Hiking is a challenging but fun-filled activity that’s very near to the heart of Scouting. That’s why it’s Eagle-required! If you’re hoping to become an expert hiker, this guide will teach you everything needed to hike safely, physically prepare for any trek, 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 earn. Personally, hiking was one of my first badges and proved to be a completely different challenge from any other Scouting activity I’d done before. (In a good way!) 😀
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 can commit to it, you’ll show that you truly have the determination needed to become an Eagle Scout! To earn your Hiking merit badge, you’ll need to complete the dreaded 20-miler, plus 5 other difficult hikes. Even for most adults, that’s insane!
While the Hiking merit badge won’t be easy, once you’re finished I can promise you that it’ll be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life! If you’re ready to take the leap, read on. Hiking will take at least a month to complete, so take your time now to thoroughly review its requirements so you can be prepared.
What Are The Hiking Merit Badge Requirements?
- Do the following:
–1a) 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.
–1b) 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.
- Do the following:
–2a) 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.
–2b) Read aloud or recite the Leave No Trace guidelines, and discuss why each is important while hiking.
–2c) Read aloud or recite the Outdoor Code, and give examples of how to follow it on a hike
- 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.
- Take four 10-mile hikes and one 20-mile hike, each on a different day, and each of continuous miles. Prepare a written hike plan before each hike and share it with your merit badge counselor or a designee for approval before starting the hike. Include map routes, a clothing and equipment list, and a list of items for a trail lunch.
- 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 such as overnight.*
- After each of the hikes (or during each hike if on one continuous “trek”) in requirement 4, write a short report on your hike. For each hike, give the date and description (or map) of the route covered, the weather, any interesting things you saw, and any challenges you had and how you overcame them. 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 1-3 test your knowledge of hiking and trail safety, while requirements 4-5 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. 🙂
Keep in mind, 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 into answering the knowledge requirements so you can begin earning your Hiking merit badge!
1a) 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. Luckily, as a Scout, you’re trained to be resourceful and think on your feet. You’ll find that 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 hiking trek. These hazards are:
- Dangerous Terrain
- Difficulty Navigating
- Unexpected Conditions
- Injury From Wild Animals/Insects
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 and thought into choosing the right equipment! To see my top picks for hiking equipment, check out my recommended gear page.
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.
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 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 1b.
1b) 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 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 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 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!
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2a) 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.
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 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!
Click here to visit the updated part 2 of my guide to the Hiking merit badge!
Congrats on Finishing Part 1 of the Hiking Merit Badge!
Wow, requirements 1 and 2 sure taught you a lot of helpful hiking info! Great work :). You definitely deserve a long break at this point. Give yourself a huge pat on the back and make sure to drink a glass of water!
Once you’re ready to continue on to part 2 of the Hiking merit badge (Requirements 2-5) click here!
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