What is Paracord 550?

Paracord 550 Hank w/2 Paracord BraceletsWhat is paracord? Paracord is an inexpensive, readily available lightweight rope, initially developed by the United States military in World War II, where it was used for parachute suspension lines to attach a parachute canopy to the parachute harness.  It was also used to attach equipment to harnesses, secure equipment together or onto vehicles, to  tie camouflage nets to trees or vehicles, and a huge variety of other “tying” and “binding” applications.  It boasts of a truly remarkable breaking strength, sometimes in excess of 550 pounds, especially relative to its small diameter, which is typically around 1/8th or 5/32nd of an inch.

Parachute Cord Inner Strands & Outer Sheath 150w

Paracord, also referred to as “Parachute Cord, “Paracord 550,” “550 Paracord,” “Military cord,” “Survival Cord,” or even “550 Cord” is a type of braided or “kernmantle” rope.  This means that Paracord is made up of an “inner core” or “kern” of typically twisted nylon or polyester fibers, and a braided “outer sheath” or “mantle,” also typically made up of nylon or polyester.  The outer “mantle” encloses and protects the inner “kern.”

Paracord is now manufactured in two general varieties:

110 foot hank of Paracord 550 Mil-Spec C-5440H Compliant

(1) “Mil-Spec” paracord – made from 100% nylon, is stronger and more reliable than “commercial” paracord because it is manufactured to the very tightly defined requirements in the nineteen-page Military Specification C-5440H.

(2) “Commercial” paracord made from nylon, polyester, or a combination of the two, and not manufactured to any one particular manufacturing or quality control standard.  Commercial paracord is often incorrectly represented to be, or suggested to be, “MilSpec Paracord,” “Real Paracord,” or “as good as” MilSpec Paracord.

Most people would find it impossible to determine the difference between Mil-Spec and Commercial Paracord, especially without special training, information or tools.  However, there are four simple and easy observations a lay person can make to help highlight the differences.

PIA Logo

Mil-Spec Paracord continues to be used on both military and civilian parachutes today, as well as for a gigantic variety of other uses.  The Parachute Industry Association adopted their Paracord manufacturing specification from the Mil-Spec C-5040H, and has continued to update their specification that they call:  PIA C-5040E.

Bowline Knot tied in Paracord 550

The small size, portability, affordability, versatility and exceptional breaking strength have resulted in 550 Paracord becoming a popular and favorite item for everyday use by military, paramilitary, rescue, law enforcement and construction workers.  Everyday civilian people, sportsmen as well as hobbyists, at home and on the job, appreciate the convenience and multiple applications of paracord.  Some refer to Paracord as “the Swiss Army Knife” of rope.

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