Paracord: Does the Hype Hold Up?



If you’re a seasoned camping guru (and we know you are), more than likely you’ve seen or heard of a recent material that’s become popular for everything from bracelets to utility trailers: paracord.  Also known as 550 cord, paracord is a sturdy lightweight nylon rope that was originally developed for the military but has become highly-valued as a consumer product for its versatility and low cost.  But as we’re not an organization that places our seal of approval on just anything, we thought we’d some investigation of our own and see just what makes paracord so special.

All Paracord is Not Created Equal
Despite advertisements to the contrary, most paracord available for civilians is not the same rigorous military-grade cord from which it gets its name.  Instead commercial manufacturers (some of whom have actual paracord contracts with the military) have developed lookalikes that retain enough of the featured of the military-spec varieties to sell using the paracord brand.  At a glance the difference between commercial and authentic military-grade cord is marginal; both cords are almost identical in size and shape and have a strength rating of 550 lbs.  Cut into the core or “kern” however and you’ll find that military-grade paracord has a 3-ply twist and contains about 9 individual nylon fiber strands, and therefore much stronger than the 7-strand 2-ply commercial variety.  Military-grade paracord also has a 100% nylon composition rating for maximum weather production, whereas commercial varieties will often have a nylon core but be covered in a polyester sheath to save on costs.  Perhaps these differences are trivial, but it’s always important to know that there will be differences in quality and composition despite both paracord varieties carrying the same namesake.

Paracord Created Versatility…or did Versatility Create Paracord?
Whether commercial-grade or true military-made paracord, the uses for paracord in the field and in the wilderness stretch far beyond what the original WWII designers had in mind.  Though obvious uses include lashing tent poles together, tying down equipment/tarps, etc., paracord’s rugged durability and compact size-to-strength ratio take it far beyond a mere rope.  Repairing/replacing broken shoelaces, securing tents in a windstorm and tying firewood together are all a breeze, but the individual fibers in a length of paracord can be used as thread for sewing or improvising stitches in the field.  Fishing line or dental floss both can be crafted from paracord fibers, and lashing or braiding several lengths together can make for an excellent emergency winch or towing system.  In recent years hobbyists have been increasingly using  paracord to replace watch bands and bracelets, which serves as a convenient way to carry emergency spools of paracord wherever you go.  Compared to more traditional ropes and ties paracord is much less expensive, much more durable and arguably has the best versatility of anything in the camper’s arsenal since the hatchet.

We’ve come to the conclusion that 550 paracord is no joke, and having it on hand makes camping (and thus life) much more fun and convenient.  In this case, the hype is right!

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