> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Tip of the Week: Mil-Spec Paracord



Tip of the Week: Mil-Spec Paracord

This tip of the week comes courtesy of TEOTWAWKI Blog sponsor and purveyor of cool stuff, Vigilant Gear.

Did you know that not all paracord is created equal?

There are two main grades of paracord--mil-spec and commercial. Commercial cordage is quite a bit cheaper--often half the price--but it is not made to the same level of quality, control or testing standards as Type III paracord made to military specifications.

The military has established fairly comprehensive specifications for cordage that they purchase, documented in a nearly 20 page document - the MIL-C-5040H specification. This outlines the standards that contractors must meet when making paracord to sell to the military. It's really exacting, going over the minute details about construction of the cordage, components that go into it, manufacturing techniques and the level of performance it must meet.

Here are a few key points from the specification:
  • Cordage must be have a melt point of at least 244 degrees Celsius
  • Tensile strength must exceed 550 pounds - 550 is the minimum - and you can be sure they test that regularly
  • Length per pound - 225 feet of cordage to 1 pound
  • 7 inner strands, and they must be 3-ply; 2-ply is usually seen in commercial stuff
  • Strict color standards - only military colors, none of that electric pink stuff
  • Colors must meet retention criteria through a different tests - exposure to sunlight, laundering and dry cleaning
  • Specific criteria and testing for resistance to light/UVs and heat - for example, they bake it at 350 degrees for an hour, and after that, it must retain 85% of its original tensile strength
  • Made in the USA by Americans, not in a Cambodian sweat shop
That level of quality/control is going to cost a premium over stuff that doesn't have to meet those criteria, so you're going to see a premium for real mil-spec paracord. I'm uncertain (and doubtful) if companies do any kind of this testing & quality control with commercial paracord--there's nothing to say that it will even meet the specified 550-lb minimum strength.

For some applications - making paracord bracelets for friends - the difference is probably not going to matter. But in other cases, it may certainly be worth it to spend the few extra bucks to ensure you're getting the real-deal, best quality paracord.

Vigilant Gear has certified mil-spec paracord up for grabs on their website - and they were one of the main sponsors for our recent contest - so check it out.


  1. Some good info! Most of my uses for paracord are pretty everyday menial stuff--wouldn't matter much if its super high quality or not. But in my daypack/bugout bag I have a big bunch of paracord. Its only there for emergencies--I never really use it and probably wouldn't unless there was a disaster/emergency of some kind. Since it never gets used maybe it would be worth getting a bit of the primo stuff. Then if I ever really need it it'd be the good stuff.

  2. The standard 100ft hank of paracord, as it comes from the vendor, can be a disaster, if you need the stuff quickly. It tangles very easily and takes up quite a bit of space in a BOB.

    Consider this for paracord storage:
    1) Uncoil/unkink/untangle the cord, and loop it at the center, (a bend, and 2 long bights)
    2) Tie a simple slipknot at approximately the center point.
    3) Tie a Double Chain Sinnet/Monkey Braid (animated example of a single chain sinnet at: http://www.animatedknots.com/chainsinnet/index.php - not my video, just an example. to double, use loop bights at same time.) It is called a monkey braid, because it is so easy to tie.

    You now have a length of cord that won't tangle, can be easily stuffed into a corner of a pack, and is very quick to deploy. (basically, kust pull)

  3. Some times it pays to have multiple colors of the stuff. On tarps and tent fly's I use black on the left side and red on right. I leave the lines attached all the time, prior to putting things away I roll up the lines and rubber band them. Yank your gear out of it's stuff sack and you automatically know what's what and what goes where. Multiple colors also helps keeps things sorted when you have both standing and running rigging together.

  4. Good information. I didn't know just how strict Mil-spec is with regard to paracord.

  5. I went overboard and got type iV - 750lb strength..