The Scouts BSA Outdoor Code In 2020


As an American, I will do my best to be clean in my outdoor manners, be careful with fire, be considerate in the outdoors, and to be conservation-minded.

The Outdoor Code is one of the most important foundations of Scouting. Similar to the Scout Oath or Scout Law, the Outdoor Code is your promise to care for the environment and leave no trace. You’ll need to know and understand the Outdoor Code to earn the rank of Scout, yet too many scouts forget the meaning behind this promise later on in their Scouting careers.

What is the Outdoor Code? Take a moment now to re-familiarize yourself with the code. Read it aloud if that helps you better remember:

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.

In this article, I’m going to be sharing with you the history and meaning behind the Outdoor Code. By learning the code’s significance, I hope that you’ll never forget it’s important principles during any of your outdoor activities. By living by this code, you’ll be actively working to create a more enjoyable outdoor environment, not only for your fellow scouts today but for all future scouts as well!

Got it memorized? Great! First, let’s take a dive into the history of the Outdoor Code. Then, I’ll be breaking down the code and sharing with you some easy and creative ways you can apply it to your next campout. Feel free to skip ahead, as understanding how you’d use the Outdoor Code is the most important section of this article.

History of the Outdoor Code

The Outdoor Code was first publicized in March of 1954. Premiering in an edition of Boys’ Life magazine, the Outdoor Code actually served as a replacement to the Outdoor Life Magazine Conservation Pledge (Shown below).

The Conservation Pledge was included in the Boy Scout Handbook (now BSA Scouts Handbook) from 1948-1954. However, following February 1955, the Outdoor Code replaced the Conservation Pledge in the handbook, becoming an official requirement the very same year.

Although the Outdoor Code never achieved the same popularity as the Scout Oath Or Scout Law, it has remained a cornerstone of Scouting and has seen very few revisions over the years. In fact, only the descriptions behind the code have been changed.

Below is the original Outdoor Code, as published in the 1954 March edition of Boy’s Life:

As an American, I will do my best to

  • Be clean in my outdoor manners.
    I will treat the outdoors as a heritage to be improved for our greater enjoyment.
    I will keep my trash and garbage out of America’s waters, fields, woods, and roadways.
  • Be careful with fire.
    I will prevent wildfire.
    I will build my fire in a safe place and be sure it is out before I leave.
  • Be considerate in the outdoors.
    I will treat public and private property with respect.
    I will remember that use of the outdoors is a privilege I can lose by abuse.
  • Be conservation-minded.
    I will learn how to practice good conservation of soil, waters, forests, minerals, grasslands, and wildlife; and I will urge others to do the same.
    I will use sportsmanlike methods in all my outdoor activities.

Obviously, the Outdoor Code is still taught today and continues to guide scouts down the right path. In this next section, we’ll be covering what’s changed, as well as how Scouting currently teaches the Outdoor Code.

The Current Outdoor Code

As of 2020, the principles of the Outdoor Code remain the same as when first created. However, the descriptions behind some of the terms have been changed over the years. Here is the language used in the current BSA Scouts handbook when describing the Outdoor Code:

As an American, I will do my best to

  • Be clean in my outdoor manners.
    I will treat the outdoors as a heritage.
    I will take care of it for myself and others
    I will keep my trash and garbage out of lakes, streams, fields, woods, and roadways.
  • Be careful with fire.
    I will prevent wildfire.
    I will build my fires only where they are appropriate.
    When I have finished using a fire, I will make sure it is cold out.
    I will leave a clean fire ring, or remove all evidence of my fire.
  • Be considerate in the outdoors.
    I will treat public and private property with respect.
    I will use low-impact methods of hiking and camping.
  • Be conservation-minded.
    I will learn how to practice good conservation of soil, waters, forests, minerals, grasslands, wildlife, and energy.
    I will urge others to do the same.

If you were to compare the outdoor code in 1954 to what we use currently, you might notice that very little has changed. This is because the Outdoor Code provides an easy and memorable set of principles to follow when out in nature. Let’s break down each term in more detail, and see how you can more easily apply these lessons in your own outdoor activities!

The Outdoor Code In Practice

In the section, I’m going to be listing each of the principles of the Outdoor Code, as well as ways that you can apply them to your own troop’s activities. Hopefully, this will help you to better understand the concepts, and more easily use them the next time you’re camping or out enjoying nature.

1) As an American, I will do my best to be clean in my outdoor manners:

This means to leave no trace. Literally no one should be able to tell you were even there. By being clean in the outdoors, you are making sure never to leave a mess, whether it’s food scraps, environmental damage, or human waste. Here are some ways of incorporating this first principle into your next campout:

  • Carry out all of your garbage (try to avoid burning any synthetic trash)
  • Dispose of food waste by either carrying it out, burning it or burying it (in that order)
  • Avoid using soaps or cleaning materials that can pollute the environment (empty any liquids on land in areas without plant life)
  • Bury any toilet paper or human waste you may create (as close to 1 ft deep as possible — animals may smell it and try to dig it up)
  • Leave places cleaner than you find them (make it a game for scouts to collect the most garbage at the end of a campout)

These are the main tips we started using in my troop to better live by the Outdoor Code. Adding these routines barely added any extra work, yet we received countless compliments from locals and conservation workers who noticed how thoroughly we were able to clean our campgrounds. I challenge you to try just one of them at your next camp!

