One of the key pieces of survival equipment that you’ll see recommended by numerous experts is paracord. Paracord, also known as 550 cord, was originally developed to be used in the suspension lines of parachutes, hence the name paracord. It generally has a breaking strength of 550 pounds, leading to the name 550 cord.
It’s available from numerous different sellers, in dozens of different colors, and in lengths ranging from 10 feet all the way up to several thousand foot spools. It can be used either intact or it can be unwoven to use the individual cordage fibers.
The number of uses of paracord is easily up in the hundreds, and is only limited by your needs and your imagination. But here are a dozen of the most common and useful uses for paracord.
If you’re packing trauma kit accessories in your medical supplies, you probably already have a tourniquet such as a CAT-T. But tourniquets are expensive, so you may not have multiples. And you may find yourself out in the middle of nowhere where you weren’t expecting to need a trauma kit, suddenly bleeding profusely and needing to stop the bleeding. Here’s where you can use paracord to create a tourniquet.
Ideally you would have a length of braided paracord that you could tie around your arm or leg, but a single strand of paracord can work in a pinch. Place the paracord as you would a commercial tourniquet, tie a knot, insert a stick, pen, or metal rod into the knot and twist as you would twist the bar of a commercial tourniquet, then secure the stick with further knots. As with any other tourniquet, leaving it on for longer than two hours can lead to severe neurological damage, but if you’re a ways away from proper medical care, that beats bleeding to death.
2. Rescue Line
Paracord can be used as a rescue line to save someone who has fallen into a river or body of water and needs to be pulled out. If being used in a river, throw the paracord upstream to allow it to float downstream to the person being rescued. Again, a single strand can be strong enough, but doubling or tripling up the paracord can increase the strength of your rescue line.
3. Trail Marker
If you need to wander away from your camp and you want to find your way back, you can tie lengths of paracord to trees, bushes, or shrubs so that you can find your way back in case you get lost in the woods. This is an ideal use for paracord in bright colors such as orange or hot pink. Tying a length of paracord every 25-50 yards can help you create a path through the woods that can help you get back to your camp.
4. Secure a Tent or Tarp
Whether or not you have tent stakes to anchor a tent to the ground, you may still want to tie it to nearby trees to keep it from blowing away. Paracord is ideal for that use. If you don’t have a tent, you can use a tarp or survival blanket together with paracord to create a makeshift tent, hammock, or some other shelter to get some rest.
5. Makeshift Shoelaces
An extra pair of shoelaces is something that many people don’t think about packing. But if you break a shoelace in the middle of nowhere it will significantly slow down your ability to move. Cutting off a length of paracord and securing the ends of it can allow you to create a makeshift pair of shoelaces that will allow you to be able to get back to where you started.
6. Securing Items to a Belt or Backpack
Not everything you carry with you is going to fit into a pouch or rucksack. Odd-shaped or oversized items can be tied down with paracord to a belt, or tied to the outside of a backpack. If you have PALS webbing on your pack you can weave the paracord through multiple loops to keep things super secure.
7. Makeshift Belt or Suspenders
Hopefully you’ve invested in a good strong leather gun belt, or a quality rigger’s belt, duty belt, or other such heavy duty belt. But if you haven’t, and you’re relying on that cheap leather or nylon belt to hold up your pants and carry your gear, you may be in for a surprise when it breaks in the middle of the forest. A braided length of paracord can work as a makeshift belt or pair of suspenders to keep your pants up until you can get back to your supplies and get a replacement.
8. Pull Strap for First Aid Kit
If you need your first aid supplies, you may need them urgently. If you keep them in a pouch, the time to unfasten a velcro pouch and pull them out could waste valuable seconds. By braiding a length of paracord and attaching it to your first aid supplies, you can just pull on the paracord and instantly pull out your medical kit when you need it most.
9. Create a Lanyard
Lanyards aren’t used as commonly as they used to be, and most pistols today don’t come with a lanyard loop. But if yours does, and you want to make sure that you don’t lose your pistol in a fall, you can use paracord as a lanyard to keep the pistol tied to your belt. You can do the same for knives too, making sure that if you drop your knife for any reason you’re not going to lose it.
10. Use as Clothesline
If you get stuck in a rainstorm while camping or on a hike, or you take a spill while fording a stream, you can stretch a length of paracord taut between two trees to create a clothesline to dry out your clothes and supplies.
11. Restraints or Handcuffs
There may come a time when you’ll have to tie up or restrain ne’er-do-wells, with no law enforcement anywhere around. Since most people don’t carry zip ties or flex cuffs, paracord may be the only way to tie up or restrain someone intent on doing harm. Just make sure that you’re well-practiced in tying secure knots.
12. Make Ranger Beads
Ranger beads, or pace counters, can serve as a useful navigation aid out in the wilderness. Generally you’ll have one set of nine beads and one set of four. Every 100 meters you’ll move one of the nine beads, then after you reach one kilometer you’ll reset those beads and move one of the beads from the set of four. After all four of those beads have been moved, and you move the other nine beads again, you’ll have walked five kilometers, or roughly three miles. While you can purchase ranger beads, you can also braid them yourself from two different lengths of paracord.