What is Paracord (And How Is It Used)
550 paracord (also known as 550 cord or parachute cord) is a strong, thin, lightweight rope, usually made of nylon. It was developed by the military and originally used for parachute suspension lines. Over time people discovered it could be used for all kinds of survival, outdoor, home and craft situations.
550 (Type III) Paracord is manufactured to rigid specifications. It has:
• 7 inner nylon strands. This provide its strength. The strands are enclosed in a sheath (usually nylon but sometimes made of polyester).
• A breaking strength of 550 pounds. (This is a static load strength. The safe working load strength is lower – usually considered to be between 120-170 lbs, depending on application.)
• The capacity to stretch up to 30%.
The cord is ideal for paracord suspension lines, since a dozen lines below a parachute provide plenty of strength and the stretch capacity softens jarring. Since the cord is small, lightweight and strong, military personal carried it with them and discovered it is very versatile and can be used in all kinds of situations.
Today there are two primary types of paracord on the market:
• Mil spec paracord certified to be up to military specifications
• Commercial paracord, which is essentially the same but is not certified
Both types are the same size, have the same breaking strength and feel/look basically the same.
Learn about our US Paracord manufacturers.
What are the different types of paracord?
550 paracord is the traditional cord used for parachute lines by the military. When people say paracord, they are usually referring to 550 paracord. It has a woven sheath with seven inner nylon strands, which combine to give it a 550 pound tensile strength. It resists mold, mildew, rot, and UV radiation.
Enhanced cord is slightly bigger than 550 cord. It has 11 inner strands and tensile strength of 750 pounds.
650 paracord actually just has the outer sheath – it does not have inner cores. Most paracord is round but this one is flat (since it is hollow). It has 300 lb tensile strength.
425 paracord is slightly smaller than 550 paracord. It has 3 inner strands and tensile strength of 400-425 lbs.
325 paracord is smaller still. It uses 3 inner strands and has a tensile strength of 300-325 pounds.
275 paracord has 5 inner strands but a tensile strength of just 250-275 pounds.
95 paracord is also known as Type I. It is referred to as a tactical cord because of it small size. It has 1 inner strand and tensile strength of 95-100 pounds.
We sell other cords in our paracord family. See our paracord size chart for comparison.
Why is paracord so strong?
For its size and weight, 550 paracord is strong and resists abrasions. It holds up well, even when it is being scraped against sharp edges.
Paracord gets its strength from its unique composition. It is a small kernmantle rope, meaning it has a woven sheath enclosing strong nylon core strands. The sheath is wear-resistant and protects then nylon cores.
We sell paracord which two types of sheaths. Our line of products with sku numbers beginning with 163- are manufactured by EL Wood Braiding. The use a nylon sheath over nylon inner cores. They feel soft and flexible but still have the 550 pound tensile strength.
Our products with skus beginning with 167- are manufactured by Atwood Rope. They use a polyester sheath over nylon inner core strands. These cords feel stiff and rough. The polyester sheath is incredibly rugged and feels substantial. These cords also meet the 550 pound tensile strength specification.
Some of our customers love the softer feel. Others really like the stiffer cord that feels more substantial.
What is paracord used for?
Paracord is popular because it is useful. It is inexpensive, strong, lightweight, and easy to handle and so it is often used wherever a light rope is needed. Beyond these traditional, utilitarian uses, paracord is woven or fashioned into many stylish items including:
- Survival bracelets
- Fashion bracelets, necklaces, chokers
- Pet collars and leashes
- Horse tack
- Gun slings
- Decorative items
The possibilities are endless. People have fun creating all kinds of unique, creative, useful items from paracord.
Paracord was widely used by the US military during World War II, primarily for suspension lines but troops in the field quickly found many uses for the cord, from tying down equipment to suspending items from packs to first aid uses including tourniquets. The cord is still used extensively by the military. It has even been used in space by astronauts as they repaired the Hubble Space Telescope.
As soldiers returned home they sought sources for paracord so they could continue to use it in everyday life. Military surplus stores have sold it for years.
Today many manufacturers produce cord to military specifications and also in a "commercial" grade. As consumers discovered the cord, demand went up and a wider variety of cord has been produced. Now we are able to offer hundreds of colors of cord in several different sizes.
The 7-strand 550 paracord is still our best selling item. In addition, we offer these variations of paracord, along with other specialty cords:
Type 1 - 95 lb strength
275 Paracord - 275 lb strength
325 Paracord - 325 lb strength
425 Paracord - 425 lb strength
650 Paracord - Essentially 550 cord with the core fibers, so flat and far less strength
750 Paracord - 750 lb strength
Because of its versatility, paracord has long been valued as an important item for survival kits. A roll easily fits into a kit and adds very little weight.
Ingenious people soon learned that you can weave paracord into products useful in everyday life, that can also provide a ready supply of cord for use in an emergency. For example, paracord survival bracelets have become very popular. Choose from many, many patterns and you can create an attractive bracelet that is fun to make and also to wear. Then, if needed, you can unravel the weave and have a length of cord available for use in a survival situation.
The same is true of belts and other items. In fact, when unraveled a belt may provide more useful cord than a bracelet.
Paracord is much like duct tape - it can be used for hundreds of practical applications. Many people find it enjoyable to discover new uses, and to weave or otherwise create useful items from cord. Like knitting, it can be therapeutic to create items by weaving paracord.
Many people create items from paracord that they give as gifts or sell during fund raisers. Many veterans groups, school clubs and other organizations make and sell paracord products to raise money.
