The Hiking Merit Badge: Your Ultimate Guide In 2020


Strong hiking skills are the barrier separating inexperienced Tenderfoots from being considered true scouts. If you’re ready to step up within your troop and prove yourself, this guide will help you to master wilderness treks, answer the merit badge worksheet, and earn your Hiking merit badge!

If you’re like most scouts, hiking, swimming, or cycling will probably be one of the first Eagle-required merit badges you’ll earn. Hiking was one of my first badges and proved to be completely different from any other Scouting activity I’d done previously.

Before we get started, if you have other Eagle-required merit badges to earn, I’d recommend checking out my Difficulty Ranking Guide to Every Eagle-required Badge. There, you’ll also find the links to my other merit badge guides, as well as a description and summary of each badge’s requirements. I’m certain this resource will be helpful to scouts on their road to Eagle!

Also, remember that ScoutSmarts should just serve as your starting point for merit badge research. In school, we’re taught not to plagiarize, and the same is true for Scouting worksheets. Answer these questions in your own words, do further research, and I promise you’ll gain much more from every merit badge you earn!

The Hiking merit badge is not for the faint of heart, but if you commit to earning hiking, you’ll show that you truly have the determination it takes to become an Eagle Scout. To earn your hiking merit badge, you’ll need to complete the dreaded 20-miler, plus 4 other hikes longer than 10 miles each. Even for most adults that’d be insane!

Earning your Hiking merit badge won’t be easy, but once you’re finished I can promise you that it’ll be one of the most rewarding experiences of your Scouting career. If you’re ready to take the leap, read on! This badge will take at least a month to complete, so take the time right now to thoroughly review the badge requirements so you can plan accordingly.

What Are The Hiking Merit Badge Requirements?

  1. Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while hiking, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
  2. Show that you know first aid for injuries or illnesses that could occur while hiking, including hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, sunburn, hyperventilation, altitude sickness, sprained ankle, blisters, insect stings, tick bites, and snakebite.
  3. Explain and, where possible, show the points of good hiking practices including proper outdoor ethics, hiking safety in the daytime and at night, courtesy to others, choice of footwear, and proper care of feet and footwear.
  4. Explain how hiking is an aerobic activity. Develop a plan for conditioning yourself for 10-mile hikes, and describe how you will increase your fitness for longer hikes.
  5. Take the five following hikes, each on a different day, and each of continuous miles. These hikes MUST be taken in the following order
    • One 5-mile hike
    • Three 10-mile hikes
    • One 15-mile hike
  6. You may stop for as many short rest periods as needed, as well as one meal, during each hike, but not for an extended period (example: overnight). Prepare a written hike plan before each hike and share it with your Scoutmaster or a designee. Include map routes, a clothing and equipment list, and a list of items for a trail lunch. *
  7. Take a hike of 20 continuous miles in one day following a hike plan you have prepared. You may stop for as many short rest periods as needed, as well as one meal, but not for an extended period (example: overnight). *
  8. After each of the hikes (or during each hike if on one continuous “trek”) in requirements 4 and 5, write a short reflection of your experience. Give dates and descriptions of routes covered, the weather, and any interesting things you saw. It may include something you learned about yourself, about the outdoors, or about others you were hiking with. Share this with your merit badge counselor.

* The required hikes for this badge may be used in fulfilling hiking requirements for rank advancement. However, these hikes cannot be used to fulfill requirements of other merit badges.

To summarize, requirements 1-4 test your knowledge of hiking and trail safety, while requirements 5-8 are based on the actual hikes you’ll need to complete. In this article, I’ll be providing you with detailed answers to each of the knowledge requirements so that you can complete your hiking merit badge worksheet and trek safely when finishing requirements 5-8.

You’ll also need to write a pre-hike plan and post-hike report for each of the 6 hikes you complete. Now that you understand how best to use this guide, let’s jump right into answering the knowledge requirements so you can begin earning your hiking merit badge!

1) Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while hiking, and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.

