Chief Seattle Council Scouts David and Jordon set out to earn every single merit badge available.
A long journey, with David finishing just before his just before his 18th birthday. With their help and the help of a few friends (Eli just finished 133 badges and Ian is diligently working toward that goal), we’ve put together comments and rankings of the merit badges available.
Badges are ranked 1-5 with 5 being the most difficult.
(Merit badges may have changed as this ranking is from 2009 – but still helpful)
Level 1 – easiest badges to complete (great for 1st year scouts)
Art – (5) simple requirements that can be done in an afternoon.
Basketry – Can get expensive if you buy the BSA kits, but probably a lot more difficult to do on your own.
Canoeing – Definitely a summer camp badge. Have fun swamping your boat!
Fingerprinting – Easiest of the easy. There’s a reason that so many of these badges get done. Do yourself a favor, though, and do this through your sheriff’s office. Much more interesting. Or, here’s an online course specific to the badge.
Fire Safety – The hardest part of this badge is demonstrating the different fires. Beyond that, it can be completed in a couple of days.
Golf – Could be done in a single day if you already know how to play golf, or if you have a good instructor. More fun to stretch it out over several rounds.
Painting – The only hard thing is tinting the white base. Everything else is easy.
Pulp and Paper – Make your own paper. Great to do just before Mother’s Day.
Reading – Takes awhile to finish, but is basically a library trip, a lot of reading, and some community service.
Sculpture – Wonderfully fun badge that can be earned in a day except you might have to let your project dry awhile before painting.
Wood Carving – Scout kits make it easy.
Level 2 – not too difficult
American Labor – A lot to digest, but you’ll learn something while doing it.
Architecture – A brief overview. Only difficult part is the interview with a practicing architect.
Bird Study – Actually a very cool badge to work on. A lot of requirements, but simple ones.
Chess – IF you already participate in Scholastic Chess or play regularly, the most difficult part of this will be finding a Scout you can teach. Note: National clarified that it must be a Boy Scout orVenturer, and it must be someone who does not know how to play at all.
Cinematography – Hardest part is finding someone who knows what they’re talking about to be the counselor.
Climbing – It seems like most indoor climbing gyms now offer this as a one-day badge. Fast and easy for fifty bucks, or one step at a time on campouts for much less.
Coin Collecting – Money, money, money. Again, a lot to do, but all easy.
Collections – You can’t use stamps or coins, but just about anything else will do! Almost in the Easy category.
Dentistry – The hardest part about this is making an appointment to see the dentist. It’s an interesting badge, especially if you come prepared with a lot of questions for your dentist.
Disabilities Awareness – Close to moderate because of the visits involved. If you don’t have a Scout with a disability in your troop, you’ll need to call around.
Energy – A whole lot to do, but none is difficult. Keep it in a notebook to make sure you have everything.
Fishing – Requires knot-tying and actually catching fish, so the difficulty depends upon you.
Genealogy – Hardest part is interviewing family members and gathering all the information. If you make the required visit beforehand, this is a good one for a Merit Badge Clinic.
Graphic Arts – An easy one if you’re computer savvy and artistic.
Leatherwork – Get a kit and you’re pretty well set. You’ll definitely need the book for this one.
Motorboating – Easy if you are already 1st class. Otherwise, you’ll have to learn the First Aid requirements and pass the swimmer test. On the water is the fun part!
Music – Difficulty depends upon which options you choose. Requires a concert. Can be a long badge, but not hard.
Pets – If you have a pet and you’re responsible for feeding it, this is super easy. Just make sure you keep a record for 3 months, and find a place to show it (or teach it three tricks, if it’s teachable).
Photography – Perfect if you’ve had a photography class; if not, you’ll probably want to do a lot of reading to know exactly how the camera works. This is a fun badge. You can also combine it with other badges — like the photo display for Citizenship in the Community or the Mammal Study badge.
Plumbing – You’ll need to find someone who knows what they’re doing, but if you can get your plumber to let you shadow him for a day, this is a good one.
Safety – Easy except figuring out what to do for the Safety Project.
Scholarship – Especially easy for homeschooled Scouts since you won’t have to visit the principal’s office. The 250 word report is the only pain.
Textile – Doesn’t have to be girly. Textiles can also include fleece, wool, and cotton.
Theater – Be in a play, earn a badge. Kind of surprised to see this as a Merit Badge, but the mime part can be funny.
Weather – If you have a weather service office nearby, this can be very cool. The only requirement that isn’t interesting or fun is that you have to give a 5-minute speech from an outline.
Level 3 – moderate difficulty
American Cultures – A really interesting one. Time ranges depending upon your choices. Requires visits.
Animal Science – Easy if you live on a farm; else trying to convince Mom to let you raise a chicken might be somewhat of a chore.
Archery – A good camp badge; if you miss out at camp, you’ll need to find an archery range. The qualifying score is what moves this to the moderate category.
Astronomy – The visit or Star party is some work; most of this is right out of a good astronomy book.
Athletics – Takes 4 months in a sport, and you can’t use the same time period that you do for Sports.
