Paracord: Do You Have The Ultimate Hiking Accessory?

Seattle Backpacker Magazine recently contacted us at Lifelines Adventure Gear to learn more  about the many uses of paracord for backpackers. It brought to mind a recent vacation in Florida when wild nature met civilization. I came upon two policemen standing at the entrance to a local grocery store. On the ground in between them was a 4-foot alligator. One officer watched as the other one used his baton to lure it away from the door. The frenzied alligator, jaws wide apart, hissed and lunged at the men as they continually hopped out of its range. I quickly reached under the front seat, pulling out a hank of military grade 550 paracord. I cut off a 10-foot length and tied a slip knot on the end. I jumped out of my Jeep, crept up behind the gator and slipped the loop over its jaw, pulling the knot tight, effectively clamping the jaws together. Holding its tail down with my boot to prevent any further danger, I handed the paracord leash to the officer until the animal control staff could arrive to move the animal to a safe location.

Okay, so that part about me helping only happened in my head as I watched the policemen on the news. I wasn’t there to help the struggling officers, but I COULD have, just by unraveling the Paracord Adventure Band on my wrist. With up to 24 feet of cord in each wristband—it is a handy survival tool that can also be kept easily accessible by weaving into a belt or as replacement boot laces. Paracord has about as many uses as leaves on a tree, so keeping it available is a wise and possibly lifesaving idea, whether hiking in the wilderness, practicing survival techniques or just working in the garage.

First used in the military during WWII, parachute cord, also known as 550 cord or paracord, is a durable, lightweight, continuous filament nylon cord originally used for the suspension lines on US parachutes. Made of an outer sheath or kernmantle with 7 woven strands inside, the cord has a tensile strength tested to 550 lbs., hence the name 550 cord. There is debate about the composite weights that make up the strength of the cord. Based on a consensus of opinion, the breakdown of the cord is as follows: the outer sheath equals 305 lbs. and the inner strand equals 35 lbs. each (times seven strands) for a total of 550 lbs. of tensile strength. It is important to note that each inner strand is also comprised of 2 to 3 strands. Wrap the cord ten times and you have the capabilities of hauling 5500 lbs. It dries quickly, is mildew resistant and has uses limited only by imagination. The one absolute rule about paracord is to remember to melt the cut ends with a flame to keep them from fraying.

Here are some typical, clever and downright ingenious ways to use this popular cord. Leaving the obvious uses aside, such as securing equipment, stringing up tarps, or hanging a makeshift clothesline for wet gear, paracord can be used for emergency aid to make a splint, tie a sling, or even weave a stretcher. The individual strings inside the sheath can be pulled out for use in suturing wounds, as dental floss or for repairing torn clothing to prevent hypothermia.

For survival purposes, paracord can be fashioned into snares, traps, fishing lines and gill nets. Simple knotting techniques used with branches can make an emergency shelter out of a 50 foot hank, or can be woven into a bridge or ladder. It is even known to have been used as a temporary fan belt. By doubling the cord, it can be used as a boat anchor line, for hoisting up large game for skinning and can be used forlowering yourself or an object. It is not meant for rappelling, but can be used carefully in real emergencies.

If hiking where there is a danger of avalanches, it is not a bad idea to use the brightly-colored cord to tie yourself to your buddy so you can find each other should one of you get caught under the snow.

The craft of braiding or weaving the cord can yield items such as weapon straps, lanyards, key fobs, watch bands, dog collars and leashes, water bottle covers and cork covers.

Parachute cord received international publicity in February of 1997, when it was used by Discovery Astronauts to repair the Hubble Telescope on the STS-82 Mission. They applied Teflon patches to an area of thinning insulation and secured it with paracord. A simple, yet amazingly effective solution.

Fifty feet is typically considered a practical length to keep in a survival kit or backpack. Because of its usefulness, it’s a good idea to have additional lengths wrapped around knives and axe handles, as well as the aforementioned LifeLines Adventure Bands, for availability as the need arises.

There are many kinds of utility cordage that look similar to certified military grade 550 cord (Mil-C-5040 Type 3) so make sure you get the real thing. Military stores are a good place to find it—as well as online stores. We carry it at Add this practical item to your essentials list along with some duct tape and like any self-respecting Boy Scout, you won’t find yourself unprepared.

By the way, had I been there to unravel my handy supply of 550 cord from my Adventure Bracelet, I think the policemen would have been happy I was prepared to help. I really hope they are not still out there wrestling with that alligator.


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