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

This goes way beyond blue vs. khaki.

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

Both programs are built on Scouting’s time-tested values. That’s evidenced by the fact that members of both programs recite 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, right? By that same logic, your approach to Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA shouldn’t be the same either.

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

Unit structure

Cub Scouts: Cub Scouts are in dens, which are part of a pack.

A den is made up of girls or boys of the same rank. There are two kinds of dens: all-boy or all-girl.

A pack can be all-boy, all-girl or include a mix of all-boy and all-girl dens.

Dens usually meet weekly or biweekly; packs meet monthly.

Scouts BSA: Scouts BSA members are in patrols, which are part of a troop. Troops are either all-boy or all-girl. Some leaders form linked troops, which means an all-boy troop and an all-girl troop share a chartered organization and 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 Scouts of similar ages together.

Troops meet weekly. Patrol meetings typically are part of the weekly troop meeting, but patrols are welcome to meet on their own.


It’s pretty simple: Cub Scout dens and packs are led by adults; Scouts BSA patrols and troops are led by the youth.

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

Scouts BSA: The Scouts plan and conduct meetings and outings. Adults step in when asked for help and model good behavior.

Youth-led troops might not be “as organized or successful as if adults were running things, but kids learn from their mistakes, says Illinois Scoutmaster Dale Machacek.

Leadership roles: Here are some Cub Scouting positions and the equivalent position in a Scouts BSA troop:

Cub Scouts Scouts BSA
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 youth members occupy most of the Scouts BSA roles.

Why is there no Cub Scout equivalent to Scoutmaster? Because Scoutmasters, unlike Cubmasters, are mentors who sit on the sidelines. Think of the Scoutmaster as the “chief adult guide” and the assistant Scoutmasters as “adult guides.”

In a letter he sends to parents, New York Scoutmaster Richard Buzzard explains that things might get hectic in Scouts BSA, 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 Scouts BSA.

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 or daughter on overnight campouts.

Scouts BSA: The parents are expected to continuously assist the troop by supporting the Scouts and participating in those tasks that the Scouts 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 or daughters. But they’re encouraged to do so if they’d like.


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

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 Cub Scout did not earn the rank for his or her age, he or she moves to the next rank with the den.

The levels are: Tiger, Bobcat, Wolf, Bear, Webelos and Arrow of Light.

Scouts BSA: 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 or her 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.)


See this section in the Guide to Safe Scouting to get you started.

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.

Scouts BSA: 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.

Scouts 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.


When considering activities for your pack or troop, consult this chart showing Age-Appropriate Guidelines [PDF].

Chain of command

Where do Scouts go with a problem or question?

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

Scouts BSA: They’ll follow the “chain of command.” 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, Scouts may go straight to the adult.

Other differences

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

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.