Estimated reading time: 24 minutes
As its name implies, Paracord has its origins in Airborne military units during World War II where it was used as lines to support a parachute. It was an ideal cordage option for parachutes because of its unusual strength for its weight and diameter.
Paracord consists of woven or braided cords usually made of nylon. Most have an inner core of 6 to 12 thin lines braided together and surrounded by a woven sheathing as an outer shell. It’s surprisingly flexible, has a bit of stretch, and some thicknesses can hold up to 1,000 pounds.
Most paratroopers were told to bury their chutes after landing, but they were also encouraged to gather and coil some of the Paracord for later use in the field. It was then that the value of Paracord in a survival situation during a war demonstrated its tremendous versatility and value. Paracord could literally save your life.
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- What Makes Paracord Unique?
- Paracord Today
- Making Paracord an Everyday Item
- Paracord Survival Solutions
- Domestic Uses for Paracord
- Finding Paracord
What Makes Paracord Unique?
Unlike traditional ropes made from sisal or hemp and other natural fibers like cotton, Paracord has a range of strengths and qualities that natural ropes don’t possess.
- Paracord won’t rot or deteriorate over time the way that ropes made from natural materials like hemp, cotton, or any other natural fiber eventually do.
- Paracord’s strength is uniform along its length with no weak points or spots where a splice or weak material could lead to a break.
- Paracord is flexible and will stretch, allowing for firm tie-downs, tight knots, and a bit of give making multiple tasks easier.
- Natural ropes can freeze solid when wet in winter, but Paracord retains a surprising amount of flexibility even when wet and frozen.
- Mass for mass, Paracord is 3 times stronger than traditional ropes.
- Paracord is relatively inexpensive compared to traditional ropes and is made in a range of sizes.
- Paracord is light, making it easy to carry whether it’s across a field, in a hiker’s backpack, or in an adventurer’s survival kit.
- Paracord offers versatile possibilities because the inner strands of the cord can be pulled from the main body of the rope for precision uses like fishing line, net making, or any other emergency use requiring a small diameter but a strong length of cordage.
A Note on Paracord Strength
Not all Paracord is the same. A lot depends on its diameter and design. The types of Paracord are designated with Roman numerals.
- A type “I” has a small diameter and a tensile strength of 95 pounds.
- A type “II” has a larger diameter and a tensile strength of 400 pounds.
- A type “III” gets larger and a tensile strength of 550 pounds. This is one of the most popular sizes of Paracord and is sometimes referred to as a “550.”
- A type “IV” has a tensile strength of 750 pounds and beyond. This is about as high as a single Paracord rope goes on the commercial market. This is also the classification of Paracord typically sold as “mountaineering” rope, although some type III’s get also get a mountaineering designation.
An Easy Way to Increase Tensile Strength
If you take a length of Paracord in any of the 4 classifications and braid it using 3 braids, you will triple the strength of a single rope. That would take a Paracord IV with a strength of 750 pounds to more than a ton of tensile strength or 3 x 750 = 2,250 pounds.
As always, you sacrifice some length of any individual rope when you braid it, but if you need to improvise a short tow rope to pull your truck out of a ditch, it’s an idea worth remembering, assuming you have a good length of Paracord in the bed of your pickup.
Be forewarned. A Paracord tow rope will stretch quite a bit under stress and if it snaps it will rebound at very high velocity, so stand back.
Yes, Paracord is still used for parachutes. But from a survival standpoint, it’s taken on a life of its own. There’s no lack of articles on paracord, and there are even websites touting Paracord wristbands, macramé possibilities, and hundreds of uses for domestic and survival needs using Paracord.
Paracord: Don’t Carry It, Wear It!
Rather than offer another endless list of possibilities for Paracord, we’re going to start with ways that you can easily make Paracord an everyday item that’s not only available at all times for other uses, but serves an everyday purpose as well. That will include the ubiquitous Paracord wristband, a Paracord belt, and even common sense substitutions like lacing your boots with Paracord.
After that, we’ll get into some of the interesting ways you can take boots laces, wrist bands, or belts to get though a survival situation across a list of improvised Paracord solutions. We’ll also feature some knots that Paracord is uniquely suited for both because of its strength and its flexibility.
Finally, we’ll get into some domestic uses for Paracord that could also be accomplished with any other rope, but still offers the added durability and strength of Paracord.
Anytime you cut Paracord, you’ll probably notice that the inner cords emerge from the end of the woven fabric. This is good to know in case you ever need to harvest these inner threads or cords for detailed work calling for a smaller diameter.
You may also find that those inner cords keep emerging and lengthening as you use your Paracord, so you’ll need to burn a whip-finish on the end of any cut Paracord.