2) As an American, I will do my best to be careful with fire.

To be careful with fire means to respect your troop’s fire safety rules. Refrain from using fire starters and tending to open flames unless you have your Scoutmaster‘s permission and have earned your Firem’n Chit. Being careful around fire is 100% for your own safety. 

One careless mistake around fire can start a forest fire, cost you your life, and take the lives of many others. By treating fire like a tool and handling it with respect, you’re actually gain more freedom to use fire in different ways. Here’s how you can be more careful with fire:

  • Always have at least two water buckets at the ready whenever lighting a fire
  • Never leave an open flame unattended
  • Always have a buddy present when lighting a fire or tending to one
  • Avoid wearing loose or baggy clothing when around fire
  • To prevent forest fires, only light fires in fire pits
  • When lighting a fire, make sure the ground is free of leaves and debris that can spread flames
  • Make sure a fire is completely out and cold after use (I’d recommend pouring water over it)

Although these may be typical fire safety rules, I wanted to quickly restate them because of how important this lesson is. Being careful with fire is in the Outdoor Code for a reason, so stay cautious. I know I still am, even as an Eagle Scout who’s worked with fire hundreds of times in the past.

3) As an American, I will do my best to be considerate in the outdoors.

Nature exists for everyone. By being respectful and considerate in the outdoors, you can easily make sure that others will continue to enjoy the space. Like I said earlier, everything that you do now affects scouts in the future and reducing your impact will go a long way.

Since you’re the type of person who’s considerate in nature, here are some of the most common mistakes scouts make that you should watch out for:

  • Tying ropes to tightly around trees can cause damage and leave permanent marks
  • Pitching a tent over plant-life is not only bad for the environment but can also damage your equipment and lead to more bugs
  • Unintentionally being too loud at a campsite can ruin the experience of other nearby campers
  • Collecting sticks is fine, but they should be returned after a campout, instead of being left in one place
  • Any holes you make should be filled in so that no one twists an ankle and hurts themselves later on

A little bit of care will lead to huge payoffs and make the outdoor experience better for everyone. By following this point of the Outdoor Code, you encourage others to also keep the campground as beautiful as they’ve found it. This helps you the next time you decide to come back!

4) As an American, I will do my best to be conservation-minded.

Conservation is defined as the prevention of injury, decay, waste, or loss. By promising to be conservation-minded, you’re vowing to protect the natural environment. This could mean not taking anything out of an ecosystem, or reducing your use of chemicals or fire so as not to cause damage to an area.

This can also be interpreted as you helping to conserve our planet’s limited resources. If you’ve ever heard of the 3 R’s: Reduce, reuse, recycle, you know one of the best ways to be conservation-minded. Reduce your consumption and amount of garbage that you create, reuse your old supplies and tools that still work, recycle anything that you absolutely need to dispose of.

Here are a few ways you can be more conservation-minded in Scouting:

  • Donate any of your old but usable gear to your troop instead of throwing it out.
  • Plan camp meals in more detail to reduce bringing excess food. Plan between patrols so that extra food can be shared or traded instead of thrown out.
  • Use damaged troop equipment as an opportunity for the quartermaster to teach important repair skills to other scouts.
  • Bring refillable gas canisters to camps instead of purchasing disposable fuel tanks.
  • Every 6 months, plan an ‘environmental awareness activity’ where you clean and restore the area where you hold your troop meetings.

These are just a few conservation-minded practices that my troop had started implementing to reduce our environmental impact. I’d recommend you get creative and make suggestions to your own troop if you have any good ideas on how to better conserve. Now only will you be helping save the environment, you’ll also be stepping up as a leader and making a significant difference in your community!

If this sounds like something you’d do, you’re probably on the path to becoming a great leader! For those who are serious about leadership and earning their Eagle, I’d highly recommend checking out my article on the 5 keys to advancement in Scouting.

Conclusion

The Outdoor Code provides a great roadmap to your behavior in nature. By leaving any environment better than you’ve found it, you take on the best characteristics of an individual in Scouting. Although you may not need to think about the Outdoor Code as often as you do the Scout Oath or Law, never forget the principles that this code stands for!

As a scout, it’s your responsibility to find creative ways to help your troop live by the Outdoor Code. You can make a difference, and our planet is in dire need of people willing to stand up for what’s right. Do your part, help others do theirs, and together, I’m sure we can help keep our earth a great place for Scouting! 🙂

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content 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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