Trail Life vs Boy Scouts

Trail Life vs Boy Scouts: Differences, Similarities, & How To Choose

For decades, the debate between Trail Life vs Boy Scouts has sparked discussions about the best approaches to outdoor education and character development for young boys. As two prominent organizations dedicated to nurturing leadership skills and fostering a love for nature, their differing philosophies have prompted parents, leaders, and scouts themselves to question which path offers the most enriching experience. While both groups are committed to instilling values of integrity, responsibility, and service, they diverge in their methods and emphases. In this article, we will delve into the nuanced distinctions between Trail Life USA and Boy Scouts of America, exploring their histories, core principles, program offerings, and impact on young men’s lives. By understanding these differences more deeply, you can make an informed decision about which organization aligns with your family's values and aspirations for your son's development.

Disclosure Notice: This is NOT a paid post, and at the time of writing and publishing this post, I am not affiliated with either in any way. There are no partnership or other monetized links on this page. This is solely the information I compiled to share with my husband and kids to make an informed decision together as a family, and shared with you in case you needed help finding the same info. I'm a firm believer in “knowledge not shared is knowledge wasted,” especially on topics that take a while to research. The contents of this post come from information provided by the Soucts and Trail Life websites and personal conversations with other parents who have been involved in both groups. The commentary and opinions found within are my own personal opinions and do not reflect those of either program.

Yes, I know “Boy Scouts” is now referred to as “Scouts” since they now also allow girls into their ranks, but call it old habits or the fact that Trail Life only allows boys (with the Heritage Girls alternative for girls), my comparison here is focused largely on the Scouts' “Boy Packs” and how it directly compares to the Christian alternative “Trail Life.” This article does outline my own comparative research in making a decision for what is best for my family, but provided in a manner where you have all the information easily accessible to make your own informed decisions.

A Comparative Analysis: Boy Scouts vs. Trail Life

For generations, organizations like the Boy Scouts of America have been synonymous with outdoor adventure, leadership development, and a strong sense of community. However, in recent years, a new contender has emerged on the scene: Trail Life USA.

With both groups sharing similar goals and activities, it's natural to wonder how they compare and which might offer the best experience for young boys seeking character-building experiences in the great outdoors.

By shedding light on the differences and similarities of both groups' programs, I aim to provide logical info to help you weigh your options thoughtfully while deciding where to invest your children's time and energy for maximum personal growth and fulfillment.

History of Boy Scouts:

The Boy Scouts, established in 1910, has a rich history steeped in tradition. Over the years, it has evolved to address the changing needs of young men, emphasizing character development, leadership skills, and community service. Founded on principles of duty to God, country, and others, the Boy Scouts have left a lasting impact on generations of young men.

However, the organization has also faced controversies, particularly surrounding issues such as inclusivity and the handling of abuse cases leading to a multi-billion dollar lawsuit. These challenges have prompted the Scouts to reevaluate policies, strive for inclusiveness, and improve safety policies within their ranks.

History of Trail Life:

Trail Life was founded as an alternative to the Boy Scouts in 2013 to provide an alternative in the light of Boy Scouts deviating from their past Christian foundation. Inspired by a desire to provide a Christ-centered scouting experience, Trail Life differentiates itself through its focus on biblical values and emphasizing outdoor adventures. This newer organization aims to create an environment where young men can grow spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

Core Principles and Values:

Both the Boy Scouts and Trail Life place significant importance on character development, leadership skills, and service to others.

However, they differ in their specific approaches. The Boy Scouts embrace a broader, nonsectarian philosophy, whereas Trail Life grounds its principles in Christian faith and values.

Parental Involvement in Boy Scouts and Trail Life

According to the Scouts' website, under the FAQ section asking whether parents should be involved: “They are not a family activity, and the presence of parents can be a distraction.” The FAQ line continues to say, “However, parental involvement is not forbidden, and all meetings should be open to your participation. If you would like to be present at a den meeting, ask the den leader in advance so that the leader can plan a way for you to observe or participate in an unobtrusive manner.”

This is where Trail Life begins to starkly contrast the Scouts.

Trail Life is designed for boys and their dads to adventure and participate together. Parents, especially fathers, are highly encouraged to participate.

Trail Life vs Boy Scouts Impact on Young Men's Lives:

Both the Boy Scouts and Trail Life have had significant impacts on the lives of countless young men, helping to shape character, build resilience, cultivate leadership abilities, and create lifelong friendships.

The Boy Scouts have a long-standing reputation for fostering personal growth, teaching valuable life skills, and opening doors to future opportunities. Testimonials from former Boy Scouts often highlight the positive influence the organization had on their lives, preparing them for success in various aspects.

Trail Life has also left a lasting impression on young men, offering a space where they can connect with their Christian faith, develop essential life skills, and forge strong moral values. Participants in Trail Life often attest to the program's impact on their spiritual growth and sense of purpose.

Boy Scout vs Trail Life Child Safety Policies:

Because of the sensitive nature that comes with even considering placing my child in either one of these programs, child safety is a major concern, especially with past scandals in the Scouts and other similar programs.

Lgbtquia+ Policies: Boy Scouts vs Trail Life

While I do agree every child needs a safe place to be accepted, loved, and learn the value of community service and skill building, I do feel this topic is very important in regard to where I place my young ones and what I expose them to. And all the parents I've talked with agree on that point.

If embracing LGBTQIA+ topics is important to your family, you may want to reconsider Trail Life and move forward with Scouts. While Trail Life allows any boy of any sexual orientation to join, they focus on sexual purity (reserving sexual activity for the sanctity of marriage), so any flaunting of orientation or desire will be discouraged and asked to not be discussed at the meetings.

