The 20 most (and least) earned merit badges of 2011

What were the hottest merit badges last year?

I’ve got the answer. Maybe.

So first, a caveat: The friendly folks at the Supply Division tell me there’s no way to determine exact numbers of merit badges earned. That info is tracked by troops — not the National Council.

That said, by examining sales figures, we can get some idea which badges sold more than others in 2011. I’m thinking that if a Scouter buys a merit badge emblem in a Scout Shop or at, chances are good that a Scout recently earned the badge.

After examining the 2011 sales list, here’s what I’ve come up with for the 20 top-selling merit badges of 2011:

  1. First Aid*
  2. Swimming*
  3. Environmental Science*
  4. Citizenship in the World*
  5. Citizenship in the Nation*
  6. Camping*
  7. Communication*
  8. Citizenship in the Community*
  9. Personal Fitness*
  10. Family Life*
  11. Personal Management*
  12. Rifle Shooting
  13. Fingerprinting
  14. Emergency Preparedness*
  15. Leatherwork
  16. Wilderness Survival
  17. Wood Carving
  18. Archery
  19. Canoeing
  20. Fishing


  • Each of the top 11 and 12 of the top 20 are required for Eagle (marked with an asterisk above).
  • Summer camps typically teach the eight on this list that aren’t Eagle-required.
  • The top three are both Eagle-required and taught at most summer camps.
  • Scouts have embraced technology (with their excitement for cool new merit badges like Inventing and Robotics), but they’re still enjoying “classics” such as Rifle Shooting, Leatherwork, Archery, and Fishing.

What about the other end of the list?

There are no bad merit badges — as far as I’m concerned, they’re all great. But there are some that aren’t earned as often as others, for a variety of reasons.

Adult leaders, I challenge you to add a positive spin to the “bottom 20” by encouraging your Scouts to earn one of the “20 rarest merit badges” the BSA offers.

Here’s the 20 rarest merit badges of 2011, starting with the rarest:

  1. Bugling
  2. American Business
  3. American Labor
  4. Stamp Collecting
  5. Surveying
  6. Drafting
  7. Landscape Architecture
  8. Journalism
  9. Public Health
  10. Entrepreneurship
  11. Skating
  12. Dog Care
  13. Truck Transportation
  14. American Cultures
  15. Insect Study
  16. Gardening
  17. Model Design
  18. Plant Science
  19. Farm Mechanics
  20. Composite Materials


  • Many of these require highly specialized merit badge instructors, so be sure to share your expertise with your troop if you work in one of these fields — professional buglers, I’m talking to you.

What conclusions do you draw from these lists? Did anything surprise you? Leave your thought below.

79 thoughts on “The 20 most (and least) earned merit badges of 2011

  1. Why don’t scouts choose the ‘career’ or specialty badges as often as we would wish? For one, boys enjoy scouting because it ISN’T just like school (the place where a lot of career preparation takes place). Otherwise, every scout would try to earn Scholarship (a badge about being a good student). Second, I suspect that the most-earned badges are done as a group effort, including required ones and camp ones. The career/specialty badges don’t fit this, because it might be impossible to get a whole patrol to take an interest in the same topic.
    Third, scouts don’t think like adults: what seems like an easy badge to us is very difficult for someone who has never done it before. They don’t see the vision of what the outcome might be. But with the right motivation…
    Fourth, there isn’t enough time! By focusing on Eagle, other badges become secondary. There will always be those badges that we wished there was time for. Fortunately, by earning the Eagle, scouts are already being stretched to do new things. I think scouting strikes a great balance in developing men of character through the required ranks and badges, regardless of future career.
    Having said that, I wonder what would happen if the Eagle Rank required a scout to complete a merit badge from a specified list of ‘future career’ badges?

  2. I think it could be interesting to see a little more variety in the Eagle required badges. I don’t think when I was in scouts as a youth there was the option of Hiking or Cycling or Swimming, I think Swimming was the required one. Looking at the bottom 20 I see Insect Study and Plant Science. So how about for Eagle the choice is earn Environmental Science OR two of the following: Insect Study, Plant Science, Bird Study, Mammal Study, Reptile and Amphibian Study. That would get a little more diversity in badges.

  3. As a parent and adult leader, I think merit badges are more important than most people or scouts realize. I view them as a job\hobby interview. The scout gets a taste of a specific merit badge and can then decide later on if that is something they like or don’t like. A few troops in our area work to put on a monthly merit badge involving the local community rotating each month. We also work to on committing them to host the event annually or more frequent if possible. So far, my troop has been able to pull together Chemistry (4x), Law (1x), Auto Maintenance (1x), Oceanography (2x). We are have already committed these organizations to future events as most of them have a requirement to community service as they receive public funds.

    By using resources like the local community college, university and business, it opens the scouts to what is in their local environment. I use that as a selling point for the place hosting the event, reminding them that this is their future client.

    I found a good free website that posts merit badge events, it was a Wood Badge project for the creators, and I post all my events there.

