2016 Merit Badge Rankings unveiled: These were the most and least popular

Scouts and Scouters, meet your repeat champion: the First Aid merit badge.

After losing its top spot to the Cooking merit badge in 2014, First Aid retook the crown in 2015 and defended its title in 2016.

That means more Scouts earned the First Aid merit badge in 2016 than any other badge.

It was something of a runaway victory. The badge outranked second place by nearly 8,000 merit badges earned.

First Aid: 2016’s king of merit badges

Exactly 1,919,912 merit badges were earned in 2016; First Aid accounted for 75,256 — nearly 4 percent.

That’s a lot of young men trained to assist someone in an emergency.

Swimming was second, third place went to Environmental Science, and Citizenship in the World and Citizenship in the Nation rounded out the top five.

Citizenship in the Nation is a newcomer in the top five, taking a spot previously held by Cooking, which dropped to sixth.

Here’s the complete top 10. Notice any commonality? All are Eagle-required.

  1. First Aid
  2. Swimming
  3. Environmental Science
  4. Citizenship in the World
  5. Citizenship in the Nation
  6. Cooking
  7. Camping
  8. Communication
  9. Personal Fitness
  10. Citizenship in the Community

OK, but what about non-Eagle-required badges?

Good point. Of course the rankings will be top-heavy with Eagle-required badges. Scouts who want to advance toward Eagle must earn most of the badges from this required list. The remaining merit badges are electives, and the choices are as diverse as the interests of modern Scouts.

The top 10 elective badges were:

  1. Rifle Shooting
  2. Fingerprinting
  3. Archery
  4. Leatherwork
  5. Wilderness Survival
  6. Wood Carving
  7. Kayaking
  8. Canoeing
  9. Chess
  10. Fishing

Many of those merit badges are summer camp staples, meaning Scouts can have fun completing them at one of the awesome local council camps across the country.

I’m always pleased to see Chess so high on the list. It was No. 22 overall last year and this year, which is a strong showing for a badge that’s been around only since 2011. There are many physical merit badges available, but Chess is a reminder that there mental ones as well.

Which were the least popular?

The 10 rarest, starting with the least earned, were:

  • Computers
  • Bugling
  • American Business
  • Stamp Collecting
  • American Labor
  • Cinematography
  • Journalism
  • Surveying
  • Drafting
  • Gardening

The Computers phase-out began in 2014, and Cinematography was changed to Moviemaking in 2013. Scouts who started work before those badges’ official end dates are allowed to finish their work.

Both discontinued merit badges will continue to fall until they disappear from the list.

Which merit badges are gaining or falling in popularity?

Which merit badges saw the biggest jumps? Which saw the biggest falls? Here goes …

Top 5 gains:

  1. Animation, 322 percent increase
  2. Signs, Signals and Codes, 132 percent increase
  3. Whitewater, 20 increase
  4. Surveying, 17 percent increase
  5. Fly Fishing, 15 percent increase

The top two on this list — Animation and Signs, Signals and Codes — were released in 2015. So it makes sense that, when given a full year to shine, they’d do so.

As for the other three, your guess is as good as mine. Normal fluctuations in popularity? An abnormally strong year for surveying the country’s rivers and streams? Nobody could know.

Top 5 falls:

  1. Computers, 79 percent decrease
  2. Insect Study, 34 percent decrease
  3. Cinematography, 33 percent decrease
  4. Composite Materials, 27 percent decrease
  5. American Labor, 27 percent decrease

Computers and Cinematography have been discontinued, so their presence is no surprise. I have no theory for why Insect Study, Composite Materials or American Labor fell in popularity last year.

Where did I get these numbers?

As with my 2016 analysis of the 2015 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 mislead.

Special thanks to the BSA’s Lynn Adcock for providing these numbers.

The raw numbers

OK, here are the full lists. Get ready to do a lot of scrolling.

You’ll find

  • 2016 rankings
  • Merit badge popularity in last five years
  • Lifetime rankings, 1911 to 2016
  • Rise and fall: percent change from 2015 to 2016

2016 rankings

Blue signifies Eagle-required. Green means the merit badge is new (introduced in 2011 or later). Orange means the badge is both new and Eagle-required.

