Swimming, Hiking, Or Cycling For Eagle Rank: A Full Comparison

In the Scout Oath, you promise to keep yourself physically strong. To earn the swimming, hiking, or cycling merit badge, you’ll need to make good on that commitment! I’ve written this article because when choosing between the swimming, hiking, or cycling badges for your Eagle rank, there are some factors you’ll need to be prepared for, ahead of time. 

Should I do Swimming, Hiking or Cycling for Eagle Rank? If you have access to a pool and lifeguard, swimming will likely be the easiest of these 3 merit badges to earn. Swimming is often taught at summer camps. Hiking will be your best option if you need to earn one of these badges outside of an official class. Unless you often bike long distances, I would not recommend attempting the cycling badge.

According to Scouting magazine, in 2017 swimming was earned 62,057 times, hiking 7,084 and cycling 5,742. If you’re interested in earning the swimming badge, I’ve even written a complete merit badge guide. However, although swimming is the most popular badge, there are still some strong reasons why you might want to consider earning hiking or cycling as well.

Personally, I earned my hiking merit badge first (link for full hiking MB guide) and later earned the swimming merit badge as part of a troop activity. In this article, I’ve made a chart breaking down the hardest requirements for each of these badges so that you can see for yourself which one will be best for you!

What Are The Most Difficult Requirements Of Each Badge?

Below, I’ve outlined the most difficult requirements for earning each of these merit badges. Before starting any badge, be sure that you’ll be able to complete the challenges listed. For instance, if you’ve never hiked more than 5 miles in the past, you probably don’t want to suddenly hike 20 to earn the hiking merit badge!

Although they’re not as easy, I would recommend that you either earn your hiking or cycling merit badge, especially if your troop isn’t currently holding clinics for swimming. You’ll likely have the opportunity to quickly earn the swimming badge during a class at a future summer camp, and it never hurts to get two, or even three of these badges.

Swim continuously for 150 yards, demonstrating mastery of 5 different strokes.
(Requirement 3)

Hike 20 miles in one day.
(Requirement 7)
Bike 50 miles or ride a mountain bike for 22 miles.
(Requirement 7)

In my opinion, the swimming merit badge has the easiest skill requirements, while hiking and cycling both have very difficult physical challenges you’ll need to complete. In the next section, I’ll be outlining the length of time you’ll likely need to spend in earning each of these badges.

How Quickly Can You Complete the Swimming, Hiking, and Cycling Badges?

If you have a pool and lifeguard available, the swimming merit badge clearly wins out over both hiking and cycling. The table below shows my estimate for the length of time you’ll likely spend working on each of these badges.

Swimming (1 weekend)Hiking (1+ Month)Cycling (1+ Month)
The swimming technique requirements can be completed in one afternoon, and knowledge requirements can be completed in a few hours.You’ll need to go on 6 individual hikes, so this badge will likely take over 1 month to complete. The knowledge requirements and post-hike reports are also quite time-consuming.You’ll need to plan 7 individual biking trips which should take at least 1 month to complete. Knowledge req’s for cycling are even more difficult than the hiking badge.

If you don’t have the opportunity to earn swimming, my opinion is that hiking is slightly easier to earn, especially if you’re not already a cycler. In addition to the seven cycling trips you’ll need to complete, the cycling merit badge also requires that you officially register your bike with the local traffic authorities.

Now that you’ve gone through the notable aspects of each of your three options, you probably have a merit badge in mind. Scroll down to the section on swimming, hiking, or cycling, and take the time to read through the official requirements. Once finished, you’re ready to begin earning your next Eagle-required badge!

What Are The Swimming Merit Badge Requirements?

  1. Do the following:
    a. Explain to your counselor how Scouting’s Safe Swim Defense plan anticipates, helps prevent and mitigate, and provides responses to likely hazards you may encounter during swimming activities.
    b. Discuss the prevention and treatment of health concerns that could occur while swimming, including hypothermia, dehydration, sunburn, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, muscle cramps, hyperventilation, spinal injury, stings and bites, and cuts and scrapes.

  2. Before doing the following requirements, successfully complete the BSA swimmer test: Jump feet first into water over the head in depth. Level off and swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.
  3. Swim continuously for 150 yards using the following strokes in good form and in a strong manner: front crawl or trudgen for 25 yards, back crawl for 25 yards, sidestroke for 25 yards, breaststroke for 25 yards, and elementary backstroke for 50 yards.
  4. Do the following:
    a. Demonstrate water rescue methods by reaching with your arm or leg, by reaching with a suitable object, and by throwing lines and objects. Explain why swimming rescues should not be attempted when a reaching or throwing rescue is possible, and explain why and how a rescue swimmer should avoid contact with the victim.
    b. With a helper and a practice victim, show a line rescue both as tender and as rescuer. The practice victim should be approximately 30 feet from shore in deep water.

  5. Do the following:
    a. Float face up in a resting position for at least one minute.
    b. Demonstrate survival floating for at least five minutes.
    c. While wearing a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jacket, demonstrate the HELP and huddle positions. Explain their purposes.
    d. Explain why swimming or survival floating will hasten the onset of hypothermia in cold water.

