Paracord is one of those items that you’ll never see a prepper without. This incredibly versatile, super handy cordage is known for rot resistance, flexibility, and tremendous strength out of all proportion with its diameter.
Paracord is useful for just about everything: you can easily pitch a tent with it, hang a hammock, use it for construction and lashing, if you know what you’re doing and your conscious you can even use it for climbing. It’s definitely useful, and it’s definitely strong but do you know how strong paracord really is?
Genuine military spec paracord, Type-III, that adheres to the technical specification MIL-C-5040H and contains between seven and nine 3-fiber nylon strands surrounded by a 32-fiber nylon sheath is rated with a breaking strength of 550lbs. this is where the common nickname “550 cord” is derived from.
While nearly all varieties of commonly encountered paracord are of the 550 variety, you should know that the term paracord could describe one of several varieties of similar cord, with all being military cordage that is lightweight and strong for size.
While fairly rare in comparison to the classic 550 cord, all or now commercially available. In the sections below we’ll compare the strengths of the various types of paracord.
Varieties of Paracord
It is a common misconception among civilians that real paracord is only of the normal 550 variety that we all know and love. In reality, if you’re referring to paracord it could be one of the various types mentioned above.
Starting with the most common, Type-III “550” cord, we have we have a lightweight, kernmantle rope made entirely from nylon. Kernmantle is simply a term, rope verbiage, that means any rope that is sheathed.
In the case of our 550 cord taking her strands which furnished the real strength of the rope are the kern, and this kern is surrounded and protected by the woven exterior sheathe.
What is a paracord family there are several other types you might choose from.
From smallest to largest diameter we have:
- Type-I, which will hold 95 lbs.
- Type-IA which is a little stronger and holds right at 100 lbs.
- Type-IIA, which holds a respectable 225 lbs.
- Type-II, which is a big jump from its cousin and holds a whopping 400 lbs.,
- and the massively strong Type-IV, which will support an astonishing 750 lbs.!
Depending on your application and precisely what you expect from your paracord, any of the above may be found on the commercial market and could be better for a certain task than the old standby of 550 cord.
But with that being said you’ll find it awfully tough to beat 550 cord because it offers the best possible combination of availability, low-cost and capability.
Military Spec or Commercial Spec
If you buy genuine military spec 550 paracord, its strength is assured. The steadfast reliability is part of the appeal of paracord as a general preparedness item. But, you only get that strength if you get the genuine article!
There are many makes of commercial, or so-called civilian grade, paracord on the market. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as many of them are quite good, or can even exceed the mil-spec cord and strength and capability.
But there are just as many brands of cord out there that are paracord in appearance alone.
Some paracord is typically purchased as a utility, or even a decorative item that legendary strength may not be important to you or even a requirement for your task. But if you need your cordage to hold up when the chips are down, you must make sure you’re getting the genuine article.
Note that some commercial cords are just as strong as original mil-spec cord but also have other handy features.
The so-called survival 550 cord has a few strands of the inner core removed and replaced with jute, useful for a fire starting, and wire which is useful for fishing or creating snares.
No matter what you’re looking for, it is up to you to determine the precise specification of the cord you have in front of you. Buy accordingly. Relying on or unknowingly buying inferior cord for applications that have life-threatening consequences for failure will be a tragedy.
If you have any doubt about your cord’s breaking strength, purchase new cord of known make from a reliable vendor.
Telling the Difference between Commercial and Mil-Spec 550 Paracord
Well, not 100% reliable with the proliferation imitation and quality commercial grade paracord there is a generally reliable way to determine the quality of the Paracord you have on hand.
Real-deal mil-spec paracord will be made 100% from nylon. The inner strands will number between 7 and 9. Each of these strands will themselves be made from three fibers of nylon. Not one. Not two. Not four. Three, no more, no less.
And while you may be forgiven for thinking that mil-spec paracord comes in any color you could possibly want, it does not. Green and tan are the two most common military paracord colors.
Military paracord is typically sold by the spool, and you can check the spool for the maker’s brand. One of the largest and certainly one of the best OEM mil-spec manufacturers a paracord is the E.L. Woods Braiding Company.
This venerable outfit has decades of experience in making all kinds of military cordage, and if you take the time to get some of their paracord you’ll know you’re getting the very best.
One more important note: while it is important to be sure you’re getting mil-spec cord for heavy-duty applications, you cannot simply trust the mil-spec label on any package of paracord. Many manufacturers of inferior cord slap mil-spec on products that are absolutely not.
The term mil-spec is in fact nothing more than marketing jargon. If you do not take the time to find out what kind of standard a given paracord is made to you could be in for a rude awakening.
I’m not saying that commercially made cords are not up to the task, or are inferior, but a great many of them are compared to the genuine article. Again, make sure you know what you’re getting before you buy!
Mil-spec Type-III paracord made to the standards of MIL-C-5040H is rated to a surprisingly high breaking strength of 550 lbs., this breaking strength going on to lend the strong little cord its nickname of “550” cord.
No matter what you are doing and what you might need cord for, there are few things more handy or up to the rigors than genuine 550 paracord!
For survival, camping, or just general utility use, make sure you stash a hank of the real stuff so you’ll have it close at hand when you need it.