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Parachute cord, or paracord as it is more formally known, is the interweaving stitch of durability, innovation and multiple usage, all in one bundle.
There is no need for me to convince you of the practicality behind paracord. It is relentless in how it can be used. Even astronauts in the 82nd Space Shuttle mission used paracord to repair the Hubble Telescope.
For us on Earth, paracord is the Swiss Army Knife of rope. It plays a very important role in not only survival scenarios, but also for military, law enforcement, outdoors enthusiasts, or anyone just heading out for a weekend camping trip.
Some sort of cord is a vital part of any survival kit. You aren’t prepared if you head outdoors without it, and should you find yourself without any cordage in an emergency, you will need to know how to make it or improvise it from what you find around you.
Whether you need to tie a ridgeline for a shelter, make traps, catch fish, make a net or repair your equipment, some sort of cordage is vital. Making strong cord from lime bast takes literally weeks and other more expedient natural fibres still take a long time to process. When you have paracord, things are much easier.
As with everything in survival, the primary thing you need to know is to always have paracord with you. This might be in your car glovebox, your everyday carry kit, stuffed into your backpack you take everywhere with you, or in a handy paracord bracelet that you can easily wear.
First, let’s take a look at what makes paracord different from normal rope.
You might have heard of paracord being referred to as 550 cord, or type III cord. This is one of the most common types of paracord and has its title from the fact that it can hold 550lb (249kg).
Of course, there are other types of paracord as well. Below is a table of the varying types of paracord and their relative strengths.
|TYPE||BREAKING STRENGTH||MIN LENGTH/POUND||AMAZON|
|I||95 lb (43 kg)||950 ft (290 m; max. 1.57 g/m)||PARACORD PLANET
|II||400 lb (181 kg)||265 ft (81 m; max. 5.62 g/m)||ZACRO
|III||550 lb (249 kg)||225 ft (69 m; max. 6.61 g/m)||PARACORD PLANET
|IV||750 lb (340 kg)||165 ft (50 m; max. 9.02 g/m)||TOUGH GRID
In comparison to rope, while both paracord and rope are made of individual fibers joined together to create a much stronger cord, the individual fibers of paracord are made of a lightweight nylon rope. This was originally used in the suspension of parachutes, given it the title as parachute cord.
While the standard material of paracord is nylon, some styles of paracord can be made with polyster. However, the military standard is nylon as it is more reliable, so we will likely stick to that reasoning as we like durable things.
Now that actually know what paracord is, what can you do with it? There are countless amounts of paracord projects out there, but here are just a few of the best paracord projects to get you started.
They are lightweight, they pack down small, and as well as their obvious use as a shelter they can also easily be improvised for other uses, whether for dragging kit, injured members of your party along the ground, making a stretcher, seat or windbreak.
To pitch a tarp as a shelter you will need a ridgeline, ideally, a taught rope between two trees or poles, and paracord is the ideal solution for this.
One end can be secured with a simple timber hitch and the other with an adjustable knot to allow you to apply tension to the ridgeline. If you don’t have convenient trees to tie it from, two upright poles can be used instead and clove hitches around the top of each pole secured to the ground with a simple whittled peg is a perfect alternative.
There is a great video over at Black Owl Outdoors on using tarp ridgelines, here it is:
These multiple fibers are one of the reasons paracord is so strong. In fact, there is a reason it is often called ‘550’ paracord; it’s because it can bear 550 lbs of weight.
These internal fibres can be removed and are fine enough to use as an improvised fishing line which is why a survival bracelet acts as a method of food gathering too.
You can easily use a paracord bracelet to catch fish, as seen here:
As well as being fine enough to use as fishing line, the internal fibres of paracord are fine enough to be used for strong sewing thread.
It’s not as fine as the cotton you’d sew on a button with but it is much stronger and will be suitable for repairing clothing, shoes, tents and even in dire need for use as a suture.
If you have paracord in an emergency, it is not out of the question that you have other essential items kept in a survival kit such as a firesteel or a lighter for making fire. So you may not have to resort to making fire by friction.
