(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
As I’ve mentioned several times, 550 paracord is the granddaddy of prepper cordage. Virtually every survival-related blog, forum, book and other information source has recommendations to include 550 paracord in your preps. 550 paracord was originally developed to use as lines on parachutes, so it’s strong and stretches a lot (up to 30%) to absorb the shock of the parachute deploying. From a survival perspective, it’s a kernmantle style, so you can extract the internal strands and use those for fishing line, sewing thread, etc. and still use the external sheath for other heavier tasks.
While I have several spools of 550 paracord in my home preps, I believe that it’s not necessarily the best option for my mobile kits like EDC, get home bags (GHBs) and bug-out bags (BOBs), and it’s certainly not a good choice for camping and backpacking. 550 paracord has 7 internal strands, and carrying 100’ of 550 paracord means that I’ll have 700’ of thin line, which is significantly more than I’ll ever conceivably need, and I don’t need 550 lbs. of static strength to make shelters. Decent quality 550 paracord runs about $0.10 per foot.
For mobile kit there are other paracord options that I believe make more sense. Not everyone is aware of it, but there are several other classes of paracord, including 750, 425, 375 and 275. Each of them has a different number of internal strands with different thicknesses, but the one I’ve settled on for most of my mobile kit is 275 paracord. 275 lbs. of static strength is more than enough for most of the tasks I’m planning on, and it has 5 thin internal strands that I can still remove for lighter tasks. It’s a lot lighter and thinner than 550 cord, so I can carry almost 4 times as much for the same space and weight if I need to, or the same length for ¼ of the weight and space. Quality 275 paracord runs about $0.08 per foot.
There’s also a unique type of paracord from a company called Titan targeted specifically at survivalists called ‘Survivorcord’. It’s got 7 internal strands like 550 paracord, plus one each strand of fire tinder, fishing line and copper wire, and it’s rated at 620 lbs. It’s also a lot heavier (13 oz. per 100’) and more expensive ($30 for 100’) than standard paracord, which comes out to $0.30 per foot.
One of the biggest disadvantages I’ve found with any kind of paracord is how it handles water. Standard paracord will float for a little while until enough water seeps into the sheath, then it sinks. It also takes a long time to dry out once it does get wet, making it difficult to stuff into your pack when taking down camp after a good night’s rain. On one winter camping trip many years ago I took my paracord out of my pack on the second day and it was frozen solid, so I had to start a fire to warm it up before I could put up my tarp. Paracord also tends to unravel quickly when the ends are cut, so you’ll need to melt the end as soon as you cut it.
Tarred Bank Line
If paracord is the granddaddy, tarred bank line is the great-granddaddy of prepper cordage. It’s been around for a long time, and was originally used for things like stringing trot lines. It’s typically a twisted line made from a black polypropylene twine that is similar to tennis netting and is exceptionally strong, sunlight (UV) resistant, abrasion resistant, and inexpensive. It’s also available as a braided line, although that’s a lot less common. Bank line holds knots exceptionally well.
Bank line comes in different sizes, ranging from #9 to #120 (thinner to thicker), with #36 being one of the most common. #36 bank line is half the size and weight of 550 paracord, but it’s only rated at 320lbs., which is still plenty strong enough for most survival tasks. It is also extremely hydrophobic, which means it repels water instead of absorbing it. Tarred bank line is a better option than 550 paracord for scenarios where your cordage will be frequently exposed to wet conditions. #36 tarred bank line runs about the same as 550 paracord – around $0.10 per foot.
There are several options in braided lines that are worth considering as part of your preps. One of my favorites for EDC is called Microcord, which is a small braided line .04” in diameter that weighs 2 oz. per 100’ but is rated at 100lbs. I always have 20’ or so of Microcord in my pocket and I use some for various tasks on a regular basis. If you’re building a small survival kit I highly recommend that you consider including some Microcord instead of paracord to save space and weight. Microcord comes in at around $0.07 per foot.
Another favorite of mine for when I need an incredibly strong line but am concerned about space and weight is Kevlar braided line. I have both 700lb. and 900lb.-rated line, and I use them for when I’m concerned about extreme strength and/or heat, or I’ll be operating in or near a saltwater environment. When I’m traveling and staying in hotels or working in multi-story office buildings I wanted something I can use to safely climb or rappel in case I get trapped in a fire, earthquake, etc., so in those situations I carry 100’ of 1500lb. Kevlar line, which has extremely high heat resistance. A 1500lb. tensile strength rating is almost as strong as some climbing ropes, but that doesn’t mean you should use it for ‘normal’ climbing activities – I carry it strictly for life-and-death emergencies. 900lb. Kevlar line costs around $0.28 per foot, and 1500lb. Kevlar line will cost around $0.40 per foot.
