The 5 Most Difficult Merit Badges In Scouting (And How To Earn Them)


It’s a (literal!) badge of honor to succeed in earning an extremely difficult merit badge. When I was a scout, I often wondered, “what’s the hardest merit badge out there?” No need to wonder any longer! In this article, I’ve identified and written a brief overview of the top 5 most difficult merit badges currently offered in Scouting.

As a quick disclaimer before we dive into things, difficulty is subjective. If you’ve had a lifelong passion for nuclear reactors and your great uncle is Albert Einstein, maybe badge #1 will be a walk in the park for you. However, most of these badges would be quite difficult for plenty of scouts, myself included.

Location and access to supplies can also be a big factor in the difficulty of any badge. Here are a few badges I haven’t included, but want to give an honorable mention to:

  • Snow Sports is very difficult if you’re a scout living in Hawaii
  • Gardening is difficult if you don’t have access to a garden
  • Aviation is difficult if you don’t have access to a flight simulator
  • Horsemanship is difficult if you don’t have a horse
  • Bugling is pretty tricky for people that can’t play brass instruments
  • Electronics is super tough if you’re me

The badges I’ve included in my list are ones that almost every scout in any area could be able to complete but often don’t due to their cost or difficulty. If you’ve earned some of these badges, or plan to earn them, I definitely applaud you! You’re part of a small and skilled minority. 🙂

Many difficult merit badges give you options of which requirements to complete, providing a much easier path to earning the badge. These 5 don’t have an easy way built-in. Alright, enough said! Let’s get on to difficult badge #1.

PS: If you’d like to see the 3 easiest badges in Scouting, click here!

Nuclear Science (Previously Called Atomic Energy)

Overview: It’s like the Nuclear Science merit badge is radioactive — because so many scouts stay far away from it! In fact, in all my time in Scouting, I haven’t even met even one scout who’s earned this ultra-difficult badge.

To complete the nuclear science merit badge, you’ll need to build experimental contraptions, visit a nuclear facility, or learn complex information around subatomic particles. Although you can avoid the most difficult requirements by choosing easier options, like learning about particle accelerators, the nuclear science merit badge will still be no easy task to complete!

Interesting fact: Ever hear of the radioactive Boy Scout? A scout named David Hahn actually built most of a NUCLEAR REACTOR in his family’s backyard after he completed this merit badge. The video below does a great job of telling his shocking and tragic story.

Hardest Requirement: Requirement 4 asks you to do two of the following. Which ones would you pick?

  • Build an electroscope. Show how it works. Place a radiation source inside and explain the effect it causes.
  • Make a cloud chamber. Show how it can be used to see the tracks caused by radiation. Explain what is happening.
  • Obtain a sample of irradiated and non-irradiated foods. Prepare the two foods and compare their taste and texture. Store the leftovers in separate containers and under the same conditions. For a period of 14 days, observe their rate of decomposition or spoilage, and describe the differences you see on days 5, 10, and 14.
  • Visit a place where radioisotopes are being used. Using a drawing, explain how and why they are used.

Home Repairs

Overview: The Home Repairs merit badge might teach you some of the most useful skills of your life, but it’ll also be one of the most difficult badges you earn. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d be able to waterproof a basement or paint a ceiling without a ton of training and practice!

If you do decide to take on the Home Repairs merit badge, keep in mind that you’ll need to access power tools and a workspace to complete requirements like building a fence, soldering wires, and mending household appliances. On the bright side, your parents will be thrilled that you’re doing such great work around the house! 😛

Hardest Requirement: Completing requirement 2 might be tricky for most scouts. However, almost all of the requirements for the Home Repairs merit badge sound similar. For requirement 2, you’ll need to pick 4 of the following to complete:

  • Maintain or recondition a yard tool and show that you know how to clean up and properly store this equipment.
  • Weatherstrip a window or door.
  • Caulk cracks or joints open to the weather.
  • Waterproof a basement.
  • Repair a break in a concrete or asphalt surface.
  • Repair the screen in a window or door.
  • Replace a pane of glass.
  • Solder a broken wire or metal object.