There are many different types of hazards that can occur while hiking. As a scout, you’re trained to be resourceful and think on your feet; you should be able to handle most unexpected hazards on the fly! However, there are four main types of hazards that are dangerous, common, and should be prepared for on any trek. These hazards are:

  • Dangerous Terrain
  • Difficulty Navigating
  • Unexpected Conditions
  • Injury From Wild Animals/Insects

Dangerous Terrain

You risk encountering dangerous terrain on any hiking trail. In these hazardous parts of your trek, you’ll have a higher risk of injury from slips, scrapes, and long falls. To prevent accidents, make sure you can identify potential dangers, and be sure to act cautiously in those areas.

To safely navigate dangerous terrain, balance and stability are key. To ensure a safer trek, you may want to invest in tools like specialized hiking boots and poles. You should also choose a hiking backpack that is lightweight, reliable, and easy to handle. The right gear can mean the difference between a safe, enjoyable hike, and a wilderness emergency. Put some time into choosing the right equipment.

I’d recommend you pick out your gear ASAP, especially before going on any of your hikes. Remember, shoes, backpacks and other hiking tools take time to break in and could be pricy, but should last you through your entire Scouting career.

Difficulty Navigating

Sometimes, trails might be poorly maintained and difficult to follow. In these cases, you might have difficulty navigating and could even get lost. If you ever find yourself off-trail in the wilderness, these are the three things you’ll need to keep in mind:

  • Don’t Panic: While your first instinct may be to freak out if you ever find yourself lost in the wilderness, try to remain calm. Keep track of all of your possessions and take a moment to collect yourself.
  • Stay Put: Your initial urge will probably be to look for a way out. However, many hikers have found themselves disoriented, lost even further in the wilderness, by blindly looking for the trail. Your best chance of being found is staying put.
  • Create Shelter: Staying warm and protecting yourself from the environment will be your best way to survive and be found. While staying put, create a shelter for yourself and calmly assess the situation.

To prevent getting lost on a hike, always prepare a trek plan beforehand. Bring a trail map and compass so that you can confidently find your bearings. Be sure to tell your family where you’ll be hiking. Taking these precautions will help you hike safely and greatly reduce your risk of having difficulty navigating in the wilderness.

Unexpected Conditions

Unexpected conditions include heavy winds, rain, snow, or any other types of dangerous weather that you may be unprepared for. These situations are especially hazardous if you have not prepared the right clothing beforehand. 

To handle unexpected environmental conditions, you should always carry a raincoat and check the local weather forecasts ahead of time. Limit sun exposure as well. To mitigate the dangers of unexpected conditions, continually remain aware of changes in the weather during any hike.

Injury From Wild Animals/Insects

Insects and wild animals are a common reality in hiking. In rare cases, certain types of stings can lead to allergic reactions (for example, bees). If you or any hikers in your group have known allergies, make sure you have an EpiPen and some antihistamine medication available.

While insect stings or bites are not life-threatening for most individuals, they can still cause swelling and irritation. To prevent possible injury, always apply bug repellent beforehand, and refrain from interacting with any wild animals you may come across. By respecting the wildlife, you’ll not only avoid danger but also have a more enjoyable hike as well.

For more information on treating common stings/bites, continue on to requirement 2.

2) Show that you know first aid for injuries or illnesses that could occur while hiking, including hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, sunburn, hyperventilation, altitude sickness, sprained ankle, blisters, insect stings, tick bites, and snakebite.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is caused by one’s core body temperature falling below 95°F. While symptoms of mild hypothermia include shivering and confusion, in more dangerous cases the victim will not have enough energy to continue shivering and may fall unconscious. 

If you notice someone is experiencing hypothermia, immediately warm them using extra clothing, fire, or through body heat. Do not suddenly re-warm the victim by placing them in a hot shower, as this could lead to rewarming shock.

Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when extremities, such as fingers and toes, begin to freeze. Skin in the affected areas will turn blue, then white. If you notice frostbite setting in, evacuate to a warm area. Try not to wrap the affected area in anything, as this could cause some of the tissue to be killed off. A better way to warm the frostbitten area is by running it under cool water, then slowly increase the temperature as the injury defrosts.

Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when the body does not consume enough water. Some symptoms of dehydration include a flushed face, lack of sweat, or feeling of weakness. This is a potentially fatal condition that can result in lowered blood pressure, dizziness, and fainting. To treat dehydration, encourage the victim to rest and replenish their body with water and electrolytes. Hydrate the victim slowly, avoiding drastic rehydration.

When hiking, you will likely lose water through perspiration and more frequent breathing. Experts recommend you drink at least 1 liter of water every 2 hours to avoid dehydration. That means constant, easy hydration is key!

Heat Exhaustion

There are two main types of heat exhaustion

  • Water depletion: Characterized by thirst, headache, a feeling of weakness, and loss of consciousness.
  • Sodium depletion: characterized by vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.

Heat exhaustion can progress into heat stroke, and should not be taken lightly. If you suspect that someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, immediately get them into a cool area to rest. Have them drink plenty of fluids and take a cool shower. They may be sensitive to high temperatures for a few days afterward.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is caused when one’s body temperature exceeds 104°F. If untreated, heatstroke can lead to seizures, confusion, loss of consciousness and even a coma. Common symptoms of a heat stroke are throbbing headaches, dizziness, a lack of sweating despite warm weather, or a feeling of weakness. 

If you suspect someone of having heatstroke, immediately call 911. Sit them down in a cool, shady area, and try to lower their body temperature. To prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke, stay hydrated, wear sun protection and refrain from strenuous activity during the warmest time of day.

Sunburn

Sunburns are caused by prolonged sun exposure. The affected areas will become sensitive to touch, appear red, and may blister. To avoid sunburns, always apply sunscreen SPF 30 or higher when outdoors, and try to avoid being in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. When swimming, make sure that your sunblock is water-resistant, and try to reapply it every hour.

To treat a sunburn, you can cool the skin with a damp towel or apply a soothing aloe vera lotion. Remember to keep the victim hydrated, and have them refrain from picking at the burn, should it begin peeling later on. Sunburns should take no longer than 2 weeks to heal.

Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation is caused by breathing too quickly which depletes one’s body of carbon dioxide. Also called over-breathing, hyperventilation can lead to feelings of lightheadedness, a tingling sensation in one’s extremities, and may even cause the victim to faint.

If you notice someone is hyperventilating while hiking, have them slow down and take deep breaths. Have your entire group take a snack break and drink some water. The best thing to do is to wait until the person hyperventilating has recovered before proceeding.

Hyperventilation can result from a variety of situations such as anxiety, severe pain, heavy physical exertion, panic attacks, or infections in the lungs. To treat hyperventilation, have the victim breathe slowly, either through pursed lips or into a paper bag. Bouts of hyperventilation should last no longer than 30 minutes, so seek medical attention if the victim still hasn’t recovered by this time.

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness occurs when a person moves to a higher elevation too quickly. At heights exceeding 8000 feet above sea level, the air will contain significantly less oxygen, putting you at risk for altitude sickness. To treat altitude sickness, descend to a lower elevation immediately (ideally below 4000 feet).

Common symptoms of altitude sickness include nausea, headaches, dizziness, a loss of appetite, and feelings of weakness. To avoid getting altitude sickness, climb to higher altitudes slowly (this is called acclimatization). Sleeping at the lowest elevation possible also reduces your risk of altitude sickness.

Sprained Ankle

A sprain is caused by motion which tears the tissues around a joint. When treating a sprain or tear, a cold compress should be applied as soon as possible to reduce swelling. However, never apply ice directly to the skin, and instead, wrap it in a cloth. If you cannot immediately apply ice, you should not apply it later on as well. Immobilize the injury and stay off of it until the area can painlessly bear your weight.

When hiking, it is not always possible to receive immediate medical attention. If you’re injured on the trail, you first should assess the severity of the injury. Minor sprains can usually bear some body weight, so by having your buddies carry your gear and by using a brace, you should be able to safely return to the trailhead.

Check out the video below to see the basic technique used to wrap a sprain. In the case of severe injuries, the victim should remain in place and elevate the wound. Meanwhile, a group of Scouts and a Scoutmaster should be sent to the trailhead to contact emergency services.

