Ever seen one of those hardcore backwoods folks or prepper fanatics sporting a woven cobra bracelet? Chances are, it’s not simply a fashion choice: it’s a don’t-leave-home-without-it survival tool called a paracord bracelet. Whether the task calls for finesse or heavy-duty gruntwork, they come in mighty handy.
And speaking of handy, there’s no more convenient way to lug around a useful length of 550 cord than as a bracelet. Slip it on your wrist for your next camping trip, and you’ll quickly forget it’s there—until you actually need it for something, in which case you’ll be glad you included this unassuming-looking accessory in your backcountry outfit survival gear. So, want to dive in and learn more? Here we go!
Also known as "survival bracelets," "550 cord bracelets," or "parachute cord bracelets," paracord bracelets consist of nylon woven cords twisted together to handle heavy loads. Small but mighty, they’re a multi-tool of choice by campers, climbers, hikers, survivalists, military soldiers, and outdoor enthusiasts due to their extreme handiness and versatility in emergency situations. We’ll talk much more about their purpose and why they’re so popular throughout the rest of this article, but know that their survival uses are just about endless.
Your paracord survival bracelet could conceivably be made of several different kinds of paracord. Learning the basics of telling apart this cordage isn’t getting too down in the weeds: it’s essential for making sure you’ve got paracord that’ll reliably serve your needs, whether it’s just as a once-in-a-blue-moon survival backup tool or a regular part of your prepping practice or bushcraft.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the main kinds and categories of paracord and some of their important attributes:
It’s also worth talking briefly about "military-spec" vs "commercial-spec" 550 paracord.
Authentic military-spec paracord should be made entirely of nylon, with seven three-ply yarns.
Commercial-spec paracord may have the same composition, but they also may be single- or double-ply, and the inner strands may be polyester instead of nylon. Depending on your needs, commercial-spec paracord may be perfectly acceptable. However, polyester threads won’t bond with nylon, so commercial-spec paracord that incorporates both those plastic materials has less all-around utility than a 100% nylon (or, less desirably, a 100% polyester) length of cord.
Paracord consists of an outer sheath that contains several inner yarns, each composed in turn of up to three strands. Nylon is the traditional material employed in paracord, but as we’ve already mentioned polyester is also used.
High-quality paracord, such as military-spec cordage, should be able to stretch by a minimum of 30 percent. Keep in mind that a strand of paracord under a sustained load will eventually be subject to “creep,” or permanent stretching; this can be combated by doubling or tripling up the cordage.
You can never really have too much paracord, but given your ability to fashion a longer piece of rope or string by knotting or melt-fusing individual strands the compact braided survival bracelet is a convenient, space-efficient way to have a useful amount at the ready. Such a bracelet generally includes 20 or more feet of paracord.
Paracord gets its name from “parachute cord,” which suggests its widespread historical use (particularly during the Second World War) by the military as suspension lines for parachutes. But soldiers quickly found many different ways to use this versatile cordage, including for boot laces, rigging items to pack exteriors, erecting emergency shelters, and securing loads. Paracord remains popular in the military for the same reasons it’s beloved by survivalists and outdoorspeople: the possibilities of using it for practical and emergency purposes out in the field are just about endless.
You can indeed shower with your paracord bracelet. Paracord will shrink a little the first time it gets wet, and then stabilizes. Before working with paracord, including braiding it into a bracelet, it’s not a bad idea to “pre-shrink” it by soaking it briefly in hot water and then allowing it to thoroughly dry.
It wouldn’t be difficult to rack up a list of dozens of paracord uses, but let’s take a look at just ten that really showcase how utilitarian and versatile a survival bracelet can be for any outdoors person or prepper. Each of the following will be explained in subsequent sections, but here’s a quick list:
Among the chief survival bracelet uses is as first-aid material. For instance, you can use paracord to fashion a sling in order to stabilize an injured shoulder, arm, or collarbone, or to apply a splint to a fractured, dislocated, or otherwise banged-up limb. If you need to transport a wounded or sick person, meanwhile, you can also use paracord to create a readymade stretcher by stringing it in a web pattern between a pair of straight and sturdy branches. Here’s a handy list of typical uses:
Unsheath the paracord’s inner kerf strands, and you’ve got a go-to fishing line: all you need is a hook, some suitable bait, and no small amount of patience.
