Make your point: What’s your unit’s knife policy?

In Scouting, knives are a double-edged sword.

Used safely, they’re part of a rite of passage for boys and a chance for leaders to impart important lessons to help Scouts become “Prepared. For Life.”

But inevitably, some Scout will do his best Crocodile Dundee impression and show up at summer camp with the 10-inch sheath knife his uncle bought him.

The BSA keeps its knife policy intentionally vague (see below), offering suggestions but leaving specific policies up to individual units.

Does your pack, troop, team, or crew have a policy? 

Units with knife policies often set a specific maximum blade length and other restrictions. Others leave it up to their Scouts’ common sense and only intervene if the need arises — such as confiscating a Scout’s big sheath knife or butterfly-style knife and returning it to his parents after the trip.

Whether you have a policy or are considering creating one, first read what the Guide to Safe Scouting says:


A sharp pocketknife with a can opener on it is an invaluable backcountry tool. Keep it clean, sharp, and handy. Avoid large sheath knives. They are heavy and awkward to carry, and unnecessary for most camp chores except for cleaning fish. Since its inception, Boy Scouting has relied heavily on an outdoor program to achieve its objectives.

This program meets more of the purposes of Scouting than any other single feature. We believe we have a duty to instill in our members, youth and adult, the knowledge of how to use, handle, and store legally owned knives with the highest concern for safety and responsibility.

Remember—knives are not allowed on school premises, nor can they be taken aboard commercial aircraft.

The Guide to Safe Scouting doesn’t get more specific than that, but most states do. Some states restrict knife length — in Texas, for example, a knife with a blade longer than 5.5 inches is deemed “illegal.” Others forbid certain kinds of knives, such as throwing knives.

This site aggregates state knife laws, so check your state’s laws today and be in the know. (Note: Some of these state laws may be outdated, so check your state and county and city laws just to be safe.)

How to create a policy

In keeping with the youth-led spirit of Boy Scout troops, Venturing crews, and Varsity teams, you’re better off letting the Scouts set their own policy.

Involving them in the process ensures that they’ll take ownership in the policy and will more effectively follow and enforce it.

Suggest they address knife length, kinds of knives allowed, how many knives each Scout can bring, proper storage, Totin’ Chip requirements, and anything else that addresses specific needs in your unit. And don’t forget to print out your state’s knife laws and give that to your youth leaders to consult.

Pretty soon, you’ll have a policy that allows — encourages, even — the safe use of knives in Scouting.

Take the poll

What do you think?

I’d love to know whether packs, troops, teams, and crews have specific knife policies. If so, what do they include? Do you specify a maximum blade length? What about quantity — can Scouts carry multiple knives? Leave your thoughts below.

Photo by Flickr user herzogbr.

77 thoughts on “Make your point: What’s your unit’s knife policy?

  1. A sheath knife is a wonderful tool to have. You can use it in so many different ways. It is an almost essential survival tool. You don\’t need a hand axe, or a saw if you have a good sheath knife. You don\’t need a Crocodile Dundee style or any over the top wacko survivalist type of knife. All you need is a 5-6in blade, full tang, with a proper sheath and you are set.
    I would challenge any of your scouts to a fire building contest with our troop. Our scouts would only use their sheath knives, yours can use, knife, hand axe and saw.
    Our troop would win hands down. Only because the scouts know how to use them and they use them properly.

  2. I don’t really understand the problem with policies here sure everyone has their own right to an opinion but really who should say what to limit a knife to it all depends on the given situation and the skill in which the tool is used and yes all knives are tools when used properly they are great when not used properly they can be very dangerous no matter what size or configuration personally I think that sheath knives are invaluable as a survival tool especially when backing where you don’t want to carry an ax,saw,utility knife, and multi tool ounces turn into pounds very quickly so I’ll carry a 10″ blade length sheath knife and a multi tool so honesty I think it’s all about training not size though I would recommend sheath knives with full tangs

  3. B.S.A Boy’s Life July 2008;
    “The best type of knife for camping trips — and most any other outdoor activity, for that matter — is a short, fixed-blade knife with a beefy handle.

    Folding pocketknives can fold up on your hand while cutting. Not fixed blades. And remember: When it comes to blades, bigger isn’t always better. Avoid blades longer than four inches. A small, sharp blade can cut just as well as a long one, but it’s safer to handle and easier to maneuver in tight spots. With a good fixed blade you’ll be set for most anything the outdoors can throw at you — whittling, cutting, notching, butchering, filleting, even spreading peanut butter.”

  4. I find all of this extremely frustrating. Scouting was established as a military preparedness organization in addition to being a service organization. Part of being “prepared” is having the right “safest” tool for the job at hand. Used properly, there is no safer knife than a sheath knife. The rules of scouting should follow state and federal laws and should teach proper use of all tools accordingly. We are a free country that should allow personal choice inthe use of any tool with regard to safety. I am so tired of weekend warriors who think that they should consistently have some authority over the boys. The steps of scouting are to teach independence, self reliance, confidence and motivation. They are to become increasingly independent as they advance, not less so. More rules and less freedoms only cause the dwindling of our once great fraternity. I know and still hear and remember the stories of scouts going on a camp/ hiking trip without any adult leaders, only an approval of the plan.
    The idea of being prepared is to have any tool needed for any situation. Right? How many of you have truly done a high adventure or even hiked a portion of say the Appalachian trail? Do you know that a machete or a large fixed blade knife might save you life? It did mine. From a very large cottonmouth sunning itself in a bare area on The Pisgah mountain area of the trail. And when I was hiking through the jungles of Central America. There are certain vines that are poisonous to the touch. A pocket knife isn’t going to clear that off for you.
    The whole thing that really angers me is the amount of sheep that continue to bleat about safety and have yet to really understand what safety really is because they live in there little sheltered city lives. You are always safer with a fixed blade sheathed knife. Simply put, there are no working mechanisms to fail, it may be that the longer blade may also double as a small axe or spearhead.
    Remember that you as leaders are preparing those who will protect you and write your rules and laws in the future. The tougher it is on them now, the more so it will be for you. Think about the fears you instill. Fear is in itself, a safety mechanism. Too much fear and there is nothing they can do. Teach good survival skills that will carry them forward by proper use of tools, not dumb standards of outright bans on any particular tool.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my opinion and rant.