Blisters

While hiking, blisters typically come from the friction of material rubbing against the skin, which can be caused by poor-fitting shoes or other clothing. Hiking with wet socks can also cause blisters. Blisters appear as bubbles under the top layer of skin. They can be filled with pus, water, or even blood, and could be quite painful.

If you find you’re developing a blister, or notice an area that is rubbing uncomfortably, apply a moleskin to the irritated patch of skin. Blisters are naturally reabsorbed by the body, so by preventing rubbing the blister will heal and go away on its own.

Avoid popping blisters unless they’re so large that you can’t get around otherwise. You can puncture a blister with a sterile needle. Popped blisters risk infection, so thoroughly disinfect and bandage the area immediately afterward. Remove the bandage at night to let the popped blister dry.

Insect Stings

In most cases, insect stings are not dangerous and only result in minor swelling and itching. If stung, remove any stingers left in the area. To treat a sting, wash with soap and water, then apply a cold compress. Taking an antihistamine may also reduce later itching.

In individuals with allergies, certain insect stings can result in a fatal reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylactic reactions cause immediate and severe swelling in the neck and face, as well as difficulty breathing, and can prove fatal if left untreated.

Most people with severe allergies carry an EpiPen. When used by removing the safety cap and pressing the needle into the victim’s thigh, an EpiPen can counteract an anaphylactic reaction. However, the effect of an EpiPen is temporary and the person must still quickly receive medical attention.

Tick Bites

Ticks are small parasites that burrow into your skin. If you find a tick on your body, immediately remove it. Using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to your skin’s surface as possible. Then, gently pull the tick straight out. Be sure not to twist the tweezers to avoid having parts of the tick break off under your skin.

Gently wash the affected area with warm water and soap, applying alcohol to the wound to prevent infection. Save the tick in a container of rubbing alcohol. Several weeks following removal, if you develop a rash or fever, immediately visit a doctor and show them the tick that you saved.

Snakebites

Luckily, only about 20% of snakes are venomous.  However, if you’re bitten by a snake, you should immediately call 911 and describe the situation and snake. If there is burning pain at the site of the wound, call an ambulance ASAP. Most emergency rooms and ambulances have anti-venom drugs which could prove life-saving. 

Keep the bite below the level of your heart and try to remain calm. If possible, try to identify the shape of the snake’s head. Venomous snakes typically have triangular heads and slit-like eyes. To avoid being bitten by a snake in the first place, watch your step in tall brush and never provoke the wildlife.

3) Explain and, where possible, show the points of good hiking practices including proper outdoor ethics, hiking safety in the daytime and at night, courtesy to others, choice of footwear, and proper care of feet and footwear.

Making a habit of using good hiking practices is the best way to ensure a safe and fun trek. By learning these points now, you’ll be able to prove yourself as a leader and upstanding outdoor citizen in your troop without even needing to think about it! Let’s break down each of the points individually:

Proper Outdoor Ethics

Proper outdoor ethics go hand-in-hand with leaving no trace and following the Outdoor Code. As a refresher, the Outdoor Code simply states:

As an American, I will do my best to—

Be clean in my outdoor manners.

Be careful with fire.

Be considerate in the outdoors.

Be conservation-minded.

Basically, you should treat the outdoors the same way you would treat your church or home. By keeping the outdoors free of litter and doing your best to cause as little damage to the trails as possible, you’re acting ethically in nature. This helps you do your part to create a great experience for your fellow scouts and the other hikers who use the trail.

Hiking Safety in The Daytime and at Night

While hiking during the night is often more dangerous than daytime hiking, there are some key guidelines that you should follow in either case. To ensure a safe hike, always keep the following points in mind:

  • When hiking, always let someone know of your plans. 
  • Prepare thoroughly, obtain trail maps, and know your route beforehand
  • Never hike alone and always keep a pace that’s comfortable for the slowest member.
  • Make sure to stay hydrated and bring more than enough water and equipment.
  • Stay on the trail.
  • Pack as lightly as possible.
  • Always check the weather forecast before leaving.
  • You should always bring a cell phone in case of emergencies.

