There are currently 138 merit badges that can be earned in Scouting, but have you ever wondered which ones were the rarest and most obscure? In this article, I’ll be reviewing 7 of the least-earned, strangest, and rarest merit badges that Scouts have been able to earn over the years.
PS. This article is a guest post collaboration between Scouting volunteer Lydia and Cole 🙂
From merit badges that had fewer than 500 completions in years past, to others that were discontinued altogether, this list will shock and amaze even the most seasoned Scout. So, get ready to dive into some super interesting merit badge lore that you can share with your troop!
Are you creative? Are you full of ideas you want to make a reality? Then the Inventing merit badge might have been made for you! However, when it was first released, this badge was nearly impossible to earn. In fact, only 10 Scouts ever earned this ultra-rare badge prior to its re-release in 2010. Why? As a requirement, Scouts were tasked with obtaining a federal patent on their invention — a very difficult, time-consuming, and costly process for anyone to complete.
Fortunately, these days the Inventing merit badge is easier than it used to be. While you don’t have to patent your project prototype, Scouts still research intellectual property protection, such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights, and learn their importance in safeguarding inventors’ rights.
If you enjoy solving problems fhrough innovation – this is the badge for you! From creating a working prototype or model of an invention, to documenting the development process, and even presenting their finished product, Scouts get to showcase their creativity when taking on the Inventing merit badge!
If you’d also like to discover the 5 most difficult merit badges to earn in Scouting, click here!
Calling all philatelists (stamp collectors)! Stamp Collecting is a fun merit badge, but is often overlooked for many reasons, including the rarity and availability of stamps. Also, I don’t know any young people who collect stamps these days, do you? However, this badge is full of rich history, and certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. Just like eyes are the windows to the soul, stamps are like a window into the history of other countries, customs, governments, and social progressions.
To earn this obscure badge, Scouts must research the history behind the stamps they’ll be collecting. They’ll also study the process involved in making stamps, including materials and perforation styles. Earning this badge will kickstart any Scout’s career in one of the rarest and most obscure hobbies out there. Plus, they’ll end up with quite an awesome collection of stamps from all around the world when they’re finished!
Bugling may be the least-earned merit badge still out there! In fact, it’s consistently ranked lowest on Scouting Magazine’s merit badge popularity rankings. However, the reason the bugling badge has been kept around for so long is because it’s such a cool skill to develop – and one even I have mastered, not to toot my own horn! 🙂
The call of the bugle is a familiar sound to both Scouts and military families alike. I know you’ve heard it! Calls like Reveille and Taps are ones every Scout would recognize. But have you ever noticed how few buglers there are? Think about it – crazy right?!
Let’s be real – you don’t have to be the next classical horn player or jazz musician to take up Bugling. Any, and I mean ANY Scout can earn this often overlooked badge. From learning to read music, to playing, to performing, Bugling fosters personal growth, self-expression, and teamwork through music in every Scout and in every Troop.
So, c’mon – let’s make some noise today for this extremely rare badge! (Trumpeting noise) 📯
I spy with my little eye….. a map! Ever notice the details on a map such as elevations, boundary lines, topographics, or hydrographics? Well, those details didn’t come out of thin air. The process of accurately measuring, recording, and mapping those details is called surveying, and you’ll learn how to do it too in earning the Surveying merit badge!
The Surveying merit badge is extremely rare, and perfect for any STEM focused Scout. Just think about it – Scouts must undertake field exercises involving measuring angles and distances, determining elevations, and plotting field data using appropriate surveying software. That’s a lot of mathematics, geometry, trigonometry, and logic, which will be sure to help any future engineers or STEM-wizards!
This obscure badge is a solid starting point for a Scout’s future in surveying, drafting, design, engineering, and so much more. Will the next uncharted territory be something you discover and plot?
The Drafting merit badge – You might think it sounds boring, but there’s actually a lot of cool stuff you may not know about it! Did you know Leonardo DaVinci was more than just an artist and inventor? He was also a skilled draftsman! Take for example, the Vetruvian Man, a symbol of the perfect human body, which is still used today. Pretty cool right? Drafting opens up a world of opportunities in architecture, engineering, design, innovation and more for Scouts.