Aviation – Building the model is the most difficult part, but at least the badge has interesting requirements.
Backpacking – If your troop is active in backpacking and camping, this shouldn’t be too hard. If not, your patrol might need to schedule a few weekends out.
Communications (E) – Basic common sense. Easy if you’ve already done public speaking. Can be a lot of fun with the right group.
Composite Materials – Hard part is finding a qualified counselor; some of the troops do neat things like make skateboards.
Computers – Ranges from 2-4 depending upon who is teaching it. If you spend a significant amount of time on the computer already, shouldn’t be too difficult.
Cooking – Open right away, since you’ll do most of the requirements while camping.
Dog Care – The three months and the waste cleanup are what make this moderate. If you already have a dog, it’s mostly your normal chores.
Drafting – Difficulty varies widely depending upon merit badge counselor interpretation of the requirements. Interesting and useful.
Electricity – If you have somebody helping you that knows what they’re doing, this isn’t too difficult. It’s very interesting, and a fun badge. Use the online module at emeritbadges.org to make this make more sense.
Environmental Science (E) – A lot of observing involved, but not terribly long or difficult. Make sure to read the book because the experiments are in it. Don’t do this at camp unless you have a good instructor. Ones who skirt the requirements only cheat you.
Farm Mechanics – Again, finding a good counselor for this who has a farm is the hard part. The implement dealer interview was interesting.
Fish & Wildlife Management – Requires a visit and building a bird feeder, but everything else can be done inside. Do with Bird Study.
Fly Fishing – Not as easy as you think! Requires knots, proper technique, and catching two fish. If you can, combine it with Fishing since they overlap.
Forestry – Because of where we live, this is *almost* in the Easy category. Requires visits and a lot of collection and identification, but is a great outdoorsy badge.
Gardening – Requires a visit, and growing a garden. Depending upon the color of your thumb, this could be very difficult or very easy.
Geocaching – So much fun! Requires someone to drive you around. Req 9 can be a difficult one (planning a hunt). If a lot of Scouts are working on the badge at the same time, consider setting up a basic hunt for your Cubs.
Geology – This is good to open before you do Earth Science in school, or see if you can get a geologist at a museum to volunteer to be your counselor.
Horsemanship – To really do this right, try taking lessons for a few months.
Indian Lore – If you live near a reservation (like WE do), this can be pretty easy! The only thing that moves it out of Easy is needing to teach other Scouts or give a presentation. Here are some of my Indian Place Names for requirement 4g.
Landscape Architecture – What makes this more difficult than some is finding a landscape architect that you can shadow.
Law – Requires interview and visit. Just make sure you’re not being charged $160/hr.
Lifesaving – Not too hard if you’re a good swimmer and have your Swimming badge.
Nature – Takes a long time if you keep ants for a season, but a well-designed and thorough badge. Hint: meal worms hatch quickly.
Orienteering – Not too hard if you have an Orienteering club in your area. Otherwise, you’ll get a lot of practice setting up your own.
Personal Fitness (E) – Not difficult, just takes effort and a long time to do it. Probably best for older Scouts to do.
Pioneering – Knots, knots, and more knots. This is a lot of fun, especially if you can do it at a Camporee.
Pottery – Some similarities to Sculpture; if you do this at a studio, you can likely do them together.
Public Health – Easily one of the least favorite badges. Requires a visit to a government health agency, plus you might not agree with everything that’s in the book. If your parent is the counselor, that’s the best way to go for this. Some of the “discuss” portions aren’t really appropriate.
Public Speaking – Requires being brave enough to talk in front of people.
Radio – If you use the online module, this is pretty easy to understand. Requires a visit. Do this at the same time as the Electronics badge.
Railroading – Requires a visit, but everything else can easily be done at a model railroad club or show.
Rowing – Gently down the stream… It’s the CPR requirement that puts this in the moderate category.
Skating – If you already skate, this is only a matter of having your counselor watch. It might take awhile to learn the tricks if you don’t. Inline requirements are easier than quads.
Small-Boat Sailing – Best done at camp. Capsizing the boat is the most fun.
Space Exploration – Shoot off a rocket! A lot of reading, but once you know what you’re doing, the rocket is the best part.
Stamp Collecting – Fun badge. The only thing that makes this moderate is trying to find an expert to go to a show with you.
Traffic Safety – The photos of the wrecks were gruesome, but the actual requirements are far less than the state’s drivers’ exam books.
Truck Transportation – No, you don’t get to drive one. But it does require a visit to a truck terminal.
Veterinary Medicine – Requires a vet visit; a good one to do if you’re taking in your pet anyway.
Watersports – Getting up isn’t the problem, it’s jumping the wakes that might give some difficulty.
Welding – Something that every Scout should try. If you can get a qualified welder to teach you, this badge can be done in about 8-10 hours of instruction time. Definitely not for Scouts with short attention spans or safety violations in their recent past.
Woodworking – Easier if you have the tools; otherwise, you’ll need to find a place that will let you work on projects. If you have Shop in school, should be a cinch.
