BACKPACKING BASICS

Paracord Uses: The Only Limit is Your Imagination

Paracord Backpacking Mastery
Russell McCarty
Written by Russell McCarty

Paracord – shortened from Parachute Cord – is a thin, soft rope made of nylon, which was originally used to make the suspension lines on the parachutes used by the United States Military. This specialized yet unassuming rope became available to the public as a military surplus after World War II.

Ever since then, it has become known as one of the most essential pieces of outdoor gear, praised for its versatility and practicality, enabling it to shine in a variety of situations ranging all the way from arts and crafts to survival scenarios, with thousands of more applications in between.  Your imagination truly is the limit when it comes to the number of things you can do with paracord.

Part of what makes paracord so versatile is its unique structure and composition. Paracord consists of a main outer rope with additional, smaller strands at the core of the rope.  These smaller strands not only make the rope strong, but they also increase the variety of tasks for which it can be used.

Simply and easily cut the cord to reveal the inner strands, which can be easily unraveled and used individually as fine threads of nylon for even the most intricate of tasks.  Even when the main rope is cut and the outer shell has been hollowed, you may be able to find a use for that as well.

Many uses for paracord-type 3

Paracord has come a long way since it first became available to civilians, and can now be purchased in many different colors, styles, and strengths and quantities.  It has also become much easier to carry with you and keep handy at all times, with accessories such as “survival bracelets” and keychains being readily available in stores, many of them with designs simple enough that you could even craft them yourself.

It is no longer necessary to visit a military surplus store to find it either, with paracord now available almost anywhere, including in places such as outdoor stores, fishing stores, automotive stores, and even some popular department stores and craft shops, and of course online too.

Places where Paracord can be purchased:

  • Outdoor Stores
  • Fishing Stores
  • Automotive Stores
  • Department Stores
  • Craft Shops
  • Jewelry Supply Shops
  • Military Surplus Stores
  • Online retailers and many more!

Is All Paracord The Same?

With so many varieties on the market today, you may be wondering if all paracord is created equal.  The short answer is that it is most certainly not. While the paracord you see may look to be basically all the same, do not be tempted to think that all types of it can all be used interchangeably.

PARACORD TYPE 4

Although different varieties might be similar in structure, and might all look alike, there are significant differences among the strength and capabilities of each type.  It is important to understand the basic differences between the different kinds of paracord available and how they are rated so that you can purchase the one that is right for you and the type of projects you have in mind.

Until recent years, the United States Military issued paracord according to the following technical standards, with a total of six different types of paracord, each one rated according to their minimum strength, minimum length per pound, the number of core yarns, and other factors.  Being familiar with these standards can help you determine what you can expect from your paracord of choice before you put it to the test in an emergency or other situation.

Of course, nowadays there are far more than just six types of paracord, however these standards are still very useful in helping you understand and navigate between the wide varieties of options currently available on the market.  You cannot judge the quality of paracord based on its looks alone.

Six Main Types of Paracord – Military Specifications

TypeMinimum Strength (weight at which the cord will break)Minimum Length Per Pound (paracord weight)Number of Core Yarns
I95 pounds950 feet1
IA100 pounds1050 feetn/a
II400 pounds265 feet4-7
IIA225 pounds495 feetn/a
III550 pounds225 feet7-9
IV750 pounds165 feet11

The best and strongest types of paracord available are usually those that carry a Military Specification (Mil-spec) Rating.  However, buyer beware when it comes to that terminology as well, as some retailers may be guilty of using this term to make their product seem better than it really is.

Paracord with a true Military Specification Rating usually is not only the strongest available, but bears innermost strands that will also contain more strands than other varieties.  As you might expect, the paracord found in craft shops and department stores is not likely to be nearly as strong and durable as that found in more specialty and outdoor type stores.

This is important to keep in mind, even if you are just using it for craft or decorative purposes, especially if you think those items might one day double as survival gear.

