The Outdoor Code

When I was in the Scouts as a child, about 35 years ago, we certainly emphasized an outdoor stewardship ethic, but it took a little bit different form than it does now.  Nowadays we talk a lot about Leave No Trace and Tread Lightly, but back then those weren’t even a thing.

large-388761 smokey_magnet

We were constantly admonished by Smokey Bear to be careful with fire and we were advised by the crying Indian to not pollute or litter.  Our Scoutmasters seemed to harp most on the idea of leaving an area better than we found it.


Another thing that wasn’t even a thing back then (or if it was I have no memory at all of it) is the Outdoor Code that now forms the other leg of the Outdoor Ethics tripod for the Scouts.

As an American, I will do my best to be clean in my outdoor manners, be careful with fire, be considerate in the outdoors, and be conservation minded.

There is a lot of overlap between the three legs of that Outdoor Ethics tripod.  Leave No Trace, Tread Lightly, and the Outdoor Code all largely cover the same ideas.  But on the other hand, each of these has its own area of emphasis or expected audience.  Tread Lightly is directed at motorized outdoorsmen, LNT seems to be directed largely at hikers and campers, and the Outdoor Code seems to be a summary for a younger audience – perhaps specifically Scouts.

The Outdoor Code appears to be directed at Scouts because it is a promise that mimics the Scout Oath, “On my Honor I will do my best...”

The four B’s of the Outdoor Code

Some of the things that we point out to new Scouts as they are memorizing the Outdoor code –

The Outdoor code says that you promise to BE four things –

  • Be Clean in my outdoor manners
  • Be Careful with Fire
  • Be Considerate in the outdoors
  • Be Conservation-minded

Notice that as a guideline instead of a list of rules, it suggests four things that you should strive to be – but doesn’t give the specifics about how to be those things.

Also, notice that the 4 BEs each start with the letter C and each one is a longer word

  • clean
  • careful
  • considerate
  • conservation-minded

The form of the outdoor code (4 B’s, 4 C’s, increasing length) can make it easier to remember.

The four C’s of the Outdoor Code

A manner is a way you do things.  Outdoor manners are how you behave when you are outside.  In the Outdoor Code, you are promising that whatever you are doing outside, you will be clean.  Don’t drop litter, pick up litter that you see, plan your outing so that you leave the place cleaner than you found it.

Careful – fire is one of mankind’s most powerful tools.  With it, we can cook food, purify water, and create other tools to use.  For generations, men have used fire to stay warm and keep wild animals away at night.  We have also used it to clear land for farming and building.  But like any powerful tool, it can be destructive!  Be careful with fire.

Considerate – people need nature to stay alive and healthy and sane.  These days more and more people are getting out of the office and the school and the city to get back to nature to “find themselves” or to reconnect with the real, natural, alive part of themselves.  Some even consider it a spiritual experience.

You do not want to interfere with other peoples’ health or spiritual practices – so if you have to drag civilization or technology with you into the wild, keep it to yourself to keep from disrupting others’ enjoyment of nature.

Conservation means leaving things at least as good as you found them so that future generations of people can enjoy them forever.  Don’t use up resources that can’t be renewed.  Don’t do permanent damage to anything.

As an American

It seems curious to start the Outdoor Code with, “As an American.”  Why not, “As a Scout?” Or even, “As a thoughtful human being?”

America is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  There are countless natural wonders to see and experience, and when people see and experience these things it makes them better people – and better Americans.

We, as Scouts (Specifically Boy Scouts of America, chartered by the Congress of the United States of America), want to set a good example for all Americans to follow – because ALL Americans should want to abide by this code when outdoors.


Categories: Conservation

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  1. Roaming Parkers 2017-2018 conservation writing –