Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What is Mil-Spec Paracord?

You might have encountered the “Paracord Craze” controversy about “real” and “fakeType III 550 Paracord. Some people are referring to U.S. Made vs. Chinese knockoff paracord, others mean “nylon” vs. “polyester”, and still others suggest that “Mil-Spec” is real and “Commercial” is fake. While the former two might hold water, the latter argument falls through.

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.
Mil-Spec” is a designation used for “Military Defense Specification”. Consider the following description, taken directly from page 2 of the October 1994 “Acquisition Reform” Report from the United States General Accounting Office (GAO):

“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.
Historically, Mil-Spec Paracord (Parachute Cord) was first used in the suspension lines of U.S. parachutes during WWII. Troops then began to find other uses for the versatile rope, which eventually crept into civilian world as soldiers came home from the war. Now, there are literally hundreds of uses for paracord (we’ll need a dedicated blog post for that topic).

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 colors.

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”.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Type I Paracord - What is it?

Type I Paracord: You'd be amazed how useful it can be.
You've probably heard plenty about Type III Paracord, what it is, what specifications it meets, what its history is, and the many ways that people use it for (infinite). But, how much do you know about its smaller counterpart, Type I Paracord? Nothing? Great, welcome to Paracord-Blog! :P

Type I Paracord, also known as Accessory Cord or Dummy Cord, is kind of like a miniature version of the ever popular Type III 550 Paracord. In actuality, it’s the smallest “type” of Parachute Cord in production, and is available in Commercial or Military Grade specifications.

Notice the size difference between Type I and Type III Paracord.
The basic makeup of Type I Paracord is an outer sheath and one inner strand. The sheath and inner strand is made of 100% Nylon, making it mold, mildew and rot resistant. The outer sheath structure is braided with 16 threads and the inner core can be 2-ply (commercial) or 3-ply (military). With only one inner strand, Type I Paracord typically measures in around   1/16” in diameter… much smaller than its big brother, Type III, at 5/32” in diameter. This also results in its much lighter, yet still heavy-duty, breaking strength of 100 lbs.

The tensile strength breakdown is as follows:

Outside Sheath - 65 lbs
Inner Strand - 35 lbs 
Total Strength - 100 lbs

Lots of colors to choose from in the Commercial line!
Normally found in military clothing, vests and other gear, the civilian usage of Type I Paracord is growing in popularity. Ranging from household uses to camping/survival situations, there is no shortage of appropriate applications. Type I Paracord comes in only a handful of colors for the Military Spec version, but the Commercial version can come in just as many colors as Type III (hundreds)!

This cord is FANTASTIC at securing small items that you don't want to lose or drop: small radios/walkies, compasses, GPS units, cameras, cell phones, flashlights, USB flash drives, etc. The Parachute Cord crafting world has taken a particular liking to Type I Paracord, creating miniature bracelets, dog collars, key fobs, decorative knots, and even incorporating it into their Type III Paracord creations! The Paracord talent is forever evolving!

So, there's a small glimpse into the big world of small paracord, of the Type I variety. Have you ever used Type I Paracord? If so, for what purpose? If not, what would you use it for? Let me know in the comments below!