Most outdoorsmen swear by “550 paracord” because of its strength and durability.  While these properties make it ideal for survival scenarios and other emergency situations outdoors, weaker varieties of paracord could be acceptable for crafts or other uses around the home (especially if you do not envision that they might ever be used for an emergency) and will normally be available at a much lower price.

Keep in mind, however, that some of the less expensive varieties may not contain an inner core, making them unsuitable to be used as a multi-purpose or survival type item.  As with any variety of paracord, it is a great idea to put it to the test on your own, regardless of what kind of specification you might read on the package.

Paracord types

Perhaps you already swear by paracord and always carry it with you, or maybe you have never tried it before in your life but did not realize all of the things it can do, but in either case, it is absolutely worth taking the time to learn more about the vast number of things you can do with it.

Not only are you likely to be amused or even surprised, but you never know what kind of situation this information could leave you prepared for, and for all you know, this information could even end up saving your life.

What other equipment can you think of that could be so simple, yet serve as many purposes as paracord?  Especially when you consider its relatively low price tag, paracord has something to offer for just about everyone!

Follow along with us as we explore some of the most common and most interesting uses for this special rope, ranging all the way from the outdoors, to around the home, and to many more places in between.  Hopefully reading about these uses will also spark your creativity and encourage you to think of even more ways you can use it to enhance your own lifestyle, whether it be outdoors or around the home.

How to Use Paracord Outdoors

One of the most common reasons people keep paracord with them is to be prepared in case of an emergency or worst-case scenario.  It is an invaluable tool, in the case of all types of emergencies ranging from minor frustrations – such as wardrobe malfunctions or slippery gear – to more life threatening scenarios like treating wounds or broken bones in the wilderness.

Use Paracord Outdoors

Another part of what makes it a no-brainer in terms of whether or not you should carry it with you is the fact that it is so lightweight and easy to incorporate in or onto your bag, onto your person, or wrapped around other gear.

You can even use it to attach other pieces of gear to your backpack so you will not only have it when you need it, but so that you can stay hands-free until you do.  Below we have listed some of our favorite ideas for using paracord outdoors by categorizing them according to which part of the cord is being used, the strong outer rope or the fine, inner strands.

Using paracord outdoors – the outer rope

  • Tie together tree branches to create a shelter or tent
  • Create a splint using a branch or sticks wrapped in paracord to support a broken bone
  • Fashion a sling to help keep weight off an injured foot or other limb
  • Fashion a tourniquet to stop severe bleeding
  • Pull or tow heavy objects
  • Replace a shoelace
  • Fashion a clothesline to dry clothes or other gear
  • Anchor a boat
  • Secure a tent
  • Create a handle for objects like knives, flashlights, and water bottles to make them easier to grip, and possibly easier to locate in your bag
  • Replace a belt or suspenders
  • Set up a tripwire
  • Create a collar or leash for an animal
  • Tie items onto your backpack
  • Use brightly colored paracord to make your gear more visible and easy to identify, making small items easier to find in a dark backpack
  • Attach your water bottle or another essential item to your clothing, belt, or backpack
  • Add your own personal touch to your belongings by adorning it with paracord in your favorite color or colors

Using paracord outdoors – the inner strands

  • Use it to floss your teeth
  • Replace a zipper pull on your bag or clothing
  • Use it to sew up torn clothing or gear
  • Use it to stitch up a wound
  • Use it as fishing line or bow line
  • Use it to cut something by wrapping a length of it completely around the object and then tightening both ends of the string at once

Everyday paracord uses

With so many great uses for paracord, it is a no-brainer that it deserves a place in your backpack or even on your person when going on an outdoor adventure.  However, it can also be a great help around your home, workplace, or on an urban adventure too.

  • Keep some in your trunk to tie down large packages, or to tie the trunk itself down when hauling items too large to close the trunk.
  • Use it to tie back curtains
  • Use it to baby or child-proof cabinets by tying a length of it between cabinet knobs
  • Create drawer pulls to make replace broken ones or make drawers easier to open
  • Use it for organization and to separate electronic cords
  • Create fan pulls to add style and color or make them easier to reach
  • Use it for any purpose in which a strong and durable string or rope is required

Paracord Crafts

Now available in all the colors of the rainbow and more, paracord is not only super strong and functional, but it can be rather stylish too!  The great benefit of crafting with paracord is that not only can you create some beautiful and unique pieces, but they can also be very useful beyond their intended purpose, and could even be unraveled and used in case of emergency.

