A parachute cord, or paracord, is a special cord that provides an average of three times the strength of a regular cord. Capable of supporting hundreds of pounds of weight, a paracord is an all-purpose survival tool for both indoor and outdoor use. With several types available, this post will break down how each type differs and how to apply them to different applications.
Paracords get their strength from their composition, made from an inner core (or “kern”) and a braided outer sheath (exterior sleeve). Paracords can differ in type depending on their sheath and core makeup—each core consists of a certain number yarns, ranging from zero to 11. In turn, each yarn is made up of small nylon fibers that are twisted together.
Based on U.S. Military technical standard MIL-C-5040H, a paracord can be defined as one of six different types, depending on how many yarns are in the core: I, IA, II, IIA, III, and IV. All types have a minimum elongation of 30 percent, but vary in their other qualities. Paracords also differ between military and commercial specs. Knowing the difference between the paracord types can help determine which one will be most useful for you.
- Type I has a minimum strength of 95 pounds, with a minimum of 950 feet per pound. It has one core yarn and a 16/1 sheath structure. This type of paracord is cheapest in price, but also provides the least amount of quality between all the types.
- Type IA has a minimum strength of 100 pounds, with a minimum of 1050 feet per pound. This type has no core and a 16/1 sheath structure.
- Type II has a minimum strength of 400 pounds, with a minimum of 265 feet per pound. It has four to seven core yarns with either a 32/1 or 36/1 sheath structure. Use this cord for specific weight obligations, since it’s a rare find and less preferred to the standard Type III cord.
- Type IIA has a minimum strength of 225 pounds, with a minimum of 495 feet per pound. Like an IA type, an IIA does not have any core yarns. IIA has either a 32/1 or 36/1 sheath structure.
- Type III has a minimum strength of 550 pounds, with a minimum of 225 feet per pound. It is the most widely used paracord, due to its good balance of strength and quality for an affordable price. A type III paracord is commonly referred to as a “550 paracord”. With seven to nine core yarns, type III has either a 32/1 or 36/1 sheath structure. This is an ideal choice for the majority of survival tasks.
- Type IV is a very strong cord, with a minimum strength of 750 pounds and a minimum of 165 feet per pound. This type has 11 core yarns and either a 32/1, 36/1, or 44/1 sheath structure. Because of its strength, this cord can be very expensive.
- A Mil-Spec paracord (MIL-C-5040) is a thicker 550 cord that has seven three-ply nylon yarns within each strand. Each strand has an ID cord that indicates who the manufacturer is. This cord has higher quality control than commercial-spec.
- A Commercial-Spec paracord is also a 550 paracord that uses seven yarns within each strand, but these yarns can be made of either a single- double-, or three-ply nylon. It’s not specifically made for the military, so it has less quality control.
You can use a paracord for most any indoor or outdoor application that requires cordage. Think of it like heavy-duty tape—it’s used to attach and hold things together. As long as you’re using a cord type that can support the weight of your application, your paracord can be easily modified to adapt to a wide variety of situations.
For light-duty jobs like lacing and dummy cording, look for a type I cord. The inner strands of a cord can also be used for lighter tasks, making stronger cords suitable for a wide variety of survival applications. You can use the strands for holding branches or poles together to create a base for shelter, assembling straps, making small game traps, fishing lines, or nets, or securing a knife to a spear. You can even use the inner strands as shoe or boot laces, or dental floss.
Most heavy-duty applications can most likely be aided by a 550 paracord. Use this type for climbing, as a tow rope for pulling heavy weights, to tie down and secure items on a vehicle, string a clothes line, use as a leash or ladder, rig a hammock, build a raft, or make a sling. Check out our step-by-step video on how to make a survival bracelet.
These are just some of the many uses for paracords. Which paracord types do you use and what have you used them for? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check out our paracord selection for a wide variety of colors at an affordable price.