Many people have developed successful businesses making and selling products using paracord. The market for finished products has become large and appears to be growing.
Here is a list of some of the more popular popular products you can make using paracord:
- Wraps for handles
- Key chains
- Bottle carriers
- Dog Leashes
- And so much more!
Learn about our US Paracord manufacturers.
7-strand 550 Type III paracord was the original paracord used by the US Military and it continues to be our most popular product. It has a diameter of about 4.0 mm (5/32"). Most of our 550 paracord is made in the USA but we do offer some from overseas manufacturers.
7-strand 550 paracord comes in two basic styles:
1. Nylon sheath and nylon cord
2. Polyester sheath and nylon cord
In both cases the 7 core strands are nylon and they provide the cord's strength. The two varieties have a little different feel and they respond differently when being joined or otherwise manipulated. All of our products are clearly marked so you can tell if they are nylon/nylon or polyester/nylon. Both types have a 550 lb breaking strength rating.
We also offer a type of cord that does not have the 7 internal strands that provide the core strength. Our 650 coreless cord is flat, hollow, having a sheath but no internal strands. Therefore it is not as strong as regular paracord. The sheath is made of nylon and many people have found applications where is it useful. Our 650 (The 650 refers to the size of the cord - it is not the breaking strength.)
425 Tactical Paracord
Cord that is smaller than regular 550 is often referred to as "tactical." Since it is smaller, it is easier to carry, include in survival kits and/or to conceal. We offer several varieties of tactical cord.
Our 425 Tactical Paracord has a diameter of approximately 3mm or 1/8" and a test strength of 425 lbs. The 3 inner strands and the outer sheath are 100% nylon giving it excellent strength as well as UV, mold and mildew resistance. Our 435 cord is all made in the USA.
275 Tactical Paracord
We offer 275 tactical paracord from two different manufacturers. One has a diameter of about 2.5mm and the other has a diameter of about 2.38 mm. Both have a strength rating of 275 pounds. This cord is considerably smaller than 550 paracord and is usuful when making smaller items or items where not as much strength is needed.
Type 1 Paracord
This cord has a larger diameter than Micro Cord but smaller than 275 Tactical Paracord. It is approximately 1.85 mm or 1/14 inch. Our Type 1 Paracord is proudly made in the U.S.A.
Our manufacturers have developed custom colors for us so we can offer hundreds of combinations and patterns. We have many cords that are reflective, some that glow in the dark and some that glow under black light.
Most paracord products are made by braiding and weaving cord. If you braid together multiple cords of different colors you can create interesting patterns, and the resulting product is also stronger than a single strand of cords.
Our tutorials section has instructions to help you learn to do various braids to create attractive bracelets, lanyards and other items. If you search the Internet you will find hundreds of fun patterns.
Knots are important in creating paracord products. Knots can be large or small and can become part of the design of the product. Instructions for tying various knots can be found on our website, and via Internet searches.
Cord can also be joined by melting the ends together. The nylon cores fuse together to create joint that is almost seamless and quite strong. 550 cord that has a nylon sheath and nylon core can readily be fused with any similar cord. Cords that have a poly sheath and nylon core fuse different and so many people choose not to try to join poly to nylon.
Common lighters are often used to melt the cord ends. You can also use the flame from a gas stove or most any kind of burner that has an open flame.
Jigs can be used to hold cords as you work with them. Some braids are much easier to do with the aid of a jig.
Lacing needles, called fids, can be used to thread cord while making braids and tying knots. The end of the cord is trimmed an an angle and the resulting tapered end is twisted into the fid.
Many other products are available to help with paracord projects. As you watch tutorials on the
Internet, pay attention to see what is being used to held and manipulate the cord.
Standard 550 paracord is still our best selling item. Other sizes are blended with the 550 cord for an accent or used alone depending on the size of cord needed for the project to be done.
Paracord Hardware and Accessories
Plastic and metal buckles are perhaps the most common accessories used for paracord projects, such as bracelets and belts. Buckles come in an incredible variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Some have been tailored to provide useful functions. For example, some buckles have an integral whistle, which adds utility to a survival bracelet.
Shackles, snap hooks, rings, carabineers and other items are often used in leashes, lanyards, slings and other products.
Many kinds/colors/styles of beads and charms are available that can be used to decorate paracord creations.
Other specialty items like cord locks and ends add utility.
There is no end to the way paracord can be used, or to the accessories that can be used with it to create useful or decorative products.
Paracord As A Business
Many of our customers create paracord products that they sell on the Internet (etsy, ebay...), at swap meets and at retail shops. Most do it as a profitable hobby; a few have turned paracord into profitable full-time businesses.
We get calls virtually every day from disabled veterans who make and sell paracord items to supplement their incomes. Many others sell items as fund raisers for veterans groups, hospitals, school groups and other organizations.
Launching a small business can be challenging. In this case you can eliminate much of the risk be starting on a small scale, making things as a hobby and testing to see what you can sell, working out your sales outlets before making a major commitment to a business venture.
Be creative and the sky is the limit. We have one customer who supplies bracelets to a neighborhood gun shop. They buy as many as he can produce and so he has a stable, profitable business.
One husband/wife team do paracord full time and travel to swap meets. They report that they sell virtually all of their inventory at every meet.
Be sure to check business regulations where you live. As with any financial venture, you need to use caution as you learn the ropes.
We wish you the best of luck.