Saturday, December 10, 2011

550 Parachute Cord Review

550 Parachute Cord Review

When I went looking for government spec 550 paracord for several projects and to restock, it made sense the website kept coming up in my searches so I relented and clicked.  But first things first, what is paracord? 
Parachute cords was originally used for parachutes in WWII and was recycled as a handy item by downed jumpers.  The result was parachute cord became the all purpose core necessity for the military for everything from lashing to repairs to survival duties.
Parachute cord, paracord, or nylon 550 cord is all generally the same Kernmantle rope with inner strands for strength and an outer sheath for durability.  The name Kernmantle is derived from the German work which means “protected core”.  Today’s US Military issue 550 paracord is actually MIL-C-504H Type III cord with a minimum breaking strength of 550 pounds... thus the “550” label. The military also outlines a number of other specs which the 550 cord must conform to including approximately ⅛” diameter (compressed), 30% elongation, 225 feet per pound minimum, 7-9 cores, and 32 strand sheath structure.  I will point out not all the folks selling “paracord” are selling, real Mil-Spec MIL-C-504H Type III 550 paracord, so make sure they specify they are selling the real stuff such as is.

What makes paracord so strong is also what makes it so handy for loads of uses.  Paracord is very flexible because of the outer sheath and inner cores which are independent. Unlike many other cords, the 32 strand exterior sheath is silky smooth which makes it comfortable to handle and use without tearing up the hands. The semi-elastic nylon 30% stretch/give makes 550 cord a great lashing rope for tarps and other shelter applications where a little stretch extends the life of shelters and tarps. In a pinch 550 cord has been used as repelling rope.  

Strip out the seven inner cores and each has a 35lb capacity, un-twist those seven dual strands again and those fourteen strands will each support 17.5lbs. One of the single stands of the fourteen inner cores makes a great fishing or lashing line.  The outside sheath is even useful and weight bearing and can be used for tasks as wild as repairing the Hubble Space Telescope as it was on the second Space Shuttle mission.

Paracord can be used for tons of uses only limited by your imagination and knotting ability.  Outside of lashing, line, and cordage use, over the years we have found other uses to provide utility and decorative ways to carry back up yardage of this indispensably handy cord. Where paracord use gets truly creative is when we use it to create something else useful or pretty.  Getting creative is where offers more than just the most comprehensive color selections anywhere. offers all those hard to find plastic, brass, pewter, titanium, or damascus steel beads and skull beads for the most kick ass Ranger bracelet or pace counter of all time.  They even have the small impossible to find miniature side release buckles and even various sized bearings for making your own hard hitting monkey fist.  Do a Google search for “how to make a paracord” and you will be stunned at how may things will finish that sentence.  If you are too lazy to make your own, also has you covered with pre-made lanyards, ranger bracelets, monkey fists, and other paracord accessories all made to order with your choice of paracord color and accessories.  I ordered a couple Ranger bracelets, one in black and red with a brass skull closure and the other in a thick double King Cobra stitch,  I also ordered a number of different project making supplies including several bundles of paracord, some buckles, plastic skull beads, a few extra pewter skull beads and one of their cord winders.

One of the most popular paracord products is the Ranger bracelets which carries roughly 1 foot of paracord per 1” of wrist diameter. I made the all black Ranger bracelet in the pictures easily using a mini side release buckles, however the much fancier Ranger bracelets I ordered, add another layer of style beyond simple utility.   This are pretty simple to make, do a Google search and you will find a couple hundred folks showing your how.

Other projects people often use paracord for is a handle material.  My Cold Steel shovel, woodsman axe, a slingshot, and even my “tactical bat” all have simple paracord wrap handles, because they provide cord storage, a better grip, and increased comfort.
Along with the black Ranger bracelet I made, I also stripped the core of a couple feet of paracord and made a standard pace counter with just paracord sheath, the plastic and pewter skulls... turned out pretty cool I think.  Another project was a canteen and cup bikini sling for an old canteen I use for dog watering with some of the camo 550.  This is the best no leak solution I have found to water the dog on long hikes and still provides me with something to drink from and now I have an easy carry solution.  The canteen bikini design was my copied, although less cool, version of the $28 canteen cover from which I hope to review soon.  My version used two 25 ft sections with a single line braid versus his extraordinarily cool cobra stitch. This was a heck of a task, a lot of head scratching, and I would recommend just buying the pre-made version, but it does show you that the creativity and use of paracord is only limited by your imagination.

  • Emergency / Survival
  • Shelter / Gear Tie Downs
  • Fire Starter Bow
  • Improvised Pace Counter
  • Drag Line
  • Safety Line
  • Tourniquet to Stop Bleeding
  • Boot / Shoe Laces
  • Clothes Line
  • Food Hanging
  • Improvised M.O.L.L.E. Repairs / Modifications
  • Binding
  • Trail Marking
  • Spear Making
  • Magazine Pulls
  • Trip Wires
  • Improvised Fishing Net
Inner Strand Uses
  • Fishing Line
  • Traps / Snares
  • Sewing (Tent / Clothing Repair)
  • Sutures
  • Lashing
  • Dental Floss
  • Small Animal Snare Trap
  • Gill Net
  • Small Repairs
Paracord Braiding

  • Lanyards
  • Survival Bracelets
  • Zipper Pulls
  • Knot Making
  • Hat Bands
  • Belts
  • Rifle Slings
  • Key Chains
  • Dog Collars / Leashes
WORKING WITH PARACORD’s GI spec paracord is easy to work with, cut and melt and features inner nylon cords are made from high-tenacity, light resistant and heat-resistant polyamide with a melting point of 244 degrees Celsius. The inner nylon cords loose no more than 15 percent of their original breaking strength after exposure to heat and light.  Generally you want to melt the ends after you cut the cord or the paracord will unravel quickly and messily. If you are going to work with paracord and use it as a long lived resource in your pack, practice using it without cutting the line each time you have a task. Unless you are using it as a permanent building material, pretty much everything you can do with a cut piece of cord you can do with one long piece which will continue to be one long piece long after that one job is complete.

The selection of 550 paracord, related hardware and accessories at is simply stunning. I counted 64 different colors of paracord... yeah no idea there were so many.  Colors ranged from camo, glow in the dark, solid color, to pink and safety orange and combinations of all of the above... and yes they even have standard black paracord.  Black paracord is great, however live a little and pick a couple 50 foot bundles of various colors from the inventory.  Some of the cooler paracord options were an olive drab with a glow in the dark stripe in the sheath and a reflective safety orange.  Both of these should prove handy in camp and prevent folks from walking to lines in the camp site.

Paracord is without a doubt one of the most useful cords on the planet and has served as lifesaving survival cordage to art.  It is without a doubt one of the handiest things to have around the house, in a pack, or in the trunk. In my mind even supersedes duct tape in usefulness.  At $5.95 for 50 feet, it is an inexpensive item as well and I am sure with the selection offered by you will find a color or pattern that will be near and dear to your heart.

  • Commercial Type III, 550 Parachute Cord
  • 7 Inner Cords Made Up of Two Strings Each for a Rating of 35 Pounds
  • per Cord
  • 14 Inner Strings, Each of Which Have a Rating of About 17.5 Pounds
  • 32 Strand Sheath Structure
  • 550 lb. (248kg) Minimum Breaking Strength
  • 30% Minimum Elongation
  • 225 Feet (69m) per lb. Minimum
  • Approximately 1/8 (3.175mm) Diameter
  • Quick Drying
  • All Weather - Will Not Rot or Mildew
  • Made in the U.S.A. by a Government Contractor