Every good “survivalist”, with apologies for the anglicism, is usually seen wearing his undaunted Paracord 550 bracelet around his wrist.
This article explains what “Paracord 550” is and what use it can be in a survival situation.
“Paracord” is the name given to the ropes attached to parachutes.
They are similar to the “Kernmantle” type ropes used in climbing or on sailboats but thinner, with a smaller diameter.
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The Origins of Paracord 550
Kernmantle” ropes are composed of an inner core, made up of several strands, usually 7 or more. Each of these inner strands, in turn, is made by twisting together 3 even thinner strands.
The core is covered with a woven outer sheath, which is designed not only to protect the inner strands but also to improve strength and provide flexibility.
In climbing, small diameter ropes are called “auxiliary ropes” or “cords”. They are used for various knots such as Prusik or for hanging equipment such as carabiners.
Paracord and original WWII parachute cloth in frogskin camouflage. After landing, paratroopers would cut the ropes to reuse them and the frogskin fabric to line their helmets and thus provide them with a camouflage cover.
During World War II, the American company Dupont invented nylon, which was initially used to manufacture parachutes. Hence, the first “Kernmantle” type parachute cords made of “nylon” appeared and were christened “Paracord”.
The first users of Paracord as a survival rope were precisely the military parachutists, who used to cut the parachute cords when landing. Later Paracord became part of a soldier’s military equipment even if he did not belong to an airborne unit.
Finally, it made the leap to civilian use, becoming a cult item and a mainstay of the equipment of survival enthusiasts, both mountain.
In this field of application, the Paracord has been so successful worldwide that the market is completely flooded with cheap copies.
MIL-C-5040H, the Military Paracord Specification
With Paracord, the U.S. Army followed its usual practice of specifying all the material it uses. That is to say, it wrote down the requirements to be met by manufacturers making Paracord for military use and put a number to the specifications, MIL-C-5040.
These specifications have undergone 8 revisions. The latest, dating from 1997, is MIL-C-5040H. This is what is currently known as the “military specification” or “Mil-Spec”.
Military specification paracord. The liner was woven with 16 threads of “olive drab” or “military green” color. The internal threads, in this case, there are 9, were color-coded according to the MIL-STD 905 specification.
The set of requirements to be met by the MIL-C-5040H specification is a booklet of 92 pages, no more and no less. In short, 6 types of Paracord are differentiated according to the weight they can withstand and their construction;
A) Type I – 95lb 043kg – 1 internal thread – liner woven with 16 threads
B) Type IA – 100lb 045kg – 0 internal threads – 16 thread woven liner
C) Type II – 400lb 181kg – 4 or 7 internal threads – lining woven with 16 threads
D) Type IIA – 225lb 102kg – 0 internal threads – lining woven with 16 threads
E) Type III – 550lb 249kg – 7 or 9 internal threads – lining woven with 16 threads
F) Type IV – 750lb 340kg – 11 internal threads – lining woven with 16 threads
The most widespread type is type III, commonly called “550” because it is the most cost-effective when it comes to military specification. Type IV would cost twice as much per meter.
The internal threads of military Paracord were composed of a three-strand braid, one of which was dyed in a unique color described in the MIL-STD 905 specification. This was done in order to identify each internal thread.
The MIL-C-5040H specification was repealed in 1997. This means that military Paracord is still manufactured, albeit in limited quantities, to replace the broken rope on older equipment.
For this reason, it is difficult to find a real military paracord today. Virtually all that is available on the market is a commercial rope. The few that claim to be “Mil-Spec” actually meet the old MIL-C-5040H specification but most of it is cheap rope manufactured in China.
Uses of Paracord in Survival Situations
In emergency situations, Paracord rope could be used as is, or the internal strands could be extracted for other applications. As it is a nylon material, the cuts at the ends can be welded with a simple lighter flame to prevent the rope from fraying.
It should be taken into account that a 1-meter piece of Paracord would allow us to take out the 7 inner threads and splice them, resulting in a 7-meter strip.
This is a sample of possible uses of Paracord in cases of survival or mad-max, both the whole rope and the inner strands.
Making a fishing net
Suture thread for sewing a wound
Stitching thread for sewing broken garments
Tinder for starting a fire (nylon burns easily)
Making a tourniquet
To make a knife hilt or a walking stick
Replace boot lace, belt, improvise suspenders
Serve as a bowstring or crossbow string
To carry additional equipment tied around the neck, as a bandana, on the belt…
To make a cargo net
Making bundles, e.g. of wood for firewood
Improvise a tent with a tarp or plastic sheeting
Improvise a stretcher
Improvising a clothesline to dry wet clothes
Making a rope ladder out of branches
Tying logs together to make a raft
Making equipment or food to elevated areas
Leaving a trail by tying small pieces of rope together
Creating an alarm perimeter with cans
Making snowshoes for walking in the snow
Replacing a broken zipper puller
Making several turns is useful for towing a vehicle
Paracord 550 is Not Suitable for Climbing
At least a single rope. Paracord 550 can hold 249kg statically but not the body of a person in free fall or jumping down a wall while rappelling.
If we take a carabiner for climbing, we will see on its spine engraved its resistance in KiloNewtons (Kn). Newtons are the unit of “force”.
One kilogram falling into a vacuum at the earth’s average gravity exerts about 9.8 Newtons of force. 1 KiloNewton = 225lb = 102kg (more or less).
Without going into detailed physics explanations, in a real fall about 5Kn of force is registered. The International Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) considers carabiners that hold from 20Kn at the body spine to be safe for climbing. A more usual figure that is usually seen is 27Kn. In addition to the fact that it is always necessary to have a safety margin, at the hinge or gate, at most there is only 1/3 of that resistance.