Rank Merit Badge 2016 earned
1 First Aid 75,256
2 Swimming 67,446
3 Environmental Science 60,026
4 Citizenship in the World 59,363
5 Citizenship in the Nation 57,919
6 Cooking 55,841
7 Camping 53,534
8 Communication 53,367
9 Personal Fitness 52,079
10 Citizenship in the Community 51,975
11 Personal Management 50,251
12 Family Life 50,177
13 Emergency Preparedness 47,004
14 Rifle Shooting 41,444
15 Fingerprinting 40,700
16 Archery 39,419
17 Leatherwork 37,920
18 Wilderness Survival 35,221
19 Wood Carving 34,938
20 Kayaking 33,137
21 Canoeing 28,288
22 Chess 27,416
23 Fishing 25,256
24 Art 22,990
25 Lifesaving 22,382
26 Mammal Study 21,303
27 Climbing 21,171
28 Shotgun Shooting 20,912
29 Space Exploration 20,137
30 Geology 18,516
31 Indian Lore 18,234
32 Astronomy 16,355
33 Pioneering 15,959
34 Basketry 15,282
35 Geocaching 15,210
36 Photography 15,142
37 Aviation 14,477
38 Robotics 14,264
39 Small Boat Sailing 14,108
40 Orienteering 13,753
41 Game Design 13,689
42 Nature 13,635
43 Weather 12,665
44 Fish & Wildlife Management 12,647
45 Metalwork 12,639
46 Forestry 12,519
47 Fire Safety 12,257
48 Music 11,689
49 Engineering 11,429
50 Chemistry 10,865
51 Moviemaking 10,851
52 Automotive Maintenance 10,748
53 Welding 10,737
54 Search and Rescue 10,361
55 Soil and Water Conservation 10,341
56 Electricity 9,762
57 Motor Boating 9,515
58 Horsemanship 9,457
59 Rowing 9,408
60 Digital Technology 9,344
61 Sculpture 8,900
62 Oceanography 8,499
63 Pottery 8,230
64 Signs, Signals and Codes 8,025
65 Electronics 7,814
66 Sports 7,626
67 Public Speaking 7,497
68 Hiking 7,485
69 Archaeology 7,388
70 Snow Sports 7,177
71 Nuclear Science 7,005
72 Sustainability 6,813
73 Railroading 6,599
74 Radio 6,442
75 Reptile and Amphibian Study 6,411
76 Cycling 6,334
77 Crime Prevention 6,178
78 Pulp and Paper 6,081
79 Traffic Safety 6,072
80 Salesmanship 6,031
81 Disabilities Awareness 5,833
82 Scouting Heritage 5,266
83 Law 5,226
84 Bird Study 5,199
85 Woodwork 4,975
86 American Heritage 4,952
87 Animation 4,637
88 Fly Fishing 4,577
89 Genealogy 4,570
90 Plumbing 4,510
91 Scholarship 4,316
92 Pets 4,278
93 Safety 4,267
94 Mining in Society 4,224
95 Coin Collecting 4,135
96 Programming 4,085
97 Backpacking 3,963
98 Animal Science 3,852
99 Painting 3,829
100 Medicine 3,767
101 Collections 3,753
102 Golf 3,605
103 Reading 3,574
104 Whitewater 3,476
105 Entrepreneurship 3,365
106 Home Repairs 3,325
107 Graphic Arts 3,251
108 Architecture 3,230
109 Athletics 3,125
110 Water Sports 3,123
111 Energy 2,955
112 Dentistry 2,910
113 Inventing 2,834
114 Model Design and Building 2,770
115 Veterinary Medicine 2,580
116 Theater 2,543
117 Textile 2,480
118 Dog Care 2,414
119 Truck Transportation 2,391
120 Farm Mechanics 2,368
121 Plant Science 2,363
122 Insect Study 2,341
123 American Cultures 2,218
124 Skating 1,953
125 Public Health 1,837
126 Scuba Diving 1,792
127 Composite Materials 1,597
128 Landscape Architecture 1,494
129 Gardening 1,375
130 Drafting 1,168
131 Surveying 1,028
132 Journalism 970
133 Cinematography* 841
134 American Labor 812
135 Stamp Collecting 793
136 American Business 627
137 Bugling 479
138 Computers** 354

*Cinematography became Moviemaking merit badge in 2013, but Scouts who began work on the older version were still able to earn it in 2016.

**Computers was discontinued on Dec. 31, 2014, but Scouts who began work on or before that date were still able to earn it in 2016.

