Here are the most- and least-popular merit badges of 2013 and of all time

The reign of First Aid merit badge continues.

More Boy Scouts earned this Eagle-required merit badge in 2013 than any other. And it wasn’t event close.

Not only was it the most-earned merit badge in 2013, it also topped the list in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 … you get the idea.

In all, 6.9 million Scouts have earned First Aid merit badge since its debut in 1911. Yep, you guessed it; that’s more than any other in history.

Which other merit badges made the Top 10 last year? What was 2013’s most-earned merit badge that isn’t on the Eagle-required list? And which merit badges were in the Bottom 10 (or “the rarest,” as I like to call them)? Let’s find out … 

Where I got these numbers

As with my 2013 analysis of the 2012 data, these figures come from Local Council Charter Applications. That means they’re based on the actual number earned, not on sales of the badges. Some troops purchase extra emblems in anticipation of future badge earnings, so sales numbers can be skewed.

The Top 20

Not surprisingly, No. 1 through No. 12 on the list were all Eagle-required. Scouts have extra motivation to earn these merit badges on their journey toward Boy Scouting’s top rank.

But the remaining members of the Top 20 have some fascinating takeaways.

No. 13 and 14, Rifle Shooting and Fingerprinting, are offered at most summer camps, giving Scouts a fun, accessible way to complete them. Same goes for summer camp favorites LeatherworkArchery, Wilderness Survival and Woodcarving. All those were in 2012’s Top 20, as well.

One of two newcomers to the Top 20 is Cooking. The jump from No. 30 in 2012 to No. 15 in 2013 is likely the result of Scouts knowing the badge would become Eagle-required on Jan. 1, 2014. Plus, some Scouts probably wanted to earn it using the old requirements; the new requirements become mandatory Jan. 1, 2015.

Kayaking, which launched in July 2012, also made its debut in the Top 20 in 2013. This was its first full year of availability, and Scouts grabbed double-bladed paddles and earned this one in droves.

The Bottom 10

The Boy Scouts merit badge program works because of its diversity. So even those merit badges in the lower ranks serve a purpose if they keep Scouts engaged and introduce them to a hobby or potential career. If even one Scout earns the badge, it’s worth it, I say.

Last year’s “rarest” merit badges (much better than the negative-sounding “Bottom 10,” don’t you think?) were: Composite Materials, Drafting, Surveying, Stamp Collecting, American Labor, Journalism, American Business, Sustainability, Bugling and Programming.

To give you an idea of their rarity, consider that more Scouts earned Search and Rescue merit badge last year than all 10 of these combined. That said, we can throw out Sustainability and Programming because they were released in July 2013 and didn’t get full years of availability.

See the exact numbers in the chart below.

Biggest movers

Search and Rescue merit badge had the biggest jump from 2012 to 2013, leaping from No. 128 in 2012 to No. 58 in 2013. But it debuted in August 2012, so those numbers are skewed.

Same story with Welding (No. 101 to No. 55), released in February 2012.

Top 5 gains:

  • Search and Rescue: 128 to 58 (+70)
  • Welding: 101 to 55 (+46)
  • Cooking: 30 to 15 (+15)
  • Kayaking: 32 to 20 (+12)
  • Safety: 103 to 95 (+8)

Top 5 drops:

  • Railroading: 63 to 74 (-11)
  • Whitewater: 99 to 109 (-10)
  • Home Repairs: 95 to 103 (-8)
  • Theater: 112 to 119 (-7)
  • Backpacking: 91 to 98 (-7)

I wouldn’t read too much into that second list. The changes are small enough that they’re probably attributed to normal fluctuations from one year to the next.

The 2013 List

Curious where the merit badges you teach fall on the list? Take a look.

I’ve included the merit badge’s 2013 rank, the total number earned in 2013, the 2012 rank and the change from 2012 to 2013.

