15 hidden gems in the ‘Scouts BSA Handbook’ that will interest adult volunteers

The Scouts BSA Handbook isn’t just for young people enjoying confidence-boosting experiences along the Scouting trail.

Like a Pixar movie with jokes meant for those of us born before the 21st century, the Handbook contains plenty of useful features that adults will appreciate. You just have to know where to look.

Today we’re sharing 15 hidden gems we found in the Scouts BSA Handbook. While these sections, charts and guides were written for Scouts, they contain information or insight that will help Scouters become better parents, spouses and volunteers.

Have you read all 488 pages of the Scouts BSA Handbook? Then you’ve seen everything on the list below, and “hidden gems” might be overselling it. In that case, you might consider sharing this list with newer families in your troop — introducing them to some valuable resources hiding in plain sight.

Note: The page numbers are correct whether you have the Scouts BSA Handbook for Boys or the Scouts BSA Handbook for Girls.

1. A patch-sewing guide for dads and moms (pages 22–23)

Is the right order of patches on the left sleeve: council shoulder strip, troop number, badge of office … or is it: council shoulder strip, badge of office, troop number?

No need to ask Google. Just open the Handbook.

You’ll find a handy guide to patch placement complete with measurements to make sure everything is spaced out correctly. While no troop would expect your Scout’s uniform patches to be millimeter-perfect, this chart takes the guesswork out of sewing.

As for getting your Scouts to do the sewing themselves? You’re on your own there.

2. A four-step plan for teaching anyone anything (page 38)

You could take hours of Zoom-fatigue-inducing training sessions teaching you how to teach others.

Or you could just open the Scouts BSA Handbook for a one-page crash course in a time-tested method.

It’s called the Teaching EDGE, and it just might change your life.

If you’re looking to teach any skill to anyone, you can’t go wrong with these four steps:

  • Explain how it’s done.
  • Demonstrate the steps.
  • Guide learners as they practice.
  • Enable them to succeed on their own.

Whether you’re teaching a new employee how to run a cash register or your grandchild how to ride a bike, the Teaching EDGE method will work every time.

3. Everything you need to know about the American flag (pages 58–62)

Fold it, fly it, wave it, wear it.

There are many ways the American flag is used in Scouting. Learning the right way to respect the Stars and Stripes is about more than memorizing its pattern of seven horizontal red stripes and six white ones.

The Scouts BSA Handbook says it best: “Honoring the flag offers all of us a time to think about what it means to be Americans and to pledge ourselves to making our country the best it can be.”

If you use the flag in your life — at work, in Scouting or at home — you might want to (ahem) flag page 58 of the Scouts BSA Handbook. That page starts a section on the right way to raise, lower and fold the flag.

4. A guide to reading nutrition labels (pages 82–86)

We want our Scouts to make healthy decisions about food. Instead of a foil sleeve of frosted Pop-Tarts for breakfast, we might encourage the members of the Roadrunner Patrol to choose scrambled eggs and oatmeal next time.

But what about our own eating choices? A 2020 study from The NPD Group found that 90% of adults do, in fact, read nutrition labels.

Reading is one thing; interpreting is another.

For that second step, we can turn to the Handbook, which offers a color-coded chart to help us understand which numbers in that black-and-white box demand the most attention.

5. A fun list of brain-boosting exercises (page 99)

You’ll find exercises for your body in the Scouts BSA Handbook — like situps, pushups, curl-ups and others that require no gym membership or special equipment.

But you’ll also find ways to exercise your body’s computer: the brain.

The Handbook’s list of 10 “brainpower exercises” includes ideas like:

  • Do crossword puzzles, word games and brainteasers
  • Imagine 10 new uses for a familiar object
  • Study a foreign language

As we get older, the importance of keeping our minds sharp becomes magnified.

6. The ingredients for a home first-aid kit (page 109)

You could buy a pre-made first-aid kit online, but there’s a good chance you’ll end up with too much Imodium and not enough Band-Aids, gauze pads and other we-never-have-them-when-we-need-them products.

The better (and cheaper) way is to create a first-aid kit yourself. The Handbook can help.

There’s a checklist for a personal first-aid kit you could take on campouts and leave in the car for emergencies on the go. And there’s a checklist for a home first-aid kit you can use to treat injuries and illnesses that might befall your family.

7. A guide to identifying venomous snakes (page 130)

“Hang on a second, Mr. Snake, I need to Google a description of you real quick.”

Asking one of these limbless reptiles to hold still while you look for a cell signal is a plan doomed to fail.

