Tips, Tricks and How-to's for fun, comfy and easy trips!

The Essential Guide to Getting Started in Boy Scouts (BSA)!

If you are new to BSA Scouting (a.k.a., the Boy Scouts), you may find understanding what you need to get your child, in terms of uniforms, gear, equipment, training (YPT), documents and forms like swim tests, medical forms, etc. to be daunting and a bit overwhelming.  I've had my 2 sons in Boy Scouts since they were 5, that's over 12 years.  One became an Eagle Scout last year, graduated high school and is now serving in the Navy. My younger son is about to make Life and then work on his Eagle rank, so I've got a pretty good handle on it, and I can explain it to you! By the way, they can start at any age. Some even start in high school. If you want them to make it to Eagle scout, I would start no later than age 14. But, at any age, you child will be around kids who are good influences - there's no smoking, vaping, drinking, cursing, drugs, etc. Just FUN, learning life skills, good ethics, leadership, camaraderie, etc.

Selecting a troop

Every troop is different. Some are better organized and more helpful than others. Finding the right troop is the first step. Personally, my sons and I like "scout-run" troops. It's best to visit a troop meeting of the several troops in your area. See how your child gets on with the other scouts. See how you like how the meeting is run, the trips and activities they offer . You don't want to move on. a whim, but clearly, If your son doesn't feel comfortable or you think the organization is very poorly run, it would be wise to move to a different troop. See the search box halfway down this page on the BSA website to find Boy Scout troops in your local area.


There really aren't too many forms. Of course, you fill out forms for your child and yourself to become members of BSA.

If you go on trips, of course there are forms and waivers should an accident occur.

There is an annual swim test that's required for anyone, adult or child. who plans to go on any. aquatic activities such as boating, rafting, swimming, etc. These follow the Red Cross swim tests and must be done in front of a certified Red Cross swim instructor. Most troops organize a day. each year for this. at a local pool. Often ymca's and even some of the larger athletes. clubs offered this.

Then there are medical forms. called BSA Medical Parts A, B and C. essentially you fill out parts a. and B, mostly yourself. And then when your child has a physical, the doctor completes. The last part and signs it. And this demonstrates that your child is healthy, has no communicable diseases and has the proper vaccinations required. and these must be renewed every year as well. these forms don't have a calendar date. Every year, it's just the one year anniversary from when they were last completed.


The Boy Scouts is definitely a bureaucracy like few you've seen before.  Think "phone company"... but more helpful! You can't really blame them too much for the bureaucracy, it's a large organization, and they've been through some tough times in the past. I'm here to tell you that my sons and I felt perfectly fine in scouts and we didn't see any of the negative things that you hear in the news from the past. They certainly do. everything possible to make sure that the children are safe. And towards that end, there's a lot of training that's required. Each. parent that wants to participate on any overnight trips must. pass the YPT or youth protection training course. And that must be repeated every two years.  There's also training if you want to become a merit badge counselor, training for Scout Masters and Assistant Scout Masters. there's as much training as you want to take. some of it's very good, and some of it is mind numbing. But you just have to wade through it.


There is, of course, an annual fee to be a member of the troop and Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has the following annual membership fees (2023 amounts):

  • The national registration fee is $105, which includes a one-time joining fee of $25 and an annual fee of $80 for Cub Scouts, Scouts BSA, Venturing, and Sea Scouting participants
  • The troop may take on a small fee (like $5 to $25) to cover equipment and meeting costs.
  • Adult volunteers: $45, which includes the cost of a background check. Some troops cover this cause for adults volunteering for certain positions in the troop.
  • Council-paid memberships: $30
  • Merit Badge Counselors: $25 for those not already registered as leaders
  • Exploring participants: $50 for youth and adults
  • Cub Scouts can subscribe to Scout Life magazine for $15 per year.

There may be additional local fees for outings to cover food, transportation and activity fees. But neither you nor your child are required to go on a given outing.

Online Resources

There is quite a large amount of information available online to help you, period. Of course there is the national scouts when. site, but it's broken down into regions and sub regions. Basically your child. belongs to a troop and the troop belongs to a district and the district belongs to a council. We'll drill into this below.

How is the BSA scout organization organized?

In the USA, there are 72 local councils. Each council is divided into districts that serve Scout units. Districts are led by a District Commissioner and supported by Assistant District Commissioners, District Leaders, Advisers, and Administrators.

Let's use the example of a troop in the north Atlanta, GA area. That's in the area of the Atlanta Area Council. One of the districts in there is the Northern District, which includes places like Alpharetta, Johns Creek, GA. Then. there are troops of affiliated with the Northern District. SO, if we look on the BSA website, to find a local troop in this area, we see this list. Let's look at the second one in the list, Troop 356.