Just as in using paracord for outdoor and urban adventures, there are unlimited options for when it comes to using it for craft projects as well.  By mastering a few simple macramé style knots and braiding techniques, you can create a whole host of useful items and accessories. You can easily thread beads through it as well to add extra flair and dimension.

There are a number of books available on the topic, as well as online tutorials and videos.

Backpacking Paracord crafts

Once you have mastered the basics of making crafts from paracord, it is not difficult to come up with just about anything your heart desires. Giving someone the gift of a paracord craft is truly a gift that keeps on giving too, since they could end up one day using it to save the day.

As mentioned above, if you intend for an object you make from paracord to also double as emergency or survival gear, you will want to make sure you are using one of the stronger varieties of paracord so that the item you make can serve many purposes and perform well if put to the test.  Consider some of the following items that could be made from paracord:

  • Belts or belt loops
  • Bracelets and other jewelry
  • Backpack, bag, or purse straps
  • Lanyards
  • Shoelaces
  • Handles or wraps for gear, tools, and more
  • Hanging plant holders
  • Keychains and key fobs
  • Zipper pulls
  • Animal collars and leashes
  • Potholders
  • Headbands
  • Hats
  • Scarves and ties
  • Purses
  • Sandal Straps
  • Hammocks
  • Hot pads and trivets
  • Coasters
  • Chew toys for pets

Paracord has come a long way since its origin in the suspension lines on parachutes. With all that it can do, it is no wonder that it was originally used by the military.  The number of paracord options and styles on the market have increased tremendously since first becoming available to civilians, and it can now be purchased almost anywhere in just about any color you can imagine.

It has also become so much easier to carry with you and keep handy at all times, and you can easily purchase a wearable accessory, craft one yourself, or incorporate it onto or in conjunction with other gear.

As we have explained above, paracord can serve purposes from the practical to the lifesaving, to the decorative, plus many more purposes in between.  People of all ages and in all walks of life can find a use for paracord, and it can even be used to make accessories for children and animals too.

No matter which type of use interests you most, you can likely come up with an unlimited number of ways to use it, and likely the more you use, the more you will think of other situations in which paracord could come in handy and be of use to you.

Backpacking Hammock with paracord

Now that we have explained a little more about what paracord is, let you know where to find it, how to select the right type for your needs, and how it can be of use to you in a variety of situations, will you consider trying it?  We have also explained to you some stylish and practical options for carrying it along with you and keeping it handy for whenever a need might arise.

We would love to hear about your personal experience with paracord!

Are you already using paracord or will you consider doing so after reading this article?  What are some of the most unique uses you have found for it?  Chances are, your very favorite use for it may even be something that we have not even mentioned! Have we missed something? We are always looking for new and smart ways to use it.  Let us know what you think in the comments below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Russell McCarty
Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.

  • Linda Jones

    Thank you for the article! I use a paracord already one year, because I really like how it looks. However, I never knew that it is so helpful. Now I like it much more than before! Hope, in the near future I will be able to try out all the options of a paracord.

  • Russell McCarty

    Thanks for the input Linda and hope you try and learn a lot of DIY projects for bracelets, lanyards and belts using our trusty paracord.

  • John Robinson

    Hi there! I love to be outdoors and go on hikes with my friends. Two months ago I bought a hammock for that. Most often I use paracord to hang the entire setup for my hammock. It helps me a lot! I feel much more comfortable if I bring my paracord on a hike!

    • Russell McCarty

      Thanks for your input John! Paracords are really helpful and they can be very strong. They can be used for so many practical things. They can also be lifesaving – even decorative. The limit is your imagination and in whatever instances that you want to use this hardy cord, you can be sure it won’t let you down.

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