The "Older Boy Problem." Along with the "younger boy problem," the BSA experienced what they called the "older boy problem" from Scouting's earliest days. Scouting has always had difficulty keeping boys in a troop beyond about age 14. Sea Scouting began in 1912. Other older-boy programs came along in the mid 1930s. Since then, older boy (and older-girl) programs have been added, dropped, updated, and changed continually right up to the present, and the BSA continues to search for solutions to the "older boy problem." Today, Venturing and Sea Scouting serve young men and young women from ages 14 through 20, though both programs have been shrinking dramatically since about 2010. Older youth age 14 until 18 can also remain in a Scout troop.
Venturer/Explorer Programs. The first specific older boy program was Sea Scouting, started in 1912. In 1935, the BSA established its Senior Scouting section, for young men 15 and up. Senior Scouting included not only Senior Scouts (who were members of a regular Boy Scout troop), but also Sea Scouts (members of a regular troop or of a separate Sea Scout ship), and Explorer Scouts (members of a regular troop or of a separate Explorer troop). Air Scouting started in 1941 and ended as a separate program in 1965. For a brief time, there were also Rover Scout crews for young men 17 and up. In 1949, the BSA decided to call all Senior Scouts (14 and over) Explorers, whether they remained as part of a troop's Explorer crew or joined a separate Explorer post. In 1959, Boy Scouts 14 and over were again called Senior Scouts (a term dropped in 1972 when the optional Leadership Corps was created for 14 and 15 year olds), and the term Explorer was applied only to members of Explorer posts, Sea Explorer ships, and Air Explorer squadrons. That year (1959) saw other sweeping changes as Exploring began permitting posts to become special-interest posts with a career specialty. In 1998, the Explorer program was overhauled and renamed the Venturing program, including a new advancement program. [With the end of the Leadership Corps option in 1989, BSA started identifying senior Scouts as Venture Scouts, a name that was dropped by 2016 because of its confusing similarity to 'Venturer'.] Sea Scouts BSA became a separate program division from Venturing in 2016.
Coed Membership. Venturing and Sea Scouts are the BSA's only fully-coed programs. Men and women can hold any adult office. In 1969, young women were permitted to become non-registered "associate" members of Explorer posts, and, in 1971, Exploring became fully coed. As of 1 February 2019, female Venturers and Sea Scouts finally received full equality with male Venturers & Sea Scouts as females were allowed to earn the Eagle Scout award in the same manner as males. Youth membership in the Order of the Arrow honor camping brotherhood, formerly open only to Boy Scouts (although many years ago, male Explorers could be elected) also opened to female Scouts and to male & female Venturers and Sea Scouts starting in 2019. Adult membership in the OA, formerly open only to male & female Scout troop leaders, also opened to all Venturing and Sea Scout adults in 2019.
Age Overlap. Internationally, the age overlap of Scouts (11-17), Varsity Scouts (14-17), and Venturing/Sea Scouts (14-20) in the BSA is unusual. Most countries require Scouts at about age 14 to leave the Scout troop and enter their country's version of Venturing (just as we require 11 year olds to leave the Cub Scout pack and enter a Scout troop).
Advancement. Venturer/Explorer advancement has never settled into a pattern of its own. Explorers have usually had the option of earning the higher Scout troop ranks (Star, Life, Eagle), as Venturers and Sea Scouts still do. In addition, Explorers have often had a separate advancement track of their own, patterned after Boy Scout advancement, and culminating with a top Explorer rank or award (such as the old Explorer Scouting program's Ranger Award or the Sea Scout Quartermaster Award). Today, Venturers and Sea Scouts can earn the higher Scout ranks (they must earn First Class in a Scout troop). Sea Scouts (formerly Sea Explorers) can earn the Quartermaster award, and Venturers can earn the little-known Summit Award (which replaced the little-known Venturing Silver Award in 2014). None of these awards has the cachet of Eagle Scout. As of August 2020 the core Venturing awards, culminating with the Summit Award, are officially referred to as ranks, in parallel with Cub Scout, Scout, and Sea Scout advancement.