Those marked in blue are Eagle-required. Those marked in yellow are new, meaning they debuted in December 2009 or sooner.

merit-badges-2013-1

* On required list for Eagle Rank

** Required for Eagle (must complete Cycling, Hiking or Swimming)

*** Required for Eagle (must complete Emergency Preparedness or Lifesaving)

**** Required for Eagle (must complete Environmental Science or Sustainability)

Here you go, Excel wizards

After I posted the merit badge rankings in 2012, I heard from several Scouters who wanted to play with the numbers themselves.

This Excel spreadsheet should make that easy for you! It includes the numbers earned from 2009 to 2013.

Please leave a comment below with any interesting facts you discover.

Historical merit badge numbers

Almost 7 million Scouts have earned First Aid merit badge in its history. Check out the chart below to see where currently available merit badges rank on the all-time list.

One interesting note is that Safety merit badge, which ranked No. 95 in 2013, is No. 9 on the all-time list. The badge was created in 1927. Same story for Home Repairs, created in 1943. It was No. 103 in 2013, but it’s No. 14 on the all-time rankings.

Do those two reflect a change in our nation’s priorities? Perhaps.

Two notes before you look at this list:

  • It doesn’t include merit badges that have been discontinued. Go here for a great list of those, but I simply don’t have those numbers to rank them here.
  • The list will be naturally skewed toward merit badges that have been around the longest. That’s why you’ll see newer merit badges near the bottom and “classic” ones at the top.

merit-badges-2013-lifetime-2

* On required list for Eagle Rank

** Required for Eagle (must complete Cycling, Hiking or Swimming)

*** Required for Eagle (must complete Emergency Preparedness or Lifesaving)

**** Required for Eagle (must complete Environmental Science or Sustainability)

Download the Lifetime Chart

NEW: Click here for the Excel file for the lifetime chart!

See Also

I keep my Calendar of New Merit Badges updated regularly with what’s next and what’s new. Check it out!


Thanks to Lynn Adcock for getting these numbers for me.

130 thoughts on “Here are the most- and least-popular merit badges of 2013 and of all time

  1. So out of the 113 boys who earned Scuba Diving last year our Troop had 13~ 11.5% nationally..can’t wait to high 5 those boys when I see them! Great job T9212!

      • Guess reading the blog on the iPhone…wasn’t the best idea. Glad to see more kids making bubble though. Still happy that 13 of them knocked it out. The badge is not hard, it’s the cost that holds most back. Thanks for correcting my numerical misread.

  2. Here are some things I found …

    –After cooking and the badges that started in the last few years, AMERICAN LABOR saw the biggest percentage increase over last year. WHITEWATER saw the biggest decrease over last year.

    –Removing outliers like above, from the data we have since 2008, PLANT SCIENCE and INSECT STUDY have seen the largest percentage rise with about 235% since 2008. ROWING and GOLF have the largest decrease at 69% since 2008.

    –The total number of Merit Badges in 2013 was 2,110,878 … a decrease of 3% from last year but still an increase of 10% from 2008. And about the same number as was earned in 2009.

    –For some reason, FLY FISHING (started in 2002) saw a jump from 475 in 2010 to 4,605 in 2011 and has been going up ever since.

    –Sadly (to me), Bugling decreased from last year down to 515 and is still the lowest earned Merit Badge in the group (not including programming that was introduced last year).

    • There’s nothing like getting your American Labor merit badge with a MADE IN CHINA sticker on the back. Gotta love that.

      • Doing a merit badge event yearly and researching places for Troops’ program planning that incorporate merit badge, I’m not surprised at American Labor boast. Found that the American Labor organizations have been spreading the word that they can help Scouts with earning American Labor merit badge while promoting the history of this area and their organization.

        Another factor is numbers like these are being used in planning merit badge events thus making least earned a part of the selections to include. I even compiled our local districts and council numbers with Bryan’s statistics to use in our preliminary list of selections before we rope in counselors for our day event.

    • To comment about bugling, we have a scouter here that wants to learn that but we don’t have a counselor in our area which makes it difficult. The more that don’t have the merit badge the less boys that learn it and the less that can teach it. Sad times!

