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The Outdoor Code

The Outdoor Code captures the essence of the Scouting Outdoor Ethic and establishes our aspirations and commitment.

The BSA first publicized the Outdoor Code in the March 1954 edition of Boy's Life magazine.

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 when and where they are permitted and 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 the land and other land users with respect. I will follow the principles of outdoor ethics for all outdoor activities.
* Be conservation-minded.
I will learn about and practice good conservation of soil, waters, forests, minerals, grasslands, wildlife and energy. I will urge others to do the same.
Boy Scout Handbook, 13th Edition, 2016

History of the Outdoor Code

Pledge Contest

Conservation Pledge Contest advertisement
Contest advertisement from Boys's Life magazine, April 1946, p26

Conservation Pledge

The precursor to BSA's Outdoor Code was the "Conservation Pledge":

  • In 1946, Outdoor Life Magazine held a nationwide contest for a thirty-word Conservation Pledge.

    Conservation Pledge

    Conservation Pledge
    Conservation Pledge as it appeared in Boys's Life magazine, August 1947, p46
  • Over 15,000 entries were received, and the winner was announced in December 1946. (more details)
  • The winning Pledge was featured on the January 1947 cover of Outdoor Life magazine.
  • Boy's Life magazine printed the Conservation Pledge (as at the right) in most issues from June of 1947 (pg 41) through January of 1954 (pg 62).
  • The Conservation Pledge was included in early printings (1st-7th, 1948-1954) of the 5th Edition of the Boy Scout Handbook.

Outdoor Code

Boy's Life Magazine

The Outdoor Code first appeared in Boy's Life magazine in the March 1954 issue, which featured "An Outdoor Code for Americans" and "B.S.A.'s Conservation Good Turn". The Good Turn was prompted by a request from President Dwight Eisenhower, challenging the Boy Scouts to raise public awareness of the importance of caring for natural resources.

This full page version of the Outdoor Code was on the first page of the color section (p35) of the magazine.

On page 27 Green Bar Bill announced the National Conservation Good Turn:
"The Kick-Off Activity during the week of March 21-27 will be the publicizing of the OUTDOOR CODE for Americans -- developed by the Boy Scouts of America, and promoted by all of us -- by you and me."

The article also encouraged Scouts to:

  • "Spread the message wherever you can -- in your Troop, your school, your family, among your friends"
  • Sign the Conservation Good Turn Pledge Card and "make your whole gang enthusiastic about doing a worthwhile job in conservation this year."
  • "Place the color page of the Code .. on the wall of your Patrol den."

Boy Scout Handbook

The Outdoor Code first appeared in the Boy Scout Handbook in February 1955, in the 8th printing of the 5th Edition. It replaced the Conservation Pledge on page 131.

(Thanks to everyone who checked their 5th Edition Handbook printings to help track this down.)

If anyone finds an earlier BSA publication with the Outdoor Code, please let us know! We'll be happy to add that to this history!

Scouting Magazine

The Outdoor Code was shown as a small image of a poster and mentioned in the January 1954 edition of Scouting magazine on page 13, in the article spelling out the timeline for various activities associated with the "B.S.A.'s Conservation Good Turn":

Publicizing the Outdoor Code
An Outdoor Code for Americans has been developed. This can be used as a part of the confab, but can be presented by Units to all Americans, with the idea that the Code will serve as a guide to their outdoor manners in the future. Suggestions provide opportunities for the proclamation of the Code in school assemblies, P.T.A., civic and fraternal organizations, and in public demonstrations and rallies.

The February 1954 Scouting Magazine (pages 8-9) article on the National Conservation Good Turn explains how the Outdoor Code is part of an "Outdoor Good Manners Crusade", and shows a bigger version of part of the Outdoor Code poster.

Both Scouting Magazine articles mention that additional details are in the 1954 Spring Program Quarterlies.


References / Other Resources

1948?

Q: But many articles list 1948 as the date for the Outdoor Code?

A: Here's how that may have happened: You are looking at an old 5th Edition Boy Scout Handbook and you see the Outdoor Code on page 131. You look on the title page and see "Copyright 1948", so you logically think that the Outdoor Code was part of the handbook in 1948. But it wasn't. Flip the page - you are looking at an EIGHTH, NINTH, TENTH, ELEVENTH, or TWELFTH PRINTING of the FIFTH EDITION. The Outdoor Code wasn't in the Handbook until the 8th Printing in February 1955.


Previous Versions of the Outdoor Code

While the four key points have not changed, there have been many revisions of the wording describing each of the points over the years.

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