Paracord is an awesome resource for survival, there’s no doubt about that. However, as is the case with any item that gains widespread popularity, it’s eventually going to get knocked off, duplicated, or replicated by the lowest bidder. With many complex consumer goods, it’s fairly easy to tell the fakes from the originals, but with something as simple as paracord, it can be tricky. So, we wanted to clear up some misconceptions and give you a quick summary of how to identify REAL mil-spec paracord. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a survival scenario with bargain-basement cordage that you thought you could depend on.
In a nutshell, here’s how to identify real mil-spec 550lb paracord:
The cord will be advertised as “C-5040H Type III” or feature this terminology on its packaging. “C-5040H” is the military specification that defines and regulates paracord supplied to the US Armed Forces. However, be aware that C-5040H defines six different strength grades, ranging from 95lb to 750lb. “Type III” indicates that the cord is 550lb rated, the most common and widely used grade of mil-spec paracord. (Note that some commercially available cords may be listed as “Mil-Spec” or “Military Grade” but do not meet the C-5040H Type III standard, and as a result will not mention it.)
The cord will contain 7 to 9 internal yarn strands. Again, this is exactly as required by C-5040H Type III regulations. Other C-5040H compliant paracord, such as Type I 95lb cord, will contain less internal strands. But, if you want the 550lb test, you’ll need 7 to 9 strands.
Each internal yarn strand will be tightly braided from 3 smaller nylon fibers. Most commercial-grade paracord uses 2 or 3 fibers, and they’re often more loosely braided than mil-spec.
At least one internal yarn strand will have a colored marker thread. These marker threads are used to identify the cord’s manufacturer, so that the cord can be traced back to its origin if it’s found to be defective. Most commercial-grade paracord lacks these colored threads, and has only plain white nylon inside the sheath.
Most importantly, the cord can hold 550lbs of weight, or more. If the cord cannot be tested to suspend a minimum of 550lbs of weight, it fails to meet the C-5040H Type III standard.
Genuine C-5040H Type III mil-spec paracord. Image: Wikimedia Commons
If you cut off a piece of your paracord, and it meets all the visual requirements, you’ve probably got real mil-spec 550lb paracord. However, if it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean it’s worthless! There are plenty of civilian manufacturers which produce high-quality 550lb paracord that meets many (but not quite all) of these specifications. Then again, there are many brands that use low-quality polyester and weak single-strand cores.