It’s better to arm yourself with the knowledge going in. The Handbook has you covered with a visual guide to identifying snakes that could be venomous.

That’s handy both for snake avoidance and for snakebite assessment. If you or someone you know is bitten, doctors will want an accurate description of the snake’s size and color pattern.

See also: A guide to identifying poisonous plants (pages 191–192)

8. A urine color chart (page 138)

We’re glass-half-full people at Bryan on Scouting, so let’s salute the half of Americans who are drinking enough water each day.

You well-hydrated lot can consult the urine color chart inside the Handbook with pride.

As for the other half? Let’s just say yellow isn’t your color. Check out the chart to see just how concerned you should be.

9. A guide to identifying animal tracks (page 210)

Just what was that critter that crawled through your garden last night?

You don’t need a Wi-Fi-connected infrared camera to find out. Just flip to page 210 of the Scouts BSA Handbook, where you’ll find a guide to interpreting animal tracks.

You might want a ruler, too, because the chart includes the approximate size of the track — something that will be a great help when trying to see whether that was a raccoon or a squirrel.

10. A list of ‘weather lore’ sayings (page 217)

For a rather reliable way to predict the weather, don’t look down at your phone. Look up at the sky.

The Handbook has a page of popular weather lore sayings, such as “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight” and “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.”

Whether you’re a sailor or spend most of your time on solid ground, you’ll find the accuracy of these sayings to be surprisingly high.

The chart even explains the science behind the saying — helping you sound even smarter at your next gathering with family or friends.

11. A camping gear checklist (pages 268–269)

When packing for a business trip or family vacation, you can think through your itinerary each day and select the clothes you’ll need. If you’re staying in a hotel and eating at restaurants, everything else — food, shelter, bedding — is taken care of for you.

But when camping with family or friends, you’ll provide all that yourself. If you forget something, your campmates might not have an extra, and you could be hours from the nearest store.

Fortunately, nobody knows camping better than the BSA. And the Handbook has you covered with a pair of helpful checklists: one for personal gear and one for group gear.

12. A ‘size of servings’ chart (page 295)

Ready to invite some of your vaccinated friends over for dinner? Take the guesswork out of knowing how much of each dish to prepare by opening the Handbook.

On page 295, you’ll find a chart that shows how much of certain kinds of food is equal to one serving.

For example, if you’re planning taco night for eight adults, you’ll want 16 ounces of cheese (2 ounces per person), 2 pounds of meat (4 ounces per person) and 4 cups of uncooked rice (1/2 cup per person).

While you’ll still want to overestimate so there’s enough for everyone, the chart is a good starting point as you prepare a grocery list.

See also: A chart showing how long certain food stays fresh (page 300) and a chart showing cooking temperatures for meat (page 306)

13. A guide to finding your way using the sun, stars or moon (pages 354–357)

Until they invent a phone with unlimited battery life and a network that covers 100% of the planet, the ability to navigate without Google Maps is an important survival skill.

Being able to determine which direction is north could help you find your way back to safety — and avoid walking in circles or retracing your steps.

Plus, even if you aren’t lost, there’s something special about being that person in a group who always knows which way is north, south, east and west.

So how do you do it? Consult the Handbook for some surprisingly simple ways to get oriented day or night.

14. The best knot-tying guide anywhere (pages 363–378)

You can buy books, apps or playing cards about knot-tying. But the best way to learn the knots and lashings you’ll use most both in Scouting and in life is to open the Handbook.

The knots covered in the Scouts BSA Handbook meet all three requirements for any good knot:

  1. Easy to tie.
  2. Stays tied.
  3. Easy to untie.

You’ll soon master the square knot, taut-line hitch and bowline. But you’ll also learn the language of knots, which makes it easier to learn more complex knots and teach them to others.

Before long, using terms like “bight,” “standing part” and “overhand loop” will become second nature.

15. A STEM index (page 475)

Stop us if you’ve heard this before. Careers in science, technology, engineering and math are high-paying and expected to grow over the next decade.

Fortunately for Scouting parents, STEM is baked into the BSA’s programs at every level. By enjoying the programs just as they are, your Scouts will experience hands-on STEM activities.

But what if you want to take that STEM connection even deeper? Turn to a little-known page in the Scouts BSA Handbook. The STEM index collects all of the top STEM references in the Handbook and puts them in one alphabetized list.

Scoutmasters could use these to inspire their next Scoutmaster’s Minute, and parents could turn these into fun, short STEM lessons.

What else have you found?

Are there other ways you use the Handbook as an adult? Let us know in the comments below.

About Bryan Wendell 3181 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.