We used paracord to braid a rope and rappel down a cliff, just to practice our survival skills, and it worked well. We had fun practicing without mishap and the rope seemed solid and safe. If you want to learn to rappel, take a class from an expert instructor and learn using certified technical gear.
A single strand of 550 paracord is tough but not strong enough to use as a lifeline. We used the cord to loosely braid a three-strand rope and it was plenty strong. We practiced using a simple braid that allowed us to create the rope without cutting the cord. With a 100 foot length of cord, we created a 33 foot long rope that allowed us to descend the cliff. Afterward, we could undo the braid and still have the intact 100 foot cord.
ParacordGalaxy.com is located near Zion National Park, in southern Utah, and I have spent my entire life exploring the cliffs and canyons in the area. I really enjoy canyoneering and have descended many canyons requiring long rappels using full technical gear. For this test we went simple and practiced on a small cliff using only stuff many people carry in emergency kits. For serious rappelling it is important to wear a helmet and use a strong harness. On this practice cliff we did not use a helmet and created a makeshift “diaper harness” out of a sling made from paracord braided into a rope. In an emergency situation, I would not hesitate to descend a high cliff or rappel from a third story window using our makeshift gear.
We tested using a figure-eight brake, and also using a strong carabiner as the break. Both worked well. I would be comfortable using our braided rope to do a body rappel without any braking device.
A single strand of paracord is thin and could cut into your hand if you use it to hold much weight. Our braided rope was much easier to grasp. When I leaned over the cliff I did not feel any stretch. I'd say for this test it worked as well as my expensive rappelling ropes.
It is good to practice emergency skills, to be ready for anything. Where I live, with my lifestyle, rappelling skills could save lives. Here’s some of the planning that went into our adventure.
The 550 paracord we used has a static breaking strength of 550 pounds. The safe working load capacity may be as low as 10 to 20 percent of its breaking strength. Plus, if a load "bounces" it will put additional strain on the paracord. We estimated the safe working load of our rope made with three strands of 550 paracord to be between 165 and 330 lbs. I weigh about 200 pounds and was confident three strands would support my weight. A larger person may need a stronger rope made with 4+ strands of 550 paracord. What this means is you need to get the specs and know you paracord and gear before practicing this survival skill.
A long length of paracord can easily become tangled, creating a birds nest with cord going everywhere. Braiding it into a three-strand rope made it easy to handle tangle-free. I've started carrying paracord already braided into a rope in my emergency kit. If I need something extremely strong, I'm ready. If I need a single strand of regular 550 cord, it is easy to pull the rope apart and get whatever length I need.
These photos show how we braided the three-strand rope without needing to cut the cord. Several different braids could be used but most quickly become a twisted mess since the three strands are connected.
For our purpose, a lose braid was best. A tight braid would make the rope shorter.
In one photo, we use two colors of cord just to show the weave. In real life all the strands would be the same color because they are from the same continuous hank. On first try, it may be best to use a short length of cord to get the hang, before attempting the entire 100 feet. The weave is really simple but it can be difficult to keep the strands straight on a long cord.
Step 1. Lay out the cord. Loop it back over itself, then loop it again, so you have three strands of the same length side-by-side.
Step 2. At each end, one strand will be solo and the other two will be part of a loop. Scoop up the three strands at one end and tie them together. I just used a simple overhand knot.
Step 3. At the far end away from your knot, identify the solo strand and trace it back to the knot. You will use this free cord to weave over and under the two looped strands. Just go under the strand to the left, back over that strand, then under the strand to the right, then back over that strand.
Repeat, allowing the free cord to rotate so you don't get twists.
Step 4. Keep the weave loose and continue until you reach the end. Then tie another overhand knot to secure the weave.
Pretty simple and very effective.
-- Dave Webb