Parachute cord AKA paracord refers to a series of lightweight nylon rope that was originally intended to be used for parachutes. These days, though, paracord is used in a variety of industries including survival, scientific, military, and even fashion.
The versatility of paracord stems from its high concentration of interwoven strands in a relatively small package, which provides a relatively soft texture that is also somewhat elastic.
However, while the standard paracord in the military is the MIL-C-5040H made from Nylon, there are other non-military-grade cords that call themselves paracord. They are made with materials like polyester, and they will vary in elasticity and durability.
Paracord is extremely useful and popular with survivalists (and available in over 200 colors). But what is the history behind paracord? How truly versatile is it? What scenarios could paracord be used in, and can it improve the chances of survival?
The Origins of Paracord
The original use of paracord comes from airborne divisions of the military that date back to the years before World War II. Sometime before the war, Wallace Carothers created a new type of synthetic silk that he called Nylon. His invention revolutionized airborne warfare – thanks to Nylon being spun into paracord, paratroopers were born. Today, almost every military entity uses paracord in situations where cords are required, as the durability and flexibility promote the versatility of use. But, as stated before, it’s not just the military that utilizes it, as variations in the design have allowed other fields to enjoy the benefits of paracord.
Types of Paracord
Not all paracord is made the same. In fact, there are quite a few variations that have different specs and serve different functions based on your needs. These types are the paracord Types I through IV, along with the IA and the IIA. The key differences in these lie in their minimum length per pound and their cores, or kern. The kern is made up of several yarn lines made from nylon threads that have been spun together.
- Paracord Type I: Features a minimum strength of 95 pounds, and a minimum length per pound of 950ft and a single core yarn. The sheath structure for this one is a measly 16/1, which means it’s fairly compact. Normally, the paracord type I is often used for decorative purposes rather than practical ones.
- Paracord Type IA: Features a minimum strength of 100 pounds, only five more than Type I. However, the key difference in this type of paracord is the minimum length per pound being a hundred feet more at 1050ft, and it features no core yarn inside.
- Paracord Type II: Has a minimum strength of 400 pounds and a minimum length per pound of 265ft, along with 4-7 yarns in its core. The sheath structure in Type II can come in two sizes of 32/1 or 36/1. Believe it or not, this one is rare and is hard to find in the market.
- Paracord Type IIA: Unlike the IA, which is relatively similar to the base model, the IIA is actually weaker than Type II. Sitting at a minimum strength of 225 pounds and featuring no core yarn, the main difference is that its minimum length per pound is actually 495 feet instead of 265.
- Paracord Type III: The Type III is actually the most commonly known class of paracord and has a minimum strength of 550 pounds (hence the nickname 550 paracord). However, while its strength is essentially higher, Type III lacks in the minimum length per pound which only stands at a 225 feet maximum. The core contains 7 to 9 lines of yarn, and the structure is similar to the Type II at 32/1 or 36/1.
- Paracord Type IV: The strongest and ultimately the best type of paracord out there is Type IV. You only to buy this type of paracord if you’re absolutely in need of some heavy duty material. The Type IV has a minimum strength of 750 pounds and features 11 yarn cores. The size of the sheath structure on this type comes in three flavors with the 32/1, 36/1, and the 44/1. There is a serious price difference between the type 3 and 4 paracords.
As a pro tip, keep in mind that all paracord has a minimum elasticity of 30% of their size. Additionally, just because a company advertises themselves as having the “military standard,” don’t assume they mean they follow the MILSPEC guidelines. What ultimately denotes the military version is the thickness due to the military’s specific requirements. The military demands each strand of yarn to be made up of three lines instead of two, and therefore it will be around 4mm thick instead of 3mm as with most commercial paracords. Finally, another variable to consider is that 550 paracord can come with anywhere from seven to nine cores (despite the common version having seven).
In order to really understand what makes paracord so useful, you have to understand that the key word is flexibility. Regular nylon cord is three times less powerful than paracord, and is also less versatile. One example would be in the elasticity. While regular nylon cord can only stretch so much, paracord has 30% elasticity. This means a 100-inch piece would be able to stretch to 130 inches. Additionally, you can get even more length by separating the inner strands from each other. While you will lose strength when you pull the strands apart, you’ll get to cover more distance.