Additionally, when hiking at night, there are other key safety points that you should keep in mind:

  • Bring a headlamp as well as other backup lights.
  • Pack warmer clothing than you normally would.
  • Hike a trail that you’re familiar with so that you don’t get lost.
  • Try to plan your hike around a full moon, the time of month when the natural light is brightest.
  • Know your gear, as well as its location in your backpack.

Night hiking helps you avoid the heat and allows you to see you some beautiful constellations that you’d otherwise miss when hiking during the day. By following all of the above points, you’ll be able to safely enjoy the thrills of hiking, day or night!

Courtesy to Others

A scout is courteous and kind in all places, with the hiking trail being no exception. While hiking, it is important to remember that you’re sharing the space with other people. As you’ll frequently encounter other hikers, you should be aware of proper hiking etiquette in order to trek safely and respectfully.

Here are the main points to remember for perfect hiking etiquette:

  • Hike quietly: If there might be other hikers in your area, avoid blasting music or talking too loudly. Unwanted noise pollution can ruin the hikes of those around you.
  • Yield correctly: When encountering other hikers, the group with the fewest people normally has the right of way. This group will typically pass on the left side.
  • Stay on the trail: Taking shortcuts will damage the grooming of the trail and cause erosion. Avoid hiking off-trail. If you decide to rest, move off the trail so that others are free to pass.
  • Leave no trace: Avoid littering and leaving markers on the trail. A good rule of thumb is to pack out everything that you pack in. Basically, just follow the Outdoor Code.
  • Be friendly: Greet any hikers you encounter and give them space when passing. Be sure to take up no more than half the trail.

During a hike, you might also encounter people on bikes and horses. The general rule of thumb is to move to the side and let people on horses pass. On the other hand, bikers will generally move around you, passing you by on your left.

By following proper hiking etiquette, you’ll reduce misunderstandings and ensure that you’re doing your part to keep the trails safe. While you may not remember every one of these points during your first hike, at a minimum just try to be courteous and friendly. Over time, you’ll learn each of these points and become a great hiker, yourself.

Choice of Footwear

When hiking, your footwear is the only thing that separates your feet from miles and miles of solid ground. That’s why it’s essential to take the time to choose the best shoes for your Scouting activities.

When choosing the right footwear for a long outdoor trek, you should consider the following points:

  • Support: Having proper support means choosing a shoe that provides cushion, shock absorption, and ankle protection. Having good support is critical, as it will prevent you from getting ankle and leg injuries during long and challenging hikes.
  • Sole: There are three different parts of the sole, but basically your shoe’s sole will impact the durability, breathability, and stiffness of your footwear. Be sure to choose a boot whose soles have solid traction, as hiking trails can often be slippery.
  • Fit: Having the right size of shoes will prevent rubbing and make for a much more comfortable hike. The right fitting hiking footwear will be snug but not too tight, as your feet will expand during the trek. 

Obviously, there are many other things to consider when choosing the right shoe for your outdoor Scouting activities. When I was a scout, I spent years trying to figure out what footwear would offer the most protection and stability for new members just joining the troop. During that time, I learned a lot about proper footwear.

Today, I’ve condensed everything I’ve learned into one complete guide on how to choose the best shoes based on your own Scouting activities. I’d really recommend you check out my complete guide to hiking footwear if you’re seriously thinking about earning your Hiking merit badge. You can click here to see the full guide.

Proper Care of Feet and Footwear

If you buy the right shoes, they should be able to last for years of your Scouting journey— if properly cared for. By taking a few minutes after every hike to clean and dry your shoes, they’ll be as good as new the next time you’re ready to use them!

Watch this quick video on how to correctly care for your hiking shoes:

Note: If you wash the inside of your boots, allow them to fully dry before using them to hike.

Taking care of your feet during a hike is just as important as maintaining your boots. Athletes foot is not just a myth! Always keep your feet dry and protected to avoid any sort of skin irritations or infections. Nothing makes a hike more miserable than having issues with your feet.

