Paracord, commonly known as "550-cord," is a simple, nylon, kernmantle rope that was originally used by paratroopers in World War II for suspension lines. The tiny bit of fabric is designed to have a minimum breaking strength of 550 lbs — hence the unofficial name.
But the usefulness of paracord has extended far beyond Airborne units. Throughout the decades that've followed its introduction, troops have found many creative and ingenious uses for the cord. Here's what makes it such a versatile tool:
1. It's abundant in nearly every supply room
The main reason why so troops use paracord for virtually everything is that supply rooms have spools of it laying around. If you ask nicely, they can toss you a bunch off the hand receipts.
On a post-9/11 deployment, the cord (and ponchos that are rarely used in the desert) is used to zone tents, marking off the area "owned" by each troop.
Just ask — they've got more than they know what to do with.
(Photo by Senior Airman Nathan Clark)
2. It can secure anything
The cord can support up to 550 pounds before you run the risk of snapping it. For most tasks, this is more than enough. Because of its strength, it's the go-to tie-down strap for many military operations.
It's used for everything, from acting as a stand-in shoelace or belt to securing sensitive equipment, like NVGs and rifle optics. The U.S. Army trusts paracord.
It can technically hold your weight, but that's on you...
(Photo by Spc. Abigail R. Graham)
3. It's perfect for arts and crafts
On a deployment, you'll have plenty of downtime. Troops get pretty ingenious when coming up with ways to pass that extra time. It's not uncommon to see troops learning how to make key chains, rosaries, and survivalist bracelets out of 550-cord.
The idea here is that if a troop ever needs some cord, they can snap off the plastic that holds their little doll together and unwind several feet of it for good use. When a troop doesn't need some cord, they have a toy. Joy!
Never underestimate the power of bored troops.
(Photo by EJ Hersom)
4. It can be used everywhere
The cord is remarkably durable. The strength comes from the interwoven braids and the outer cord protects those braids from withering in the elements, making it water and sand resistant. 550-cord can easily hold together a radio antennae through a hot Afghan summer.
But it really has been used everywhere. In a 1993 repair of the Hubble Space Telescope, senior engineer Mark Neuman fixed things up with thermal blankets with 35 feet of paracord. This means that the $2-billion-dollar astrological marvel was fixed using about $8 of paracord.
You know a veteran was up there when they came up with this idea.
(NASA Courtesy Photo)
5. It can become a makeshift anything
If you're in a bind and all you have is your trusty paracord bracelet, you're in luck because this stuff can be made into anything. The cord's guts can be great for sewing, fishing, and starting a fire while the outside can make a great shoe lace or trap.
Some have even saved lives by using it as an impromptu tourniquet.
So, why not just keep a key chain or bracelet made of paracord? It's also a great way of identifying other veterans in the civilian world.
(Photo by Jean Paul Gibert)