Cordage skills are perhaps only second to fire in terms of difficulty. Attend one of our wilderness survival courses and you’ll likely hear me say that at some point. After all, nature does provide materials that are long, strong, and flexible but if you don’t have the right skill set and knowledge base, you won’t know how to harvest them from the land, process them, and put them to use. I get it, not all of you reading this are going to do the deep dive on primitive skills (by the way, if you are willing to dive in, take a look at what Doug Meyer is doing with cordage) and carrying certain items in your loadout will save you the time and energy of sourcing them in the field. For this reason, I carry a small length of cord with me in my EDC and more in my rucksack when I head to the hills. As I’ll highlight here, there are many uses for paracord if you have it and know how to use it.
Paracord has incredible breaking strength and it can be used for a variety of shelter building functions. While not necessary for constructing an A-frame or a lean-to, you can use paracord to secure branches in place if “Y” or “V” shape notches are hard to come by. Paracord is used in the construction of tripods that can be transformed into jungle beds and tipi-like structures. It is used to set up a strong ridgeline to drape a tarp over or suspend one high above the ground for maximum living space. One of the most frequent questions asked in seminars is how to string up a tarp. Here’s the free blog response. Use a double overhand knot in one end with a toggle on one tree to a trucker hitch finished with a rolling hitch and 2 half hitches on the other. It is actually much easier than you can imagine if you take the time to learn the skills.
Inside of paracord are 7 inner strands of reverse-wrapped cordage. These thinner diameter cords can be separated into very thin but relatively strong fishing lines for use with traditional or makeshift hooks. The inner strands can also work as the cordage needed for making scoop or gil nets. Paracord makes great emergency fishing jigs with the outer braid being used for the jig body and the inner strands as the fan tail. The white inner strands can also be used for snaring and if you are concerned about the appearance, they can be darkened by drawing them through a fistful of mud. One associate of Fieldcraft Survival who works as a SERE Specialist told us one graduating class through the wilderness survival program snared a deer with 550 paracord and that deer is now mounted outside the school house. Just goes to show you 550 cord is pretty incredible.
Paracord can also be used for signaling devices if you are concerned about camp security. Simple tripwires attached to suspended “wind chime” style bottles and cans will alert you to someone or something entering your camp. More complicated turnbuckle rattlers are also very effective in using the tension twisted paracord can create. Paracord is also a critical component in making a bundle bow (think Dutch’s bow from the movie Predator). Gutted 550 cord is used for the bowstring and you can create a very effective bow with a respectable draw weight if the bundle bow is made correctly. Other austere environment tools are also made with a little bit of paracord and a dark mind. Hang out around the campfire and maybe I’ll share some with you.
Hauling and Dragging
Paracord is strong and I have yet to meet someone who can hold a strand in their hands and break it without wrapping it around something. One downside to paracord is the diameter of the cordage. It isn’t easy to take the purchase of and the temptation may be there to wrap it around the palm of your hand or fingers to pull harder. This leads to an entrapment risk and it is not wise to risk losing your digits at any time. Instead, you can wrap the paracord around a flashlight tube and use it like a “T” handle to pull stronger. When used like this, it is easy to set up heavy lifting rigs or even a simple bear bag. We’ve used paracord in overland courses to demonstrate 3-2-1 anchoring and the power of multiple strands used together as a single “tow” strap. In the opposite way, you can deconstruct the paracord to access the 7 inner strands, you can also add multiple lengths of paracord in a braided line to increase its capacity.
You don’t often associate paracord with water. Then again, it doesn’t outwardly appear to have many practical applications for water collection. However, paracord can be used on the end of a water bottle to dip it into creeks that are hard to reach. Just make sure you have a secure knot around the mouth of your Nalgene. Paracord can also be used to drip water from a wet rock face down into the mouth of a water bottle. Jam one end of the cordage into a crack on the rockface and the water will drip down the underside of the cordage braid into your bottle. Paracord also works really well to stop water from running down hammock straps if you camp that way. All you need is a simple overhand knot tied to your straps and you’ll have a very effective drip ring.
The Bottom Line
Just like the Swiss Army Knife and duct tape, paracord has 1001 uses. 550 paracord has become the industry standard and baseline for wilderness cordage. We judge other cordage varieties against the breaking strength, durability, diameter, and other specs of 550. You should carry alternatives to paracord like jute twine, dedicated fishing line, and 1” webbing for other specific purposes, and save your paracord if you don’t need to use it. We believe in carrying it on your person, in your pack, in your vehicle, and having a healthy reserve at home in your garage or storage area. Like all good cordage, it is easier to cut than it is to put back together. Like all your tools, you need to have good software to back up that hardware. In other words, learn how to tie the right knots or you will tie lots. Also like other tools, it does you no good at home if you need it in the field and doesn’t have it. Packit, we guarantee you will find uses for it.