However a simple trick that many outdoorsmen use is to swap their boot laces for paracord, this means that not only are your boot laces very strong but they can provide very strong emergency cordage if you have no other alternative.
Your paracord bootlaces might easily be adapted as a bowstring for a friction fire. Despite its strength though, you do need to be aware that if you allow your paracord bow string to slip around the drill it will melt and weaken the cord, make sure that this doesn’t happen or the string will break.
A bow drill will make light work of making a fire to keep you warm, cook your food and purify your water, so if you don’t have a tinder and flint, or a firestarter, but instead you do have paracord, a bow drill is a perfect way to get that initial spark going. To find out how to use a bow drill, check out our guide on 11 ways to start a fire without matches.
Prusik loops can be used to climb up ropes and can also be useful for attaching kit to the ridgeline of a tarp.
Prusik knots (friction hitch) can lock onto a rope under tension but then slide gently to move up or down a rope. Climbers accessory cord is the perfect choice for making these as it is very rigid and the knot won’t become compact and difficult to loosen. Paracord will tighten up and isn’t as good as accessory cord for prusik knots (below) but is a suitable alternative in emergencies.
Whether made from the central fibers or intact cord, paracord is incredibly versatile when it comes to making traps and snares for survival.
The gutted inner fibres can be used to make fine snares for catching small mammals or birds if used carefully.
The individual fibres would be great for snaring small birds, a few fibres woven together would be strong enough for rabbits or squirrels or could be threaded with raisins and used to catch pheasants or other ground feeding birds as they eat the bait and ingest enough cord to keep them tethered to the ground.
The internal fibres could also be tied into a net for catching rabbits or other burrowing creatures which you could smoke out of their burrows. Or the whole intact cord could be used to make larger traps.
For an example, a great guide on basic paracord snares comes from EveryDay Knife Guy, below:
A lanyard for the equipment you carry in your pockets can’t be underestimated, especially as losing a piece of vital equipment such as a knife or firesteel could literally mean the difference between life and death in an emergency.
A simple paracord lanyard attached to your belt will keep your kit safe and if made from plaited paracord rather than just a single strand can also be a useful way to carry several feet of cord discreetly and compactly alongside your every day carry items.
Carrying kit in a true emergency can be difficult. If you are caught without a bug out bag or it has been lost or stolen and you are struggling to find a solution to carrying any kit you have scavenged, a simple tarp or even a bed sheet, blanket or coat can be lashed into a makeshift pack.
Hudson Bay or Yukon style packs are strung together with little more than a blanket and a rope, and paracord is perfect for this sort of improvisation.
Your possessions can be rolled up in whatever you have found, it might be a blanket or just a sheet of plastic and then the ends tied with paracord.
It is simple enough to either carry this bundle on a single cord across your body like a messenger bag or tie up rucksack style straps with your cord if the load is heavier.
Yes if it’s heavy the cord may bite into your shoulders a little but no one ever said survival would always be easy.
For a Hudson’s Bay pack, you can use something as simple as a shemagh with paracord to create a pack for your gear, much like in this video below:
Not only do you need a ridgeline for tarp shelters but you will need guy lines that secure the corners and edges of your tarp if you aren’t planning to peg them directly to the ground, and to give you some useable space under a tarp I would suggest you don’t peg it straight to the ground unless the weather is very bad and you desperately need to keep put the wind and rain.
Paracord saves the day here as well, in fact, having a hank of it available when you are camping may save the day in bad weather if you ever need to replace a broken tent guy line or add extra improvised lines in very bad weather.
Leaving the most obvious until last, paracord is great for any lashings that you require. Either in it’s intact form for projects that require a lot of strength; perhaps fixing the seat of your canoe or replacing a broken rucksack strap or finer tasks which require the guts of the cord such as fletching a primitive arrow or lashing a broken fishing rod.
Whatever your survival or outdoor needs, always make sure you have some paracord to hand, you will never regret carrying it and certainly will miss it if you need it.
If you know of any paracord uses you think are equally as important, let me know in the comment section below.