Speaking of strength, a unique aspect of paracord is the maximum weight limit. Paracord is strong, and depending on what you need it for, you can carry some seriously heavy materials, especially with the Type IV. However, you must keep in mind that the weight limit is only for items that are being held in place – not for swinging or falling objects. For example, the Type I Paracord is rated at 95 pounds. This means that if you’re lifting an object of 90 pounds straight up you’ll be fine, but the moment that object starts swinging you will snap the cord. You see, when you use paracord, you have to account for movement, as the momentum adds weight to the object, and the additional stress on the cord can break it. My best advice is to always err on the side of caution. Test the paracord out as soon as you get your hands on it! That testing just might save your life.
Just a note… Paracord does degrade over time whenever it is exposed to sunlight. While the degradation is slow, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider purchasing a new cord to replace old and worn supplies. The best storage locations for paracord are dark, dry locations that prevent exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Determining Paracord Type and Quality
The best method of testing the “military specifications quality” is to cut the sheath and look inside at the strands. There should be anywhere from zero to eleven strands based on the type of paracord you’re using, and they should be made up of three yarn-lines of pure nylon each strand. Lesser manufacturers like to make these strands with only two yarn-lines, or with polyester, which is not as strong as nylon, so keep an eye out. But, enough warnings, it’s about time we discussed what you can use your paracord for in different scenarios.
If you’re really creative, you’ll discover multiple ways in which you can use both the sheath and the inner yarn of the paracord. If you want a few suggestions, here are my favorites:
Survival is one of the key scenarios where paracord can legitimately save your life. From fishing lines to traps and even additional carrying space, paracord has your back. Go-packs only have so much space to store tools and survival essentials, but with paracord you can attach additional gear to the bag. I personally recommend relatively lightweight tools like hammers and knives that can be used in emergency situations. Speaking of emergencies, paracord can also be used when you need to anchor a tent or create some sort of shelter during inclement weather. Additionally, if you’re ever running low on food, you can use it to create snares to catch small animals or even try your hand at fishing by creating a net or using the inside yarn as a fishing line (some brands come with one strand specifically for this purpose).
You’d be amazed at how useful paracord is in the case of injuries. Breaking a bone is painful, but if you have some straight pieces of wood and some paracord, you can use it to make a splint. Hurt an arm? Make a sling with some cloth or other materials and put your arm in it. Bleeding out? In the military, they always tell us that tourniquets are a last resort. Well, guess what? If you’re bleeding out, use that paracord and wrap it really tightly around the injured limb with some cloth to slow down the bleeding until help arrives. You might lose a limb, but it beats losing your life. Furthermore, you can even fashion some makeshift stitches using the yarn inside if you didn’t bring a suture kit.
People and animals are both serious threats in the world of survival. But, with some paracord you can easily fashion traps, tripwires, and possibly even restraints or handcuffs for potential intruders. If you’re really under threat you can use it as a garrot to choke any potential enemies. However, what about the safety of others? Well, you can fashion rescue lines to save potential drowning victims by tying the cord around a floating object that the victim can hold on to.
You can always count on paracord for when you need to hang something from a high location such as food. Bears are known for coming into campgrounds and stealing food. You can always hang your food from a high place using some paracord to prevent such events. If you’re really creative, you can use it to fashion some clothes drying racks, and even tan leather by using the paracord to stretch the material! You can even tie livestock to prevent them from escaping. Finally, if you have a decent knowledge of knots, you can weave your own bags from paracord.
Fashion and Decorations
Paracord Type I is known for being used in decorations. You can use your paracord to create a belt using all manner of knots and braided designs, and thanks to its flexibility you can adjust it to any size, too. You could also make a necklace and tie a tool or something you don’t want to lose in it. You can even fashion paracord into some fancy shoelaces if yours need replacement. But, if you’re really feeling fancy, try tying some into a bracelet or decorative art for around the house. If you have long hair, you can always use it to tie your hair up out of the way, too.
These five uses for paracord are just a small sampling of how you can use it creatively in different scenarios. Just be sure to choose the right cord for your needs. Now you understand the four different types of paracord and the purposes they serve. Obviously if you’re in need of some real heavy duty work you’ll choose the type IV, but for the most part, Type III should be your go-to.
If you have any cool uses for Paracord, please share them below!
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.