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What Is Paracord or "550 Cord"?

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    The term paracord comes from the cord used on the soldiers parachutes in WWII. The term 550 simply means that it has a breaking strength of 550 pounds, giving it the name of 550 paracord, or 550 cord. When soldiers landed in the battle fields, they would cut the paracord off their parachutes and pack it up for later use. This particular cord would come in handy for the soldiers during battle. Whether it was used to strap gear to humvees, build shelters, or sewing string, the cord could be used in endless ways. 
     Ever since paracord started becoming popular amongst civilians, there has been plenty of knock off types of paracord made. Although this particular type of paracord can be called mil-spec paracord or mil-spec 550 cord, it is not the genuine 550 cord which was used by the Military. It may look like the real deal on the outside, but it sure doesn't on the inside. It is also larger in diameter, and has a rougher texture as well.
     If you are seeking the best of the best, genuine, military issued 550 cord, then you want Mil-C-5040h Type III paracord. This particular 550 is the real deal, and there are only a handful of companies that make it for the government. One well known company, is E.L. Woods Braiding Company. They make a number of cords and ropes for the government, which are used for a number of things throughout the military. We currently get out Mil-C-5040h Type III Cord from E.L. Woods Braiding Company. But you must be careful. There are still websites out there that will tell you their cord is Mil-C-5040h Type III when in fact it is not.
How do you tell the two apart?
  • In my opinion the difference between the genuine mil-spec cord and the commercial cord is pretty slim. That is if you get mil-spec commercial cord and not some fake cord with a label on it that says nothing but "550" and nothing else. You can find commercial grade cord that has the same breaking strength, and is really close in diameter as well, but genuine mil-spec cord is always 1/8" thick, and has been said to be able to actually hold around 700 pounds. The US military has a number of parameters and specifications, which the MIL-C-5040 Type III paracord must pass before it's ready for use. The commercial 550 cord doesn't have to pass these same parameters. They may have certain parameters as well, but if you are looking for genuine, original 550 cord, you want Mil-C-5040h Type III paracord.
  • One really good way to tell the two types of 550 cord apart is by cutting into it and looking at the inside strands, or the"guts". The guts of the paracord are different in commercial paracord than they are in the genuine Type III cord. But you must be careful because companies are manufacturing knock-off paracord that is now mimicking the guts as well. This is making it even more difficult to find genuine 550 cord. Most commercial paracord will have 7 or 8 inner strands each consisting of 2 inner strands of themselves. While the genuine military issued cord has always been made with 7 inner strands, each consisting of 3 inner strands of themselves. In addition to this, one of the 7 strands is yellow and black in color, and all the other strands are white. 
  • Genuine Mil-Spec paracord only comes in select colors while the color options are endless with commercial paracord. Genuine cord comes in black, coyote brown, white, tan, foliage green, od green, and orange.
  • I found that Commercial 550 was normally more stiff, and rough in texture, while the genuien stuff was always smoother, flowed better, and a bit thinner in diameter. Most commercial stuff I've bought has been more like 3/16" not an 1/8".
When buying paracord, be sure to watch out for what you are buying. If you want the genuine stuff, make sure it follows all the parameters listed in the article above. But again, if your don't mind the fact that it's not "genuine", then the commercial mil-spec paracord can be just as good, and also come in way more colors!
Check out our selection of genuine 550 Paracord Here.


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