Burning a Paracord Whip-Finish
- Cut the emerging cords flush with the woven outer covering of the cord.
- Using a lighter, carefully melt while rotating the end of the Paracord nylon fiber.
- Blow out the flame (nylon is plastic and it will burn quite well) and gently roll the end of the melted Paracord on a surface to smooth and seal the whip-finish.
- Repeat this step any time you cut a length of Paracord or you many get some unraveling and emerging inner cords as time goes on. You’ll also want to do this outdoors. Burning plastic can drip and gives off acrid, black smoke.
Making Paracord an Everyday Item
It would be a bit absurd to carry a coil of Paracord over your shoulder every day. It might make a little more sense to throw some in the trunk of your car, and it certainly makes sense on a boat, but the idea of wearing a coil of Paracord or stuffing Paracord in our pockets “just in case” seems a bit unreasonable…until you need it.
The unfortunate fact is that even the most well equipped survival kit is useless if we leave it behind. Why would we do that? Because we always assume that close to home or camp is safe. What a lot of data and statistics contradict is that most people who get into trouble in remote areas are still fairly close to home and in familiar territory. That’s the problem with survival situations – they’re usually unexpected.
And that’s why one of the best ways to be prepared for the unexpected is to adopt behaviors that make preparedness easier. The whole idea is to find an everyday use for Paracord like a wristband for a watch so you’ll always have some Paracord with you.
The Paracord ideas we’re about to cover do exactly that, using Paracord to make everyday items we wear without a thought…until we need it.
Making a Paracord Wrist Band
It may seem trivial for some of us to wear a wrist band, but it can also be used as a wristband for a watch or compass. And if the worst happens and you need to improvise solutions to get through an unplanned night in the woods or worse, at least you’ll have 4 to 9 feet of Paracord on your wrist.
Making a Paracord Belt
For some of us, a Paracord belt makes more sense than a Paracord wristband. In actual fact, Paracord makes a really good belt. All you need is a buckle and it should have all the appearance of an everyday item of clothing.
Better yet, a Paracord belt is going to provide you with up to 100 feet of more Paracord in a survival situation, but for some reason everyone seems obsessed with the wristbands. As with the wristbands, you can buy these online.
Paracord Boot Laces
This one is easy and obvious. You want a classification “I” length of Paracord which should fit into the lace holes on your boots. Nothing complicated here. Just take out the old boot laces and replace with the Paracord. Don’t forget to whip-finish the ends to make lacing easier. Or get these which don’t need to be whip-finished.
Paracord Hat Band
If you get the size and braid right for a hat band, a Paracord band around the top of your hat can actually help hold it in place in the wind due to the elasticity of Paracord. Even if that doesn’t work out, it’s another easy way to make sure you always have some Paracord with you whenever you wander. In this case, it takes about 30 feet of Paracord, but you can add to that amount depending on the size of the band.
Paracord Walking Stick Grip
For a lot of us, any long walk is best accompanied by a walking stick. If you have a favorite stick or cane for your sojourns into the woods, you can quickly improvise a grip on the top end from Paracord. Figure about 3 feet of Paracord to make the grip. Tie on and wrap it around and then finish with a double clove hitch.
Paracord Survival Solutions
Now that you’ve found a few ways to make carrying some Paracord easy, you’re ready to improvise a range of survival solutions. In fact, if you braided and improvised all of the above, you’d be carrying about 150 feet of Paracord while it’s serving another purpose.
Timber Shelter Bindings
There are a variety of ways to improvise a survival shelter from sticks and small logs. Regardless of the design of the shelter, using some Paracord to tie together some loose ends will give you a stable shelter in most any weather.
The lean-to is the classic go to survival shelter, and binding the key support of the top ridge pole is the most important way to use your Paracord. From there, you can lay sticks and branches on the support pole and have a home in the woods… at least for a while.
Campfire Cooking Tripod
Whether you’re hanging a cooking pot or suspending a chunk of Elk over the fire, a tripod makes campfire cooking easier. To make your tripod, find 3 sticks about 1 to 2 inches thick and about 3 feet long and bind the top with a tripod lashing.
Once the lashing is complete, spread the tripod legs out over the fire and you can use a length of Paracord to suspend your cooking pot or meat over the fire, assuming the pot or game is between the Paracord and the fire.
Any campfire in a remote area is welcome, especially in a survival situation. But if you’ve ever sustained a fire over a period of hours, if not days, you know that nearby firewood becomes increasingly scarce. That’s a good time to think about a Paracord firewood carrier. You don’t have to overdo it as long as it provides you with a way to bundle and carry more firewood.
