What Is Paracord? The Complete Guide For Survival

Paracord is one of my favorite pieces of survival gear – I always carry some in my 72 Hour Bag, and it is always with me when I go camping or trekking.

I love paracord because it is a multi-tool: there are literally hundreds of different uses for it. (more on this below).

But before you go and buy just any old cord to put in your survival bag, you’ve got to make sure you understand what paracord is and that you are getting the right kind.

After all, this is what you will be relying on in a survival situation!

So first things first, let’s get ourselves some paracord. There are several high-quality brands on Amazon, all with excellent ratings.

Choose any of the following, and you’ll have some great cord to work with.

What is Paracord?

By definition, rope is any long, thick cord made by twisting or braiding together strands of fibers.

Rope can be made out of numerous different materials, with the most popular ones being hemp, sisal, and nylon. Check out this post for a more in-depth look at the different types of rope.

The construction of the rope and its material will significantly affect its quality and how it is used.

Compared to other ropes, paracord has two unique features which make it so great for survival:

  • Made from nylon
  • Kernmantle-style braid

Nylon as a Material

Real paracord will always be made from nylon and not some other material like polypropylene or polyester.

Nylon is waterproof and mildew-proof.

It is elastic, which allows it to have some give, so it doesn’t snap.

It also gives paracord its smooth texture, making it easier on your hands.

Kernmantle-Style Construction

All ropes are made by either twisting the fiber strands or braiding them together. In general, braided ropes are much stronger and resist abrasion better.

There are numerous ways to braid a rope together. Paracord is made with a technique known as Kernmantle.

Kernmantle ropes have an interior core (the kern) and a braided sheath around them.

The kern is what provides the strength for the rope, and the sheath protects it from abrasion.

Paracord isn’t the only type of kernmantle rope. For example, modern climbing rope is also made with kernmantle-style construction.

*Note that type IA and IIA paracord doesn’t have a kern.

Types of Paracord

Until 1997, the US military issued paracord using a technical standard. This standard described 6 types of paracord.

However, in survivalist and outdoor circles, only type III (550 paracord) is considered “real paracord.”

TypeMinimum strengthMinimum elongationMinimum length per pound of cordCore yarnsSheath structure
I95 pounds30%950 feet116/1
IA100 pounds30%1,050 feetno core16/1
II400 pounds30%265 feet4 to 732/1 or 36/1
IIA225 pounds30%495 feetno core32/1 or 36/1
III550 pounds30%225 feet7 to 932/1 or 36/1
IV750 pounds30%165 feet1132/1, 36/1, or 44/1

What does all of this mean?

The minimum strength is the breaking point of the cord.

Minimum elongation is the stretch of the rope during a fall test. This is important because the stretchiness of the rope will help absorb some of the shock of a fall. The maximum allowed elongation is 40%.

Minimum length per pound is the weight of the paracord.

The number of core yarns is essential because they give paracord its strength. Each yarn is made up of 2 or 3 twisted nylon ropes.

Sheath structure refers to how many strands are used in making up the sheath. The greater the number, the stronger and more flexible the paracord will be.

Read more about Paracord Strength

Why 550 Paracord?

550 paracord is ideal because it is strong enough for every day, emergency, and outdoor uses, but it is also lightweight and compact.

The thickness of 550 paracord also makes it easy to work with.

For specific tasks, like rescues and boat lines, you’ll need something stronger than 550 paracord. However, a stronger paracord is hard to knot and splice. It is also very bulky to carry with you.

When every ounce matters in your hiking backpack, you will want to go with 550 paracord.

Beware of Fake Paracord

Just because something looks like paracord or is called paracord, it doesn’t mean that it is real paracord.

Real paracord will be advertised as “Mil-Spec” and should be tested for its strength and other properties.   Make sure that it says it is 550 paracord or Type III paracord, as this is the best for most survival and outdoor situations.

While other types of cord or types of paracord might be acceptable for specific everyday uses, you don’t want to trust your survival with anything but real paracord.

Go ahead and buy a paracord bracelet (Amazon Link) for each family member. They are cheap, and you can easily wear them wherever you go and have the peace of mind that comes with having them on you at all times.

If you would like to have a go at making a paracord bracelet yourself, have a look at this post.

Paracord Uses

They say we only need duct tape and WD-40 to solve all problems. But let’s add paracord to these!

The stuff is amazingly versatile and can be used in many situations. Astronauts even used paracord to repair the Hubble Space Telescope during the 82nd Space Shuttle mission!

Here are just some of the most common uses for paracord in survival and outdoor situations.

  • To haul timber
  • Tie things to the outside of your backpack
  • Makeshift belt
  • Create a tripwire
  • Tie someone up
  • Leash for pets
  • Flashlight handle
  • Make a fishing net or fish trap

Uses for the Inner Threads:

You can take apart the paracord and use the inner threads too! Here are some ways to use them.

  • Fishing line
  • Sewing thread
  • Dental floss

What uses for paracord can you think up? Let us know in the comments.

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Leave a comment

  1. Hi,
    Thanks for the paracord types table.

    Just one thing: You say that real paracord should not be made out of polyester. Then, you go ahead and say: “Go ahead and buy a paracord bracelet for each member of your family”, but the problem is that the link suggested by you, leads to a bracelet made out of… POLYESTER.

    • Hey F. Thanks for spotting that editorial oversight! We have replaced with a link to a great bracelet made of 550 cord by Titan.

  2. By convention, a tensile strength (i.e., a breaking strength) of 550 pounds means a safe working load of 55 pounds. A diameter of 5/32″ is just 1/32″ larger than 1/8″. Paracord is really just a boot lace with a 55-pound safe working load. By contrast, 3/8″ Solid-Braid Nylon–a rope of only average strength–has a breaking strength of roughly 2,600 pounds. This means a safe working load of 260 pounds. Though paracord is useful, affordable, very easy to carry, and comes in tutti frutti colors, you really shouldn’t be getting THAT excited about it. Calm down, man!


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