Watch this short video for a brief overview of how you can easily take care of your feet while on a hike:

4) Explain how hiking is an aerobic activity. Develop a plan for conditioning yourself for 10-mile hikes, and describe how you will increase your fitness for longer hikes.

Hiking is an aerobic activity. Aerobic means ‘with oxygen’, and refers to any activity where you’re able to breathe, but endurance is required. When hiking, oxygenated blood is pumped by your heart to deliver oxygen to your muscles. Frequent aerobic activity like hiking will improve your cardiorespiratory fitness and heart health.

To be able to hike for 10+ miles, you’ll need to be in great shape. By conditioning yourself with other types of aerobic activity, you’ll increase your fitness and complete longer hikes.

The best way to condition yourself for long treks is to go on multiple hikes while carrying your backpack. These should be between 50%-80% of your goal hike’s length. You’ll likely be sore afterward, so make sure to give yourself a few days to recover.

Watch this quick video for more information on how you can build endurance and improve your conditioning for upcoming hikes:

5) Take the five following hikes, each on a different day, and each of continuous miles. These hikes MUST be taken in the following order

  • One 5-mile hike
  • Three 10-mile hikes
  • One 15-mile hike

Now that you’ve learned the possible hazards you could encounter on a hiking trail, first aid methods to use, proper outdoor ethics, and how to condition yourself for a challenging trek, you’re ready to begin actually hiking! This requirement will be challenging, so be prepared.

Once you complete these 5 hikes, you’re in the final stretch of earning the hiking merit badge.

6) You may stop for as many short rest periods as needed, as well as one meal, during each hike, but not for an extended period (example: overnight). Prepare a written hike plan before each hike and share it with your Scoutmaster or a designee. Include map routes, a clothing and equipment list, and a list of items for a trail lunch. *

For your written hike plan, you should be able to find a trail map online. You can locate most maps and further information about your trail at the website, hikingproject.com.

Aside from the trail map, the rest of your plan should remain more or less the same from hike to hike. Just make an effort to understand the overall difficulty of the hike, then pack your water and supplies accordingly.

7) Take a hike of 20 continuous miles in one day following a hike plan you have prepared. You may stop for as many short rest periods as needed, as well as one meal, but not for an extended period (example: overnight). *

This is the big one. However, if you’ve already completed requirement 5 and done your 5 other hikes, I have no doubt that you’ll be able to crush your 20-miler as well!

Make sure you’re well-hydrated the night before you embark on this long hike. Not only will drinking water beforehand give you have more energy, you’ll also have less soreness during the hike. You’ve got this.

8) After each of the hikes (or during each hike if on one continuous “trek”) in requirements 4 and 5, write a short reflection of your experience. Give dates and descriptions of routes covered, the weather, and any interesting things you saw. It may include something you learned about yourself, about the outdoors, or about others you were hiking with. Share this with your merit badge counselor.

My reflections were short passages that were anywhere from 200-250 words. I typically included pictures from the hike, as well as some of the other highlights from the trail. Basically, just journal for 10 minutes on your thoughts of the trek.

Conclusion

Hiking is a challenging but rewarding lifelong pursuit. By understanding each of the requirements for the Hiking merit badge, you’ll have all of the tools you necessary to safely complete any wilderness trek.

If you’re still interested in hiking after earning your merit badge, there are useful tools and accessories that’ll give you more safety and stability on the trail.

Now that you’re ready to earn your Hiking merit badge, if you have other Eagle-required merit badges to earn, I’d recommend checking out my Difficulty Ranking Guide to Every Eagle-required Badge. There, you’ll also find the links to my other merit badge guides, as well as a description and summary of each badge’s requirements. I’m certain this resource will be helpful to scouts on their road to Eagle!

Congratulations, you’ve made it. The Hiking merit badge isn’t easy, but neither is Scouting. By taking on difficult challenges, you prove yourself as a scout who’s able to overcome anything. Keep up the great work, and until next time, best of luck on your Scouting journey.

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content for this website because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making this 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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