What’s a para cord?

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Parachute cord, also known as “550 cord,” is made of double-stranded nylon fibers and has a tensile strength of 550 pounds per square inch. It was originally used for parachutes but has since been used for various purposes. It was even used to repair the Hubble Telescope. However, it has limitations and should not be used for climbing or mountaineering.

As the name suggests, the characteristic use of the parachute cord is in holding the various components of a parachute together. The tensile strength of the parachute cord comes from its double construction. The inside of the lanyard is composed of seven double-stranded nylon fibers woven into a central core. A braided sheath of stronger (32 strand) nylon is then passed over that inside, providing an average strength of 550 pounds per square inch for the most commonly used variety – hence the popular name, “550 cord.”

The term “rip cord” can be a bit misleading, however, as the parachute cord only appears in a small loop that pulls a lever to initiate the parachute release process. An often overlooked quality of parachute cord is that when the outer sheath is cut, the inner fiber can be used for things like fishing line or shoelaces. As such, parachute cord is often included in the backpacks of nature hikers.

Given this versatility, the use of the parachute cord soon spread from airborne units to other areas of the military. After WWII, it was introduced to the world at large through military surplus stores and took on a myriad of other uses—basically anything that requires bonding one object to another. It is now ubiquitous as a commercial commodity.

The parachute cord received international publicity in February 1997 when it was used by Discovery astronauts to repair the Hubble Telescope. Where the insulation had been worn away, Teflon® patches were applied and secured with parachute cord. Many American military units overseas have fashioned parachute cord into bracelets denoting their unit and geographical area of ​​deployment. This reflects both the nylon rope’s comfortable texture and its place as a military icon.

The parachute cord, however, has its limitations. Climbers and mountaineers are cautioned not to use it, as the 550 (or, at most, 700) pound force can be misleading. The force required to stop a human body in free fall is actually much more. Additionally, the parachute cord is prone to abrasion when repeatedly rubbed on sharp, rock-hard serves.

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