Grab your hiking boots and go trekking — in the city?

A Scout hike likely conjures up images of journeying by a pristine lake, hiking staff in hand, surrounded by tall trees with a view of snowcapped mountains in the distance.

Or for one Ohio Scout, it could mean touring the streets of downtown Manhattan.

Our eagle-eyed mailburro Pedro spotted this great reminder in a letter from Brendan Hobe, a Boy Scout who wrote him to compliment a backpacking article in our September edition of Boys’ Life. Brendan also pointed out that hikes can be done in the city, and that doing so has its advantages.

He fulfilled his 10-mile hikes requirement for the Hiking merit badge in downtown Columbus, Ohio, and completed his 20-mile hike in Manhattan, New York.

“You don’t really need a backpack for anything unless you don’t want to spend $5 for a small bottle of water, but even then, you could carry a water bottle,” Brendan says.

We’d recommend carrying water with you, but we understand Brendan’s sentiment that you can afford to pack a little lighter in the city because of the nearby resources. The Hiking merit badge pamphlet devotes a page to urban hiking and says to prepare for such a hike as you would for a hike in the wilderness. Take along food, water and rain gear, also carry a cell phone and money for a bus or taxi if you need to get home in a hurry.

Teach Scouts that the principles of Leave No Trace still apply to urban hiking. And always remember to use the buddy system.


The Hiking merit badge, which is a required Eagle Scout rank option, was introduced in 1921. Hiking has been part of rank advancement since 1911. Below are the most recent requirements:

Hiking merit badge

4. Take the five following hikes, each on a different day, and each of continuous miles. These hikes MUST be taken in the following order:

  • One 5-mile hike
  • Three 10-mile hikes
  • One 15-mile hike

You may stop for as many short rest periods as needed, as well as one meal, during each hike, but not for an extended period (example: overnight). Prepare a written hike plan before each hike and share it with your Scoutmaster or a designee. Include map routes, a clothing and equipment list, and a list of items for a trail lunch.*

*The required hikes for this badge may be used in fulfilling hiking requirements for rank advancement. However, these hikes cannot be used to fulfill requirements of other merit badges. 

5. Take a hike of 20 continuous miles in one day following a hike plan you have prepared. You may stop for as many short rest periods as needed, as well as one meal, but not for an extended period (example: overnight).


5c. Explain the rules of safe hiking, both on the highway and cross-country, during the day and at night.

Second class

3b. Using a compass and map together, take a 5-mile hike (or 10 miles by bike) approved by your adult leader and your parent or guardian.

3c. Describe some hazards or injuries that you might encounter on your hike and what you can do to help prevent them.

About Michael Freeman 15 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is associate editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.


  1. Great idea. This fall, our Cub pack had a “new Cub” hike in downtown Houston, which most boys had never seen before. It included the site of a former Republic of Texas capital, a park with several historic houses and the view from the 60th floor of the city’s tallest building. Many cities, like Houston, also have in-town parks that are almost like being in the country, such as an arboretum.

  2. I did the Manhatten hike with our youngest son while visiting NYC and it was fantastic and super interesting. My favourite stop – Midtown Comics ! I wore hiking boots but on concrete did not fare so well. A good pair of tennis shoes might have served me better.

  3. There are a few cities out here on the East Coast like Philadelphia and Washington DC that also have various Historical Trails that can be done. Scouts can earn a trail medal/patch for these trails. I have done the Bicentennial and Ben Franklin Trails in Philadelphia and last month did Valley Forge with the Troop.

  4. Trek outside the box…. Obtain a map of your local transit system: Bus, Metro. Plan out the one way bus/Metro ride, hike back !
    Here in DC Land , it is easy to plot a Metro route down to “Foggy Bottom” Station, walk down to the C & O Canal, hike out of the city to Glen Echo Park, and (if you have looked it up), take another bus back to the Metro to go back home…
    And see the “History of Scouting Trail” :

  5. I’ve helped our troop on an “urban hike” in San Francisco for the last 5 years. If we are are lucky, we stop at the SF Sea Base and visit the Sea Scouts. Always lots of places for snacks and interesting attractions to visit. Map skills are even more relevant in dense urban areas!

  6. Great reminder that a hike doesn’t have to be in the wilderness. I dislike the title. I would recommend against using hiking boots in the city. The support is not needed on urban surfaces and it will prematurely degrade the sole of your likely more expensive hiking boots.

  7. Scout troop 510. My troop did the up town historic trail of New York City on one Saturday back in October. And then on another Saturday in November we did the down town historic trail of New York City.
    I was on that one. It’s a lot of walking. And it was very interesting to learn a lot about Manhattan that I didn’t know about.

  8. Great Idea “Hike in the city”… I sat down in a restaurant, and heard a gentleman sitting across from me say to his friend, “They should still have Scouting today.” The friend said “I still think their around, you just don’t see them anymore.” Maybe a Council event would correct that. A troop gets a degree on the compass, and works its way to the downtown area,i.e.. Ball park, etc. for a cookout and over night.

  9. Atlanta Area Council Scouts can hike the Pi Trail on the Georgia Tech campus in the heart of Atlanta. Guess how long it is? No, really, guess!)

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