Understanding Scouting’s 4-Point Outdoor Code: Facts, History, And Meaning ⚜️

The Outdoor Code: 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 be conservation-minded.

The Outdoor Code is one of the most important foundations of Scouting. Similar to the Scout Oath or Law, the Outdoor Code is your promise to care for the environment and leave no trace.

(For help on explaining how you practiced the Outdoor Code on a campout or outing, skip to the second section for common examples of the Outdoor Code in practice!)

To earn the rank of Tenderfoot, you’ll need to know and understand the Outdoor Code. However, the lessons taught in the Outdoor Code will span your entire Scouting career! So, in this article, I’ll be sharing with you everything that I’ve learned about the Outdoor Code on my journey to Eagle. 🙂

What is the Outdoor Code? Before we dive into the Outdoor Code’s less-obvious meanings, take a moment now to re-familiarize yourself with the code. Read it aloud if that helps you 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.

Got it memorized? Great! First, let’s take a quick 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 at your next campout! I personally think this history is really interesting, but feel free to skip ahead if you’re just trying to master the Outdoor Code.

The History of the Outdoor Code

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

The Outdoor Life Magazine Conservation Pledge

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, becoming an official requirement the very same year!

Although the Outdoor Code is generally not as recited as the Scout Law or Oath (at least in my troops), it has remained a cornerstone of Scouting hasn’t seen much change over the years. In fact, only the descriptions behind the Outdoor Code have ever 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.

Even 60+ years later, the Outdoor Code is still taught by the BSA and continues to guide Scouts down the right path. In this next section, we’ll be covering what’s changed, what’s stayed the same, as well as how Scouting currently teaches the Outdoor Code! 😀

The Outdoor Code In 2023

As of 2023, the principles of the Outdoor Code remain the same as when it was first created. However, the descriptions have changed a bit over the years. Personally, I think these developments are great, as they encourage Scouts to be even more environmentally minded!

Here’s the current Outdoor Code and descriptions, as outlined in the 2023 Scout Handbook:

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 — so make sure to remember them! 😉

In the next section (and the most important section, in my opinion), we’ll be breaking down each Outdoor Code term in more detail. With that, you’ll learn a ton of easy ways to apply these sustainable lessons to your troop’s outdoor activities!

The Meaning And Actions Behind Scouting’s Outdoor Code

In this 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 leaving no trace. In fact, 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 human waste/toilet paper you create (as close to 1 ft deep as possible — too shallow, and animals may try to dig it up)
  • Leave places cleaner than you find them (it’s also fun troop game for each patrol to try to collect the most trash at a camp’s end 😛 )

These are the main tips we started using in my troop to better live by the Outdoor Code. Living by these routines barely added any extra work, yet we received a ton of compliments on how thoroughly we were able to clean our campgrounds. I challenge you to try just one of these 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 fires is 100% for your own safety. 

One careless mistake around fire could start an uncontrollable blaze, harming you and your friends. By treating fire like a tool and handling it with respect, you’ll actually gain more freedom to use it in helpful 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 and evvironmental damage, 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 and stirring)

Although these may be simple fire safety rules, they’re incredibly important to follow, so take them to heart. Being careful with fire is in the Outdoor Code for a reason, so stay cautious. As Eagle Scout who’s had my Firem’n Chit for over a decade now, I still am very careful with fire — so you do the same! 🙂

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 for years to come. 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 abundant 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 everything should look pretty natural when leaving a campsite
  • 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 also 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 any natural items home, or reducing your use of chemicals and fire so as not to damage 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!

  1. Reduce your consumption and amount of garbage that you create
  2. Reuse your old supplies and tools that still work
  3. Recycle anything that you aren’t able to reuse

Aside from the 3 R’s, 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!


The Outdoor Code provides a great roadmap to your behavior in nature. By leaving any environment better than you’ve found it, you’re definitely living with Scout Spirit! Although you may not need to recite the Outdoor Code as often as the Scout Oath or Law, never forget what this code means!

Another aspect of properly living by the Outdoor Code comes from understanding sustainability and the environment. If you want to learn more, I’d recommend checking out my guides to the Eagle-required merit badges Environmental Science and Sustainability!

In my guides, I’ll be helping to teach you each of the knowledge requirements for earning these helpful badges, so definitely check them out to learn more about how to protect the outdoors!

Finally, as a Scout, it’s your responsibility to find creative ways to help your troop live by the Outdoor Code (plus, it’s fun!). Remember, 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! Thanks for reading — I’m wishing you all the best on your Scouting journey. 🙂


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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