Conversely, you could also fashion a gillnet to snare a finned meal. Use two ropes of paracord for the top and bottom lines—the floatline and the leadline, respectively—and string some of the inner yarn between to form a mesh. The gaps need to be large enough for a fish’s head to enter but too narrow for the body to pass through. You can use chunks of wood as floats and stones as anchors for the leadline; more paracord comes in handy for securing these to the gillnet. Please note, we are talking about a survival situation here: obviously, you otherwise should be abiding by any and all angling regulations.
The same applies here: by no means are we advocating going off and snaring woodland creatures willy-nilly. If you’re staring down a SHTF type of situation, however, and you’ve run out of Mountain House meals, you might try your hand at building a survival snare for squirrels, rabbits, and other small quarry using paracord’s inner yarn.
Among the many other things to do with paracord? Put a roof over your head in a survival situation. Whether you’re rigging a mainline for a tarp or lashing together branches or boughs to make a lean-to, the cord—wielded with a firm knowledge of basic knots, of course—helps you quickly construct an emergency shelter if the weather turns grim or if you need a safe, secure spot to tend to an injured member of your party.
The inner yarn of a piece of paracord makes the perfect in-a-pinch thread for sewing up rips in garments, backpacks, and other equipment.
If you’re camping in bear country—and given the American black bear’s re-expanding range, that applies to much of North America—it’s vital that you secure your foodstuffs, trash, and toiletries from the shaggy bruins. That means either packing along a bear-proof canister (required in more and more national parks, particularly those with grizzlies, and essential if you’re camping above timberline or anywhere else suitably tall trees are few and far between) or using that paracord bracelet of yours to hoist a bear bag off the ground.
This can actually be more complicated than it sounds: you need to string the bag such that it’s at least 12 feet off the ground and 6 feet or more away from the closest tree trunk or bough. That means finding a tall-enough tree with a long-enough branch or two trees close enough together to string a line between but clear of intervening branches. And make sure you hang the bag 100 feet or more from your campsite, just in case its odors attract a snuffling (and ultimately frustrated) bear.
Perhaps you’re traversing a particularly confusing stretch of country, or you’re lost and attempting to scout your surroundings along exact bearings so you’re able to return to your original location if need be. If you want your compass close at hand for such tricky navigation work, use a length of paracord to tie it around your neck for easy access.
You can use paracord in a few different ways to get an emergency fire going. Separate out the inner strands and use these as tinder, for example. Some paracord companies actually include especially flammable strands as part of the core.
Alternatively, you can use paracord to work a bow-drill-style fire starter (just be patient).
Not just for parachutes—you can use paracord for suspension lines in any number of bushcraft contexts. If you feel the need to secure your camp from intruders (perhaps in one of those hypothetical big-time SHTF scenarios) you can also rig up some perimeter tripwire by tying paracord at shin height between trees. You could even incorporate some bells, metal utensils, or other noisemaking items with the tripwire to set up a rough-and-ready alarm system.
Paracord’s a handy rope to have in your watercraft, and not just to create some fishing line in a pinch! You can also use it for temporary mooring, to tow an object, or to throw a floundering person a literal lifeline.
More than a few survival-bracelet wearers have been a little flummoxed on the best way to actually unbraid one. Some bracelets have a quick-release knot, while others are a bit more complicated: you may need to use a knife blade, a pair of pliers or scissors, or some other tool to wedge out the melted rope ends.
The myriad uses of paracord extend to DIY craft projects that join together fun and practicality. You can, for example, test your paracord braiding skills to make your own survival bracelet, lanyard, or belt.
Another at-home paracord project with real value is fashioning a self-defense keychain that incorporates a so-called “monkey fist.” Also colorfully known as a “Celtic slammer,” this involves a steel ball, round stone, or other heavy object wrapped tightly in a paracord ball and wielded with a sufficient length of cord to protect oneself from an attacker.
We already talked about the origins of paracord as a military-grade parachute cord during World War II—and the many secondary uses soldiers found for the cordage, including snug, rugged boot laces.
But paracord’s save-the-day uses haven’t only been restricted to Planet Earth itself. In 1997, astronauts upgrading the Hubble Space Telescope discovered breaches in the unit’s protective insulation. Forced to improvise with some input from Mission Control, they patched the holes using paracord along with wire, plastic ties, and other tools on hand. Not bad!
As we alluded to at the start of this piece, we’ve only sketched out a few of the many possible survival bracelet uses. Keep an eye out for a future blog post going into more detail on paracord and its multiple functions out in the woods! For now, check out some great emergency survival foods to stock up on.