The Climbing Merit Badge was created in 1997 as growing numbers of young people began to get interested in the excitement and challenge of rock climbing. The proliferation of gyms and facilities also made climbing and rappelling easily accessible and available throughout the country.
While climbing and rappelling are some of the most popular outdoor activities within the BSA, there are important safety measures that should always be followed to ensure that youth can continue to safely enjoy this pastime.
Climb On Safely
Climb On Safely is the Boy Scouts of America’s procedure for organizing BSA climbing/rappelling activities at a natural site or a specifically designed facility such as a climbing wall or tower. All unit-sponsored/planned climbing activities, regardless of where they are held, fall under Climb On Safely. This applies to a single unit or multiple units that may be participating in a joint unit climbing activity.
Each of the following points plays an important role in Climb On Safely. Fun and safe climbing/rappelling activities require close compliance of Climb On Safely by the adult supervisor, the instructors, and all participants. These points also apply to bouldering—traversing a few feet above ground level.
- Qualified Supervision—A mature adult at least 21 years of age who understands the risks of climbing is needed. Additionally, one adult supervisor is required for every 10 participants. Ensure someone in the group is currently trained in first aid and CPR.
- Qualified Instructors—A minimum of two instructors is needed, but more may be necessary to keep a 6-to-1 ratio of participants to instructors.
- Physical Fitness—All participants are required to have an Annual Health and Medical Record to show evidence of fitness.
- Safe Area—Use an established climbing/rappelling site or facility. Survey the site in advance for possible hazards and ensure it can accommodate the number of participants.
- Equipment—Verify proper equipment is available and meets requirements outlined in Belay On.
- Planning—Share your plans, secure any permits or permissions for venues/sites, obtain weather reports, and have emergency plans in place.
- Environmental Conditions—Monitor potentially dangerous conditions like loose, crumbly rock; poisonous plants; wildlife; and inclement weather.
- Discipline—All participants should respect and follow all instructions and rules. Learn and present the rules prior to the outing.
Like many other Scouting activities, youth should feel challenged to continually learn and try new things. However, age-appropriate guidelines ensure that youth are learning things at a controlled pace for their age and experience level.
When it comes to rock climbing, Cub Scouts are encouraged to participate; Webelos Scouts are encouraged to engage in climbing and rappelling in a controlled environment with close supervision by instructors who are knowledgeable about instructing this age group. Normally, this means going to a climbing gym where the degree of difficulty is age-appropriate and the harnesses are size-appropriate for Cub Scouts.
Leaders should always consult age-appropriate guidelines if they are unsure about what activities are appropriate for their youth and how much supervision is required.
These guidelines can be found at www.scouting.org.
Challenge by Choice
Practice Challenge by Choice, a concept that allows individuals to choose the level at which they want to participate in the various climbing activities without being pressured or coerced by the group and without having to justify their choice.
This will ensure that youth engage with activities at their own pace and comfort level.
- Clothing—No baggy clothing, jewelry removed, and long hair tucked in
- Harness/Helmets—Properly fitted helmets; belay and buckles attached per manufacturer
- Environment—Program areas free from obstructions; people on the ground in a safe location
- Connections—Belay system connections and all rigging checked and rechecked
- Knots—Properly tied, dressed, and backed up with a safety knot
- Age-Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities: www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/34416_Insert_Web.pdf
- BSA COPE and Climbing website: www.scouting.org/outdoor-programs/cope/
- Belay On, No. 430-500: www.scouting.org/filestore/Outdoor%20Program/pdf/430-500_BelayOn_WB.pdf
- Climb On Safely: www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/Climb_O_Safely.pdf
- Climbing merit badge requirements: www.scouting.org/filestore/Merit_Badge_ReqandRes/Climbing.pdf