  • Troop - The troop will have their own website. The calendar on the website will provide info about upcoming events and signups for them. 
    You can also see and track your scout's rank advancement, merit badges, service hours and other useful info under the "My Scouts" tab. The website provides the ongoing information, events, activities, rank and merit badge progress, 90% of what the scout and parents will need. Here is the Troop 356 website.
  • District - Then there is the District level. Troops in the northern Fulton county area are in the "Northern Ridge District", which is one of the districts within the Atlanta area council. They have a website,  It's mostly used for local activities, sometimes some merit badge events, service, hour projects and anything related to moving from life scout to Eagle Scout; that's handled at the Northern District level, with of course a troop counselor.
  • Council - The Atlanta area council of BSA has a website: The coordinate activities for BSA in the metro Atlanta area (which is quite large)
    They often have merit badge summits like  which. are easy ways to get a merit badge. Usually for a small fee around $25.
  • National - At the national level, there is  Lots of useful info here, like about YPT (Youth protection training) and merit badges.
    This is where you take the YPT, which is mandatory and must be repeated every 2 years.  If you have not taken the training and passed the test, you cannot go on trips with the troop. Once you pass the test, you get a certificate, which you download and email to your troop's training coordinator so they can add it to your records on the troop website.

Advancing in ranks

Scouts can advance in ranks but learning skills and demonstrating their knowledge and ability to pass the tests. Once the Scout completes the skills, participation and leadership requirements for each subsequent rank, the Scout participates in a Scoutmaster conference and a board of review. At a board of review, a Scout meets with an adult panel in an informal setting, presents their completion of requirements and answers questions. Click the links below to see the requirements for each rank as a pintable PDF.

  • Scout rank - the first rank, acquired by completing the joining requirements and participating in a Scoutmaster conference. Go to summer camp with the troop to get rank requirements done and get merit badges!
  • Tenderfoot  - basic scout skills and knowledge, Go to summer camp with the troop to get rank requirements done and get merit badges!
  • Second Class, has many camping, cooking, knot tying and similar skills - Go to summer camp with the troop to get rank requirements done and get merit badges!
  • First Class, continues the camping, cooking, knot tying and similar skills. Go to summer camp with the troop to get rank requirements done and get merit badges!
  • Star - focused on leadership, service and merit badges. At this point the summer camp is more about fun and helping the younger scouts.
  • Life  - focused on leadership, service and merit badges
  • Eagle - a few more merit badges, service and The Eagle Project - which is a big deal! Many people don't realize how valuable the Eagle Scout rank is. Colleges consider it highly, as does the military. If your scout goes into the military, being an Eagle Scout automatically moves him up three pay grades

Merit Badges

Scouts earn merit badges for learning skills and knowledge in specialized areas. Scouting offers over 130 merit badge opportunities to learn new skills, ranging from outdoor oriented endeavors like,  camping, swimming, geology, forestry, beekeeping, even nuclear science. Scouts can do merit badges on their own, in group sessions at the troop, at a "merit badge clinic", a.k.a., a merit badge summit or class on a merit badge that's happening. Start out with simple ones that interest your scout. Work on the more challenging ones (like camping, cooking, personal management, etc.) later. But any time  your scout's interested, go ahead and do it. It moves him on the way towards Eagle Scout

Speaking of merit badges, there's no rush on them; starting out. Having your scout work on rank advancement requirements is far more important. There are quite a few technical skill requirements needed to get through in scout rank, tenderfoot, second class and first class.

Whenever your scout does start to work on a merit badge, it's a good idea to search in Google for the name of the merit badge and "worksheet", and print out the worksheet. Here are 2 websites that have free PDF files to print out for each merit badge:


Summer camp

Most scouts get the majority of the their rank requirements and many merit badges done during summer camp, which is during summer vacation from school. It is important to have your child attend at least 2 summer camps.  Overwhelmingly, they love it and get many rank requirements passed and get several merit badges. My sons said it was the best week of the year!

Uniforms, Gear and Equipment

Your son (or daughter)- there are a some girl-only troops and a handful of "coed" troops - I'm not going to go into this here, as it's still fairly rare and there are plenty of protections in place to ensure that nothing inappropriate happens. But certainly it's an option either way. If your child wants to be in an all boy troop, there will certainly be one in your area. And likewise, there are some a coed troop or a girl troops in most areas. So far, everyone seems happy with the way it's working out.

In any case, your child will need a uniform and certain basic gear.  Before we go into that - do not let the costs worry you. Yes, There are certainly affluent scout parents who take their children to rei every weekend and come on trips with a golden-platinum-plated jet boil stove and silk lined sleeping bags filled with the softest koala bear fur. But my sons have been equally happy. with the gear that I got for them either online or at the local Wal-Mart. I started them each out with their own inexpensive Ozark three man tent.  At the time it went for $23. I thought maybe I'll get a year out of this and we'll see how they handle it. Ten years later, they were still using the same tent and perfectly happy with it.


Additionally, the Boy Scouts is aware that not everyone is affluent. Every troop I've known has some kind of financial assistance that's very discreet. If you talk to the senior troop leaders. the adult troop leaders and let them know that you're not wealthy, such as a single parent raising children on their own, they will find a way to get you the gear you need. Our troop, for example, purchased. additional backpacks and tents and cooking gear which. any scout can use on an outing. and several times of year as Scouts graduate and leave scouting, they turn in their uniforms to the troop. to be redistributed to anyone who wants or needs them.

Get the gear!

So what gear and equipment do you need , that's enough information to put on a separate page. So click here to see a complete list of equipment and gear that a child new to BSA scouting would need to acquire:

And see this page for a detailed set of checklists of gear your scout will need for camping and outings.

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