If you find yourself in a wilderness survival situation, you have a few priorities. The four pillars of survival are food, water, fire, and shelter. Many of these tasks are easier if your have strong cordage. While you can make your own cordage with natural materials, life is much easier if you already have some with you. Cordage made from natural fibers takes a long time to weave, and it never comes out as strong as manufactured cordage.
You have several options on what type of cordage to bring. You can use good old fashioned braided rope or twine, but it tends to come apart easier than other types of cordage. Nylon rope is strong, but it is fairly thick and will stretch under pressure. Climbing rope is ideal, but it is so expensive that you would never want to cut it. The best option you have is 550 paracord. This cordage was first used by the military to attach parachutes to their harnesses.
To illustrate the usefulness of paracord, I can tell you a little bit about my very first survival challenge. It was late September, and we expected a nasty storm on my first night. The temperatures were going to get down into the 50’s, so I needed a water-tight roof to be sure I stayed dry. If I were to get wet, I would face hypothermia and possibly death. Within the very first hour, I had split open paracord to build the frame for my shelter. I then used it to bundle up dead grasses and create a thatch roof. I also used paracord to bundle firewood and hike it back to camp. Then the next morning I used it for fishing as I caught my first meal.
Each strand can hold 550 lbs of dead weight, and it is also very thin which adds to its functionality. If you split open the outside sheath, you can remove the interior strands to use for cordage as well. This means that 10 feet of paracord can actually turn into more like 80 feet of total cordage. In this article, we will cover the many uses of paracord and why it is one of the best survival tools you can have.
Uses for 550 Paracord
There are tons of ways you can use paracord if you find yourself in a survival scenario. Here are some tasks I have completed using paracord:
Fishing – The inner cordage from paracord works fine for fishing line. You can attach it to a pole for a traditional fishing rod, you can string a trot line, you can weave a net, or you can hand fish. This gives you the option of actively fishing, or passively fishing while you complete other tasks.
Shelters – You certainly can build a shelter without cordage, but it will typically be stronger if you use cordage to secure the poles you use. I typically use the interior strands as most of the poles are not heavy enough to need the full strand of paracord.
Trapping – You can use the inner cordage from paracord to fashion snare traps for catching small game. You just need to use an overhand knot to tie a loop in one end. Then feed the other end through the loop and you have a snare. You can attach it to a tree for a stationary snare, or you can build a spring pole.
Bear Bag – Bears have an incredible sense of smell. They are known to break into homes and vehicles when they smell food, so they would have no problem raiding your camp. Your best bet is to put food in a bag and use paracord to hang it at least 10 feet in the air. You should have your bear bag a good distance from your camp if possible.
Tools – In order to be as functional as possible in the wild, you should have the ability to build tools. For instance, if you plan to hunt or fend off predators a spear can be helpful. You can use cordage to attach a knife blade or sharp rock to the end of a pole. The pole should be at least five feet long to ensure you do not accidentally fall on it. The spear head can be attached by carving a slot in the end of the pole and then wrapping cordage around the rock or knife to lash them together. Then you can finish off with a clove hitch.
First Aid – All kinds of injuries in the wild can require cordage. You can use paracord to hold a bandage in place, or to tie a splint for a broken bone. You can tie a tourniquet but remember that this is only to be used when the injured person is at risk of bleeding out. You can even use the interior strands for stitches if needed.
Friction Fire – If you do not have a lighter or fire starter, friction fire may be your only option. One of the best methods for friction fire is to build a bow drill set. Cordage is strung from both ends of a curved stick to make the bow. This is wrapped around the spindle and run back and forth to cause it to rotate and create friction.
Marking Tools – For smaller tools like ferro rods, knives, compasses, or sharpeners I like to tie hunter orange paracord to the handle. These tools are easy to lose in the wild, and the bright orange cordage will make them easier to find. I went through three ferro rods before I figured this one out.
Cooking – You can use paracord to build a tripod with racks over your fire. You can set your food on the grate and hang bottles of water from the tripod to boil.
Sewing – If you have access to a larger needle, you can repair rips in your clothing with the interior strands from paracord.
Carrying Firewood – One of the toughest parts about collecting firewood is that you can only carry so much on each trip. If you bundle your wood together, you can typically carry more. Paracord is perfect for this.
Early Warning Alarm – If you are worried about predators or people coming into your camp, you can run a perimeter alarm around the outside. Just use the interior strands and run a loop around the whole camp about a foot off of the ground. Then attach cans or bottles with small stones inside to make noise when the line is hit.
I generally like to bring a bundle of about 250 feet of 550 paracord in my pack if I know I will be out in the wilderness for several days. However, you really should have cordage as part of your every day carry kit. These are the tools that you carry with you at all times. Paracord makes this fairly easy. You can replace your boot or shoe laces with paracord, or you can tie it into a bracelet or lanyard for your keys. I like to keep a woven lanyard on my filter water bottle as well. There are lots of survival gadgets that come with a woven paracord lanyard already. At any given time, I have several hundred feet of cordage on me if I ever need it.
Alternative Survival Paracord
As more and more companies have popped up to create and sell survival gadgets, paracord has advanced as well. Now you can carry the original, or you can carry several upgraded versions that have additional purposes. I have a set of flammable paracord laces that have ferro rods for the lace tips and a striker tied on as well. They have everything that I need to get a fire started once my firewood is collected. I also have paracord that has had some of the interior strands replaced with copper wire, fishing line, and a flammable strand. This cordage gives you all of the other functions that you get with the original, but you can also go fishing, set up wire snares, and start a fire.
There are dozens of tools that can make survival in the wilderness easier. Cordage is one of those tools that can save hours of additional labor as you complete survival tasks. It has lots of survival uses and can literally save your life. Paracord is the best option we have for survival cordage, so you need to buy some and get comfortable using it. Paracord can be incorporated into just about every survival task. It is also easy to carry with you at all times, so there is no reason to ever find yourself without cordage.
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