Level 4 – difficult or very time-consuming badges
Auto Mechanics – It’s a lot to remember, and most of the requirements are “demonstrate”.
Camping (E) – It’s not the actual camping, but the 20 nights and making sure some of the campouts fit the specific requirements. Open it as soon as you join Scouts.
Chemistry – Tedious for those of us who don’t like chemistry. Requires a visit. Not as difficult for science geeks (and I say that respectfully).
Citizenship in the Community (E) – Requires interviews, visits, and a public presentation. Yes, if you do it RIGHT, this is a hard badge. If you just want to get it over with and don’t really care about learning something, you can probably do it in three weeks. Need (8) community service hours.
Citizenship in the Nation (E) – Make sure to allow sufficient time to really go through the Constitution. A good badge to do with your American Government class. Requires visits. (Jordon and David logged 36 class hours each for this badge!)
Citizenship in the World (E) – *IF* you do it right, this should take a few months to complete. I know some camps offer it in a day, but what are you really getting out of it in a day?
Cycling (E) – The requirements aren’t that difficult, but it does require 7 different rides, including a 50-miler with time constraints. If you can’t swim very well, this is a good alternative.
Emergency Preparedness (E) – The best way to do this is to pair up with your local government emergency management division, so that you can do a real drill with them. This badge takes a lot of planning to do on your own.
Engineering – A little dry, but if you have the right counselor, the hands-on part can be fun.
Entrepreneurship – Requires interviews, reports, but the hard part of this is running a business.
Family Life (E) – Could be a (3) if you’re a self-starter. For some of us, it just seems to take forever.
Hiking (E) – The hard part is the 20-mile hike. Takes awhile to get in the (5) 10-milers, but enjoyable.
Home Repairs – A lot of different things involved. You might do this as a group, and offer to repair a senior’s home in your area.
Insect Study – Would be easy except the mounting of 50 bugs. A lot of fun.
Journalism – Watch tv and get a badge. Not really, but you do have to watch the tube or read a paper. The television option is especially fun. Requires a visit and interview.
Kayaking – Time-consuming — BUT here’s the thing: If you do the kayaking option for the whitewater badge, and earn the Kayaking BSA award, this is almost a gimme. If you’re going to either one of the badges, combine it with the other. A little extra and you’ll earn both (and the award).
Medicine – A lot of “discuss” and “tell”, but also requires a doctor visit and medical volunteer hours.
Metalwork – Can get expensive, depending upon which option you choose. The work doesn’t seem that hard, but it’s finding a metalworker to supervise and teach that might be a problem.
Nuclear Science – Learn how safe, efficient, and inexpensive nuclear power is. Requirements vary, but hopefully include a visit (difficult post 9-11).
Oceanography – Requires a 500-word report or a 5-minute speech. Yuck. Otherwise, very interesting badge.
Personal Management (E) – Time-consuming, but not overly difficult.
Plant Science – TONS of requirements. The “Field Botany” option is a lot easier than the other two.
Robotics – Because of the cost of the equipment involved, this will probably best be done as part of a Robotics club.
Salesmanship – A good one to do if your Troop does any kind of door-to-door selling (popcorn, anyone?). Easy if it’s natural for you; extremely difficult for those of us for whom it’s not.
Shotgun Shooting – The hard part of this is getting a good enough score to pass. Otherwise, it’s a blast.
Snow Sports – If you don’t already ski or snowboard, the level of proficiency might take a little while. Try the option you are most interested in, and switch if you find it’s not going to work. Different muscles for each of the options, and personality comes in to play.
Soil and Water Conservation – This is a fun one, but there’s a lot involved including visits and written reports.
Sports – Not difficult, but you have to be on two different sports teams for a season each in order to qualify, so it can take a long time.
Surveying – The badge isn’t difficult — but finding someone who really knows what they’re doing is.
Swimming (E) – A lot to learn, but it’s one of the most important things here.
Whitewater– Someone want to explain how a “Class I” river qualifies as Whitewater?? Good one to do at the same time as the BSA Kayak Award. Difficult because you have to have CPR card and Canoeing badge (or Kayak BSA) to even start it.
Wilderness Survival – The ultimate Boy Scout badge. Every single Scout should prepare for and earn this one. Should be one of the Eagle-requireds.
Level 5 – for the die-hard!
American Business – Another one requiring a business, and no, you can’t use the same three months for different badges. Lots of visits and reports. Good if you have a high school business course, though.
Archaeology – A lot of requirements, a lot of work, reports, plus you need to be able to find a dig to volunteer at. Who does these? Update: What a find! We were blessed enough to be able to actually work on a dig! Still a very difficult badge, but we learned a LOT.
Bugling – Unless you’re already used to playing a brass instrument, the required calls are fairly difficult to master. You can use a trumpet instead (easier). Still have to serve as bugler for three months in your troop. Plan to start this early because it took us 8 months and 10 months to complete.
Scuba – Most difficult badge of them all for anyone 15 and older. Requires NAUI or PADI adult certification. Expensive and a lot of work. Really good skill to have, though. If you do this before you turn 15, you can earn a *much* easier and less expensive Jr. Certification.