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History of 550 parachute cord
550 parachute cord has been a survival kit favorite for many years. It was originally intended for use by parachute regiments for the suspension lines of US parachutes during WW II, hence the name para cord. Once on the ground parachute troops quickly adopted this nylon kernmantle rope for its lightweight, flexibility, and strength for many uses other than parachuting.
Troops would cut paracord from old parachutes and use it for many tasks in camp, base, or out in the field. The popularity of this cord among troops became apparent to the military quickly, so its no wonder why para cord became a standard issue item available to virtually all military personal shortly after it was adopted.
After WW II 550 parachute cord became available to the public for the first time. Para cord was first sold to civilians as military surplus, and then later on as a retail product. While this was a good thing for civilians it also opened up a market for many companies who made there own brands of 550 parachute cord. Some were good quality, others were terrible and of little use in war or survival situations. This is still the case today with many manufactures making cheaper, less quality, and different construction, color, or strength versions of 550 cord.
About para cord
Paracord is also called 550 parachute cord, or just plain 550 cord. The 550 in its name comes from the cords breaking strength, this means that the para cord can take up to 550 pounds of weight before it breaks. U.S paracord is generally considered a cut above the British Cord.
Unlike most brands of para cord the government issue and mil-spec 550 cord is made to strict specification.
When buying 550 parachute cord for your survival kit make sure it is gov issue or of mil-spec, anything else is of little use for anything other than clothes lines. The lesser quality 550 parachute cord may have fewer inner strands in the sheath or core, it may be manufactured from materials other than nylon, or may be constructed of bulk fibers rather than individual yarns.
550 cord is durable and versatile, the nylon construction means it will not rot or mildew so para cord is considered a good all weather cord, making it popular with survivalists, campers, backpackers, outdoor folk and hunters to name a few. It should be noted that 550 cord is designed to stretch (making it bad for a ridge-lines), sucks up water, stretches more when wet (making it bad for tarps), and can be a pain to un-tangle.
Para cord comes in different colors as well as types. Some typical colors available are black, white, digital camo, woodland camo, desert camo, dark Brown, neon Green, foliage Green, olive Green, tan or sand, electric blue, coyote Brown, orange, and neon yellow.
When purchasing 550 parachute cord remember to make sure it is government issue or mil-spec. There are many different imitations of 550 cord on the market that claims to be para cord because of its similar apparel. Always check to make sure your getting the real-deal and not some cheaper style that tries to pass off as 550 parachute cord.
550 parachute cord specifications:
Mil-spec or government issue 550 parachute cord is a kernmantle rope known as Mil-C-5040 Type III. It is approximately 1/8 inch in diameter and is rated for 550 lbs. The exterior sheath of the cord is braided from 32 strands that optimizes strength, durability, and flexibility. Inside the sheath there is a core made up from seven or eight two-ply yarns.
The nylon yarn in the manufacture of the cord is bright, high-tenacity, light resistant and heat-resistant polyamide. It has a melting point of 244 degrees Celsius. The nylon cord looses no more than 15 percent of its original breaking strength after exposure to heat and light.
The outer woven nylon sheath of the 550 cord is rated at roughly 300 pounds, the 14 inner strings have a rating of approximately 17.5 pounds each. These 14 inner strings are woven tightly together in pairs making each of the 7 yarns have a rating of 35 pounds.
Para cord braiding
para cord is also a popular and practical fashion accessory because a single length can be made into a bracelet and worn on the wrist. During a survival or emergency situation a “cobra stitch” paracord bracelet can be unravelled to provide the user with a good length of strong cord that can be used for a wide range of purposes.
Making a survival bracelet with para cord is part of a growing craft called Paracord braiding. In this craft 450 para cord is braided to make decorative items with functional value to outdoor enthusiasts. Survival bracelets and lanyards are two common examples of para cord braiding.
Note that Paracord braiding is normally done with the lower strength 450 para cord, as useful as 450 paracord is it is advised that for your survival needs you carry the mil-spec 550 parachute cord instead of 450 cord as it is stronger and more versatile.
550 parachute cord notes.
Despite paracord being so popular with military personal and civilians alike, it does have its drawbacks. Its lightweight makes it easy to carry, but makes it difficult to throw long distances, such as over a branch, or throwing a line to someone in the water. In these instances you will need some sort of weight on the end.
Planning on using para cord for rappelling? Don’t! It is far too dangerous and should only ever be used in this way as a last resort. Para cord is far too thin and no where near strong enough for rappelling. The cord may take your weight, but if you slip even a small amount you will increase the strain on the cord and it will snap. It should only ever be used this way as a last resort in an emergency, as it is a very risky thing to do.
For rope with a greater strength rating you may need kevlar, vectran, or vectra fiber polymer rope, these are extremely tough with a high tensile strength, but a lot heavier and less flexible than 550 cord. You will have to decide what cord/ rope you want based on your survival needs.