by Tom Watson – as published in the “Self Reliance In The Outdoors” column/Midwest Outdoors/April 2020
Among the essential survival/emergency gear everyone should carry (knife, fire-starting kit, whistle) is a section of all-purpose cordage. Pretty much everything you need to achieve towards surviving and ultimate rescue can be accomplished with those items.
While you can lash together a lean-to with clothesline or fish with a piece of string, the most practical multi-purpose cordage is paracord. Small enough to bring along ample lengths yet with enough muscle to take on hefty tasks, paracord is an essential piece of emergency/survival gear.
To qualify as survival grade cordage, there are several characteristics and properties that qualify as paracord. All “rope” is made of strand that are either braided or twisted together. Structurally, paracord uses the kernmantle technique similar to how ropes for mountain climbers is made.
Its outmost layer is a braided nylon sheath of 32 woven nylon strands. It provides protection to the inner core, offers additional strength, flexibility and durability to the paracord.
The inner core or ‘kern’ typically consists of up to seven strands of twisted nylon that, along with the sheath, provide strength and a bit of elasticity. Those seven strands are each made from three twisted nylon yarns. “Wilderness” grade paracord will also incorporate a strand of monofilament fishing line (10# weight), waxed jute to be used as tinder and some even a strand of Aramid fiber (kevlar).
Paracord is dynamic in that it stretches some before breaking while supporting maximum loads. There are several strength categories of “paracord”, the most common and popular being ‘550’ – designating its breaking strength during a fall test at 550 pounds. Typically that range of stretchability is between 30% – 40%, meaning that a ten-foot section of para-cord under maximum weight load could stretch to about 13’ before breaking.
Nylon is the material of choice for official paracord because it is waterproof and resists mildew. It also offers elasticity and smoothness. However, it is also prone to UV damage over exposure and time. [NOTE: Does wearing a bracelet in sunny climates cause the exposed paracord to degrade at an accelerated rate?].
As a whole, paracord can be used like any section of cordage to provide secure and strong support to structures such as lashing frames together, creating guy lines for tents or tarps or securing gear to structures (tie-downs to thwarts in canoes). [NOTE: some websites cite paracord as being an emergency tourniquet, perhaps only as a very last resort as the cord itself is too thin, and can cause even more damage.]
The hidden value of paracord is in what’s wound beneath. Those nylon strands can be removed and used individually to create longer strands to be use alone as fishing line or perhaps twisted into use for sewing, creating small snares and other uses where a small diameter string could be used.
Typically it takes one foot of paracord to weave one inch of bracelet. Expanding this to separating out the strands to be joined for making longer cordage/twine, a ten foot section of paracord can provide up to seventy feet of strong line.
Some wilderness cord includes a strand of monofilament fishing line that be withdrawn/unraveled and used for angling. Likewise a strand of jute (sometimes impregnated with wax) can be removed, fluffed up and used to catch a spark for fire starting. Even the empty sheath itself has many utilitarian uses, from make-shift lacing to lashing or any other use for cordage around camp.
Nylon cord or inner strands can be heated, melted and then welded or fuses together for a light load joint. Besides knots to join two pieces of the full cord, ends can be spliced together for a tight bond.
Anyone who takes survival seriously knows that unless you have your kit on your person, you don’t have it with you. Such is the fundamental value of paracord components into emergency/survival kits. It’s right there, ready for action if needed.
One example is the para-cord “grenades” that contain a plethora of fish hooks, line, clips, blades, flint, etc., etc., etc. – all neatly bundled in a fistful of paracord and attached via a carabiner to your other gear.
The more common kit is a bracelet combining a utility buckle with specialty strands within the weave to provide myriad uses of the cord when unwoven. Of all the brands I could find, two stood out as typical multi-use bracelets.
The Friendly Swede Multi-Function Survival Bracelet features a small serrated, circular flat-ring-like disc along with a short ferro-rod on the clasp. Unfortunately, the striker is so short that I found it almost impossible to throw a spark.
What makes this bracelet practical is the packet of survival items inserted within the woven body of the bracelet. Tinder, safety pins, eye knife, assorted fishing items are among the utility pieces the wearer carries at all times. The strands also include a length of fishing line. These bracelet provide about 12 feet of paracord for a large size band.
Outdoor Edge’s ParaSpark features a 1.3-inch knife blade within the buckle and a more practical sized and positioned ferrocerium rod incorporated into the clasp making this bracelet a very practical and functional survival kit as well. The addition of a small whistle molded into the clasp is an added bonus – perhaps more as backup to carrying a larger, more effective sound-projecting whistle signal.
The ParaSpark’s strands include nylon cordage, waxed jute for tinder, and #10 monofilament fishing line incorporated into the woven cord used to braid the bracelet. A small, domed compass also graces the clasp, offering yet another useful survival tool. However, protruding up 3/4” above the 1/4” thickness of the band, the dome of the compass could be a nuisance with tight-fitting cuffs or gloves.
Un-weaving the paracord means you give up the advantage of the bracelet. Re-weaving the curly springiness of the cord would probably take some effort. There are, however, websites that show you how to weave your own bracelets, too. The bottom line is the fact that wearing these paracord creations mean you have at least a few resources with you at all times – a significant value in its own right.
Be Safe, Have Fun out there.
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