Merit badge popularity in last five years

Merit Badge 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
American Business 679 805 650 587 627
American Cultures 2,883 2,649 2,174 2,233 2,218
American Heritage 6,626 6,195 5,333 5,599 4,952
American Labor 811 1,090 992 1,106 812
Animal Science 4,503 4,174 4,042 4,414 3,852
Animation 0 0 0 1,099 4,637
Archaeology 10,316 8,913 8,652 7,590 7,388
Archery 48,229 43,879 43,238 41,879 39,419
Architecture 3,631 3,956 4,019 3,362 3,230
Art 29,273 28,031 25,438 24,374 22,990
Astronomy 17,308 16,332 15,758 16,706 16,355
Athletics 3,465 3,709 3,241 3,604 3,125
Automotive Maintenance 10,784 10,084 9,763 9,961 10,748
Aviation 20,751 18,330 17,522 15,170 14,477
Backpacking 4,878 4,114 4,169 3,973 3,963
Basketry 22,073 19,364 17,531 17,158 15,282
Bird Study 6,952 6,405 5,641 5,587 5,199
Bugling 613 515 606 492 479
Camping* 60,772 58,982 54,265 54,342 53,534
Canoeing 39,042 33,409 31,833 29,461 28,288
Chemistry 9,692 10,731 10,594 10,560 10,865
Chess 29,298 27,315 25,266 27,235 27,416
Cinematography 8,308 8,465 4,026 1,260 841
Citizenship in the Community* 57,951 56,928 51,728 52,071 51,975
Citizenship in the Nation* 64,120 61,272 56,490 57,161 57,919
Citizenship in the World* 67,486 64,452 61,303 60,171 59,363
Climbing 24,609 22,861 23,200 21,574 21,171
Coin Collecting 6,043 5,667 5,303 4,715 4,135
Collections 5,077 4,966 4,295 4,004 3,753
Communication* 59,345 57,111 54,081 55,738 53,367
Composite Materials 1,610 1,817 1,614 2,183 1,597
Computers 14,474 15,149 12,973 1,686 354
Cooking* 23,384 44,903 99,908 67,691 55,841
Crime Prevention 8,331 7,274 6,917 6,581 6,178
Cycling** 7,053 6,551 6,268 6,626 6,334
Dentistry 4,403 4,213 3,416 3,485 2,910
Digital Technology 0 0 3,014 9,383 9,344
Disabilities Awareness 7,230 6,690 6,204 6,153 5,833
Dog Care 3,330 3,351 2,955 2,666 2,414
Drafting 1,377 1,440 1,318 1,339 1,168
Electricity 11,350 10,968 10,460 10,035 9,762
Electronics 8,060 8,753 8,860 8,352 7,814
Emergency Preparedness*** 51,035 50,153 46,069 47,879 47,004
Energy 3,907 3,989 3,669 3,190 2,955
Engineering 9,682 10,445 11,624 11,735 11,429
Entrepreneurship 1,932 1,900 2,496 2,927 3,365
Environmental Science**** 76,238 71,609 67,218 63,783 60,026
Family Life* 56,210 55,080 49,516 51,008 50,177
Farm Mechanics 2,457 2,421 2,486 2,244 2,368
Fingerprinting 46,594 45,140 43,820 43,743 40,700
Fire Safety 14,517 12,988 12,395 12,782 12,257
First Aid* 92,312 87,477 80,917 80,716 75,256
Fish & Wildlife Management 15,528 13,411 13,749 13,164 12,647
Fishing 31,932 29,788 28,119 26,050 25,256
Fly Fishing 4,291 4,690 4,537 3,981 4,577
Forestry 16,309 14,874 14,465 12,905 12,519
Game Design 0 2,657 11,853 12,313 13,689
Gardening 2,258 1,972 1,641 1,582 1,375
Genealogy 5,641 5,740 5,474 5,316 4,570
Geocaching 18,711 17,031 16,785 15,582 15,210
Geology 24,015 22,103 21,282 22,180 18,516
Golf 5,128 4,921 3,955 3,826 3,605
Graphic Arts 3,505 3,140 3,189 3,356 3,251
Hiking** 8,132 7,856 7,344 6,967 7,485
Home Repairs 4,413 3,790 3,866 3,288 3,325
Horsemanship 12,670 10,977 11,905 10,878 9,457
Indian Lore 26,705 24,535 22,997 22,241 18,234
Insect Study 4,120 3,613 3,164 3,550 2,341
