by Jim Ballou – Author of – Long-Term Survival in the Coming Dark Age – Preparing to Live after Society Crumbles
We visited this basic idea in a prior article describing how it might be utilized with a survival carbine, but here we will consider a broader application that involves wrapping other suitable survival gear with cordage. Tubular bodied flashlights, certain knife handles, fishing rods, walking staffs, cylindrical containers, ax and hatchet handles, and other tools and gear often lend themselves well to being wrapped with cord. The practice can be a practical one in my view, for at least three good reasons:
Reason 1: it guarantees that if you happen to have the wrapped item with you in an emergency situation, you will automatically have with you a supply of cord. The value of cord to someone in the wilderness is beyond description. If you endeavor to build a bow and arrow, you’ll need a bowstring.
If you decide to firmly bind a spearhead to a stick, or fabricate a throwing sling, you’ll need lengths of cord. Whenever you lace up your boots, tie down your gear to secure it, suspend your supplies or food high in a tree, lash poles together to make expedient camp furniture or emergency shelters, build survival snares, weave some netting, repair torn clothing, catch fish, pull an oil rag through the barrel of your shotgun, or rig a trip-wire alarm around the perimeter of your camp, chances are some type of cord will be used for the task. In my opinion you can never really have too much of the stuff at your disposal in the remote places.
Reason 2: a tight wrapping of cord can provide a certain layer of surface protection. Especially on something like the neck of an ax or splitter maul that is repeatedly subjected to the shock of impact with tough firewood during chopping and splitting, a cord-wrapped handle will sustain this shock arguably better than will an unbound handle.
Finally, a cord-wrapped surface provides a more secure grip than, say, a smooth bare wooden or plain steel handle. Sometimes simply maintaining a firm, no-slip grip on a tool can help prevent potentially nasty accidents. Additionally, a cord-wrapped handle tends to provide a more comfortable (or tolerable) grip in very cold or very hot weather.
Okay, so now that I’ve given you my three main reasons in favor of the survival cord wrap, I have to acknowledge that an argument against doing so also exists, and this was pointed out in comments following the article wherein I described wrapping the stock of a carbine.
It was explained that cordage, like any other fabric, tends to hold moisture and if kept close against most metal or wooden surfaces for a period of time will contribute to the rapid rusting, rotting, or corroding of these surfaces.
I believe this is a perfectly valid concern. I also understand that the idea proposed here isn’t for everyone, or necessarily even appropriate for every piece of survival gear. I think we should identify our priorities, and weigh all of the pros and cons whenever adding to or altering any important piece of equipment.
I will say, however, that I have been wrapping many of my own tools and other equipment with all kinds of cord for nearly three decades, and I have yet to ever personally observe this kind of problem with any of my wrapped gear. My guess is that nowadays with polymers, aluminum, and stainless steels being such popular materials comprising so much of our modern survival gear, this is perhaps not as common an issue now as it might have once been.
My answer to this controversy is simply, if our goal is to maximize the utility value and versatility of our gear for survival, then we need not concern ourselves much at all with these aesthetics issues. The possibility of causing a little surface rust over the long term would likely be the least of my concerns when faced with any immediate real-live survival situation.
Now, for those who ultimately decide to wrap their gear with cord, I have a few thoughts I wish to share with you. The type and size of cord will naturally be a very important consideration. Certain types of cordage are simply more practical for certain applications than others, and we have to think about our survival tasks. For sewing, I tend to lean toward heavier-than-necessary sizes of thread, to ensure maximum strength where long-lasting strength could be preferable.
For general-purpose small diameter cord (larger than thread but still smaller than parachute cord), I personally prefer Polyester Dacron instead of nylon for the material of composition, simply because Dacron stretches less (I have heard that Kevlar exhibits little or no stretch under tension as well, but I have no personal experience with it to share).
My thinking is that I might use it to improvise a bowstring, and I don’t want the cord’s length to start growing after a few shots. I also don’t have much faith in artificial sinew, because my understanding is that it is comprised of stretchy nylon. The American Indians used real animal sinews for bowstrings quite a lot, however, and it obviously served them very well.
Okay, so now let’s say you’ve chosen your cord and have decided to wrap it on some of your survival gear. We briefly discussed how to do this neatly and securely in the previous article, but it might warrant repeating for any new readers.
First, form a bight in the standing end of your cord and lay this stretched out flat along the length of the object being wrapped. Then wind tight and tidy coils of cord around the object (and over this bight), progressing towards the kink in the bight until only a small “eye” is left of it protruding from under the final end of the wrapping.
Now simply feed the running end through the eye and firmly pull on the standing end of your cord to draw the eye together with the trapped running end under the coils. Trim away any excess cord (and maybe melt the ends with a lighter to prevent fraying) and the task is complete.
If you wish to create a very temporary wrapping, it is easy to form a “quick release” in the running end that allows the cord to be removed quickly and without any cutting, or time-consuming prying and un-tying. While feeding the running end through the eye just before drawing everything together, simply double it back and run it though again so that the eye actually traps a bight in the running end. This leaves you an end of cord that can be pulled to undo the whole works.
I have found that the surfaces of some types of gear – glass jars come to mind – are slick and very difficult to firmly wrap with cord without having the coils sliding unmanageably all over the place. This is sometimes remedied by wrapping a layer of duct tape around the item before applying the cord, to give the cord something to grip onto.
I have also found that it is very easy to attach a lanyard cord to most objects by wrapping over the lanyard’s running end/ends. This could make an item more accessible perhaps by providing a convenient way to hang it from a hook or a branch, as well as making it easier to tie securely to something else like a belt loop or a backpack.
Needle cases normally just hold sewing needles, but yours can be wrapped with various sizes of thread to make them into complete little sewing kits, saving space in your gear.
Hopefully I’ve given you some food for though here. With just a bit of preparation to some of your gear as described in this article, you might never be without valuable cordage in the wilds.
Bio : Jim Ballou has worked as a self-employed, independent insurance agent and a freelance writer for over sixteen years. More than sixty of his magazine articles on a variety of topics ranging from primitive and early American crafts and tools to wilderness survival skills have appeared in five periodicals since 2000, includingBackwoods Home Magazine, The Backwoodsman, Wilderness Way Magazine, Primitive Archer Magazine, and Modern Survival Magazine.
Mr. Ballou’s first non-fiction book titled: Long-Term Survival in the Coming Dark Age was published by Paladin Press in 2007, and it quickly became a Paladin best seller. This was followed by four other popular non-fiction titles with Paladin Press, including: Makeshift Workshop Skills for Survival and Self-Reliance, MORE Makeshift Workshop Skills,Arming For The Apocalypse, and the most recent title, The Poor Man’s Wilderness Survival Kit.
Ballou’s interests are too varied to list here but include blacksmithing, gun collecting, target shooting, reading and learning about history, writing, camping, hunting, fishing, treasure hunting, exploring, experimenting with tools and creative processes, survival and self-reliance related topics, plus all of the primitive skills, among numerous other interests and hobbies. He lives with his wife and two kids in Idaho.