Survivalize your gear with survival cord

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:

Miscellaneous tools and gear wrapped with survival cord to give it added utility.

Miscellaneous tools and gear wrapped with survival cord to give it added utility.

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.

Small items might also be wrapped with small cord, thread, or lace. This Zippo lighter’s surface was first wrapped with duct tape to help hold the cord in place.

Small items might also be wrapped with small cord, thread, or lace. This Zippo lighter’s surface was first wrapped with duct tape to help hold the cord in place.

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.

The handle of a stainless steel diver’s knife wrapped with #550 parachute cord.

The handle of a stainless steel diver’s knife wrapped with #550 parachute cord.

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.

Here a clear plastic jar used to store miscellaneous small hardware also serves as a handy spool for small-diameter survival cord.

Here a clear plastic jar used to store miscellaneous small hardware also serves as a handy spool for small-diameter survival cord.

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.


  1. One note about thread for sewing: it should always be weaker than the material that is being sewn. Yes, that leads to ripped seams, but those are relatively easily fixed. In the opposite case, you get shredded material, which is much harder to repair. That is why I stay away from things like Kevlar thread.

  2. There are also lots of places on your buyout vehicle that can be wrapped. I recently replaced my old dried out plastic steering wheel cover with 75 ft of 550 paracord. Another 50 ft wrapped around the floor shifter.

  3. Chuck Findlay says:

    I’m not sure why but I only have a few things wrapped with para cord. I have a lot of para cord with me, but I just don’t in-case everything in it.

    As a note look for real para cord, most of it sold is not the real stuff and is likely not rated for 550 pounds. I have a local store close to me that has a lot of it for sale (Atwood Rope Co.) that is rated for only 165 pounds. I’m lucky in that I bought 2 1200 ft spools of it at a gun show a few years ago that was actual mil 550 para cord.

  4. JP in MT says:

    I have used it for just about all the reasons stated, although I have not needed extra cord. I really like it for covering the handle on my hand axe, under the head. I still have a tendency to “go long” and whack the handle. Since I’ve wrapped them, I’ve not broken any more handles.

    • Hi JP, ditto sledge hammers. I haven’t used one in many years, but I gotta admit, my aim at splitting wedges wasn’t always as accurate as I wish. Admitting some shortcomings lets us address them in useful manner.

  5. I’ve always avoided the paracord people because I thought they were just to far into the survival thing and not enough into the prepper thing. Well,,,,,,, I was wrong. i made a few war hammers for gifts and prizes for the upcoming prepperstock gathering in Tennessee. I was at a loss as to what to do for durable grips that would be weatherproof and offer an excellent grip. Paracord was the answer. Now,I’ve learned several knots ranging from utilitarian to down right fancy. In fact,I’m in the process of building a real,useable war hammer right now and tomorrow I’ll be wrapping the handle as well as the last 6 inches before the war head. I’m on the side of para cord now and I see where it could be indispensable in an emergency and a handy and useable grip while not being used for emergencies. I stand corrected!!!

    • Tracker says:

      BC. Welcome to the wonderful world of paracord. I was introduced to it as a child growing up around the military. Back then we salvaged it from real parachutes.

    • Tracker says:

      I’m headed over to your channel to check out your new
      project. I’ve gotten several helpful ideas from your videos.

      Right after my morning coffee and BACON!

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      Hey BC are you going to wrap any of the War Hammers with pink colored cord? That way you can have some girly-hammers to sell.

    • BREARBEAR says:


      i have been following your passion for making war hammers…

      One thing that might interest you
      is making spear heads.

      i carry one with my gear, and hold it in high value as a very light weight and important part of my Bush Craft Preparations.

      Was hoping that maybe this idea might interest you for your
      prepperstock gatherings, and maybe even as a viable small business idea?

      Crap, i even came up with a few
      business Product Name ideas:

      -Baconater Tactical Spear Heads®

      Or Howa’ ’bout:

      Bacon Head Tactical Spear Heads®

      You could wrap Paracord around

      (Maybe make sheaths from Truck inner tube tires, then sew, and rivet or bolt them).

      Just remember to add the name:
      Tactical” and “Made In The U.S.A”!

      There are so many designs that i am sure you could have fun with it?

      baconatertactical .com !



      P.S. IF, and once you perfect these little babies…i might just be interested in purchasing one…
      as long as you do not outsource them to China. 🙂

      *Buy North American!