Inventing 2,592 2,704 2,902 3,369 2,834
Journalism 1,184 945 955 1,037 970
Kayaking 21,765 36,217 35,533 34,054 33,137
Landscape Architecture 1,618 1,872 1,496 1,434 1,494
Law 7,274 6,946 5,463 5,633 5,226
Leatherwork 48,674 44,344 42,565 40,805 37,920
Lifesaving*** 28,228 25,945 24,474 23,983 22,382
Mammal Study 28,309 24,064 24,060 23,427 21,303
Medicine 4,507 3,990 3,725 3,807 3,767
Metalwork 13,674 13,259 12,949 12,340 12,639
Mining in Society 0 0 3,519 4,613 4,224
Model Design and Building 3,120 3,628 2,612 2,795 2,770
Motor Boating 12,004 11,012 10,748 9,880 9,515
Moviemaking 0 0 6,195 10,064 10,851
Music 15,088 14,223 12,903 12,369 11,689
Nature 18,114 16,164 15,046 14,679 13,635
Nuclear Science 7,114 7,666 6,657 6,728 7,005
Oceanography 10,636 10,769 9,991 9,892 8,499
Orienteering 18,989 16,909 16,871 15,642 13,753
Painting 5,412 4,911 4,346 4,245 3,829
Personal Fitness* 56,908 56,295 50,693 52,499 52,079
Personal Management* 54,529 53,273 48,299 51,105 50,251
Pets 5,904 5,659 4,821 4,645 4,278
Photography 18,879 17,800 17,804 16,931 15,142
Pioneering 21,550 19,525 18,117 17,341 15,959
Plant Science 2,593 2,712 2,680 2,922 2,363
Plumbing 5,785 5,178 4,982 4,960 4,510
Pottery 10,157 9,869 9,050 8,384 8,230
Programming 0 480 2,970 3,577 4,085
Public Health 1,783 2,006 1,821 1,780 1,837
Public Speaking 6,987 7,289 7,091 7,793 7,497
Pulp and Paper 7,495 7,034 6,250 7,379 6,081
Radio 6,957 7,208 6,665 6,709 6,442
Railroading 8,681 7,191 6,694 7,651 6,599
Reading 5,676 5,216 4,712 4,179 3,574
Reptile and Amphibian Study 9,772 8,483 7,547 6,700 6,411
Rifle Shooting 50,435 47,054 45,839 43,196 41,444
Robotics 13,262 13,401 13,708 13,700 14,264
Rowing 13,769 10,944 10,557 9,995 9,408
Safety 3,824 4,349 3,778 3,937 4,267
Salesmanship 6,425 6,438 6,648 6,412 6,031
Scholarship 6,310 5,956 5,362 4,911 4,316
Scouting Heritage 5,394 5,660 5,572 5,558 5,266
Scuba Diving 2,594 2,370 1,989 2,135 1,792
Sculpture 12,829 11,493 9,887 10,042 8,900
Search and Rescue 725 10,552 12,359 11,725 10,361
Shotgun Shooting 26,173 24,603 23,970 21,895 20,912
Signs, Signals and Codes 0 0 0 3,453 8,025
Skating 2,220 2,406 2,010 1,972 1,953
Small Boat Sailing 18,740 16,857 16,511 15,092 14,108
Snow Sports 8,636 9,134 8,227 7,251 7,177
Soil and Water Conservation 14,553 11,697 11,296 10,437 10,341
Space Exploration 23,557 23,290 22,625 21,607 20,137
Sports 9,112 8,950 8,032 8,272 7,626
Stamp Collecting 1,045 1,131 863 996 793
Surveying 1,235 1,307 1,065 879 1,028
Sustainability **** 0 590 5,428 6,625 6,813
Swimming** 80,376 72,946 72,503 71,821 67,446
Textile 4,681 4,673 3,694 3,225 2,480
Theater 2,776 2,320 2,273 2,665 2,543
Traffic Safety 7,450 7,582 7,088 5,604 6,072
Truck Transportation 2,928 2,847 2,182 2,157 2,391
Veterinary Medicine 3,460 3,455 2,875 2,764 2,580
Water Sports 4,291 3,935 3,594 3,389 3,123
Weather 17,869 15,958 15,846 14,622 12,665
Welding 4,022 10,919 11,061 11,019 10,737
Whitewater 4,149 3,252 3,565 2,888 3,476
Wilderness Survival 46,829 43,158 40,395 37,581 35,221
Wood Carving 44,927 41,120 38,749 36,890 34,938
Woodwork 4,962 5,602 5,198 5,242 4,975
Total 2,175,878 2,110,848 2,077,550 2,011,860 1,919,912

