition Handbook is the first edition to mention the triangle. Flip to page 285 for a diagram and more info.

Handbook-55. It helps you know how long food stays fresh.

Jerry Seinfeld does a great routine on expiration dates.

“How do they know that is the definite exact day? … Maybe the cows tip them off when they’re milking them. … ‘July 3rd.'”

Sell-by dates, best-before dates and use-by dates have confounded grocery shoppers (and comedians) for years.

Page 300 of the Handbook helps demystify those dates. It even includes a chart on how long food will stay fresh when refrigerated. Basically, food bought a day or two before a campout should be safe to eat.

Handbook-66. It could help you excel on Survivor.

In more than 30 seasons of Survivor, one thing has been a constant (well, other than Jeff Probst’s never-ending supply of baseball caps): lots of people don’t know how to start a campfire.

Don’t be voted off the island. Flip to page 388 — “How to build a campfire” — and watch your value to the team skyrocket, be it on Survivor or elsewhere.  

Handbook-77. It helps you sound smart on the water.

Boating has its own vocabulary, and if don’t know your port (left) from your starboard (right), you could be, well, out to sea in a canoe, kayak or rowboat.

Flip to pages 174 and 175, part of the chapter on aquatics, to master the wide world of water words.

Handbook-88. It helps you survive in the water.

When that boat capsizes, it won’t matter whether you fell out on the port or starboard side, will it?

So the Handbook features a section on floating — “a good way to rest in deep, calm water.” Head to pages 170 to 171 to learn how to, for example, use your clothing as a flotation device.

This is stuff you don’t learn in school, and it just might be the most important thing you ever learn.

Handbook-9-29. It teaches you how to treat the flag.

Scouts have been perfecting the art of the flag ceremony for more than 100 years. The information on pages 56 to 61 helps keep it that way.

You’ll find instructions for folding a flag and even a simple sample flag ceremony script.

Handbook-1010. It helps you read a nutrition label.

Sometimes reading a nutrition label can feel like interpreting hieroglyphics. No more, thanks to the Boy Scout Handbook.

Flip to page 86 for a simple six-step guide to reading the label the right way.

Plus, a box called “Math and nutrition labels” helps Scouts use STEM-approved techniques to further interpret the label. For example (and this is purely hypothetical!), if the serving size is 25 M&Ms, but I just ate 60 M&Ms, how many calories did I consume?

Handbook-1111. It helps you track and identify animals.

By looking, listening, smelling and — in some cases — touching, you can identify which animals roamed a particular spot outdoors.

Pages 203 and 204 of the Handbook turn Scouts into wildlife detectives, equipping them with skills that help them read clues animals leave behind.

Handbook-1212. It reminds you to leave a place better than you found it.

There’s a whole chapter on Outdoor Ethics with excellent reminders that help Scouts minimize their impacts on our world.

My favorite part, though, is a box called “Biodegradability” on page 230. It really opened my eyes to how long it takes items to break down.

Knowing that a wool sock sticks around for up to five years or that an aluminum can could last for 200 years will motivate Scouts to take those police lines more seriously.

Handbook-1313. It was written by Mark Ray.

Finally, I have to give a nod to Mark Ray, contributor to Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines. Ray wrote the 13th-edition Boy Scout Handbook.

Knowing that I’ve actually met the writer of the Boy Scout Handbook is something 13-year-old me would’ve never believed.

Ray, an Eagle Scout and lifelong Scouting volunteer, seems a perfect fit to write this volume of Scout skills. He’s created a phenomenal resource your Scouts will enjoy.

What are Mark Ray’s favorite parts of the Handbook? For that, check out his blog.

Buy your copy

Check your local Scout Shop or go to ScoutStuff.org. The Handbook is $14.99 for the perfect-bound version or digital download and $19.99 for the coil-bound version.


  1. My only complaint about the 13th addition of the Boy Scout Handbook is that they used a ridiculously small type size on the requirements pages! I have decent eye sight but even I struggle to read the new requirements pages.

  2. One thing not to love is the 50% price increase. The glue bound edition is $15 and the wire bound is $20. This has caused consternation among parents crossing over into the Troop, as our feeder pack is from the lower income part of town.

    ALSO, right in the middle of Webelos cross over season, national is out of stock on the glue bound book and almost out of stock on the wire bound book. I have a few Webelos cross overs coming next month and am hoping the store can be back in stock by then …

    • I have met several troops that GIVE the new Scout their handbook. It’s part of their annual plan and they budget and fund-raise to do that. What a great way to get started!

