Survival-Pax Blog: 550 Paracord - Multiple Utility Cordage

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

550 Paracord - Multiple Utility Cordage

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550 Paracord comes in many different colors
550 Paracord

One of the products universally hailed by the emergency preparedness/survival community, but not as well known by your average person, is 550 Paracord. I guess it'll just take some time to find its way onto main stream shopping lists. Since discovering it a few years ago, I have put it to some use and have only had positive experiences with it, as long as I did not stress it beyond its design.

If you are one of those who hasn't ever heard of 550 paracord, let me tell you what it is and where it came from.

550 Paracord (AKA paracord, or parachute cord) was originally designed for parachutes during the World War II. Since then, soldiers, and now civilians, have found it very useful for a variety of tasks. Known for its strength, it can support up to 550 lbs. without breaking. Being about the thickness of a shoelace also makes it easy to store, perfect for emergency kits or for anyone requiring thin and strong cordage.

Much of the utility behind 550 paracord is due to the way that it is constructed. Quality 550 paracord is composed of seven inner strands and an outer sheath. The inner strands are great for fishing line, sewing, dental floss, or for other tasks in which a thin line is sufficient. The outer sheath can be used for tasks that don't require as strong of a line as well.

Here is the tensile strength breakdown of 550 Paracord:
Outside Sheath - 305 lbs
Inner Strand - 35 lbs each x 7 strands
Total Strength - 550 lbs

Why would you want to take apart (gut) your 550 paracord? You might want to do this because, if you do, then you have 8 times the length of cord than what you had initially. In an extreme emergency, where you might not be guaranteed a resupply of cordage, this can be very helpful since quality cordage is difficult to construct in the field; wasting valuable time, resources and calories.

Paracord Bracelets

550 Paracord can even be woven into bracelets.
Remember making friendship bracelets in Elementary School? I guess the craze caught on with adults too. Paracord is often used to make bracelets, lanyards, even belts. It's pretty popular too, especially among the survival/preparedness crowd. I'm sure that in the future, I'll talk more about this aspect of paracord; maybe even show you how to weave a paracord bracelet.

Can I use 550 paracord for climbing?

It's important to understand the limitations of 550 paracord. An unexperienced individual may, at first glance, see that it can support 550 lbs. and think it would be good for climbing or rapelling. I confess, it has crossed my mind before.

I want to make one thing clear: 550 Paracord IS NOT climbing rope!

It is possible to very easily stress 550 paracord beyond its design, causing it to snap. What many people do not understand is that, while you may weight only 175 lbs., the force exerted on a rope during climbing/rapelling is actually much greater, since you are bouncing up and down.

Paracord should never be used to suspend a person in a situation where injury would result if it were to break. You should always assume that it'll break and think about what would happen if it did. Paracord is fine for attaching a hammock to a tree (not too high up) and other tasks where you might want to be suspended low to the ground but nothing more. Paracord isn't magic or a substitute for a quality climbing rope. Remember that safety is critical. Don't do anything stupid.
550 Paracord is composed of seven inner strands and an outer sheath.

Once, I did stress 550 paracord beyond its design. I'm sure that you guys are wondering what I did. I was tying a hammock between two trees. Usually I double up on 550 paracord, but this time I only used a single strand. I guess I was curious if it would hold. Initially, it did. After bouncing and swinging a bit from side to side, it ended up breaking. I only had about a foot to fall down, so nothing happened, but it would have been a tragedy if I had been higher up.

But what do I do in an emergency if all that I have is 550 paracord and I need to climb/rappel?

Now I want to make it clear again that paracord is not climbing rope and that you should never use it as such, in an emergency, I would quickly weave together three or four lengths of 550 paracord if I ever planned on using it to suspend myself. Even then, I would do everything I could to hang as gently as possible. However, this is only to be done in a life or death situation. Do not try this unless this is the case.

Wow, what a tangent. Sorry guys, but I'm sure that most people who know about 550 paracord have thought about climbing with it and I felt like I had to say it.

I hope I've at least shown you that 550 paracord is some pretty useful stuff. If it isn't, consider adding at least 100 feet of paracord to your emergency kit. Take it with you on your next camping trip and try it out for yourself.

Take care guys!
Simon - Survival-Pax Team Member

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