If you ask any prepper what one tool was that they would never go without, they would probably answer paracord.
Cordage is always valued in a survival situation, and many other situations besides, but out of all the kinds of cordage you might have paracord reigns supreme as one of the best all-around choices.
It is renowned for its versatility, flexibility, and durability, and also for its tremendous strength. Just ask anyone who has used it seriously and they will tell you.
But just how strong is paracord, really?
Authentic type-III or “550 paracord” that meets the original military specifications will have a minimum breaking strength of at least 550 lbs (249.47 kilograms).
For a cord with a diameter that small, that’s pretty incredible. But, the real answer isn’t quite that simple for a number of reasons.
First, paracord that has been degraded or damaged will likely have a reduced breaking strength, and then there is the matter of extremely common commercial look-alikes that don’t live up to the original specification.
Keep reading and we will tell you everything you need to know before you ask something of your paracord that it cannot handle…
Is all Paracord that Strong?
Yes, assuming it is genuine, is of the same type and undamaged. However, just because something looks or feels like paracord doesn’t mean it will hold 550 lbs.
Complicating matters, there are other kinds of paracord out in the world, both in the form of military surplus, commercial variations of the same cord, and look-alikes that are not made to the same standard with the same materials.
It does not mean that these various cords are less useful or inadequate for your tasks, but it does mean you must not make the mistake of assuming a given level of performance off on appearance alone.
We’ll talk more about these factors in the following sections…
What is the Difference Between Real Paracord and Fake Stuff?
To figure out what the differences are between authentic paracord and specifically real-deal type-III cord that is so ubiquitous, we first must understand exactly what it is and how it attains its specified strength rating of about 550 lbs.
Simply stated, mil-spec paracord is a nylon sheath rope, one composed of a 32-fiber woven exterior sheath that protects seven smaller interior strands also made of nylon, each of these consisting of three individual fibers.
This cord adheres to a military technical standard originally known as MIL-C-5040H, now discontinued, that lays out all sorts of performance metrics and other requirements for the cordage.
This is what makes paracord, well, paracord! Any cordage that does not meet the specification is either not genuine paracord or is a different grade of paracord, more on that later.
However, knowing exactly what we are dealing with is complicated because there are all sorts of products, including look-alike products, they call themselves paracord in common vernacular.
How Can You Verify the Strength of Your Paracord?
Assuming you are dealing with a genuine, newly issued military paracord you can rest assured that it will have a minimum breaking strength of 550 lbs. Otherwise, or if it is best to verify it for life-and-death duty, you’ll need to test it.
Cutting a length of cord and hanging it from a secure fixture while continually and incrementally loading weight on the opposite end will soon reveal what it can actually withstand before breaking.
Is all Genuine Paracord the Same Specification?
No, surprisingly. Pretty much everyone has heard of paracord, and many people that use it regularly are quite familiar with the type-III or 550 cord that is so common.
But what you might not know is there are several other types of genuine military paracord, but these are not so common.
From the finished and at least capable to the thickest and most capable, we have type-I which holds 95 lbs, type-IA which can hold 100 lb, type-II which can hold 400 lb, type-IIA which holds 225 lb and finally type-IV (4) which holds a whopping 750 lb.
If you buy a paracord of any of the above types from a trustworthy retailer that deals in genuine cordage, you’ll be able to count on those specifications.
However, if you are buying other commercial products simply labeled paracord or are buying paracord of unknown provenance, you’ll need to be cautious.
Commercial Paracord Can be Better or Worse
By now you have probably gotten the notion that commercial paracord is far, far weaker than its genuine military counterpart.
And that is true, usually buying the cheap stuff that is intended for nothing more than turning into a flimsy bracelet or selling to people who need to tie down a little bit of plywood in the back of their truck might wind up disastrous if you are counting on it for truly heavy duty applications.
Opening up some of this cordage it is easy to see why: you might find fewer inner strands, strands woven from fewer threads, or even that the external sheath is likely to be weaker or made from non-specified nylon.
It might look the same, and it might even feel the same, but it’s not the same.
On the other hand, some commercially made paracord actually far exceeds their military counterpart in strength.
Remember that “mil-spec” stuff is not the best stuff you can get or even the best stuff that money can buy. It is just made to a set of standards that the military specifies, hence the name.
Some high-end brands of commercial paracord cost more but are even stronger than the military stuff of the same diameter.
Some of these paracords even contain special features that might be of interest to preppers, like a single internal strand of jute or other fiber that works wonderfully as a fire starter and does not compromise the strength of the cord otherwise.
In short, don’t count on the really cheap stuff, but don’t knock the high-end commercial stuff until you test it, either.
Caution: Paracord Can Lose Strength from Wear and Exposure
Now, even if you are working with a genuine, new military paracord or else a high-quality commercial equivalent, you might not be able to count on its original breaking strength if the cord is worn, damaged, or otherwise degraded.
Paracord is damn tough, no doubt about it, but it is not invincible. In fact, there are quite a few things that will work to damage your paracord over time, weakening it to the point of failure.
One of the biggest enemies of paracord, like so much cordage and rope, is water. Paracord that has been immersed in water, kept in damp environments, or has otherwise gotten wet repeatedly is going to degrade over time.
The stuff is highly resistant to water, to be sure, but water invariably causes fabrics to rot.
Speaking of moisture, mold is another big problem for paracord. Typically resulting from exposure to moisture, mold can start to directly attack the integrity of the sheath or the inner fibers.
Once again, paracord is generally resistant to mold formation, but it isn’t out of the question.
The next major hazard is UV light. There is virtually no fabric on earth, of any kind, that can withstand the immense power of the sun’s energy forever.
Constant exposure to UV will weaken the paracord, particularly the sheath. Compared to other types of cordage, paracord is superb at resisting it, but it is still a slow, sure process of degradation.
Heat, as you probably already know, can damage paracord by melting it. Most of us will melt the cut end of paracord to prevent it from fraying, after all!
But even short of melting temperature sustained exposure to high temperatures can cause both the sheath and the inner strands to become brittle over time.
You don’t need me to tell you that paracord exposed to open flame should be considered completely compromised.
Lastly, don’t trust paracord that isn’t exposed to any chemical or compound that is known to affect synthetic fibers.
All kinds of oils, cleaners, detergents, strippers, brake fluid, and so forth can weaken or soften paracord to the point of failure and you might not know until it is too late.
Keep an eye on your paracord and treat it right if you are counting on it for serious purposes.
Tom Marlowe grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, He has the experience in helping civilian shooters figure out what firearms work best for them.
1 thought on “This is How Strong Paracord Really Is”
There is UV paracord out there. It’s a little more expensive, but not by much. If you’re going to use it for “permanent-temporary” needs (There’s nothing more permanent than a temporary installation), use UV resistant cord. I have one of my ham antennas guyed with this stuff, and it’s still good after three years of Desert Southwest sun exposure! And out here, the sun destroys E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. ‘Surprised even me! So much so, that it’s the only type of paracord I buy. You can get UV resistant paracord on Amazon or at a site called DX Engineering. I buy it on Amazon in the 1000-foot spool. Do yourself a favor and get the 1000-foot spool. You’ll find yourself using this stuff EVERYWHERE!