* 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)

Merit badge lifetime rankings

Note: This list includes only merit badges that could be earned in 2016.

Also, the rankings are interesting but don’t tell the whole story. That’s because a merit badge released more recently will have been earned less than one of the original 1911 merit badges.

For example, Wood Carving is No. 18 lifetime, but it was released in 1923. Rifle Shooting, No. 30 lifetime, is more popular than Wood Carving today, but its 1988 release hurts its historic popularity.

Rank Merit Badge 1911 to 2016
1 First Aid* 7,137,872
2 Swimming** 6,454,034
3 Camping* 4,770,588
4 Cooking* 4,461,893
5 Citizenship in the Community* 3,565,802
6 Citizenship in the Nation* 3,319,817
7 Lifesaving*** 3,083,773
8 Canoeing 3,081,383
9 Safety 2,943,218
10 Environmental Science**** 2,836,396
11 Fire Safety 2,632,691
12 Personal Fitness* 2,603,805
13 Leatherwork 2,525,804
14 Basketry 2,472,315
15 Pioneering 2,446,508
16 Home Repairs 2,421,783
17 Citizenship in the World* 2,388,293
18 Wood Carving 2,359,486
19 Communication* 2,165,233
20 Fishing 2,040,255
21 Emergency Preparedness*** 1,932,212
22 Personal Management* 1,913,342
23 Fingerprinting 1,758,841
24 Rowing 1,737,241
25 Wilderness Survival 1,708,130
26 Nature 1,693,756
27 Archery 1,685,142
28 Public Health 1,521,262
29 Reading 1,490,797
30 Rifle Shooting 1,412,619
31 Art 1,356,174
32 Hiking** 1,344,669
33 Music 1,342,815
34 Scholarship 1,285,941
35 Family Life* 1,261,530
36 Mammal Study 1,240,078
37 Indian Lore 1,238,343
38 Forestry 1,176,369
39 Sports 1,161,287
40 Metalwork 1,159,618
41 Soil and Water Conservation 1,143,023
42 Athletics 1,071,734
43 Woodwork 982,143
44 Orienteering 846,536
45 Electricity 824,602
46 Geology 687,818
47 Small Boat Sailing 681,509
48 Fish & Wildlife Management 679,019
49 Astronomy 672,315
50 Pets 667,586
51 Horsemanship 662,054
52 Reptile and Amphibian Study 661,213
53 Public Speaking 657,793
54 Aviation 634,144
55 Motor Boating 605,733
56 Weather 605,245
57 Space Exploration 601,615
58 Bird Study 592,971
59 Cycling** 588,138
60 Painting 570,198
61 Shotgun Shooting 563,087
62 Photography 537,582
63 Computers 520,848
64 Coin Collecting 505,994
65 Snow Sports 465,646
66 Climbing 459,255
67 Dog Care 436,542
68 Plumbing 400,848
69 Pottery 400,565
70 Stamp Collecting 391,296
71 Gardening 390,470
72 Chemistry 371,888
73 Salesmanship 337,273
74 Sculpture 321,350
75 Oceanography 306,737
76 Water Sports 256,566
77 Railroading 251,605
78 Genealogy 241,524
79 Electronics 232,671
80 Drafting 227,165
81 Model Design and Building 225,741
82 Farm Mechanics 225,414
83 Architecture 223,037
84 Backpacking 222,212
85 Law 195,624
86 Automotive Maintenance 187,794
87 Nuclear Science 187,469
88 Radio 185,633
89 Skating 177,285
90 Golf 174,201
91 Bugling 171,045
92 Insect Study 170,974
93 Archaeology 170,968
94 Engineering 169,700
95 American Heritage 169,372
96 Traffic Safety 169,247
97 Kayaking 160,706
98 Surveying 153,555
99 Collections 149,615
100 Crime Prevention 149,427
101 Textile 148,715
102 Chess 142,532
103 Truck Transportation 142,125
104 Dentistry 141,779
105 Disabilities Awareness 133,462
106 Pulp and Paper 128,067
107 Journalism 108,389
108 Geocaching 107,271
109 Cinematography 106,216
110 Whitewater 94,816
111 Theater 88,870
112 Energy 86,538
113 Landscape Architecture 84,639
114 Veterinary Medicine 81,429
115 Medicine 80,122
116 Robotics 73,742
117 American Cultures 72,220
118 Animal Science 69,343
119 Graphic Arts 57,550
120 American Business 54,354
121 Plant Science 50,086
122 Welding 47,758
123 Search and Rescue 45,722
124 Game Design 40,512
125 Scouting Heritage 37,671
126 Fly Fishing 35,737
127 Entrepreneurship 28,734
128 Moviemaking 27,110
129 American Labor 24,726
130 Digital Technology 21,741
131 Sustainability **** 19,456
132 Inventing 17,296
133 Composite Materials 17,025
134 Scuba Diving 16,987
135 Mining in Society 12,356
136 Signs, Signals and Codes 11,478
137 Programming 11,112
138 Animation 5,736

* 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)