      Here is 2 Links for ideas:
      “Made in China”

      Colt® S.P.E.A.R. 2pc Tactical Spear Heads®+S.P.E.A.R.+2pc+Tactical+Spear+Heads/CT3042.html

      Colt® S.P.E.A.R. Series Tactical Arrowheads®+S.P.E.A.R.+Series+Tactical+Arrowheads/CT3046.html

      • I like the name but if I could include in the description words like “operator” “high capacity” “Molle gear” ” in theater”, I think it would be at the top of search engines.

  6. Is the cord glued down at the ends or is there a trick to securing it ?

    • Hi Alan, “Is the cord glued down”

      In most cases it doesn’t need to be. When you pull the end of the cord to tighten the loop, it should tighten the whole thing pretty well.

      A diagram would be a big help here. This one should do:

      When you pull on the end to tighten the loop, you can often pull the loop right under the wrapping. It depends on how tightly you wrapped it.

      I have found when using leather bootlaces for wrapping that one can wrap so tightly that when I pulled on the end, the leather broke before the loop tightened. You shouldn’t have that problem with paracord, though.

      • PS: “pull the loop right under the wrapping” wasn’t meant as a warning. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it if that is what it takes to tighten the wrap.

        It might make the wrap a little lumpy though, so if that bothers you enough you should probably unwrap the thing and re-wrap it a bit tighter. It takes some practice.

  7. j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

    Thank you Mr. Ballou – good information up there.

    Don’t forget other forms of cordage as well. I keep a bobbin of G.I. trip wire on several knife / multi-tool sheaths. A bobbin will hold approximately 40 feet of this, if it is neatly wound. A ‘Chicago Screw’ that is Gorilla Glued to the center of the screw receiver, with threaded side penetrating the side of the sheath is a handy way to keep this material handy. In this way, you can unscrew from sheath and wind it around the material. Pretty strong stuff (but I wouldn’t use it for rappelling down a building side :^)

    Thanks again.

    • Jim Ballou says:

      Thanks for that tip about the trip wire stuff, JR. I shall try to track down a supply of it. That bobbin idea sounds interesting, too, if I’m visualizing it correctly. Could come in handy.

      • j.r. guerra in s. tx. says:

        The regular store purchased sewing thread bobbin, usually has holes along the sides. Glue the threaded side of Chicago screw to one side THROUGH the center hole of bobbin. The shaft side to be passed through a hole in the sheath (or belt or rifle sling) and you are good.

        Another bobbin tool – I glued a spark rod through the bobbin, giving me a handle for it that holds the wire. A split ring through one of the bobbin holes for a necklace. Simple and useful.

        Hope that helps.

  8. Chuck Findlay says:

    I have 2 books I got from the local Good Will Store that may be of interest to people that like Paracord.

    Paracord Fusion Ties – Volume 1: Straps, Slip Knots, Falls, Bars, and Bundles

    Paracord Fusion Ties – Volume 2: Survival Ties, Pouches, Bars, Snake Knots, and Sinnets

    Amazon has them priced at $20.00 each, I don’t know that I would pay that much, but The Good Will price of $1.00 each was good enough to go for.

    I would imagine your local library has them.

  9. Chuck Findlay says:

    Another very good book to have is “he Ashley Book of Knots” It’s an old hard cover book from WWII era. It’s expensive at $50.00 dollars, but if you like rope, it’s well worth considering getting.

    Here is the Amazon link to it.

    • BREARBEAR says:

      Great book,
      i used to have it and want it again!

      i used know over 40 knots years ago…
      The one i retained and have used the most, besides hitches, is the bowline.

  10. Uah know…the mention of having string for potential bow use made me think back to my recurve bow days. Amazon has bow strings for less than $10. Maybe sticking one in a survival pack wouldn’t be a bad idea. They weigh next to nothing and are very small. In a pinch they could be used for other things.

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      Very good idea, in the wild you could make a bow out of wood, but a string would be a lot more difficult to make. Having it on hand would be handy…

  11. I have this ‘thing’ with old baseball bats… I find them at sales, Goodwill.. et. al. Seeing an olde bat abandoned in a garage or a barrel is a crime….

    Para-cord works well after the bat is sanded smooth, re-stained, a few coats of spar urethane then a grip is put on it with para-cord using a modified hangman’s knot that leaves a wrist loop. Makes a classic go to for the ‘bump in the night’.

    • Hi TTT, several years ago I found a sack of aluminum bats under the house. I cleaned up a few of them and they are now scattered around the house, including one by the front door, handy but not too obvious.

      They aren’t so effective as a shotgun, but visitors who notice them don’t freak the way they would with a tricked out 870 or AR. and they are a lot cheaper.

      Thinking of bats, many years ago in Milwaukee some friend’s daughter dropped out of college and got an apartment downtown, all by herself. It was a pretty safe neighborhood, but parents were worried.

