Now, don’t get me wrong. There are definitive differences between “Mil-Spec” and “Commercial” 550 Paracord, but each are still categorically “550 Paracord”. Most people are familiar with the “Commercial” version of 550 Paracord: rated to a tensile strength of 550 lbs, 7 2-ply inner strands, 100% nylon, 5/32” diameter, mildew, rot & mold resistant, available in hundreds of colors and patterns. In this blog post, I’d like to address the less familiar “Mil-Spec” 550 Paracord, as an effort to dispel some of the rumors out there.
|“Mil-Spec” is used to denote that a product
has been designed|
to meet the requirements of the Department of Defense.
“In general, ‘military specifications’ describe the physical and or operational characteristics of a product and ‘military standards’ detail the processes and materials to be used to make the product. The standards can also describe how to manage the manufacturing and testing of a part. For example, a specification might describe the kind of wire to be used in an electrical circuit and a standard might describe how the wire is to be fastened in a circuit and what tests should be conducted on the circuit. Military specifications and standards, collectively referred to as ‘milspecs,’ are a major part of DOD’s [Department of Defense] Standardization Program, which seeks to limit variety in purchased items by stipulating certain design details. Some principal purposes for milspecs have been to (1) ensure interoperability between products, (2) provide products that can perform in extreme conditions, (3) protect against contractor fraud, and (4) promote greater opportunities for competition among contractors.”
In other words, “Mil-Spec” is used to denote that a product has been designed to meet the requirements of the Department of Defense regarding the manufacturing process and materials, as well as the physical characteristics and operational function of the product.
Mil-Spec Type III 550 Parachute Cord has been given the ID “Mil-C-5040”, with the latest specification revision “H”, published in March of 1994. In October 1997, the Mil-C-5040H specification was declared inactive for any new design, but is still used for replacement purposes. You can find the Mil-Spec Revision and Inactive documents in .PDF under the “Revision History” table HERE.
|Mil-Spec Paracord was first used in the suspension lines of|
U.S. Parachutes during WWII.
I’ll do my best to explain Mil-Spec Mil-C-5040 Paracord in the simplest of terms, but I can’t make any promises. :P The main difference between “Mil-Spec” and “Commercial” Paracord is in the quality control and type of internal yarns used.
In each strand of Mil-Spec Type III 550 Paracord, there are 7 to 9 inner strands. To directly quote the official Revision H document, "the core yarn shall be constructed by plying five yarns of 210 denier, resulting in a 1050 denier yarn, for the initial spin, or by using 1050 denier singles yarn, then plying three of the 1050 yarns (either 5 ply or singles) together, resulting in a final core size of 3150 denier." Denier is a measure of the thickness and weight (linear mass density) of the strand of fiber that is measured. The denier formula is: 9000/(denier value) = Meters of yarn equal to one gram. 8.57 meters of 1050 denier nylon equals one gram. (As a reference, a single strand of silk is 1 denier, meaning that it takes 9 kilometers of silk to equal 1 gram!) There is a piece of ID cord in each strand of Mil-Spec Paracord to identify which manufacturer the cordage came from. The outer sheath is braided using 32 to 36 strands of nylon yarn. The minimum static tensile strength is 550 pounds.
Mil-Spec Paracord only comes in a handful of select colors: Black, White, Olive Drab (Camo Green), Foliage Green, Coyote Brown, Tan 499, Red (Medic Red/Drab Red), Solar Orange (Safety Orange/Drab Orange), and a few other basic colors. However, Commercial-Spec cord can come in literally hundreds of colors and patterns, which is why it's so popular with Paracord Crafters.
For a full description of requirements from the Department of Defense, feel free to read through the entire “Military Specification” document for Mil-C-5040H cord.
So, I hope that helps clear things up just a bit. “Commercial” 550 Paracord is just as real as “Mil-Spec” 550 Paracord. The highlight of Mil-Spec 550 Paracord is that it must go through rigorous testing, from raw materials to the final product, in order for it to be certified for U.S. Military use.
Have you found yourself questioning the legitimacy of any “550 Paracord” that you purchased? What was odd about it? Comment below! We’d like to hear what you’ve encountered during the “Paracord Craze”.