Cub Scouts vs. BSA Scouts: What’s Different? What’s Similar?

Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA (previously known as Boy Scouts) both have “Scouting” in their names. So what’s the difference between them? While it is true that they’re both BSA-headed organizations, these programs differ in many ways. In this article, we’ll be exploring the differences and similarities between Cub Scouting and BSA Scouting!

What’s the difference between BSA Scouts and Cub Scouts? The main difference between Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA is that Cub Scouts is for kids who are in fifth grade or lower (typically age 5-11), while BSA Scouts is for youths who are in sixth grade or higher (typically age 11-18). Additionally, Cub Scout Packs are led mainly through parent involvement, whereas BSA Troops are often Scout led.

PS. This article is based on the experiences and research of Eagle Scout, Kevin A and Cole πŸ™‚

In this article, I’ll be comparing Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA so that you can fully understand the differences and similarities of these two programs! While Cub Scouts (the program name is in caps) and BSA Scouts have a lot in common, they also have some huge and unexpected differences.

Kevin here — As a person who’s been involved in both Cub Scouting and BSA Scouting and who’s earned their Arrow of Light and Eagle ranks (the highest awards possible in both!), I can confidently say that both programs are great in their own ways. They each offer unique experiences that help any young person to become a well-rounded individual. I would definitely be a different person today, had I not been exposed to Scouting!Β 

If you happen to be a parent and are considering enrolling your child in Scouting, I’d say to do it! In my opinion, any Scouting experience is better than no Scouting experience at all. So, whether your child is looking to join Cub Scouts, BSA Scouts, or both, I’d highly encourage you to let your child have a chance to participate in Scouting!

If you’re interested in becoming a scout, there are a few other differences between Cub Scouts and BSA Scouts that you should definitely know about, beforehand. Later on in this article, I’ll be discussing the similarities and differences of these programs in more detail, so that you’ll have a complete picture of both Cub Scouting and Scouts BSA!

(You might also be wondering, how much does all of this cost? If so, you should check out my article on the Cost of Cub Scouting, as well as my other article on the Overall Costs of Scouts BSA. These resources will give you a complete breakdown of fees, gear costs, and more!)

Leadership Responsibilities: Cub Scouts vs. Scouts BSA

Before getting any further, I want to clarify that both the Cub Scouts and Scout BSA programs are distinct from each other. While Cub Scouting is run under the same organization as the BSA Scouts (Scouting America), each program centers around unique values and is organized differently.Β 

One of the biggest differences between Cub Scouts and BSA Scouts is a Scout’s role in leadership. Because Cub Scouts are younger, there is less of a focus on leadership, whereas, in Scouts BSA, participants are continually trained to lead and communicate effectively.

Leadership in Cub Scouts Leadership in BSA Scouts
In Cub Scouts, the parents plan, conduct, and carry-out all Scouting related activities.In BSA Scouts, the Scouts themselves plan, conduct, and carry-out all Scouting related activities.
Any Den activity will be totally overseen by the Den Leader and other parents who wish to volunteer to help. 
Scouts are responsible for planning and leading every activity, outside of those that cannot be done due to age restrictions (driving to places, buying a large number of items for a camping trip, directly receiving money from fundraising, etc.)
In Cub Scouting, the parents and Den Leaders are there to lead and handle most of the activities that the Scout does.

The main age group for Cub Scouting is 5-11 years old. Kids at this age typically don’t have the capability to plan and lead activities such as camping trips or community service projects. 
BSA Scouts only ask for help from adults when it is needed. Therefore, troops are typically considered “Scout-led.”

The age group for Scouts BSA is 11 – 18 years old. This is a more mature age range than Cub Scouting groups, and thus, BSA Scouts have the capability to plan and carry-out activities themselves.

Since Cub Scouts are able to get accustomed to the activities in Scouting from an early age without needing to plan anything themselves, Cub Scouts often make for great BSA Scouts! Additionally, the increase in leadership responsibilities that Scouts BSA offers often provides a great way for young people to build skills and raise confidence.

Unit Organization: Cub Scout Packs vs. BSA Scout Troops

Unit organization is another big difference between Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA. Whereas parents are more involved in Cub Scout meetings and activities, they’ll have much less responsibility once their child is a part of BSA Scouts. The points below outline the main things to keep in mind when it comes to Cub Scout and BSA Scout unit structure:

Cub Scout Unit Structure

  • The whole Cub Scouting group is called a Pack, which is made up of many other Dens.
  • A Den is a group of cub Scouts. Typically there are 6-8 Cub Scouts in a single Den.
  • To guide them, each Den has at least one Adult Den Leader and, often, 1 or 2 Den Chiefs (BSA Scouts who have volunteered to assist with Den functions).
  • Usually, the Den Leader(s) heads weekly or bi-weekly Den meetings.
  • Den leaders are responsible for planning many of the activities the Den does outside of Den meetings. 

