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Why don’t all Boy Scouts carry and use fixed blade knives?

Why don’t all Boy Scouts carry and use fixed blade knives?


Some scout troops and camps have a blanket ban of sheath knives. I think that’s a bad idea and here’s why.

by Leon Pantenburg

I get it when parents are concerned about their boys handling sharp objects that could cause great  harm. And it makes sense that knives, axes and fire should be handled with extreme care.

pocket knives

I love pocket knives, but don’t think they’re the best or safest knife for scouts

But one of things we do as scouters is teach young men to act safely in the outdoors. That means working with tools that could be dangerous in untrained hands.

But I don’t get how some camp directors ban sheath knives from camps, or that some scoutmasters won’t let the boys carry any knife but a folder.

Here’s the Boy Scouts’ take on sheath knives:

“Q. What is the official BSA regulation on carrying sheath knives?
A.
 The Boy Scout Handbook, Bear Handbook, and Webelos Handbook contain the program for the safe and responsible use of knives. The BSA believes choosing the right equipment for the job at hand is the best answer to the question of what specific knife should be used. We are aware that many councils or camps may have limits on the type or style of knife that should be used. The BSA neither encourages nor bans fixed-blade knives nor do we set a limit on blade length. Additional information is found in the Guide to Safe Scouting.”

No scout can carry any knife until they earn a Totin’ Chip, which means they have had several hours of training and hands-on experience using knives, saws and axes. Each scout has to have that chip on them at camp if they’re carrying a knife.

If the scout is seen acting in an unsafe manner with his knife, he is warned and a corner of the chip will be cut off. When all four corners are gone, the scout has to take the Totin’ Chip class again before being allowed to carry a knife.

Since knife safety training is a requirement, then, every scout with a knife has been trained and we assume he knows how to safely use any knife.

Here’s why – IMO – sheath knives are the best choice for scouts:

These Boy Scouts crowded into an igloo during a winter campout. They have bragging rights.

These Boy Scouts crowded into an igloo during a winter campout. They earned bragging rights.

Learn knife safety: So you’re going to require a kid to learn knife safety, then tell him he can’t use a sheath knife safely? Hmmm…what does that do for the credibility of the Totin’ Chip training?

Cooking: To earn the (Eagle required) cooking merit badge, scouts have to prepare food outdoors. If they have to use a folder for some of the food preparation, inevitably, some of the food will get in the blade channel. There may not be time or enough water to effectively clean the knife effectively. Next step: food poisoning.

Cleaning fish: The Fishing merit badge requires a scout catch a fish, clean it and then cook it. Sure, he can use a folder. But the same concerns about cleanliness in the blade channel should be there.

Also – a folder handle is typically smaller than a rigid blade knife. Some fish scales and slime on the pocketknife handle may create a potentially dangerous situation.

Pocketknives fold on fingers: An informal poll among other scoutmasters in the district pointed this out: The most common cause of cuts on scout outings is when a blade folds on a finger.

The scouts require a lock blade on a folder, but that is no guarantee of safety, especially with kids who have beginner knife handling skills. Unless you want to invest a lot of money in a folder, you may end up with a sketchy lock.

The day was cold, but these Troop 18 Boy Scouts stayed warm because they dressed correctly for the weather conditions.

The day was cold, but these Troop 18 scouts dressed correctly and stayed warm.

Several years ago, a scout at one of the Fremont District camps had to make an emergency room visit after the lock on his folder failed. It cut his fingers severely.

And what about those flipper or gravity assist folders? IMHO, those are dangerous. Inevitably, scouts will get into fast-draw contests or they will flip their knives to show off.  That potential problem is averted with a rigid blade knife.

Cost: Scouting is expensive, and there is always the temptation to scrimp on things when you can. A well-meaning parent or grandparents may buy a cheap folding knife, and think that because it has a lock blade, it is safe.

In reality, a cheap folder can be one of the most dangerous knives for a kid. On some folders, the hinge may be the most expensive part of the knife. Break that, and you have two pieces and a disabled survival tool. If you’re lucky nobody got hurt.

Better handle: Rigid blade knives have more ergonomic handles than most folders. A thin profile folder, designed to be carried in a pocket, may be harder to grasp and more uncomfortable to use.