If avoiding engaging in LGBTQIA+ topics and promoting sexual purity are important to you, you'll want to seriously consider Trail Life in your analysis.

Scouts' Child Safety Policy

According to the Scouts' website,

  • Leaders are required to take child safety training every 2 years
  • Leaders must go through background checks
  • 2 registered adult leaders over the age of 21 must be present for all meetings and events
  • One-on-one contact between leaders and youth participants is prohibited. Communication must also include parents or guardians of the youth.
  • Health and safety policies must be practiced and honored

Trail Life Child Safety Policy

According to Trail Life's CEO, Mark Hancock:

“Although no program can guarantee total protection, we believe Trail Life USA’s child protection policy is very comprehensive. According to the policy:

  • All adults are background-checked regularly, not just once
  • All adults must receive a personal recommendation from a church representative, who also represents the troop
  • All adults complete youth protection training every two years
  • All troops commit to transparency in reporting incidents to authorities; no investigations are conducted only internally at any level
  • Commitment to 1-2-3 Protection Guidelines in every troop:
    • No one-on-one contact between adult and boy
    • Minimum of two registered adults on site
    • ‘Buddy groups’ of three boys of the same age to deter boy-on-boy abuse”

Boy Scouts vs Trail Life Program Offerings:

Both the Scouts and Trail Life offer very similar services, programs, learning opportunities, adventuring opportunities, and community service opportunities.

Upon first glance, it seems the Boy Scouts has more pre-designed merit badges available. However, Trail Life surprised me with the ability for kids to step up as leaders in designing their own unique “elective” badge programs (and designs).

Boy Scout Merit Badges, Activities, Community Service Projects, and Leadership Opportunities

The Boy Scouts offer a wide range of programs and activities, including merit badges, camping, community service projects, and leadership development opportunities. These experiences assist young men in developing well-rounded skills and expose them to diverse interests and experiences.

Ideas for what activities your son could participate in are listed in the “merit badge” sections.

Trail Life Badges, Activities, Community Service Projects, and Leadership Opportunities

In contrast, Trail Life focuses primarily on outdoor adventures, skill-building activities, and character development with a strong biblical foundation. The organization seeks to guide young men along a trail that leads to godly, responsible, and adventurous manhood.

What really sets Trail Life apart from other scouting programs (aside from being Christ-centered) is your son's ability to create and design his own elective badge (the program and badge itself). They really encourage youth participants to take the leadership helm in creating their own designs that glorify God instead of just choosing from a list.

Random Questions & Answers About Boy Scouts vs Trail Life

A Mom's Final Comparison: Trail Life vs Boy Scouts

My entire time spent being a mom, I've strived to grow in my own faith, and place God at the center of everything my kids do. Searching for the right answer, whether to have my son join the Boy Scouts or Trail Life, has been difficult to ponder.

I love the thought of having another source of youth-focused fellowship while learning practical, leadership, and relationship skills and participating in community services. Fully realizing both options could fulfill that, from what I've noticed, I feel Trail Life would provide more emphasis on the need for faith-based fellowship. However, the Boy Scouts still allow faith-based achievements, so their ability to fill this need may be location-dependent.

Boy Scouts offers a larger variety of skills, leadership opportunities, community service opportunities, and opportunities to explore careers with the possibility of incorporating some fellowship along the way. I love that they provide a wide variety of merit badge achievements, and their exploring program looks incredible for providing kids an inside scope into various career options.

On the other hand, Trail Life surprised me with their encouragement for boys to take on the creative leadership role of developing and designing their own elective trail badges.

Closing Thoughts

In comparing the Boy Scouts and Trail Life, it's crucial to recognize the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each organization.

Both have a history of positively influencing young men's lives, albeit with varying approaches.

Whether you choose to enroll your son in Boy Scouts or Trail Life, what matters most is which values, goals, and mission align the most with your family's. Also, consider what your end goals are.

  • Are you focused on skill building? (Perhaps a great addition to homeschooling activities?)
  • Are you looking for something more focused on the larger community?
  • Are you prioritizing future career or scholarship opportunities?

If your answer to the above questions is yes, then go check out your local Boy Scouts troop.

However, if you want to place our Lord at the center of everything your family does, increase opportunities for fellowship, build relationships, and make some incredible memories while building valuable skills, then absolutely go with Trail Life.

Eventually, I believe Trail Life will catch up to the Boy Scouts in terms of scholarship opportunities and career exploration, but for now, they have their distinct benefits and differences.

Which is the right choice for your family? Only you can make that decision. I pray this article gives you what you need to help you confidently make that decision.

And if it doesn't, I hope you contact the troop leaders for both organizations in your area, meet with them, and determine which troop would be a better culture based on the values and overall culture of that individual troop.

Ultimately, scouting programs, whether you choose Boy Scouts or Trail Life, will provide valuable opportunities for character development, leadership, and personal growth, empowering young men to become responsible and contributing members of society.

Author: Nicole Graber

Title: Writer, Editor, Coach

Expertise: Natural Wellness, Healthy Lifestyle, Home Business Strategy, Motherhood


Nicole is a military-trained research analyst, homeschooling mom, healthy lifestyle coach, flexible business consultant, and writer for and, with bylines from and the AP Newswire. After living through and overcoming a season of homelessness and chronic health, Nicole developed a passion for helping others develop healthier habits using functional nutrition, herbalism, and renewing faith.

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