    Ian A. Yehling
    Returning adult scouter and concerned parent.

    • Military preparedness organization? Are we reading different training materials?

      Whatever knife I use, or a camp or council allows is a different question from what I might prefer to have. If you prefer a machete and can find camps and councils that allow that, good luck.

  5. Ian,
    I have read nothing on this page that suggests anything other than self determination by the boys. there is nothing that suggests a “rule” for all boys everywhere. There are a number of good suggestions – including yours – that can help us lead the boys in our own troops and meet both individual and troop needs. That said, I hate all of the new cheap serrated edge knives that the boys get for a couple of dollars and bring with them to scout camp. Most of the boys have not had any formal training that prepares them to safely use a knife, ax or saw. Just like with firearms, the safe use of knives comes with proper training and supervised experiences. An untrained boy with a 10 inch fixed blade knife is potentially trouble in the making ….. As is an untrained boy with a cheap $2 tactical style locking blade knife. Here is a great syllabus I found for teaching knife/as/and say skills: I also feel that establishing expectations for early knife use helps develop good habits and eliminates problems as the boys gain in maturity and skill.

    While there are countless options out there for knives, I like to direct my boys to a Mora heavy duty knife for a fixed blade – about $20. Great value for the money. Read about Mora knives ( . Mora makes a great knife. Ka-bar, Buck and schrade all make a good lock back folding knife for about $20. Of course you can spend 10 or 15 times that amount but for the money they are a good starting place for a boy scout. Must my thoughts.

    Burt Burrell

  6. You can have any troop policy you want, but sometimes you have to adapt when going to council-owned camps, such as types of knives allowed. At the Trading Post, we required that the Scouts show a Totin’ Chip card to purchase a knife. If your troop does not require them, it’s hard to know whether that Scout has been trained or not.

  7. Thank you Bryan. However you need a disclaimer on the link you provided for state knife laws. This site may not (and most likely does not) have the most up to date information. For example, the state law referenced for Texas shows a date of 1993. The Texas law has been updated (as recently as September of last year). The site puts this disclaimer in their long explanation of the purpose of the site, however most people will not read that long explanation prior to clicking their state name. Also, many local (county and city) laws exist as well, so it is important to stress that more research needs to be done before just using the state laws.

  8. All my boys complete the requirements for a Toten Chip every year. This gives the older boys a chance to teach the younger boys a few easy lessons. Each boy is entitled to choose a knife as a reward for earning First Class. The troop does not favor fixed blade knives at scout camp but does allow them on back country and backpacking trips. Knife size is restricted to any knife the boy has shown proper safety and proficiency with. However, “Rambo” knives and swords and machetes are outlawed by the patrol leaders council.

  9. In our Cub Pack requires a boy to have his whittling chip to carry a pocketknife. I want them to have it because it doesn’t hurt us to take it away right now. They need to have it in boy scouts but in cub scouts it’s not a big deal to us if it gets taken away. To the boys it matters though. And they will work hard at being responsible with it just so that they can carry it. A perfect example of how scouting uses the youth’s desire to grow up to help him learn to be a good citizen.

    Our boy scout troop uses the totin’ chit with the corner removal for violations. The troop meets at a church building so we don’t have outside restrictions. We can even use candles and handle (but not load) guns.

    I think the knife is part of the adventure to the boys. If they don’t have the adventure then scouting isn’t delivering on it’s promise. Our job is to deliver on the promise with a reasonable level of safety.

  10. A lot of things are dangerous. But safety should be a matter of training, not banning. I like the BSA guidelines of training for responsible use of fire, firearms, bows & arrows, swimming, gas stoves, knives, axes, etc. instead of banning these “dangerous” activities. Our troop just last night adopted a Code of Conduct that includes a knife policy. It includes a maximum length of 6″ for sheath knives, 3″ for lock blade and pocket knives. I don’t go along with a maximum blade length, but I can live with this. When I was a scout myself all of us in our troop carried sheath knives. I found that blade length took care of itself in that the longer knives were more awkward to use than a shorter knife, so most of us carried nothing longer than a 6″ blade for practical reasons. I grew up with knives in an era when they were allowed in schools. Heck, we used to trade pocket knives with our teachers. I still carry at least one at all times, sometimes two if I have both a pocket knife and a belt multi-tool. Let’s train, not ban or restrict.

  11. Use the right tool for the right job. And follow State and local laws. Don’t like the law, get it changed. If a fixed blade knife is the right tool and legal, use it.

    But as everyone can agree upon, proper training is the key.

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