Ranked by rise or fall from 2015 to 2016

Merit Badge 2015 2016 Rise/Fall
Animation 1,099 4,637 322%
Signs, Signals and Codes 3,453 8,025 132%
Whitewater 2,888 3,476 20%
Surveying 879 1,028 17%
Fly Fishing 3,981 4,577 15%
Entrepreneurship 2,927 3,365 15%
Programming 3,577 4,085 14%
Game Design 12,313 13,689 11%
Truck Transportation 2,157 2,391 11%
Safety 3,937 4,267 8%
Traffic Safety 5,604 6,072 8%
Automotive Maintenance 9,961 10,748 8%
Moviemaking 10,064 10,851 8%
Hiking** 6,967 7,485 7%
American Business 587 627 7%
Farm Mechanics 2,244 2,368 6%
Landscape Architecture 1,434 1,494 4%
Nuclear Science 6,728 7,005 4%
Robotics 13,700 14,264 4%
Public Health 1,780 1,837 3%
Chemistry 10,560 10,865 3%
Sustainability **** 6,625 6,813 3%
Metalwork 12,340 12,639 2%
Citizenship in the Nation* 57,161 57,919 1%
Home Repairs 3,288 3,325 1%
Chess 27,235 27,416 1%
Citizenship in the Community* 52,071 51,975 0%
Backpacking 3,973 3,963 0%
Digital Technology 9,383 9,344 0%
American Cultures 2,233 2,218 -1%
Personal Fitness* 52,499 52,079 -1%
Model Design and Building 2,795 2,770 -1%
Soil and Water Conservation 10,437 10,341 -1%
Skating 1,972 1,953 -1%
Snow Sports 7,251 7,177 -1%
Medicine 3,807 3,767 -1%
Citizenship in the World* 60,171 59,363 -1%
Camping* 54,342 53,534 -1%
Family Life* 51,008 50,177 -2%
Personal Management* 51,105 50,251 -2%
Emergency Preparedness*** 47,879 47,004 -2%
Pottery 8,384 8,230 -2%
Climbing 21,574 21,171 -2%
Astronomy 16,706 16,355 -2%
Geocaching 15,582 15,210 -2%
Welding 11,019 10,737 -3%
Engineering 11,735 11,429 -3%
Bugling 492 479 -3%
Archaeology 7,590 7,388 -3%
Kayaking 34,054 33,137 -3%
Electricity 10,035 9,762 -3%
Forestry 12,905 12,519 -3%
Fishing 26,050 25,256 -3%
Graphic Arts 3,356 3,251 -3%
Motor Boating 9,880 9,515 -4%
Public Speaking 7,793 7,497 -4%
Architecture 3,362 3,230 -4%
Fish & Wildlife Management 13,164 12,647 -4%
Radio 6,709 6,442 -4%
Canoeing 29,461 28,288 -4%
Rifle Shooting 43,196 41,444 -4%
Fire Safety 12,782 12,257 -4%
Communication* 55,738 53,367 -4%
Reptile and Amphibian Study 6,700 6,411 -4%
Cycling** 6,626 6,334 -4%
Shotgun Shooting 21,895 20,912 -4%
Aviation 15,170 14,477 -5%
Theater 2,665 2,543 -5%
Woodwork 5,242 4,975 -5%
Disabilities Awareness 6,153 5,833 -5%
Scouting Heritage 5,558 5,266 -5%
Wood Carving 36,890 34,938 -5%
Music 12,369 11,689 -5%
Art 24,374 22,990 -6%
Golf 3,826 3,605 -6%
Rowing 9,995 9,408 -6%
Archery 41,879 39,419 -6%
Environmental Science**** 63,783 60,026 -6%
Salesmanship 6,412 6,031 -6%
Swimming** 71,821 67,446 -6%
Crime Prevention 6,581 6,178 -6%
Collections 4,004 3,753 -6%
Wilderness Survival 37,581 35,221 -6%
Electronics 8,352 7,814 -6%
Journalism 1,037 970 -6%
Small Boat Sailing 15,092 14,108 -7%
Veterinary Medicine 2,764 2,580 -7%
Lifesaving*** 23,983 22,382 -7%
First Aid* 80,716 75,256 -7%
Space Exploration 21,607 20,137 -7%
Bird Study 5,587 5,199 -7%
Fingerprinting 43,743 40,700 -7%
Leatherwork 40,805 37,920 -7%
Nature 14,679 13,635 -7%
Law 5,633 5,226 -7%
Energy 3,190 2,955 -7%
Sports 8,272 7,626 -8%
Water Sports 3,389 3,123 -8%
Pets 4,645 4,278 -8%
Pioneering 17,341 15,959 -8%
Mining in Society 4,613 4,224 -8%
Mammal Study 23,427 21,303 -9%
Plumbing 4,960 4,510 -9%
Dog Care 2,666 2,414 -9%
Painting 4,245 3,829 -10%
Photography 16,931 15,142 -11%
Basketry 17,158 15,282 -11%
Sculpture 10,042 8,900 -11%
American Heritage 5,599 4,952 -12%
Search and Rescue 11,725 10,361 -12%
Orienteering 15,642 13,753 -12%
Scholarship 4,911 4,316 -12%
Coin Collecting 4,715 4,135 -12%
Animal Science 4,414 3,852 -13%
Drafting 1,339 1,168 -13%
Horsemanship 10,878 9,457 -13%
Gardening 1,582 1,375 -13%
Athletics 3,604 3,125 -13%
Weather 14,622 12,665 -13%
Railroading 7,651 6,599 -14%
Genealogy 5,316 4,570 -14%
Oceanography 9,892 8,499 -14%
Reading 4,179 3,574 -14%
Inventing 3,369 2,834 -16%
Scuba Diving 2,135 1,792 -16%
Dentistry 3,485 2,910 -16%
Geology 22,180 18,516 -17%
Cooking* 67,691 55,841 -18%
Pulp and Paper 7,379 6,081 -18%
Indian Lore 22,241 18,234 -18%
Plant Science 2,922 2,363 -19%
Stamp Collecting 996 793 -20%
Textile 3,225 2,480 -23%
American Labor 1,106 812 -27%
Composite Materials 2,183 1,597 -27%
Cinematography 1,260 841 -33%
Insect Study 3,550 2,341 -34%
Computers 1,686 354 -79%

Your takeaways?

To those of you who made it down this far: Congrats! What surprised you about this list? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments.

39 Comments

  1. Thanks! These are always fun lists to look at.

    I think Chess is starting to work its way into a summer camp staple, as more camps are creating a STEM area.

  2. So said that Bugling has become a lost art. Most Scouts and adults do not even know that Bugler is a leadership position. So sad.

    • I read over this list a few weeks ago and noticed that about the Bugling Merit Badge and that Bugler was a leadership position. I nudged my son to start working on it. Together we got him a serviceable bugle and he is taking lessons to learn this lost art. Once he is proficient he will serve in the Bugler position then teach his younger brother how to play so that he can take that role when he crosses over. Hopefully other boys in the Troop will get interested and want to learn too!

    • Exactly! That’s why , as a retired band director and trumpet player,I’m spending time with my 10 year old teaching him this deemphasized merit badge.

    • We brought this into our merit badge day event and it has become extremely popular! Because of Bugling, we now offer the Music merit badge. Scouts know they will not be able to complete the Bugling merit badge but many have started thanks to it being offered and see the advantage of earning it once they take the course at our event.

  3. Two thoughts. I’m surprised Sustainabilty hasn’t gained in popularity. As a counselor for these two, I find it less rigorous than Environmental Science although it takes much longer.