      I saw a wooden bat at Salvation Army, bought it for a dollar or two, than chicked it out. Bright pink paint, multi-color gift wrap ribbons on the business end, and on the oval label I wrote her initials in purple sparklies. On the other side I wrote “Masher Basher” in more purple sparklies. She loved it. Mom loved it. Daddy loved it. And she still has it in her 30’s.

      Best part: She’s never need to use it.

  12. Chuck Findlay says:

    At gun shows you see guys selling (trying to sell) Paracord bracelets and the like. But I notice them not making many sales. I think people see this as an income opportunity, but the time needed to brad (sp?) one of these and the buckles needed would eat up all chance of a profit or make the sale price too high for the market. The ones at gun shows are $15.00, and they don’t sell. Much lower price then that and they are not worth selling.

    A way to make money with Paracord may be to incorporate it’s use into another item to enhance it’s sale. I think BC Truck is going to (or is) do this with his war hammer sales.

    Other then this I don’t see how to make money with this stuff.

    Sorry to talk about money (or side-track the thread) but I’m self employed and I’m always looking to make a few extra dollars as I don’t have a boss to pay me or have to use the most evil thing ever invented (The Time Clock) No one thing I do makes what you would call a lot of money, but 30 things provide an income and I have an easy going life that I enjoy. Always been a tinkerer and Paracord kinda falls into that.

    But for making a few personal use items it’s worth knowing how to do or even as part of a prepper present basket you could give someone. But then you would have to come out into the open about prepping. And I’m not doing that. May present them as camping aids as almost everyone I know knows I camp.

  13. BREARBEAR says:

    Bind Craft is considered a vital Bush Craft Skill.
    Bowstrings, fishing lines, and snares can be made from natural materials.

    The inner bark of many trees and parts of plants and animals can be used in Survival situations to make rope thread, or twine.
    ~The Craft of Binding-
    (Securing, and attaching items-things together); can include many different man made items:
    tape, carabiners, shackles, chain,
    cable, key rings, clasps, hooks, zip ties, bungee cords, thread, fish line, different gauges of wire, twine, different kinds of rope, and strapping.

    ~Securing or wrapping these things
    to tools, load carriers/web belts, carbines, etc, and utilizing them
    in/with many different things, and areas of your kit, gives Redundancy.

    ~Having multiples in your Kit
    is extremely practical,
    for example:
    ~having a paracord necklace.
    ~anklet and wrist “bracelet'(s).
    (You have 2 arms and 2 legs,
    so can have “bracelets” on all 4,
    and can have several bracelets of paracord on one wrist even)!
    ~for shoe laces.
    ~wrapped around tools.
    (Instead of having just a roll of Paracord).

    ~Try making your own paracord bracelet.
    Ranger Bands
    ~Essentially they are the re-use of old bicycle inner tubes that you cut up.
    Bicycle inner tubes come in many sizes.
    Truck inner tubes can be used in the same way.

    ~Get a rubber tube from a bike and cut the tube into one inch lengths or whatever size you want the width of the ranger band to be.
    There are hundreds of uses for them.

    ~Example: wrap a Ranger band around your knife sheath
    and use it to secure an Arkansas sharpening stone.
    ~Another good Article Jim! Keep them coming!

    ~i wrap wire, then black electrical
    tape around the neck of an ax,
    to protect the wood, and wouldn’t use paracord, too soft.
    ( even soaking wet it holds up well).
    Plus i would not use it on the handle,
    as i believe it is too slippery, instead
    i rather have just bare wood,
    but thats just my .2 cents on that.

    ~Ultimately, it all comes down to the
    individual, try new things, experiment, if it works for you, use it, if it doesn’t, scrap it, and try something else.

    ~ i use Hockey tape a lot for excellent grip on slippery tool handles, like those nylon Gerber
    With my Cold Steel Trench Hawk,
    i wrapped wire, “candy cane style”,
    down the handle, then wrapped black hockey tape for an excellent grip.
    ( Keep extra tape handy, it does wear out with use)…
    I found this very interesting:

    [PDF]Bushcraft Notes
    “The more you know, the less you carry”
    Mors Kochanski

    • Chuck Findlay says:

      Thanks for the link to the PDF file, I saved it on my comp and plan on practicing more bush craft when the weather gets a bit warmer. Yea I know you should do it even when it’s cold, but it’s too cold out right now.

  14. Chuck Findlay says:

    Mors Kochanski has a lot of good videos on U-Tube about surviving in the cold Canadian wilderness. Good things to take a look at. His video on making fuzz sticks is one of the best.

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