Cover art shows Scouts climbing, cycling, canoeing, raising the flag, and zip-lining, along with a bald eagle. Back cover continues the picture with Scouts cooking, fishing, and releasing a weather balloon.
The 13th Edition is a mild update to the 12th Edition, with much of the content lifted verbatim from the previous book, including many of the same photos and drawings. Chapters 2 through 12 cover the same subjects as before, with some new content or reorganization of previous content. The outside edges of pages contain a colored line and chapter name for handy reference (as did the 12th Edition). The most noticeable change is a brighter, cleaner 'look'. The distracting stylistic dots/smudges that cluttered the background of the 12th Edition's pages are gone. The reason for the new edition is the usual one, changes to the advancement requirements. Overall author is Mark Ray, who also wrote volume 1 of the new Troop Leader Guidebook for adult leaders.
Key advancement changes in the book include:
First-time topics in the new handbook include mentioning the multitool in addition to a pocket knife. And the book promotes STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) activities throughout. There is a special STEM index contained within the book's index, and there are dozens of blue boxes throughout the book that address STEM-related topics. The 24-page Parent's Guide inserted at the front of the handbook has been revised with an expanded title emphasizing youth protection.
The full-sized sewing templates formerly on the inside covers have been shrunk and hidden on pages 22-23. That's just as well, since the drawings contain many errors, including wrong dimension measurements, wrong patch placement, incorrect Council Journey to Excellence badge on a Scout's uniform, and still show the incorrect patrol leader badge that's been in the handbook since 2009. The inside front cover now has detailed instructions on how to recruit a friend into Scouting, and the inside back cover contains an ad for the BSA Scout Shops and the ScoutStuff.org website.
Most of the BSA history references scattered throughout the 12th Edition (for the BSA's 100th anniversary) are gone, except for a reference to earning the Scouting Heritage merit badge.
The troop organization chart on page 24, copied from the correct chart in the 12th Edition, is missing the line that should connect the SPL to the patrol leaders.
It looks like the term "Venture Scout" is now gone, replaced by references to "older Scouts" and the "Older-Scout patrol". But ever since Exploring changed to Venturing in 1998, the similarity between the terms 'Venture Scout' and 'Venturer' just caused too much confusion. Also, the job called Leave No Trace Trainer has been renamed Outdoor Ethics Guide, and the handbook mostly uses the term "outdoor ethics" where the 12th Edition used Leave No Trace, although there are still multiple uses of the LNT term.
While most countries have a "Scout Promise", BSA from the start called its promise the "Scout Oath". Starting in the 1950's, every handbook except the 10th Edition called it the "Scout Oath or Promise" (although the term "Scout Oath" was almost universally used by Scouts and leaders). The 13th Edition has returned to using only "Scout Oath".
The fitness chapter has a reminder for those of us living in states where recreational marijuana is now legal: "The use of marijuana, regardless of local law, is not allowed for Scouts or adults on any Scouting activity."
An expanded "Awards and Advancement" chapter consolidates and slightly expands the previous sections on these topics. A new "Personal Safety Awareness" chapter consolidates and expands information on child abuse, as well as peer pressure, bullying, and online safety (the Cyber Chip award). The Rank Requirements section adds a three-page listing of all current merit badges so a Scout can check off what he has earned and see what additional options there are. And there are no references (that I spotted) to the www.bsahandbook.org website, which was frequently referenced in the 12th Edition. The now-dated website still exists, but is exclusively dedicated to the former 12th Edition (at least as of May 2016).
13th Edition Summary and Printing History
Grand Total for all 13 Handbook Editions
Actual 13th Edition Table of Contents
1. Character and Leadership
4. First Aid
7. Outdoor Ethics
13. Personal Safety Awareness
14. Awards and Advancement
Your Adventure Continues
Boy Scout Rank Requirements
Leadership and Training Log