Boy Scout Handbook-13th Edition

Cover art shows Scouts climbing, cycling, canoeing, raising the flag, and zip-lining, along with a bald eagle. Back cover continues the picture with Scouts cooking, fishing, and releasing a weather balloon. The 2017 release changed the front cover to delete the bald eagle and the cyclist, and added three Scouts watching a model rocket take off. As of 2018, only the coil-bound version of the Handbook is available.
Boy Scouts Handbook

The 13th Edition is a mild update to the 12th Edition, with much of the content lifted verbatim from the previous book, including many of the same photos and drawings. Chapters 2 through 12 cover the same subjects as before, with some new content or reorganization of previous content. The outside edges of pages contain a colored line and chapter name for handy reference (as did the 12th Edition). The most noticeable change is a brighter, cleaner ‘look’. The distracting stylistic dots/smudges that cluttered the background of the 12th Edition’s pages are gone. The reason for the new edition is the usual one, changes to the advancement requirements. Overall author is Mark Ray, who also is the primary author of the new Troop Leader Guidebook for adult leaders.

Key advancement changes in the book include:

  • “Scout” is now a full rank, rather than just the joining requirments.
  • Service is now required for all ranks.
  • There is a 30-day or 4-week physical fitness requirement in Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class.
  • The campout requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class are roughly doubled, and require that all but one be in a tent.
  • Both the Scout and Star ranks now require earning the online safety Cyber Chip award for the Scout’s grade level.
  • An expanded ‘duty to God’ discussion is now required as part of the Scout Spirit requirement for every rank (perhaps to compete with the Christian-only Trail Life USA organization?).
  • The new advancement requirements are available as a free PDF insert, so older Scouts won’t need to buy the new handbook. Scouts who joined before 2016 were allowed to finish the ranks through First Class using the old requirements; or if they are First Class or higher, they can finish the rank they are working on using the old requirements. But as of 1 January 2017, everyone must use the new requirements.

First-time topics in the new handbook include mentioning the multitool in addition to a pocket knife. And the book promotes STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) activities throughout. There is a special STEM index contained within the book’s index, and there are dozens of blue boxes throughout the book that address STEM-related topics. The 24-page Parent’s Guide inserted at the front of the handbook has been revised with an expanded title emphasizing youth protection.

The full-sized sewing templates formerly on the inside covers have been shrunk and hidden on pages 22-23. That’s just as well, since the drawings contain many errors, including wrong dimension measurements, wrong patch placement, incorrect Council Journey to Excellence badge on a Scout’s uniform, and still show the incorrect patrol leader badge that’s been in the handbook since 2009. The inside front cover now has detailed instructions on how to recruit a friend into Scouting, and the inside back cover contains an ad for the BSA Scout Shops and the website.

Most of the BSA history references scattered throughout the 12th Edition (for the BSA’s 100th anniversary) are gone, except for a reference to earning the Scouting Heritage merit badge.

The troop organization chart on page 24, copied from the correct chart in the 12th Edition, is missing the line that should connect the SPL to the patrol leaders.

The term “Venture Scout” is now gone, replaced by references to “older Scouts” and the “Older-Scout patrol”. Ever since Exploring changed to Venturing in 1998, the similarity between the terms ‘Venture Scout’ and ‘Venturer’ just caused too much confusion. Also, the job called Leave No Trace Trainer has been renamed Outdoor Ethics Guide, and the handbook mostly uses the term “outdoor ethics” where the 12th Edition used Leave No Trace, although there are still multiple uses of the LNT term.

While most countries have a “Scout Promise”, BSA from the start called its promise the “Scout Oath”. Starting in the 1950’s, every handbook except the 10th Edition called it the “Scout Oath or Promise” (although the term “Scout Oath” was almost universally used by Scouts and leaders). The 13th Edition has returned to using only “Scout Oath”, despite the objection of some (many Quakers [Society of Friends], for example) whose religious beliefs forbid the taking of oaths.

The fitness chapter has a reminder for those of us living in states where recreational marijuana is now legal: “The use of marijuana, regardless of local law, is not allowed for Scouts or adults on any Scouting activity.”

An expanded “Awards and Advancement” chapter consolidates and slightly expands the previous sections on these topics. A new “Personal Safety Awareness” chapter consolidates and expands information on child abuse, as well as peer pressure, bullying, and online safety (the Cyber Chip award). The Rank Requirements section adds a three-page listing of all current merit badges so a Scout can check off what he has earned and see what additional options there are. And there are no references (that I spotted) to the website, which was frequently referenced in the 12th Edition. It appears that BSA has given up (for now) on the idea of having a Scout Handbook website.

The 13th Edition is currently being revised to remove gender-specific terminology and to add pictures of girls in preparation for the planned 1 February 2019 launch of Scout troops for girls (there will be separate troops for male youth and female youth, but otherwise the programs will be identical, including the option for girls to earn Eagle Scout for the first time). As of 2018, the BSA has eliminated the perfect-bound version of the Handbook, and only the coil-bound version is available.

13th Edition Summary and Printing History

  • title from title page—The Boy Scout Handbook
  • by Mark Ray
  • cover art is several photographs & a painting
  • 2016-?? (?? years)
  • 541 470 copies printed to date (Feb 2018)
  • size 133x203x25 mm (5-1/4x8x1″)
  • 488 numbered pages
  • Printings (it appears BSA is no longer identifying handbook printings or dates; just updating the number of copies printed)

Grand Total for all 13 Handbook Editions

  • 40 686 470 copies printed (as of February 2018)

Actual 13th Edition Table of Contents

Adventure Ahead
1. Character and Leadership
2. Citizenship
3. Fitness
4. First Aid
5. Aquatics
6. Nature
7. Outdoor Ethics
8. Hiking
9. Camping
10. Cooking
11. Navigation
12. Tools
13. Personal Safety Awareness
14. Awards and Advancement
Your Adventure Continues
Boy Scout Rank Requirements
Merit Badges
Leadership and Training Log
Hiking Log
Camping Log
Service Log