Exploring is a BSA subsidiary, operated under Learning for Life. It is a coed, work-site-based program for ages 10-20. Explorers are not required to adhere to the Scout Oath or Law, and membership is open to any youth subject to the age restrictions. Note that what was for many years called "Exploring" is now generally covered in the Venturing program.
Learning for Life
Started in 1982 as Career Awareness Exploring, Learning for Life is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the BSA. It is a coed, classroom-based character education program for grades K-12. LFL members are not required to adhere to the Scout Oath or Law, and membership is open to any youth subject to the age restrictions.
STEM Scouts, still in an expanded pilot phase, is a coed program for youth in grades 3-12. They meet weekly with monthly field trips, and focus on STEM (Science / Technology / Engineering / Math) topics, with 4- to 6-week learning modules. Meetings open with the Scout Oath and Scout Law. There is no rank advancement, but STEM Scouts can earn "electronic badges" for participation and achievement. There is a flat $200/person/year cost. STEM Scouts don't wear a uniform, but a T-shirt is available.
There is more information about BSA and its non-traditional programs on our Boy Scouts of America page.
Uniforms for Cub Scouts
Cub Scout Uniform. The blue Cub Scout uniform has changed little since 1930, except for Webelos Scouts. Many minor changes have occurred at about the same time as similar changes in the Scout uniform, including the switch from knickers to trousers (in 1947, four years after the Boy Scouts) and the switch to permanent press. Oscar de la Renta redesigned the Cub Scout uniform at the same time he redesigned the Scout uniform, but the changes were minor, the most significant being the change from "beanies" to baseball-style caps.
Webelos Uniform. The Webelos Cub Scouts of the 1950s and 1960s wore only the Webelos den badge on the standard Cub Scout uniform. In 1967, they were given special Webelos insignia, neckerchief, and hat. Beginning in 1984, Webelos Scouts got the additional option of wearing the standard Boy Scout uniform with Webelos hat, neckerchief, insignia, and blue shoulder loops, and today's Webelos wear only the tan uniform.
Neckerchiefs. The yellow Cub Scout neckerchief was originally worn by all Cub Scouts. In 1967, Webelos Scouts got a special plaid neckerchief. In 1984, the yellow Cub Scout neckerchief became the Wolf Cub Scout neckerchief, and Bear Cub Scouts got their own light blue neckerchief.
Tiger Cubs and Lion Cub Uniforms. Tiger Cubs originally wore an orange T-shirt with an iron-on Tiger Cubs logo. It wasn't long until Tiger Cubs wore the full Cub Scout uniform with a special orange Tiger Cubs neckerchief, which is still the case now that Tiger has become a full part of the Cub Scout program. Lion Cubs wear a blue T-shirt with a Lion logo. We'll see when that may change to the full Cub Scout uniform.
Uniforms for Scouts and Varsity Scouts
Early Uniform. The first Scout uniform was an impractical copy of the US Army uniform of 1910, which disregarded the far more practical English uniform designed by Baden-Powell. The early BSA uniform had no neckerchief, and Scouts generally wore knickers with leggings and a button-down coat with metal insignia. Scouts and adults both wore their rank insignia on their hats (adults were allowed to earn merit badges and ranks right along with the Scouts).
1922-1981 Uniforms. In 1922, the BSA modernized its uniforms to a style we would recognize today. Coats and leggings were dropped, and neckerchiefs were added. Scouts could wear knee socks with either shorts or knickers (trousers replaced knickers in 1943).
Until 1943, all Scouts wore campaign ("Smokey the Bear") hats. At that time, the field (overseas) cap (popularized by World War II soldiers) was added. Red berets and baseball-style caps joined the options in 1972. Also in 1972, the BSA changed almost every uniform insignia, making them multi-color, standardizing the shapes, and adding wording to explain what they signify. Brightly colored patches replaced the old black-on-red patrol medallions, and merit badges received colorful backgrounds (replacing a uniform khaki background).