    At the “rare” end, Stamp Collecting and Bugling are rare and getting rarer each year! I taught Stamp Collecting this year at a Troop MB event and all of 2 Scouts signed up. I had them save all the stamps they received for 30 days around the holidays. One of the two only received 3 stamped envelopes with a bit of presorted mail. Won’t be long before that one is gone! As for Bugling, I have one son who earned it – his last in the way to earning them all – and one working on it. Their counselor – former SM and career Army – never even heard some of the calls before. If it is going to survive and encourage Bugling, reduce the number of calls to 4 or 5 that are actually played at Scout camps

    • I think you pretty much described why Sustainability isn’t more popular–it takes much longer. Scouts typically can’t earn it at Summer Camp, like they can with Environmental Science. Our council Summer Camp doesn’t even offer Sustainability. Other neighboring camps offer Sustainability, but Scouts can only earn a partial at camp.

      Scouts–at least the ones in my Troop–tend to favor those merit badges they can complete in full at Summer Camp (provided they do the work) instead of those that they can only get a partial on. For them, the choice is easy between Environmental Science and Sustainability.

      • The wording of the Sustainability needs more tweeking so it can be earned at summer camp. Demonstrations can be utilized best at summer camp where scouts can actually take a shower (with their swimsuit on of course) and see the difference between regular shampoo and camp shampoo. They need to make sustainability a more camp friendly earned merit badge. Having a summer camp version is a nice addition.

        • The BSA shouldn’t design merit badge requirements so they can be earned in a week of summer camp. Some badges work out that way. However, summer camps should be much more than merit badge mills, and merit badges should be much more than turnkey programs that can be completed in few days. Personal Fitness MB would be less meaningful and have less impact if the twelve-week physical fitness program were whittled down to one week so it could be earned at camp. Similarly, the long-term household projects for Sustainability MB help to show that substantive changes are often possible with planning and effort (and sometimes they’re not despite good intentions). The BSA’s Merit Badge Maintenance Task Force has done well to make MB requirements up-to-date and relevant and to introduce new badges recently. I hope the committee will not allow its important work to be limited by arbitrary or convenient expectations.

    • Those calls were developed for a time when that was the only way to communicate over distance to a large group of people. An enlisted man who had a watch was rare and few could read a posted notice In the encampment, calls were necessary to get the men to do certain things at the same time. On the battlefield, with the noise, the bugle was the only way to communicate with the fighters.

  4. As a numbers geek, I always love this annual post, and I’ve been keeping a running spreadsheet myself of the numbers from 2008 to present based on what you report.

    Is there any way that we could find out what the numbers were for the 2010 historic merit badges (Carpentry, Pathfinding, Signaling & Tracking)?

  5. Why separate listings for cinematography and moviemaking? I thought it was just a name change and the requirements weren’t changed like they did with computers/digital technology.

    I also look forward to this post each year. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I think Scouting Heritage should be a required badge. Every Eagle should know where Scouting started and how it has grown to what it is today. As an Eagle, they pledge to promote scouting – they should know the history behind what they are promoting.

    • The problem with Scouting Heritage IMHO is there is no mention of William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt as a person to study. While Waite Phillips did a great thing in donating Philmont, it is nothing compared to what Bill did. Not every Scout gets to go to Philmont. But every Scout from 1929 until 1972 was directly affected by Bill’s writings: SM HBs, PL HBs, Woodbadge Syllabi, BS handbooks, Boys’ Life articles, etc. And then he came out of retirement in 1978 to save Scouting from the “Improved Scouting Program” by writing the BSHB, training materials, writing for Boys Life again, etc. So every Scout from 1979 to 1989 was again directly affected by Bill.

      “OUTING is three-fourths of ScOUTING.” William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt

  7. Whoa ! What do you mean “some troops purchase extra emblems in anticipation of future badge earnings, so sales numbers can mislead” ? I have been under the impression from the Scout Shop sales side that only ranks and merit badges completed may be put on an advancement report and purchased. No presales. That is why there is a column for “date award earned”. We have applied what we understand the letter of the law to be to all units. Are you saying that units can “pre-purchase” ranks and merit badges ? If so, I would anticipate that there will be a huge drop in advancement reports turned in, especially with Cub Scouts. Please clarify !

    • There are times int he year when certain awards are out of stock and backordered by national Supply: February – March for Cub Scout ranks ( Blue and Gold season)and July – September for MBs ( post Summer Camp). To make sure that the Scouts get their awards and not have to wait weeks for the shop to get them in stock, some units will purchase “DUPLICATES” one time using the information of a who earned the MB or rank, and write “DUPLICATE” on the paperwork.

      My troop growing up did the above. The MBs and Ranks would in our inventory would not be used until needed. If the Scout Shop didn’t have an item, we would order it so that as soon as it came in we could get it. BUT we would present the award from our inventory. Once or Scout Shop order came in, that order would be placed in our inventory to be saved until needed..

  8. I love the info this list provides as it helps in selecting merit badges to have at our annual merit badge day event, especially the least earned ones. We even include our council numbers of least earned.

