It’s one of the most useful and versatile items I throw in my pack: a length of lightweight, all-purpose cord. From guylines to clotheslines, shoe laces to dog leashes, it’s remarkable how many different uses you can find for this simple, inexpensive item. Also amazing is the number of different types of cord available. Here’s a quick rundown of the options, lingo, and a short list of potential uses.
There are some common specs to the cord we’re talking about here. It’s made from nylon, thin (usually 3mm to 4mm), and features an outer sheath that covers several (usually seven to nine) interwoven inner strands. It was developed and first widely used in World War II parachutes, hence its common names and shorthands: parachute cord, paracord, or P-cord. It can also be described as utility cord or all-purpose cord.
You may also see this type of cord using a number, which refers to the cord’s minimum weight-bearing strength. So, for example, 550 cord (one of the most common types) can hold a minimum of 550 pounds without breaking. (Keep in mind, however, that this weight rating applies only to hanging, or static, dead weight. If there is dynamic loading of the cord, i.e. it catches a falling weight, the forces applied to it will be much greater than the weight of the object.)
Some other terms you might see are “Mil-Spec” or “Type” (I, II, or III). These refer to very exact specifications once set by the military for different types of cords.
Paracord usually comes in 30-foot, 50-foot, and 100-foot lengths; is widely available at gear, hardware, and crafts stores; and typically runs between $5 and $15, depending on the length. It’s available in an astonishing number, colors, patterns, and sizes–for the full range, check out sites like Paracord Planet or Paracord Galaxy.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of potential uses for paracord. I have most commonly used it for guying out a tarp or tent, replacing a busted shoelace, keeping the dog on a long leash while in a campground, hanging bear bags, adding a zipper pull, and running clotheslines around camp. But that’s just scratching the surface, especially for potential survival uses.
Paracord can be used to lash branches together for emergency shelter construction or it can be pulled apart and separated into many smaller strands, which can then be used (if you know what you are doing!) for fishing lines, nets, and snares, among other things. It can also be used to make bracelets, belts, and other fashion items.
For some very long lists of possibilities, especially for survival uses, you can check out sites like Skilled Survival, Backdoor Survival, and More than Just Surviving. As these sites highlight, the number of ways you can use paracord are really only limited by your imagination. Have fun with it!