1981-2008 Uniform. In 1981, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta designed a more attractive Scout uniform (at no charge). The more stylish new uniform maintained a clear Scout identity in its appearance, but used more rugged material and added colored shoulder loops. The most striking change was the switch to a two-color uniform (something many other countries have long had). A tan shirt and dark khaki-green trousers replaced the old medium khaki-green shirt and trousers (which in turn had replaced a medium khaki-brown). In 1989, along with the other changes largely restoring the pre-1972 program, the BSA changed its rank and office insignia so that they more nearly matched the pre-1972 insignia, keeping the wording but replacing the multi-colored backgrounds with backgrounds matching the tan shirt color.
From 1972-89, Leadership Corps members (14- & 15-year old Scouts) were encouraged to wear the forest-green shirt formerly used by Explorers.
In 1990, the BSA added an optional and impractical "activities uniform" in addition to the standard field uniform (like the optional leggings of the 1950s, the expensive activities uniform never caught on, mainly because Scouts also had to own a field uniform for more formal occasions). But if you look through the 10th Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook (1990-98) at the hundreds of photos and drawings of uniformed Scouts, you'll have a hard time finding anyone wearing the field uniform as BSA tried to sell the new option.
In the early 1990s, the BSA discontinued its unpopular knee socks, replacing them with shorter khaki socks with a red band at the top (and today, there is no red band, just a very subtle 'BSA' at the top of the sock). In 1995, responding to complaints (mostly from adults embarrassed about their ugly legs, I suspect), the BSA brought back the knee socks as an option.
Current Scout Uniform. In 2008, BSA did a mild makeover to the uniform in preparation for its 100th anniversary in 2010. Colors and materials were adjusted slightly, with both 100% nylon and cotton-polyester options. Badge colors were made more low-key, and shoulder loops changed from red to dark forest green. Trousers with zip-off legs replaced both long pants and shorts (though the stylish length of the new zipped-off trousers makes them more like knickers than shorts, since they come well below the knee on most Scouts). Shirts got velcro-closure, bellows pockets and a mini-pocket added to the left sleeve (and even an embroidered hole hidden behind the pocket for your iPod) [BSA dropped the left-sleeve pocket after barely two years]. Abandoning its US/union-made policy, BSA now imports uniforms from Asia, mostly due to the lack of US manufacturers capable of making sufficient quantities to meet BSA needs.
Shoulder Loops. Today's Scouts and Scouters wear colored shoulder loops to indicate the branch of the Scouting family to which they belong. Webelos Scouts and all Cub Scout leaders wear blue loops, Boy Scouts and their leaders wear dark forest green (red before 2008), Varsity Scouts and their leaders wear orange, Venturers and their leaders wear green, District and Council Scouters wear silver, and Regional and National Scouters wear gold.
The Most Important Change. With all these many changes, you know what is easily the most important one in the uniform's century-old history? It's permanent press! Until the mid 1960s, uniforms were wrinkle-prone cotton or itchy wool. Ironing might last an hour or so (sometimes minutes). Modern, cotton/polyester and nylon permanent-press materials are a big improvement.
Uniforms for Venturers/Explorers and Sea Scouts
The early Senior Scouts and Explorer Scouts wore the same uniform as other Scouts. Sea Scouts and Air Scouts had uniforms appropriate to their programs. Explorers of the 1950s had a forest green uniform. Later, a blue blazer "uniform" was allowed, and the forest green uniform was dropped. The new Venturing program has restored the forest green shirt (now called spruce green) with green shoulder loops and gray shorts or trousers as an optional uniform. For some years, Sea Explorers/Sea Scouts had the option to design their own uniform. Since becoming separate from the Venturing division, Sea Scouting has adopted a new blue uniform, which must be purchased privately (BSA National Supply states that there are not enough Sea Scouts to justify providing uniforms). Each Sea Scout purchases the shirt & trousers/shorts from a private supplier of their choice, then sews on standard BSA insignia. Learning for Life (and their Career Awareness Explorer predecessors) have never had a uniform.
Uniforms for Summer Camp Staff
Although Venturers don't attend BSA summer camps (which are for Cub Scouts, Webelos Scouts, and Scouts), many camp staffs wear the Scout uniform but with the forest/spruce green Venturing shirt, in effect making the dark green shirt the de-facto (unofficial) camp staff uniform shirt.
Last Revision to This Page: 21 February 2021
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