  3. Not sure if I’d use the word popular. Most and least earned would be more appropriate. Now if you had a survey, I’d say pioneering is gonna be in the top 5 along with any badge having to do with shooting. First Aid is the most “popular” because it’s Eagle required an a Scout needs it to do other badges.

  4. Can’t be of all time I got Interpreting about 1952. It went off the list on about 1953. Didn’t find Civics/Citizenship which disappeared about 1953 when the “new” Eagle requirements came in and there were 4 to replace it

  5. It’s sad to see that backpacking is so low on the list (#98). I would think that this is a product of the fact that it is quite a challenge to earn, rather than an indication that so few scouts are backpacking

    • I think you would be correct, most of the scouts form the unit that I was in don’t even earn it, and we went backpacking quite often with regular crews going to philmont every 2-3 years.

    • I think you would be correct, most of the scouts from the unit I grew up in don’t even earn it, and we went on regular backpacking trips, and even had crews going to philmont every 2-3 years. There is also the fact that it is not eagle required, so even though some scouts may have done all the requirements without even knowing it, they may never submit the paperwork. I only had about 25 meritbadges when I got eagle, but I could have doubled it if I submitted paperwork on ones that I completed just by doing activities that I did.

      • Have you thought about bringing it to their attention, Brandon? Suggest to them too that they’ve done most of the work so it can be one of their elective earned instead of their required.

        • Well there is also the fact that most of our backpacking trips go towards that scout earning hiking, I guess I should have said that. The only reason I earned backpacking is because I didn’t have enough time to do a 20 mile before I aged out, so we put the requirements towards backpacking instead.

    • With the Cooking MB requiring meals to be cooked on a hike or a backpacking trip, more Troops were now need to do those if they weren’t doing them before. Therefore it is likely that the numbers for boking Hiking & Backpacking MB may rise in the future.

  6. Here is the story of 27 of the Railroading merit badges from 2013:

    http://model-railroad-hobbyist.com/magazine/mrh-2014-03-mar

    Earlier in the day I also did 28 Oceanography merit badges. Merit badge academies tend to push some merit badges over others, just because they are easier. I mean there is no way to teach Scuba Diving in an MBA setting. Anyway, the link above is to a national magazine and is hopefully a tool to recruit more merit badge councelors fro Railroading and even a couple of related merit badges.

  7. It’s interesting that Pioneering and Orienteering have dropped so far from the past. It was always a tried and true set of merit badges to get while at Scout Camp. I was a counselor at Camp Woodland Trails in the Miami Valley Council in Ohio in 1982, 1983 and 1984. I taught a lot of kids lashing/knot-tying / and compass work during those years. Has Geocaching taken the place of Orienteering?

    Safety used to be a requirement for Eagle back in the 1970s and 1980s.

    • #26 for 2013; #62 all-time. Rifle & Shotgun were only split out some time in the 1970s so the numbers are a little skewed.

  8. Late to the conversation, but two interesting trends:

    It seems to take 3-4 years for a new merit badge’s place to be established. Even in the 3rd year,you tend to have a peak from scouts catching up on new badges.

    I’m struck by some of the new/old pairings. Kayaking and canoeing are essentially tied, as are orienteering and geocaching. Welding and auto maintenance are close and robotics sits between computers and electronics/electricity/engineering. does BSA ever use this sort of notional pairing to predict popularity of new badges?

  9. I think one reason that the new badges take a while to get established is getting qualified merit badge counselors in place. We had scouts that really wanted Search and Rescue as soon as it came out, but we could not find a program. We had to locate qualified folks that were willing to help, and then get them registered and trained. It was well over a year before those scouts could start working on that badge.
    They had a great experience, so it was worth the wait. On a different note. I find what motivates the scouts interesting and sometimes unpredictable. We have scouts that love to hike, and they attend the hikes put in place specifically for the Hiking merit badge. However, they don’t turn in the required short report afterwards–even with repeated prompting and reminding. I guess they care more about the experience than badge collecting. And they have Swimming already so they don’t have to earn it for Eagle.

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