    • Saying that there was a 50% price increase between the 12th and 13th editions of the boy scout handbook is just factually incorrect.

      The perfect bound edition went from $11.99 to $14.99.
      The coil bound edition went from $16.99 to $19.99.

      For the mathematically challenged, that’s an increase of 15% and 20% respectively. Admittedly, nowhere near enough copies of either binding were printed to meet the demand of this year’s crossover season.

  3. I agree the book is full of fun and interesting information. In addition to karger print, my only wish is that they would have included the page reference numbers with each of the requirements as they did in the psst.

  4. I’m still referring regularly to my Scout Field Book that I brought in 1956. It cost $1.00 at the time. I use it often when I check out survival information, first aid, and nature facts. Think I will look into this new one.
    Thanks for the info.

    ( an old Eagle scout and Vigil member of the Order of the Arrow. )

  5. It almost sounds like the new BSHB is designed to replace the Fieldbook. Not so? I compare the old Handbook for Boys with the Fieldbook and see a gradation of skills and knowledge. The HBfB had a section on plant ID, but the FB had a looong section on plant ID with many examples.
    The new BSHB already includes a lot of this higher -up knowledge. It is definitely slicker and more colorful. Better organized? Matter of opinion. Too small type face? I agree. But then, there are more individual requirements to address.
    I remember when the Scout had a pocket card to get signed off, the HBfB was a reference, but not the record.
    Better materials? Longer lasting? Stronger binding? See me in 8 years and we’ll talk.
    Here is a reference work for the outdoors. No batteries needed! No WiFi connection needed! Useable in low light! Water resistant! Easily transportable! Rugged, shock proof, no screen to crack! Costs less than any Schmart phone! Standard issue, everybody has the same browser! (let me tell you about the 7th grader Scout I met who did not know his HB had an Index. “What’s an… in-dex?”).
    Any Troop worth it’s salt (now there’s a reference…) should be able and willing to fundraise/spend the bucks to provide every first time Scout (and the older ones?) with their first copy. No “Scout account” necessary! Skill teachers and testers need to use it and refer to it….

    See you on the trail…

  6. My son’s pack gave the Webelo’s their Scout Handbook at the crossing over. All of the leaders in the pack signed it with a message for each Scout. It was a nice departing gift.

  7. Bryan you should get a copy of the new handbook signed by Mark Ray!

    I remember Green Bar Bill signing my 9th edition Boy Scout Handbook at a Scout-o-Rama in Cincinnati when I was a Tenderfoot back in the 1980’s. It was a memorable experience to have my book signed by the author.

    • Page numbers do make sense. But lacking them, point out to your Scouts that the color coded edges on the new Handbook let you quickly find the right section for any topic.

      Just remember that rope, knives and axes are “Tools”.

    • That’s been a problem since 1972 when BSA went to the less expensive glued “perfect binding” from the previously used sewn bindings. But I suspect a labor intensive sewn binding would double the cost today.

  8. Spent the weekend camping and reading the new book. I was very pleased with it. So far, it has been the most informational Scout Book I have ever read and I have been reading them since the mid 50’s. Thank you Mark Ray!

  9. As someone who owns and has read all previous 12 editions, I found the 13th edition to be fresh and very well written. And it has some neat new things.

    I liked how to estimate cooking measurements using sizes of things you already have in your memory such as a baseball, tennis ball, computer mouse, and ping pong ball.

    The STEM education sidebars are cool. I particularly liked the one about why honey doesn’t spoil.

  10. And nearly everything you love about the 13th is in the 12th too.

    What I don’t like is the cover and the layout. Too few pictures, way too much text. The cover looks like something from a Mormon proselytizing tract.

  11. So happy that the requirement pages have a WHITE background. At our troop, we ask the boys to photocopy that page to enter into troopmaster, but in the 12th edition, the pages were too dark to be read.

    Not so happy that they didn’t keep the page numbers in on the requirements pages. In the 12th, the requirements page showed just what pages in the handbook covered the topic, which made it easy to refer back.

  12. Does anyone know if and ever when National Supply Group will be releasing a Spanish version of the 13th edition handbook?

  13. My original handbook from 1968 still is in one piece. The new ones fall apart, usually within one year, because, as a leader, I use it. Would gladly pay more if it was better made. Spiral binding is not the answer. Lack of page numbers is also an issue. When teaching, you do not want to have to say, “turn to the green section and count in 5 pages. “

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