    • merit badges are a way to see if the subject will peek the scout’s interest in a potential new hobby or career. MB’s can also teach them skills they may need as future home owners like plumbing, electricity home repair, auto repair… MB’s can also hepl you safely enjpy the outdoors or do things you’d nevr thought of trying like welding and robotics. Our district has as we call it a MB colege day where 400-500 scouts go to a local scholl where 20-30 adults with a variety of background who are MB councilors teach classes up to 6hrs in that day. the scout must complete prerequisits prior since not all troops have a MB councilor for every MB this gives many scouts an opportunity to learn something they may not have a chance in their own oindividual troop or town.

  4. I just signed off on the first Bugling merit badge in our Troop. I’ve been working it for about 5 years and finally a Scout that has played trumpet for 4 years sign off. There also seems to be a motivation thing as I’ve sometimes had as many as 8 scouts trying.
    Some pointers that I’ve learned:
    The calls don’t have to be memorized. The requirement says to “sound the calls” so I allowed him to read the music, although he does play the common calls by memory.
    There is no standard of quality in the requirement so I’ll pass a call that is clearly recognizable.
    Any kid taking trumpet, cornet or french horn should be able to do this after 2 or 3 years of band. The requirment states that a bugle, trumpet or cornet may be used. A trumpet or cornet with valve 1 & 2 down is the same key as a Scout bugle (key of G) and that is easier for the young ones to hit the high notes(biggest hurdle).
    If a kid plays a baritone or trombone he could qualify on a “Baritone bugle” I bought a 1 valve bugle on ebay for $50 that takes a trombone mouthpiece.
    The cheapest import bugles have horrible tone and can’t always be brought into tune with other instruments. Old student cornets are inexpensive and sound nice. I’ve gotten some great bugle deals on ebay, “Rexcraft” , “US Regulation” or with the Boy Scout logo pictured. Many say Boy Scout that are not. Buy the one that has lots of pictures and says that it’s not dented,

  5. I’m surpassed dog care isn’t more popular. Lot’s of boys have dogs, don’t they? I was also surprised that model building isn’t more popular. All my Cub Scouts et Lego sets for Christmas every year. 🙂

  6. Model building is more like architecture and drafting than it is about sicking things together with glue out of kits from the hobby shop.

  7. I am surprised that Pulp and Paper was not in the 20 rarest. For the longest time my son was the only one in the troop (our troop has over 100 scouts) with the merit badge. We have a camp that offers the Merit Badge but only a few boys earn it each week. I think the total is 20 for the 8 week season. They offered it in 2011 and 2012 and may drop it in 2013 for lack of interest. Funny thing is that I never finished that badge as a youth but my son did.

  8. Pingback: Greatest hits: My 12 most-read blog posts of 2012 « Bryan on Scouting

  9. Missed this one initially but read it after the “Top Blogs of 2012” was posted. Great comments by all. I am a Farm Mechanics, Dog Care and American Business MB Counselor. Farm Mechanics is a relatively straight forward MB but is not one that urban scouts are typically interested in. I could see it offered at a MBU or even at Camp (Camp’s typically have the equipment required and a Camp Ranger would be a perfect candidate to teach it!). Dog Care and American Business are a different story. They are complex and time consuming. I am a business owner and have dogs at home that we train. After looking at the MB requirements for both even my Star Scout son declined the opportunity to do them. I would suggest to national that they consider revising these. Yes, I would be willing to assist with that.

  10. Playing trumpet a a young age made it pretty
    easy to earn the Bugler Merit Badge in the mid ’60’s. What was NOT so easy was being the first one rousted from my warm sleeping bag and trying to sound Reveille while half asleep on a frozen bugle! Proud that this is the rarest one though. Makes it and the memories even more special.

  11. I missed this one also. It was an enjoyable read. Someone asked if the entire list was available. I was wondering if there was a list somewhere for past years. I’m a numbers nut & it would be interesting to see if a badge was trending up or down. I found a website some time ago that had several years in a row of information, but dropped off in about 2005. I would enjoy having access to a data base or spreadsheet with the historical numbers on it.

  12. Fingerprinting is easy and quick, so tons of scouts in my troop are getting it.
    Bugling requires the troop to have a bugler, making it difficult.
    I was looking for a full list but can’t find one. Where is it?

  13. Any chance you’ll post the most popular and least popular merit badges again this year. Last year’s blog posting was done about this same time. I’m anxiously waiting, though I assume there won’t be too many differences from one year to the next.

  14. Pingback: The most- and least-popular merit badges of 2012, and what that info tells us « Bryan on Scouting

  15. I am very proud to have included Bugling MB on my Eagle application in 1981. And on the day of my Eagle Court of Honor, the Bugler patch was on my sleeve. Very glad that Bugling remains as a merit badge. And it’s always a hoot to play “Reveille” in camp at 7 am.

  16. Does any kid really want to study “American Labor”? No surprises here, except I would have thought Bugling would not be in the bottom with all the band kids. MB’s need a cleanup, get rid of the boring ones.

  17. It’s just that a lot of these merit badges tak a long time and have hard to earn requirements. FYI spell check would be a good thing to have on here!

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