But scouts of all sizes in Troop 18, in Bend, Oregon, have used dozens of full-sized Mora knives for more than a decade, with no problems

Carving: The wood carving merit badge requires a lot of whittling and carving, and that means knife handling. The steel in that cheap folder’s blade probably won’t hold an edge very long, making it dull quickly. If the blade has a serrated edge, it will be really difficult to use. A dull knife is dangerous because it will slip while cutting.

Troop 18 bought 50 Mora 840 Companions for the scouts to use.

In 2016, Troop 18 bought 50 Mora 840 Companions for the scouts.

Cost: Several  years ago, after the aforementioned scout cut his fingers at camp, the late Dr. Jim Grenfell and I set out to find the safest, most efficient knife for scouts use. Jim, incidentally, was a UCLA dentistry instructor who took up blacksmithing and knife making upon retirement.

Long story short: After a lot of testing and research, we chose the Mora 840 Companion as the best beginner knife for scouts.  It offered low price, great blade steel, and ergonomic handle.  We got a big discount because we bought in bulk.

The troop bought 40 and sold them to the scouts for $8 each. This year, the troop got another 50, at a cost of $10 each to the scouts.

Get a scout an inexpensive Mora for his first knife.

Get a scout an inexpensive Mora for his first knife.

The Moras are cheap, reliable and safe. The troop has figured out a way to modify the sheaths so they’re even safer.

One of our former scoutmasters is a very successful big game hunter. He could easily afford a better knife, but he has used his Mora on deer, elk, moose and hogs because it is so effective.

Here’s what I’d suggest to camp directors and troops regarding rules for  using sheath knives:

  • ALL knives are subject to camp director/scoutmaster approval before being allowed on the premises. All knife rules and requirements should be published well before camp begins. It goes without saying that no applicable federal, state or local  laws will be violated.
  • All sheath knives must have a sturdy, safe and secure sheath.
  • All sheaths for knives must be worn on the side or behind the hip.
  • Establish a maximum blade length: A four to five inch blade is all anyone needs for 99 percent of all camp tasks. It is a good compromise of compact carry and efficiency.
  • Buy Moras for the scouts in your troop, then modify the sheaths for safer carry. Get all of them the same color and make it part of the uniform.

When it’s all said and done, scouting has never had more challenges. According to BSA statistics, enrollment continues to decline. Out of every 100 kids who start scouts, 30 will drop out the first year.

One very visible thing that sets us apart from other youth programs is the emphasis on outdoor skills. We owe it to the kids to make their scouting program exciting, dynamic and fun.

Sean Jacox honored me with an Eagle Mentor Pin when he achieved the highest rank in scouting.

Sean Jacox honored me with an Eagle Mentor Pin when he achieved the highest rank in scouting.

Leon Pantenburg has been a scout volunteer for almost 20 years, and has been an active assistant scoutmaster with Troop 18 in Bend, Oregon since 2001.

Leon is a merit badge counselor for cooking, camping, wilderness survival and backpacking, along with others.

In 2007, he has received a district award of merit for the survival firestarting program he initiated.

He has been awarded three Eagle Mentor Pins, two 50 Miler patches and has more than 100 nights of camping with scouts. He loves snow camping and has not missed a Freezoree since joining Troop 18.
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3 Comments

  1. Leon

    08/18/2016 at 20:39

    Actually, your video was the inspiration for that post. I’ve been preaching the fixed blade sermon for going on 10 years, and thought I was the only one. The response I’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly positive. I was thinking of doing a video…Maybe, if a few more scoutmasters are more vocal, we can correct this crazy ruling. Love your channel, incidentally.

  2. Bryan Stevens

    08/17/2016 at 09:20

    Leon, As a Scoutmaster and father of 2 Eagle Scouts (so far), I completely agree. In fact, I did a video on this subject on my YouTube channel (Survival On Purpose) last year which I believe may have had a small influence on the revised wording in the latest Guide to Safe Scouting. At least the new guidelines seem to echo my sentiment that, of all people, a Boy Scout should be able to properly handle a knife of any size. I applaud your efforts to correct the “no fixed blades” mindset and agree with your choice o the Mora as an excellent Scout knife. Keep up the good work and, as always, Be Prepared.

  3. Roy

    08/17/2016 at 08:38

    Survival On Purpose did a video on that some time back… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH6v7iWWAlo

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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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