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This article was originally published in Issue 1 of our magazine.
If you’ve spent any amount of time looking into and buying emergency supplies, you’ll eventually run into this amazing stuff called paracord. Sold in many strengths, lengths, and colors, paracord is often fashioned into items such as bracelets and key chains or wrapped around the handles of knives and even sold as-is in bundle form. It’s even become a basis for arts and crafts items for some. From the outside, paracord looks like the kind of shoelace you’d find on a hiking boot, but make no mistake, paracord is much more than that.
Paracord, also known as parachute cord or accessory cord, started out as a lightweight nylon kernmantle rope used in the suspension lines of U.S. parachutes during World War II. It was found quite useful in the field for many applications such as securing equipment, making pace counters to estimate ground covered during land navigation, and even temporary makeshift rifle slings.
Paracord is constructed out of layers of braided nylon fibers contained in a woven sheath. It comes in many rated strengths, called types, and its uses are only limited by your imagination. The most popular version is Type III, which is rated at a minimum breaking strength of 550 pounds and is commonly called 550 cord. When the outer sheath of the cord is removed, the fine yarns of the core, also known as guts, can be used to sew things together or as fishing line in survival situations. Paracord’s uses are so widespread that it was even used by Space Shuttle astronauts to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
Paracord is available in two grades, either Mil-spec or commercial. Mil-spec paracord is made to meet or surpass U.S. military specifications. Given that U.S. military ratings lean toward the conservative side of the scale, each type of paracord will probably exceed its Mil-spec-rated breaking strength. This gives the user greater peace of mind in the tensile strength of the cord. Mil-spec MIL-C-5040 Type III is the U.S. military designation for Type III, the most popular type of cord, and is the most commonly used paracord on the market. Commercial-grade paracord that is listed as Type III is generally made with the same materials and specifications as the Mil-spec version. Other commercial grades are also available outside of the official Mil-spec types.
U.S. military specifications rate paracord breaking strength to six types ranging from Type I at 95 pounds all the way to Type IV at 750 pounds. Interestingly, there are no overall diameter requirements for the cord itself, although Type III usually measures 5⁄32-inch in diameter.
Be aware that there is paracord on the market that is marked as Type III or 550 cord, but are not actually made to Mil-spec. This non-Mil-spec Type III cord is often very strong, but it may not have seven to nine strands in the core as is mandated by military specification and might be made with less and smaller strands, which means decreased strength and reliability. Strands from imitation 550 cord may also be constructed with materials other than nylon. Other than cutting cord open to count the core strands, it is near impossible to figure out if a particular cord is true Type III or not by only looking at it. For this reason, we recommend purchasing paracord from trusted companies and retailers.
|TYPE||MINIMUM BREAKING STRENGTH||MINIMUM LENGTH PER POUND||MINIMUM LENGTH PER OUNCE||CORE YARNS||SHEATH STRUCTURE|
|I||95 lbs||950 ft||59.375 ft||4 to 7||32/1 or 16/2|
|IA||100 lbs||1,050 ft||65.625 ft||No Core||16/1|
|II||400 lbs||265 ft||16.563 ft||4 to 7||32/1 or 36/1|
|IIA||225 lbs||495 ft||30.938 ft||No Core||32/1 or 36/1|
|III||550 lbs||225 ft||14.063 ft||7 to 9||32/1 or 36/1|
|IV||750 lbs||165 ft||12.692 ft||11||32/1, 36/1, or 44/1|
The uses for 550 cord are endless and only stop at the imagination. Although it may be strong, it should not be used support someone’s bodyweight, unless it is a life or death situation and no other options are available. In this case, multiple cords should be used to help distribute the person’s weight.
1. Tent and pole support, building shelters
3. Wrap around grips and handles for better control
4. Tarp tie-down
6. Makeshift tourniquet
7. Hang food bags away from animals
8. Inner strands for sewing, fishing line, trapping and snares, dental floss, emergency stitches (boil first)
9. Replace a broken zipper pull