Paracord is one item that all preppers love, being rightly renowned for its great flexibility, resistance to rot, versatility and of course its great strength-to-diameter ratio.
You can use paracord for all kinds of rigging, construction and repairs, and used very carefully in a pinch you can even use it for certain types of climbing. It is undoubtedly useful, and we know it is certainly tough, but just how strong is paracord really?
How Strong is Paracord?
Mil-spec Type-III Paracord (“550 cord”) conforming to original technical standard MIL-C-5040H (disc.) and consisting of between 7 – 9 inner 3-fiber nylon strands and surrounded in a 32-fiber nylon sheath is rated for a minimum breaking strength of 550 pounds (250 kilograms).
But paracord could describe one of several varieties of similar, lightweight military cordage that has since proliferated throughout civilian life. We’ll look at the strengths of the various types and what lends them their strength below.
Other Types of Paracord?
Yes, several “genuine” ones. When someone says “paracord” you can bet they are referring to the classic, tried, true and loved Type-III “550” cord, so named for its minimum (nominal) breaking strength listed above. 550 Paracord is a lightweight kernmantle rope made from nylon.
Kernmantle is rope making nomenclature for any sheathed rope, one where the inner, strength-supplying strands or “kern” is protected by a woven exterior, or “sheath” which prevents abrasion, friction and other damage from compromising the rope’s capability.
Other varieties of proper paracord include the thicker and stronger Type-IV, which is rated to hold 750 lbs. per strand, Type-II, rated to hold 400 lbs., Type-IIA, holding 225 lbs., Type-IA, which can hold 100 lbs. before breaking, and Type-I, which will support slightly less at 95 pounds.
All of the paracord above can be found on the commercial market and may indeed be better for this task or that compared to the old standby of Type-III paracord we all know and love.
But Type-III, in all its guises, is overwhelmingly the most common and the most popular for preppers, and with good reason. Its combination of positive qualities is tough to beat!
Mil-Spec “True” Paracord vs. Commercial Lookalikes
There is one factor you must take into account when purchasing paracord, especially if you are going to use it for anything more taxing than weaving into key fobs, zipper pulls or bracelets.
Not all “paracord” is created equal! While originally specified to be of all nylon construction, modern commercial iterations are not true paracord and may deviate from this prescription and thus lose strength.
“Paracord” today has become shorthand for any cordage that is approximately as it has been described above, and all kinds of imitators and spinoffs are on the market, from the excellent to the lame.
It is up to you to determine what your requirements are for your paracord and buy accordingly after ascertaining what standard the prospect cordage is made to.
Commercial cord runs the gamut from extremely high quality rope that can handily exceed the original military cord in performance, durability and longevity while packing in the innards some handy jute and brass snare wire, to pale imitation cordage made from polyester fill stuffed in a coarse, weak inferior nylon sheath.
Strength is part of what defines paracord. 550 paracord was, as the name suggests, used as parachute rigging lines, but has been “officially” relegated to the role of general purpose utility, lanyard and repair cord.
If all you need is thin cordage to make a simple lanyard or bracelet from, almost any cord will do.
If you need proper paracord for hoisting a hammock, pitching a tent, lashing mission-essential gear to your pack or making a cannot-fail lanyard you had better look for the good stuff.
Telling the Difference
Proper mil-spec paracord is made entirely from nylon, with 7 to 9 thin inner strands making up the kern (core).
These strands will be made from 3 fibers, no more no less, each. Real paracord also does not come in all the colors of the rainbow and is often found sold off the spool.
One of the biggest and best makers of the real stuff is the E.L Woods Braiding Company, an OEM supplier of all kinds of military cordage.
You cannot simply trust the “mil-spec” label some makers (and sellers) slap on their cord; this is ubiquitous marketing jargon at this point and means nothing unless you verify the standards of manufacture yourself!
Commercial paracord, especially high-quality paracord, may be entirely fine for your application but you must take the time to find out what your cord is capable of before trusting it!
Cord Comparison Chart
|Cord Type||Diameter||# of Inner Strands|
|1/4 shock cord||1/4 inches||48|
|Para-max cord||1/4 inches||3|
|750 cord||5 mm||11|
|550 cord||4 mm||7|
|Mil-Spec Cord||4 mm||7|
|1/16 elastic cord||1/16 inches||6|
|1/32 elastic cord||1/32 inches||3|
Paracord is Perfect Cordage for Crafting Durable Tools and Goods
There’s a reason paracord has been used by the military for years. It’s an incredibly strong and durable cordage that can be used for all sorts of tasks. Whether you’re crafting a tool or good, paracord is the perfect material to use.
Here are some of my favorite, heavier duty projects that make the best use of its incredibly durable, strong construction:
Handle wrap: This is a great project for anyone who wants to add a little extra security to their hold on a knife, axe or other tool.
A paracord knife handle wrap will help keep your tool securely in your hand no matter the conditions, and it also looks pretty cool to boot!
Even better, this is another great way to add some extra paracord to your load for only the cost of a few grams in weight
Emergency Survival Kit Bracelet: Bracelets are a great way to show your personal style, and with paracord, you can create a bracelet that is both sturdy and stylish, one that has other tiny gear items woven into it. A compass, razor, whistle and more are all possibilities!
Dog leashes: A sturdy dog leash is a must-have for any pet owner. With paracord, you can create a leash that is both massively strong and stylish. Combine with a locking carabiner and you’ll have a leash that can handle the most powerful pooch.
Dog Collar: A leash won’t do much good without a collar! Carefully size your dog’s neck, grab some sturdy closures and you’ll be in business. The perfect accompaniment to the leash above.
Work/Table mat: A paracord mat is a great way to add a touch of personality to any table or workbench while protecting the surface from dings, dents and incidental damage. It’s also a great project for anyone who wants to learn traditional weaving techniques!
What Can Weaken Paracord?
While paracord is incredibly strong and durable, it’s not invulnerable. Here are some things that can damage or weaken your paracord:
Exposure to water: Paracord is susceptible to water damage. If it’s exposed to water for an extended period of time, it will start to rot and deteriorate. A little dunk on something that is not load-bearing is not an issue, usually, as it will dry out.
Heat: Paracord is easily damaged by heat. If it’s exposed to high temperatures, the cord can start to melt and then reharden, losing flexibility and becoming brittle. Serious heat or open flame will destroy the cord entirely. Be careful when sealing those cut ends!
UV Light: Ultraviolet rays can also cause damage to paracord. Over time, the sun’s rays can degrade the fibers in the sheath and make it less durable. Most fabric and fibers don’t handle constant UV exposure better than paracord, but it is still a factor!
Chemicals: Certain chemicals can attack the synthetic composition of paracord fibers, damaging it. If it’s exposed to strong chemicals- gun cleaner motor oil, etc.- it can start to break down and become brittle.
Mold: Mold can also be a problem for paracord. If it’s exposed to moisture and mold results, the cordage can start to rot and deteriorate even though it has proven pretty resistant to it.
So, while paracord is incredibly strong and durable, it’s not invincible. be sure to keep it away from water, heat, UV rays, and chemicals to ensure that it stays in good condition.
While these are some of the things that can damage or weaken your paracord, it’s important to remember that it is still an impressively durable cordage.
Yes, Paracord Is Pretty Strong…
Real-deal, genuine mil-spec 550 paracord is, as the nickname suggests, rated to hold 550 lbs. before breaking.
Several of these strands working together are mighty indeed, and it is easy to see why so many preppers, adventurers, outdoorsman, soldiers, police officers and hunters trust 550 cord for all kinds of things!
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.