Earning the Drafting merit badge is a great option for Scouts full of ingenuity and creativity. A Scout must make detailed and accurate drawings using computer software such as CAD or good old-fashioned paper and pencil. Also, they’ll learn about different types of drafting, like architectural and engineering, and how they’re used in the real world. And let’s not forget the personal satisfaction of seeing those finished drawings come to life! It’s a pretty neat badge to earn, if you ask me. 😀
Nuclear Science (Previously Called Atomic Energy)
“I’m radioactive….”. Okay while Imagine Dragons might not be your thing, this volatile energy focused merit badge may be. The Atomic Energy merit badge was first on the scene in 1955 but in 1972 was expanded and renamed to be The Nuclear Science merit badge. This badge has some crazy lore! Even with the new name and set of requirements though, this badge is still extremely challenging and rarely ever earned.
To earn this strange and obscure badge, Scouts learn the basics of atomic structure, radioactivity, and nuclear reactions, as well as the history of atomic energy. Scouts must also learn about various applications of atomic energy, including power generation, medicine, agriculture, and research. That’s super cool right, but what about the hands on aspect?
Don’t explode now, but it gets even cooler! As a badge requirement, Scouts undertake cool hands-on projects or experiments related to atomic energy. Scouts can construct a cloud chamber or build a model of a nuclear reactor. A Scout could also use a Geiger Counter on a radiation source and record the results. There’s a plethora of practical applications. Which will you choose?
Do you buy stuff? Of course you do! We all do. But why? That’s the question The Consumer Buying merit badge taught Scouts to ask before it was discontinued in 1995. Personally, I wish it was a required standalone badge and here’s why…
Do you ever find yourself questioning your purchasing motives? Scouts should always be mindful of the intent behind every action, especially in a buy, Buy, BUY driven economy. That’s why this obsolete badge was so crucial! But not all hope is lost. You can still learn to be a responsible consumer as part of the Personal Management merit badge, which is Eagle-required. As part of this, a Scout will learn to question and ascertain their motivations behind their purchases.
Questions a Scout will learn to ask themselves include: Are they buying an item out of necessity or want? Why do they want it? Is the price they’re willing to pay equivalent to the actual value of the item? Is that value real or is it perceived? This self examination educates Scouts on managing their finances and product consumption responsibly. Sounds like a win in a pay to play world. And hey, you might even save a few bucks while working on your Eagle project idea!
Honorable Mentions (5 Of The Strangest Discontinued Merit Badges)
While the 7 previous rare and strange merit badges definitely topped our charts, let’s not forget these honorable mentions. Below are 5 of the all-time strangest merit badges in the history of the BSA:
- Nut Culture: Sometimes you feel like a nut – however, this nutty badge wasn’t about mental health and was discontinued 1954. The Nut Culture merit badge taught Scouts how to grow and care for nut trees, but eventually was replaced by the Plant Science merit badge.
- Master-at-Arms: This self-defense/combat skills focused merit badge, although discontinued in 1911, was part of Lord Robert Baden-Powell’s original 14 in 1910. Guess stick fighting and martial arts are best left to be personal extracurricular activities.
- Taxidermy: Back in the day, there was a merit badge called Taxidermy, where Scouts had to mount and present a bird or small mammal. It was discontinued in 1952, maybe because it seemed weird to teach preservation and then be like, “hey, let’s stuff dead animals for fun!”.
- Rabbit Raising: Did you know there used to be a merit badge for raising rabbits? Yeah, Scouts could get a badge for taking care of bunnies. But I imagine this wasn’t a popular badge amongst Scouting parents due to bunny messes in the house. Whatever the reason, this badge hopped out of the BSA handbook in 1993.
- Hog & Pork Production: Discontinued in 1958, the Hog and Pork Production merit badge had Scouts learning how to raise, butcher, and sell our piglet friends. Kind of ironic, since farm to table is now becoming less uncommon!
For every Scout, there are professional and personal reasons for the merit badges they choose to earn. Pursuing rare merit badges offers a Scout a unique opportunity to explore niche areas of interest, develop specialized skills, and broaden their knowledge across various disciplines.
PS: If you’d like to discover the 3 easiest merit badges in Scouting, click here!
So if you’re feeling adventurous, want to hone a skill, or take up a new hobby, these rare yet exciting merit badges might be just what you’ve been hunting for. Don’t be shy – give one of these a try! Soon, you just might join the ranks of the elite few Scouts who’ve earned these merit badges. Just don’t blame me if you develop a deep passion for Design, Engineering, Inventing, Bugling, or even Stamp Collecting! 😀
About the Author: Lydia is the granddaughter, daughter, and sister of three Eagle Scouts, who uses her personal experience having volunteered with troops to write about topics she is passionate about including Scouting, outdoor recreation, travel, parenting, and more.