Braided Dyneema line is a good choice when you need a really strong line but you’re most concerned about space and weight. Dyneema is one of the lightest lines for a given strength – Samson Amsteel (Dyneema) rated at 1400lb. weighs only 5.3oz. for 100’ and is 30% smaller than 550 paracord. It’s an excellent choice if you’re going to operating in or around a water environment (particularly saltwater). 1400lb. Samson Amsteel Dyneema line comes in around $0.34 per foot.
Another good option for a thin but strong braided line is called ‘throwline’, which is a thin Dyneema line used for things like throwing weights over tree limbs high off the ground. It’s 1.75mm (0.07”) thick and weighs only 2 oz. per 100’, but it’s rated at 560lb. tensile strength. I’ve replaced all of the guy lines, ridge lines, etc. in my backpacking gear with this stuff and significantly reduced my pack weight. The brand I use is Notch Acculine, but there is another option available called ‘Zing-It’ line, which is almost identical (except 2.2mms vs 1.75mm). Throwline will cost you around $0.18 per foot.
The final option you should consider when looking at cordage is webbing. While most people consider webbing to be for sewing onto backpacks and making straps, it can also be used as really strong cordage for tying things off. It can be called polyester pull tape, mule tape, webbing, etc., and is typically made of polyester and comes in a lot of different widths and strengths. The biggest advantage is that the width spreads the load over the surface it’s pressing against, which tends to provide a stronger and less damaging hold. I use 5/8” 1800lb. mule tape for tying off loads on trailers, tying shorter poles together to make longer poles, etc. It tends to be heavier than other cordage options (around 1lb for 100’), but it provides the best grip in many circumstances and is one of the cheapest cordages by strength, with 5/8” 1800lb. mule tape running around $0.12 per foot.
If you like the idea of carrying some strong webbing as part of your mobile kit but are concerned about the extra weight, look into Dyneema (UHMWPE) webbing. It’s rated at around 1800lbs. but weighs less than 550 paracord for a given length, and it’s used a lot in ultralight backpacking for things like tree straps. Be aware that it’s the most expensive and hard-to-find option discussed in this article – cost is somewhere around $1.00 per foot.
In order make it easier to compare the various cordage options discussed in this article, below is a table that summarizes the various points I’ve covered for each option:
|Type||Tensile Strength||Weight (100’)||Diam.||Cost (100’)||Water Absorb.||Stretch||Knot Holding||Floats?||Heat Resistance||Abrasion Resistance|
|550 Paracord||550 lbs.||8 oz.||.16”||$10||High||Very High||Very Good||Partial||Low||Medium|
|275 Paracord||275 lbs.||4.8 oz.||.06”||$8||High||Very High||Very Good||Partial||Low||Medium|
|Titan Surviorcord||620 lbs.||13 oz.||.19”||$30||High||Medium||Very Good||Partial||Low||Medium|
|Samson Amsteel (Dyneema)||1400 lbs.||5.3 oz.||.11”||$34||None||Low||Good||Yes||High||High|
|2.5mm Kevlar||900 lbs.||3.65 oz.||.10”||$28||None||Low||Good||Yes||High||High|
|No. 36 Bank Line||325 lbs.||3.75 oz.||.08”||$10||None||Low||Good||Yes||Low||Medium|
|5/8” Mule Tape||1800 lbs.||15.5 oz.||.10” x .62”||$12||Low||Low||Moderate||Yes||Low||High|
|1” UHMWPE Webbing||1800 lbs.||7 oz.||.02” x 1”||$100||Low||Low||Moderate||Yes||Low||High|
|Micro Cord||100 lbs.||2 oz.||.04”||$7||Low||Low||Yes||Low||Medium|
|Dyneema 1.75mm Throwline||560 lbs.||2 oz.||.06”||$18||None||Low||Good||Yes||Low||High|
And here’s a photo to help you visualize the relative size of 100’ of most of the types of cordage I’ve discussed:
From left-to-right: Microcord, 275 paracord, 550 paracord, 900lb. Kevlar line, Titan SurvivorCord, 1400lb. Dyneema line, 1.75mm Notch Acculine and 5/8” mule tape.
As I mentioned in the beginning, including cordage in your survival preps is one of the best pieces of advice you’ll get. However, as with everything else related to survival, you need to understand what situations you’re preparing for and the requirements those scenarios might impose on your use of cordage. The standard default of ‘550 paracord’ is a decent, inexpensive choice that provides some flexible options, but its limitations may result in it not being the optimal choice for every situation. Consider all of your cordage options, buy some samples of the ones that make the most sense for you, and practice using them for different real-world tasks to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Like many things survival-related, one size definitely does not fit all when it comes to cordage.