  9. My takeaways: (1) For the 1st time since 2008, Scouts earned less than 2 million MBs. Is that because of fewer Scouts, reduction in workload by the Scouts, or even possibly bad paperwork. I know that whenever my District gives me the spreadsheet with what each troop has done for advancement, the numbers are always wrong in the MB column for our troop. Is the drop in numbers for 100 MBs because there are more options now? (2) Only about 25 MBs showed an increase from 2015 to 2016. Is this a lack of interest or lack of time? (3) Some staples of summer camp show a definite downward trend over the last 9 years. Leatherwork and Rifle Shooting have both dropped over 10 K since their high marks in 2009. Are fewer Scouts going to camp nationally or is it issues with trained rangemasters? Archery has dropped 6,000 MBs in 9 years.

    Thanks for doing this every year as I like to look at trends.

  10. The 2016 Report to the Nation says “In all, Boy Scouts earned nearly 2.4 million merit badges in 2016…”. You said, “Exactly 1,919,912 merit badges were earned in 2016”. That’s quite a difference. What am I missing here?

  11. Not surprised by the data, thank you. Top Ten will always be Eagle Scout Requirement Merit Badges; the top ten Elective Merit badges are typical fodder at Summer Camp.

    I always wonder what happens to those merit badges not included in the two lists above: a. Eagle Required & b. Summer Camp badges?

    Does it boil down to:

    a. no available, qualified Merit Badge Counselor/
    b. not offered in an easy method for average Scout to earn with minimal effort?
    c. topic or subject is not geared toward the Millenial Generation with all the electronic
    gizmos?
    d. toss in your best guess….

    Thank you for compiling the data…

  12. As a Stamp Collector and Scouter, I host an anmual merit badge Workshop in conjunction with a stamp show here locally. In years past these two also participate in our one-day, merit badge University but interest fell away. If anyone wants assistance with Stamp Collecting I am glad to offer. I also work with the national Club APS, and we have plenty of materials to assist boys start a collection. The badge can be earned in a 6-7 hr seminar.

  13. Here’s a link to the Excel spreadsheet that I’ve been keeping updated with Bryan’s data throughout the years. In addition to adding the 2016 numbers in I also added columns to denote if the badge is a requirement or option for Eagle Scout and the other various awards that have merit badge requirements. http://bit.ly/meritbadges08-16

  14. One theme that emerges to me is the relatively low ranking of STEM merit badges as a group. Other than Eagle required Environmental Science, it appears that many of the STEM emphasis merit badges are not being promoted as much as things like robotics and space exploration. The newer Sustainability badge ranks a dismal 72nd. With the growing evidence that world population will grow beyond sustainable levels during this century, don’t we owe it to today’s Scouts to encourage exploration of fields of study that will be at the forefront of problems they will face as they become adults?

    • My experience is that the Scouts are tired of STEM stuff tthat they do in school and other organizations. They want to do stuff out of the norm like Wilderness survival, kayaking, etc.

    • I think it depends on which badges you define as STEM. If we’re talking about the badges that are either requirements of options for the various NOVA awards, there’s 51 different badges that had a 2016 ranking of #6 (Cooking) to #137 (now-discontinued Computers).

      If you’re talking about the badges that are on the required or optional list for the Supernova awards then there are 47 different badges ranging in 2016 ranking from #3 (Environmental Science) to #131 (Surveying).

      • Actually with my guys, if they hear the acronym STEM, they will run in the other direction. Now if the MB is not listed as a STEM MB, they will take it. Case in example. We had Scouts last year want to do Robotics and Space Exploration. They were not listed as STEM related, although obviously they are. This year we are going to a different camp. Those MB are listed as STEM, and no body is taking them, event a few who said they would last year. All because of STEM.

  15. I’m always surprised that Reading is low in popularity. As a Scoutmaster, I always suggested that any Scout who had finished the Seventh Grade had probably completed more than half the requirements in his schoolwork (read books, write book reports, etc.). Should still be fairly painless, even with the watered down curricula in today’s schools.

  16. I earned the Music and Bugling merit badges on my way to earning the Life Scout rank. This has led to a lifetime of music as a serious hobby. Through my 20s and 30s I played trombone in a touring big band. We played in every major jazz festival on Earth and enabled me to say that I played Carnegie Hall TWICE by the time I was 30. I conducted my own big band in Los Angeles a few years ago and, now based in Detroit, I still play and was able to take my wife (a French Horn player) and sons on-tour with my new band. We played in Nice, France, the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy as well as stops in Pisa, Orvieto and Rome.

    So THANK YOU Boy Scouts! I’ve had a lifetime of playing music, all because someone suggested I should learn to play guitar for my Music merit badge. (Oh, and I played guitar in a bar band throughout my college days to help pay for tuition.)

  17. I’ve been watching your annual rankings. How would I attach a spreadsheet showing your numbers since 2008?

    Do you have any numbers prior to 2008 that I could add to my spreadsheet?

    • Paul, did you hear anything in response to your question? I would be curious to see the data as well – especially going all the way back to 1911!!!

  18. Two boys through scouts…I’ve said it many times, forget badge magic, add a Sewing badge! Clothing and equipment repairs many uses.

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