Paracord Timber Hitch
Sometimes you find a deadfall in woods that would provide you with hours of firewood. All you have to do now is get it your camp. The best way to haul a log out of the woods is with a timber hitch. It’s a surprisingly easy knot to tie once you understand the concept.
The Timber Hitch is a two-step knot.
The first step is to wrap the rope end around the log down about 6 to 8 feet from the cut end of the trunk. You then tie 3 to 4 twists down along the length of the rope next to the log.
The second step is to wrap the rope around the log down a foot or two from the first hitch and cross the rope and mover forward along the log a foot or two to the next wrap. This is done to create 3 or 4 progressive hitches. The long length of rope is then hitched up to the truck or to you, and the log should track well as it’s pulled from the woods.
A fishing pole is easy to improvise from a 6 to 7 foot branch. Try to find a green, flexible branch that’s thick enough to land a fish with enough bend to allow you to play it at least for a while. For smaller fish, you can just yank them out of the water over your shoulder. It’s a skill many of us mastered at an early age.
Your fishing line is made out of one of the inner cords inside a Paracord rope. They’re smaller in diameter than the main rope but still very strong and usually white in appearance, which the fish are less likely to notice.
A key thing to remember is to tie the cord to the base of the fishing pole and then run it to the tip and tie it off, leaving a long length of line for fishing. The reason you want to tie the cord to both the tip and the base of your pole is in case you catch a large fish that breaks your stick pole.
If the cord is only tied to the tip, you’ve lost the fish. If it’s tied to the tip and the bottom, you still have your line in hand and can still land the fish.
You can also use Paracord to make a trot line. A trot line is a long line with smaller lines with hooks attached. The idea is to suspend the hooks in the water over a distance in the hopes that one of the hooks will catch a fish.
If you don’t have fish hooks there’s a variety of ways to improvise one, but at least you have your Paracord fishing line.
Yes, you can weave a fishing net from Paracord, but it’s tedious and uses a lot of cordage, so unless you’re in an area where it’s easy to net fish (or necessary because the fish are large), it’s probably not worth the trouble. A net also requires a significant amount of cordage, but if you strip off the outer layer of Paracord, you can use the inner strands to increase the amount available and make an effective net.
There are net crafting kits that include a tool called a shuttle cock to help with net knotting but you can improvise knots by hand for a basic survival net. A flexible branch tied into a looping bow can support the net. Trees like Willow are best due to their flexibility.
You can also knot a free style casting net with a large round net about 10 feet in diameter weighted around the edges with stones or metal scraps and a casting line tied to the center of the net circle. You throw the net out so it opens and lands fully expanded onto the water and let the edges sink. You then quickly draw in the net by the center cord and as the net collapses, it will manage to snare some fish in the netting.
Sleeping on the ground isn’t always the best bet, especially in swampy jungle areas or after heavy rains. This is another labor intensive project that uses a lot of Paracord, but if you happen to have a good supply on hand, you can improvise a hammock that should at least keep you off the ground.
For deep wounds or cuts with extensive bleeding, a tourniquet is one option for stopping excessive bleeding. Paracord makes an excellent emergency tourniquet, but there’s a lot to know about how to do it properly.
A bow is easy to make with Paracord. Use one of the inner cords as your string. If it’s not strong enough, braid a couple of inner strands. The best wood to use for a bow is a branch or sapling from trees that are strong and flexible like Willow, Osage Orange, and even Elm.
- Try to find a section about 3 to 4 feet in length and carefully taper from the center down to either end.
- Carve a notch in both ends to hold the string.
- Tie the Paracord to one end and then bow the branch and tie off the other end.
- Now all you have to do is make the arrows.
Bow and Arrow Drill
There are a lot of ways to start a fire without matches or a lighter, and the bow and arrow drill is a classic approach. A strip of leather is often used to drive the drill, but Paracord can work as a replacement.
Paracord in the III and IV classifications are often used for mountaineering, although the class IV is the safest with a 750-pound tensile strength rating. The most common use for mountaineering rope is for technical climbing as either a lifeline or a line for rappelling.
Over time, specific knots have been designed for unique mountaineering challenges, and they’re worth knowing for various survival situations.
The bowline is a large loop that someone can pull over the chest and under their arms. This allows someone else to pull or assist the person as they climb or are pulled from a ravine, lake, river, or anywhere else where someone needs assistance to get out of a dangerous situation.
The key to the bowline is creating a loop that will not close or tighten on itself. The knot holds the bow in the line so the loop will not compress or tighten under the weight of the person being rescued.
A Prussik knot allows you to climb a rope in a stair step manner using the knots to slide up the rope as you continue to ascend. The knot itself is attached to the climbing rope with loops tied at the bottom to insert your foot. The knot is designed to tighten onto the rope when weight is applied but can then be loosened and slid up the rope to allow the next step.