Welding

Overview: Welding is the art and science of sticking two materials together — usually with the help of a superheated torch! If your idea of fun is to safely stick molten pieces of metal together, you’re in the perfect position to earn this extremely difficult merit badge!

Be warned though, completing the Welding merit badge will be no simple feat. Aside from needing to get a hold of expensive equipment, you’ll also be required to demonstrate various advanced welding skills! This badge is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Hardest Requirement: Can you weld two plates together using a T joint and a lap joint? I know I can’t! Requirement 6 has you tackling these challenges and more as you demonstrate your welding abilities for your merit badge counselor.

Scuba Diving

Overview: Scuba Diving looks like an easy six requirement merit badge, right? Wrong! Not only will you need to first finish your Swimming merit badge beforehand to complete requirement 2, but you’ll also need to earn your open water diver certification from a scuba organization like PADI.

However, I’d definitely recommend earning this badge if you ever get the chance to. I’ve completed my advanced open water diver certification, and I can tell you firsthand that scuba diving is loads of fun! Keep in mind though, that lessons, gear, and certification costs are expensive (almost $1000), and the training takes a few weeks, at minimum. 

Hardest Requirement: Earning your Open Water Diver Certification can be quite difficult, costly, and time-consuming. However, check out the awesome video below! Scuba diving is definitely something worth adding to your bucket list. Maybe just wait until you have a good job before you start paying for SCUBA lessons haha.

Communication (Most Difficult Eagle-Required Badge)

Overview: I’ve always said that Communication is one of the hardest merit badges for most scouts to complete. While many badges require you to mainly memorize knowledge, Communication will have you presenting, interviewing, and writing content to complete 7 out of 9 if its requirements!

For 14 year old me, planning a court of honor, conducting an interview, and presenting a speech were some of the most difficult things I’d done in Scouting up to that point. However, most of you out there will definitely complete your Communication merit badge and earn Eagle!

PS: If you’re trying to earn the Communication merit badge and would like a bit of extra help, click here!

Here’s the lesson: You can accomplish something that’s difficult in the same way that you can accomplish something that’s easy: by breaking every challenge you face into small pieces, and then overcoming each of those one at a time! Trust me, you can truly do anything you set your mind to.

Hardest Requirement: As mentioned in my Difficulty Rankings for Every Eagle-required Badge, Communication doesn’t have just one hard requirement — they’re all difficult. Requirements 2-8 will have you scripting and planning events, attending local meetings, and presenting before groups. Good luck!

Bonus Badge: Inventing — The Most Difficult Merit Badge of All Time

Overview: The modern-day inventing merit badge is tricky, but by no means is it the most difficult badge out there. So why did I list it in this article? Good question! Let me school you on a bit of Scouting history!

The Inventing merit bade was released in 1911, as part of the BSA’s original 57 badges. To earn this badge, a scout would first need to create some sort of new gadget. That doesn’t seem too hard, right? It gets worse. Afterward, these brave scouts were required to get a federal patent on their invention — which is a very difficult, time-consuming, and costly process to complete.

In 1914, the Inventing merit badge was discontinued for two commonly cited reasons:

  1. The BSA wanted to offer other badges like Physical Development, (which later became Personal Fitness) but didn’t want to raise the total number of available merit badges above the original 57. They decided to scrap Inventing to make room for their other badge ideas,
  2. The Inventing merit badge was often extremely costly to earn. Purchasing equipment, creating prototypes, and filing for patents can’t be done using your weekly allowance, you know!

In its entire 3 year lifespan, only 10 scouts ever succeeded in earning this nearly impossible badge. Surprisingly, almost 100 years later, a much easier version of the original Inventing merit badge was brought back to Scouting! To earn the modern Inventing merit badge, you’ll still need to create something awesome, but at least now you won’t need to patent it!

Conclusion

Each and every merit badge you earn will teach you valuable skillsets and lessons that you can take with you for the rest of your life. Regardless of how difficult or easy a badge may be, what matters most is what you learn. I encourage you to pursue every merit badge that interests you (maybe even one from this list 🙂 )!

Hope you found this article interesting, and that one day you maybe even attempt one of these difficult badges! Thanks for visiting ScoutSmarts.com and, as always, 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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