Gear, Parts and Accessories

The 550 Cord Experience: Paracord’s Many Uses

Nylon Paracord Rope

Speak to just about any military soldier, sailor, airman or marine and he can tell you about the wonders of this little thing called 550 Cord. Why do they call it 550 cord? It can withstand 550 pounds of pull before it breaks. It may be the only thing on earth that has almost as many uses as duct tape. When military members deploy, one of the standard suggested items they bring in their personal gear in 50 feet of 550 cord. In my military career, I’ve had the opportunity to make use of this wonderful little product on many occasions.

In 1935, DuPont developed a thermoplastic silky material called nylon. In World War II, silk was becoming scarce and the military was looking for a replacement. Nylon was an easy answer; it was stronger and cheaper than silk. The military quickly started utilizing nylon in their flack vests and parachutes. Enter, 550 cord. Paratroopers deployed to the front quickly realized how versatile this stuff was. With a little time and some American ingenuity, paracord soon became an invaluable part of survival during the war.


So what makes this stuff so darn useful? I’ll touch on a few of the things that I’ve used 550 cord for, and some of the things that you can make if you happen to have way, way more patience than I do. In a deployed location, living in a tent, you don’t always have access to a clothes dryer. Strewn about every military tent I’ve lived in, you can find an intricate network of paracord holding up everything from uniforms, to towels, to blankets. This serves to both dry out your clothes, as well as offer a bit of privacy between bunks. Walk outside the tent and you will probably find 550 cord holding down the very shelter you live in. In my career field, I was often required to carry a lot of specialized equipment. Not all of this equipment would fit in my rucksack and I was forced to creatively find ways to lug around all of my gear. The trick was to secure the gear to my body in such a way that I could still read the display of whatever little gadget I was utilizing at the time.

Fun and Entertainment

Believe it or not, 550 cord can be used as entertainment, too. On a 13-hour C-130 ride to Alaska, I noticed the battery on my iPod was dying. I’m not sure why I cared due to the fact that a C-130 is so loud in the cabin that you can hardly hear your iPod anyway. I was about to re-read the magazine in my pack when I noticed one of our guys making a 550 cord bracelet. He asked if I wanted to learn how and out of pure boredom I agreed. I have to admit it was a lot more fun than I had anticipated. I also realized that those bracelets are not a military fashion statement. Since the most of the bracelet is made from one long piece a cord, it is an easy way to carry around 7 or 8 feet of this useful material without it getting tangled in the bottom of your pack. Come to find out, it also makes a pretty decent latrine door lock. Just make sure your guys don’t lock you in. Those things have a bit of an odor. If you have a lot of time, about 800 feet of cord, and the patience of a saint, you can build a full-size deployable hammock as well. Unfortunately, you will probably be branded as the guy who has way too much time on his hands, and you might find yourself busy doing extra duty.

On the home front, paracord is useful on camping trips as well as survival situations. It works great as a shoelace or a sunglasses tie. If you are an angler stuck in the middle of nowhere, you can use the inside layer as fishing line, and the outside as a fish tie. It’s great to wrap around knife handles, flashlights or any hand-carry item with a dummy loop for your vest. I’ve even seen a beer cozy.

Clearly this invaluable material allows us survival types to be pretty creative while we are out braving the elements, on deployment, or just camping with the kids. Let us know how you have used your paracord by sharing photos of your work with us on our Facebook page, so we can share them with the world! You can check out our huge supply of paracord here.

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Comments (5)

  1. Paracord bracelets are becoming popular nowadays. Aside from using it for bracelets and shoelaces, i wonder what are the other ways you can use paracord. I know it can be used for a drawstring pouch. I’d like to make my own paracord bracelet someday or maybe a Paracord bottle holder.

  2. I used about 600 ft of 550 to fashion a cargo net of sorts to lash down gear on top of suv. In an emergency I have a lot of cordage available.

  3. I love 550 use it all the time, carry 100ft with me when I go backpacking and I always wear a bracelet I’ve made for myself when out back. One thing worth pointing out, that when you knot cord, it loses some of its strength, so a tied and untied stretch of 550 is no longer capable of that same load as once before. Same goes for the inner strands which I want to say are 70lb each?

  4. Two things that go in or on every rucksack: extra strips of duct or electrical tape and 550 cord! I have used 550 cord for everything. Having been a dumb private in the Army Infantry I braided enough lengths together to rappel with, just because it says not too!

  5. 550 cord is great and a very very useful tool to have in every backpack and vehicle. I have made server bracelets. I love them.

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