  6. In water over your head, but not to exceed 10 feet, do each of the following:
    a. Use the feet first method of surface diving and bring an object up from the bottom.
    b. Do a headfirst surface dive (pike or tuck), and bring the object up again.
    c. Do a headfirst surface dive to a depth of at least 5 feet and swim underwater for three strokes. Come to the surface, take a breath, and repeat the sequence twice.

  7. Following the guidelines set in the BSA Safe Swim Defense, in water at least 7 feet deep, show a standing headfirst dive from a dock or pool deck. Show a long shallow dive, also from the dock or pool deck. (If your state, city, or local community requires a water depth greater than 7 feet, it is important to abide by that mandate.)
  8. Explain the health benefits of regular aerobic exercise, and discuss why swimming is favored as both fitness and therapeutic exercise.

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.

What Are The Cycling Merit Badge Requirements?

Note: The bicycle used for fulfilling these requirements must have all required safety features and must be registered as required by your local traffic laws.

  1. Do the following:
    a. Explain to your counselor the most likely hazards you may encounter while participating in cycling activities and what you should do to anticipate, help prevent, mitigate, and respond to these hazards.
    b. Show that you know first aid for injuries or illnesses that could occur while cycling, including cuts, scratches, blisters, sunburn, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, hypothermia, dehydration, insect stings, tick bites, and snakebite. Explain to your counselor why you should be able to identify the poisonous plants and poisonous animals that are found in your area.
    c. Explain the importance of wearing a properly sized and fitted helmet while cycling, and of wearing the right clothing for the weather. Know the BSA Bike Safety Guidelines.
  2. Clean and adjust a bicycle. Prepare it for inspection using a bicycle safety checklist. Be sure the bicycle meets local laws.
  3. Show your bicycle to your counselor for inspection. Point out the adjustments or repairs you have made. Do the following:
    a. Show all points that need oiling regularly.
    b. Show points that should be checked regularly to make sure the bicycle is safe to ride.
    c. Show how to adjust brakes, seat level and height, and steering tube.
  4. Describe how to brake safely with foot brakes and with hand brakes.
  5. Show how to repair a flat by removing the tire, replacing or patching the tube, and remounting the tire.
  6. Describe your state’s traffic laws for bicycles. Compare them with motor-vehicle laws. Know the bicycle-safety guidelines.
  7. Using the BSA buddy system, complete all of the requirements for ONE of the following options: road biking OR mountain biking.

    OPTION A – Road Biking
    1. Take a road test with your counselor and demonstrate the following:
      a. Properly mount, pedal, and brake, including emergency stops.
      b. On an urban street with light traffic, properly execute a left turn from the center of the street; also demonstrate an alternate left-turn technique used during periods of heavy traffic.
      c. Properly execute a right turn.
      d. Demonstrate appropriate actions at a right-turn-only lane when you are continuing straight.
      e. Show proper curbside and road-edge riding. Show how to ride safely along a row of parked cars.
      f. Cross railroad tracks properly.
    2. Avoiding main highways, take two rides of 10 miles each, two rides of 15 miles each, and two rides of 25 miles each. You must make a report of the rides taken. List dates for the routes traveled, and interesting things seen.
    3. After completing requirement b for the road biking option, do ONE of the following:
      a. Lay out on a road map a 50-mile trip. Stay away from main highways. Using your map, make this ride in eight hours.
      b. Participate in an organized bike tour of at least 50 miles. Make this ride in eight hours. Afterward, use the tour’s cue sheet to make a map of the ride.

  8. OPTION B – Mountain Biking
    1. Take a trail ride with your counselor and demonstrate the following:
      a. Properly mount, pedal, and brake, including emergency stops.
      b. Show shifting skills as applicable to climbs and obstacles.
      c. Show proper trail etiquette to hikers and other cyclists, including when to yield the right-of-way.
      d. Show proper technique for riding up and down hills.
      e. Demonstrate how to correctly cross an obstacle by either going over the obstacle on your bike or dismounting your bike and crossing over or around the obstacle.
      f. Cross rocks, gravel, and roots properly.
    2. Describe the rules of trail riding, including how to know when a trail is unsuitable for riding.
    3. On trails approved by your counselor, take two rides of 2 miles each, two rides of 5 miles each, and two rides of 8 miles each. You must make a report of the rides taken. List dates for the routes traveled, and interesting things seen.
    4. After fulfilling the previous requirement, lay out on a trail map a 22-mile trip. You may include multiple trail systems, if needed. Stay away from main highways. Using your map, make this ride in six hours.

Once You’ve Chosen…

Congratulations! Now that you know the requirements necessary to earn either swimming, hiking, or cycling, you can begin preparing today. These are Eagle-required badges, so they may not be as easy as some of the other merit badges you’ve already completed. However, they’ll be a giant step in your Scouting career towards earning your Eagle!

Again, I urge you to consider earning hiking or cycling, if possible. Although both of these badges are difficult, they present a great and unforgettable challenge to overcome. In any case, best of luck! If you do decide to complete swimming, you can check out my ultimate guide to this merit badge in the article here. 🙂


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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