BSA Scout Unit Structure

  • When it comes to BSA Scouts, the whole BSA Scouting group is called a Troop. Troops are made up of multiple Patrols.
  • A Patrol is a group of around 10 Scouts which is led by one Scout Patrol Leader (with assistance from an Adult Assistant Scoutmaster, when necessary). 
  • The troop and all of its patrols meet every week during troop meetings.
  • At troop meetings, Scouts can interact with other Scouts in and outside of their patrols, work toward merit badge/rank advancement, and plan future activities. 
  • Patrols (Scouts) are responsible for selecting and planning the activities that a troop participates in.

Once a month, all the Dens that make up the Pack get together for a Pack meeting. This is where Cub Scouts from each of the Dens get a chance to interact with Scouts outside of their Den, participate in fun Pack-wide games, and receive awards that they have earned since the last Pack meeting!

On the other hand, a Scout in a Scouts BSA troop will always be around other Scouts who do not belong to their patrol. In fact, many activities in BSA Scouts involve the mixing of patrols so that all of the Scouts can get to know each other better! This is mainly done under the leadership of the Scouts, themselves.

Activities and Learning Methods: Cub Scouts vs. Scouts BSA

You may be thinking β€œWow, Scouts BSA a lot of responsibility for young teens to be taking on. How do we, as parents, know if they are doing (insert activity/skill) correctly?” And to that, I answer this: Scouts learn how to do (insert activity/skill) correctly by learning from their mistakes and knowing when to reach out for help! 

Learning in Cub Scouts Learning in BSA Scouts 
–Learning is done in a more traditional way: adult guides child.–Learning is done in a way that mirrors real life: learn by doing.
–The adults teach methods of doing an activity and the cub Scouts learn directly from that. –BSA Scouts learn how to do something by actually doing it on their own. 

However, BSA Scouts don’t need to learn completely on their own. The EDGE Method is used so that Scouts can teach other Scouts useful skills. Also, adult Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters are always there to guide the growing Scouts, when needed! This way, Scouts can learn what they did correctly or incorrectly from a more knowledgeable source for the next time. 

Additionally, in Scouts BSA, larger activities are often coordinated with the help of adult leaders. Things such as Summer camps, troop trips, and activities requiring permits are mainly handled by responsible Scoutmasters. The table below includes just a few of the activities you might participate in as a Cub Scout, versus those that are done by BSA Scouts:

Cub Scout Activities

  • Camping (Overnight with high levels of adult supervision)
  • Day camps
  • Small service projects (Like cleanups, collecting food donations, passing out water at runs, etc.)
  • Learn skills through adult-led classes
  • Advance in rank based on a Cub Scout’s grade level.
  • Pinewood Derbies (Cub Scouts carve, decorate, and race miniature cars made of wood!)
  • Parent-organized banquets (Sort of like fun whole-Pack potlucks)

BSA Scout Activities

  • Camping (Multi-day with little supervision)
  • Week-long Summer camps
  • Community service projects (Like trail restoration using tools, fundraisers, and public events)
  • Learn skills by earning merit badges.
  • Advance in rank by completing requirements and earning merit badges.
  • National Scout Jamborees (Troops from around the country get together for a week and a half long Scouting get-together)
  • Troop Court of Honors (Scout-run ceremonies to recognize the earning or merit badges and other Scouting achievements)

While there are plenty of activities to participate in as both a cub Scout and BSA Scout, Cub Scout activities are generally organized by adults, whereas activities in Scouts BSA are mostly Scout planned and led. In the next section, we’ll be going over troop and pack chain of command and leadership styles!

Leadership Structure: Cub Scouts vs. BSA Scouts

The table below outlines a typical Troop and Pack Leadership Structure:

Cub Scouting Leadership Structure BSA Scout Leadership Structure 
Adult Cub Master
Adult Unit Committee
Adult Den Leader 
Adult Assistant Den Leader
Parent Volunteers
Cub Scouts
Adult Scoutmaster
Adult Unit Committee (administrative)
Adult Assistant Scoutmaster
BSA Scout Senior Patrol Leader
BSA Scout Assistant Senior Patrol Leader
BSA Scout Unit Committee (planning)
BSA Scout Patrol Leader
BSA Scout Assistant Patrol Leader
BSA Scout 

As you can see, Cub Scouting involves a ton of parental involvement. In Scouts BSA however, over half of the leadership is actually done by the Scouts themselves! These leadership positions reflect the idea of Scouts BSA: learn-by-doing. What better way to learn how to lead than to actually lead yourself? πŸ™‚

The Scouting Chain of Command

The chain of command is a crucial aspect of Scouting which allows Scouts to know exactly who to ask for help, should the need arise. Additionally, when every Scout knows and follows the chain of command, leaders won’t be bombarded with questions and requests! What exactly is the Scouting chain of command? Well, by definition it is: 

  • An official hierarchy of authority that dictates who is in charge of whom and of whom permission must be asked.