Domestic Uses for Paracord
Paracord has many uses that go beyond desperate survival needs. To a large degree, any rope has value and purpose around the house or homestead, but we’ll try to again focus on uses that are uniquely satisfied by the qualities and characteristics of Paracord due to its strength and flexibility.
Compared to some ropes made from natural fibers, Paracord is soft yet strong. Applying the same braiding concepts we used for making Paracord wristbands and belts, it’s easy to customize a Paracord collar for your dog.
You don’t have to overdo this. You could just attach a length of Paracord to your dog’s collar, but on a slow and cold rainy or winter day, you could always braid a length of Paracord to improvise a leash for your dog.
Its flexibility provides a little give so your dog won’t choke too much the next time a rabbit pops up. While you’re at it, make a few and you’ll never find anyone in the house saying, “Where’s the dog leash?”
Cargo Tie Down
Paracord is perfect for tying down loads due to its strength and its flexibility. It holds all manner of knots exceptionally well, especially under stress. One of the best knots to know for any tie down occasion is the Trucker’s Hitch.
The Classic Trucker’s Hitch
Step 1: Create a loop in the line of your rope and hold that loop where the rope crosses itself. You can do this easily by pinching the crossed segment together with your forefinger and thumb. This motion of taking your line around itself to create a loop is called a crossing turn.
Step 2: With your free hand, feed some rope from after the crossing turn through the loop. You should only pull enough line through your first loop to create a second loop or dangling loop that emerges from your first. This will only require a few inches of line.
Step 3: Cinch your first loop tight. You can do this by tugging on the side of the second loop, feeding toward your anchor and the line that is feeding into your first loop. This should cinch your line and first loop around the second loop so you no longer need to hold it together with your fingers.
At this point, you should only have a single loop in your line. This loop should stick out of the now cinched tight first loop. This is the slip knot portion of your trucker’s hitch.
Step 4: Anchor the free end of your line. You can do this by passing the tail end of your line around or through a sturdy object like a cleat, peg, carabiner, or secure post. Make sure that whatever you use as your anchor point is strong enough to secure what you are holding with your line.
Step 5: Pass the free end of your rope through the dangling loop. Pull the line firmly to tighten the knot and make the string between your first and second anchors taut. Too much slack in your line could cause your load to slip or shift.
Feed the tail end through the loop until there is no longer any slack in the free end of your line. This will also serve to tighten and strengthen your trucker’s hitch knot.
Step 6: Finish the knot with two half-inch locks. These locks are sometimes called hitches. Take your free end around both post-knot strands of your line. Since you have run your line around/through an anchor point and returned it back to the knot to finish the tying, your post-knot rope will have two strands.
Step 7: Pull your free end through the loop and pull it tight, then slide this to the base of your main knot.
You may have some stops and starts, but once you get the hang of it and understand the dynamics of how it works, you’ll find it’s easier to tie. You should also practice tightening the knot and releasing it.
Here’s another video of how to tie this knot for a quick and easy setup and take down for a lean-to.
Tool Handle Grips
Some tools require a better grip than others. This is particularly true of heavier tools that involve a swinging motion like axes, sledge hammers, scythes, hatchets, and black-smithing tools.
Wrapping a handle in Paracord is easy, but you may want to put an underlayment of friction tape on the handle first. The inertia of swinging a tool could loosen the Paracord from the handle without some additional grip from the friction tape.
You could also coat the handle with a layer of silicone sealer before winding if you want a very strong bind. The benefit of silicone sealer is that you can pull the Paracord off the handle someday and peel off the adhering silicone without damaging the Paracord or the handle of the tool.
If the tool happens to be something you take with you to remote or wilderness locations, you’ll definitely want to be able to remove your Paracord for survival situations. Think of it as another way to use Paracord everyday for those times when you may need it most.
It used to be that Paracord was only sold in Army surplus stores, but now you can find it everywhere from Amazon to Sport shops, hardware stores and home centers, and even the dollar store. Prices vary depending on classifications with the higher end class III and IV running from $10 to $100 for a 100 foot length.
A lot has to do with the brand and the intended use. Mountaineering Paracord is usually the most expensive while class I and II Paracord ranges from $1 to $10 depending on its length. Custom lengths exceeding 100 feet are also available either online or at specialized mountaineering shops.
The Possibilities are Significant
Paracord seems to have become the dominant type of cordage available on the commercial market. It’s surprisingly inexpensive for its strength and the range of uses and possibilities are as lengthy as the history of rope. It’s worth having around the home or homestead for any reason, and for those survival situations where you may really need it… don’t forget to wear some Paracord.
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