The all-purpose paracord: A versatile and indispensable tool with many uses

For comparison, (from left) 95 paracord with a 43kg test strength, battlecord with a 1,202kg test, and 550 paracord at 249.5kg.

Paracord, a portmanteau for parachute cord, has a fascinating origin rooted in military history.

Initially developed for parachutes during World War II, the paracord quickly became a versatile and indispensable tool with many applications beyond its initial intended use.

Paratroopers needed a strong, lightweight cord for their parachute riggings, and the US military sought a solution and developed what would become known as paracord.

Paracords are composed of nylon strands sheathed in a braided nylon sheath. They are strong yet deceptively light and are nearly impervious to moisture and UV rays.

The inner strands of the paracord can be used as an emergency fishing line tied with a uni knot.The inner strands of the paracord can be used as an emergency fishing line tied with a uni knot.

It was perfect for the rigorous demands of airborne operations and after the war, soldiers recognised the usefulness of paracord in survival situations and everyday tasks to the point that they insisted on being equipped with a coil of it.

The versatility of paracord lies with its construction. Typically consisting of a braided outer sheath and inner strands (mostly seven cores), the paracord can be unravelled, providing many length of smaller cords that serve various purposes.

The paracord is sometimes called the “550 cord,” indicating its minimum breaking strength of 550lb (249.5kg). This strength-to-weight ratio has contributed to its popularity among outdoor enthusiasts, survivalists, and crafters.

Paracord has found its way into many applications, ranging from survival situations to fashion accessories.

Coils of paracord come in myriad colours.Coils of paracord come in myriad colours.

In the wild, it can be used to construct shelters, create snares for hunting or as an emergency fishing line. Its durability and strength make it essential as camping and hiking gear today.

A few centimetres of paracord can be unravelled into a fuzz that makes excellent tinder to start a fire with a lighter, though it is harder to ignite it with the sparks of a ferrocerium rod.

Because manufacturers make them in a dizzying variety of colours, paracord bracelets, keychains, even as shoelace and drawstrings and other accessories have become trendy fashion items, incorporating style and utility.

This small folding knife has a few centimetres of braided paracord at the end to extend the grip.This small folding knife has a few centimetres of braided paracord at the end to extend the grip.

A prettily braided paracord bracelet is made of at least 2m, so survivalists and even soldiers make a habit of wearing paracord bracelets, since they never get in the way and will supply precious cordage in dire situations.

Beyond outdoor activities, paracord has become a staple in DIY projects. From crafting dog leashes to repairing backpacks, the uses of paracord are limited only by one’s creativity. Its popularity has even led to the emergence of paracord enthusiasts who share and exchange innovative ideas for its utilisation.

So, the origin of the paracord as a paratrooper’s gear has transcended its initial purpose, evolving into a versatile and widely embraced resource.

Whether in the great outdoors, emergencies, or creative crafting endeavours, paracord continues to prove its worth as an invaluable and adaptable tool. Its journey from the battlefields of World War II to the hands of enthusiasts today is a testament to its enduring utility and legacy.

Out of the same tech principles, different cordage have appeared.

About 20cm of paracord frayed into a fuzz makes a slow burning tinder, but must be lit with a lighter.About 20cm of paracord frayed into a fuzz makes a slow burning tinder, but must be lit with a lighter.

A popular one is called a battlecord, a much stiffer, fatter cord with a tensile strength of 2,650lb (1,202kg); you can use it to tow most cars.

At the other end of the strength spectrum is the microcord, a slim cord of just 1.18mm in diameter and yet is 100lb (45kg) test.

In between is the 95 paracord, which has a fatter 1.75mm diameter, softer and more pliant with a strength of 95lb (43kg).

Avoid buying cheap knock-offs because the nylon is likely not treated with compounds for UV protection; after extended use and exposure to the sun, these cords will disintegrate into dust.

There is, perhaps, a minor inconvenience with paracord use: other than a cutting tool, you will also need a lighter.

Because the other sheath of the cord is braided, the ends quickly begin fraying after you cut the cord. It is necessary to apply the fire from a lighter for a second to melt the nylon at the cut ends to fuse them and keep the cord intact.

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