To put it more simply, when trying to solve a problem, you should approach a person lower on the hierarchy, before approaching someone higher up in the hierarchy. This hierarchy is important because it helps Scouts to delegate responsibility and to practice leadership. It’s actually a really effective way to solve problems!

This means that when you have a question, have an issue with a task, or anything else, it’s recommended you follow this chain of command. In the chart below, I’ll be explaining how the chain of command differs in Cub Scouts versus BSA Scouts:

Cub Scouting Chain of Command:
Cub Scout -> Adult
Scouts BSA Chain of Command (simplified):
Scout -> Patrol Leader -> SPL -> Adult
An example Cub Scout chain of command:

1) A Cub Scout is trying to make a birdhouse but they are having trouble gluing something together.

2) The cub scout will ask the Den Leader directly for help with gluing. 
An example of a Scouts BSA chain of command:

1) A Senior Patrol Leader arrives at a campsite and sees that there is trash everywhere.

2) The SPL tells the Patrol Leaders to get some Scouts from their patrols to help with this clean-up. After the Scouts clean-up the campground, the Patrol Leader inspects the area to make sure it is clean and reports to the SPL that the campsite is clean.

3) The SPL can then choose to relay this message to the Assistant Scoutmaster if needed, who then would tell the Scoutmaster.  

The chain of command is designed to instill leadership skills in BSA Scout leaders. This helps Scouts to learn leadership in many different situations and to take responsibility for getting the tasks done. 

An exception to the Scout BSA’s typical chain of command is in cases of serious medical emergencies that require immediate assistance. In these situations, Scouts are trained to contact emergency services, notify adult leaders, and administer first aid. Although Scout activities are less rigidly structured, there are still reliable safety measures in place.

Rank Advancement: Cub Scouts vs. BSA Scouts

The way that Scouts advance in rank is another huge difference between Cub Scouts and BSA Scouts. The final award in Cub Scouts is achieving the Arrow of Light, while BSA Scouts work towards their Eagle Scout rank. However, while rank advancement in Cub Scouts is based on a participant’s grade level, in Scouts BSA, Scouts rank up by completing requirements and merit badges.

Rank Advancement in Cub Scouting Rank Advancement in BSA ScoutingΒ 
Lion (Kindergarteners)
Tiger (first graders)
Wolf (second graders)
Bear (third graders)
Webelos (fourth and fifth graders)
Arrow of Light (fifth graders)
New Scout
Second Class 
First Class
Rank advancement depends on the grade a Cub Scout currently in.

A wolf Scout at the end of the year will become a bear Scout, automatically.

This also means that you could enter as a third-grader and become a Wolf Scout, despite not completing the Lion or Tiger rank (although all Cubs must earn the Bobcat badge first). 
The rank of a BSA Scout depends on how quickly they can complete the requirements for that rank.

A 14-year old could be a Life Scout and a 16-year old could still only be a Tenderfoot!

All the requirements from the previous rank must be done before you can advance to the next rank.

You might be wondering what sorts of requirements BSA Scouts need to complete to advance in rank (Cub Scout rank advancement is pretty self-explanatory). A few example requirements are first aid, knot tying, and knife handling. For an interesting snapshot into the first set of ‘real’ requirements, a Scout must complete, check out my Guide to Scout BSA’s Tenderfoot rank!


I hope this article has been helpful to you! While the experiences in both Cub Scouting and BSA Scouting are different, they are both great ways to learn practical, social, and leadership skills. πŸ™‚

On a final note, here are a few recommendations from someone’s who’s been through both Scouting programs and learned a ton along the way:

  • The earlier you expose your child to Scouting, the better! Although it is not necessary to do Cub Scouting before BSA Scouts, Cub Scouting can lay down a strong foundation for a successful BSA Scouting career. 
  • It’s never too late to experience Scouting! Even if you are 16-years old and just found out you may be interested in Scouting, I encourage you to join! There is so much that you can learn from just being in Scouting for 2 years. 

If you’re currently a part of Scouting or plan to be, I highly encourage you to sign up for my newsletter, the ScoutSmarts Scribe. There, you’ll receive regular updates from the blog, subscriber-exclusive content, and even giveaway opportunities! Check out the link for more details and, until next time, be the best Scout (or person) you can be! 


I'm constantly writing new content because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making our world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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