550 Paracord was originally used in rigging parachutes during World War II. The paratroopers that used it found it useful for other tasks. The military quickly adopted it as an all-purpose cordage. When veterans came back from the war, they brought with them the desire to use that same multi-purpose cordage in civilian applications, thus the availability of Paracord.
|Type III Paracord has 7 internal strands and a colored outer sheath.|
Paracord in and of itself is a lightweight nylon kernmantle rope. It has an inner core (kern) and an exterior sheath (mantle) woven over it. There are many types of Paracord available, varying by the amount of internal strands and their sheath structure. The composition of a given type of paracord changes its strength and diameter, which allows you to choose which cordage is more useful for a given task.
The chart below shows the specifics behind the most commonly available types of paracord.
Here is the tensile strength breakdown of Type III Paracord:
Outside Sheath - 305 lbs
Inner Strand - 35 lbs each x 7 strands
Total Strength - 550 lbs
The 550 lb. strength of Type III Paracord is why it is commonly called 550 Paracord or 550 Cord.
Mil-Spec 550 vs. Commercial-Spec 550
|Mil-Spec Paracord is generally limited to basic colors.|
Commercial-Spec cord, can use a single-ply, double-ply, or 3-ply, internal nylon strand. There are usually 7 of these yarns/strands in each strand of Commercial-Spec 550 Paracord. There may or may not be an ID tag in Commercial-Spec Paracord.
If you're wondering what denier means, it is a measure of the thickness and weight (linear mass density) of the strand of fiber that you're measuring. The denier formula is: 9000/(denier value) = Meters of yarn equal to one gram
|Commercial-Spec Paracord has a larger variety of colors.|
Mil-Spec Type III Paracord, along with Commercial Type III Paracord are both rated to 550 lbs. The difference is that Military Paracord is rated to be used in parachutes and other military applications, where your life may depend on the quality of the cordage, while commercial is meant to be used in less life-critical application. For all civilian intents and purposes, Commercial-Spec cord is every bit as good as Mil-Spec cord. As long as you're not jumping out of airplanes, you won't notice a functional difference.
There are many advantages to using Commercial-Spec cordage in applications other than parachute rigging. Possibly the biggest advantage to commercial cordage is the price. Commercial-Spec cordage costs about half as much for basically the same performance. The color selection on commercial cord is also much greater than on Mil-Spec cord. Mil-Spec 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 only a few other basic colors. However, Commercial-Spec cord can come in literally hundreds of colors and patterns.
Not all Paracord is made the same, irrespective of the difference between Mil-Spec and Commercial-Spec, there are differences between the quality of cordage produced from various manufacturers. To start off, you need to make sure that your Paracord is U.S. Made. We should support U.S. companies whenever possible and U.S. made cordage is of higher quality. Some top-quality U.S. manufacturers include E.L. Wood and Gladding. I'll make sure to show you guys the quality of E.L. Wood and Gladding in future blog posts. I am also going to be testing out paracord made by Franklin Braid soon.
As far as vendors, a vendor that I have had good experience with is Survival-Pax. They can be found at www.survival-pax.com.
Like I mentioned at the beginning, Paracord is like duct tape. There are so many uses. The fact that it is so strong and relatively inexpensive makes it a commonly available piece of gear that many people use when out in the woods or even around the home. You can use it in most applications where you'd use cordage.
If you're looking to increase the amount of usable cord available to you, you can "gut" your paracord, meaning you can remove the internal strands, essentially increasing the amount of cordage that you have by eight. You can still use the outer sheath, which is rated at 305 lbs strength and use each inner strand (rated at 35 lbs.) for tasks that require a thinner cordage. The inner strands would work great for sewing thread, fishing line or even dental floss.
I should have mentioned this earlier, but if you ever do cut the cordage, BE SURE TO MELT THE ENDS! Paracord is a synthetic cordage made out of nylon. If you cut it and do not melt the ends, it will unravel over time, which will make your cord useless, or at the very least frustrating. A cigarette lighter, a match, or even a glowing coal, is enough to singe the cord end to keep it from unraveling.
And that's it, a somewhat brief introduction into the wondering world of Paracord. Let me know what uses you've found for Paracord in the comments below.