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.