Mil-Spec Paracord FAQ

What is "Paracord?"

"Paracord" is short for parachute cord. Originally used to connect the parachute canopy to the parachute harness, parachute cord quickly became popular with military service members for any application where a strong, durable, small-diameter utility cord was needed.

What does "Mil-Spec" mean?

In the context of parachute cord, "Mil-Spec" means the cord conforms to the United States Military specification MIL-C-5040h and/or PIA-C-5040.  These specifications govern the way parachute cord is manufactured, and establish performance characteristics that the cord must meet or exceed.

Manufacturers of Mil-Spec parachute cord must have their products tested by independent labs in order to be certified for use in rigging parachutes.  Cord from these manufacturers is also subject to random testing to ensure compliance.

For every batch of Mil-Spec parachute cord, the manufacturer must provide a certificate of conformance stating that the cord meets or exceeds the MIL-C-5040h/PIA-C-5040 specification.  This certificate is available upon request for any parachute cord sold by 5col Survival Supply.

Mil-Spec Parachute Cord is available here from 5col Survival Supply.

Why is paracord so popular?

Parachute cord is an excellent general purpose utility cord.  It is easy to work with, lightweight, durable, and holds knots well.  It is highly resistant to rot, mildew, and UV light.  The core strands in Type 3 and Type 4 paracord can be removed and used separately as an additional source of small diameter cordage.  This makes parachute cord exceptionally popular for outdoor activities and emergency preparedness.

Why is it called "550?"

Parachute cord is often referred to as "550," "550 cord," or "550 paracord."  This is the because the most common parachute cord, Type 3, has a minimum break strength of 550 lbs.  Similarly, Type 4 parachute cord is often referred to as "750 cord."

What is Commercial Paracord?

There are two umbrella categories for parachute cord: Commercial, and Mil-Spec.  Commercial parachute cord is made all over the world.  There is no manufacturing or performance specification for commercial parachute cord, so there is huge variation in the way it's manufactured.  It can be made with nylon, polyester, cotton, or any other available material.  While it is usually advertised as "550," it can have a break strength under 100 lbs or over 850 lbs.  Since commercial parachute cord manufacturers are not held to a specific standard for the products, there is no limit on the claims they can make about their cordage.  While many commercial manufacturers produce a quality product, the unpredictable nature of commercial cord makes it undesirable for serious buyers.

5col Survival Supply does not offer Commercial Paracord.

Why should I buy Mil-Spec parachute cord instead of Commercial cord?

Quality and Reliability make mil-spec paracord the right tool for the job.  You know its strengths, you know its limitations, you know when it will succeed and when it will fail.  This is because American factories manufacture it to a rigorous specification.

With commercial cord, it's anyone's guess when it might fail.  There are no standards or specifications for commercial cord, so it might break even in light-duty applications.

What are the different types of Mil-Spec paracord?

  • Type 1: 95 lb min. break strength
  • Type 1A: 100 lb min. break strength
  • Type 2: 400 lb min. break strength
  • Type 2A: 225 lb min. break strength
  • Type 3: 550 lb min. break strength
  • Type 4: 750 lb min. break strength

How do I identify Mil-Spec Paracord?

There are a number of characteristics to look for when evaluating whether your cord conforms to the MIL-C-5040h/PIA-C-5040 specifications. 

  • Type 3 Parachute Cord: This is the most common type of parachute cord.  It will have between 7 and 9 core strands inside a braided nylon sheath.  Each core strand will be 3-ply (in other words, the core strands can be unravelled into three separate yarns).  There will be a marker strand with at least one colored yarn.  Type 3 paracord has an approximate diameter of 5/32 in. (3.97mm).
  • Type 4 Parachute Cord: This is the strongest type of parachute cord.  The specification says that it must have 11 core strands.  As with Type 3 cord, each core strand will be 3-ply, and there will be a marker strand with at least one colored yarn.  Type 4 paracord has an approximate diameter of 3/16 in. (4.75mm).
  • Type 2A Parachute Cord: This is a relatively uncommon type of parachute cord.  It is the braided sheath used with Type 3 and Type 4 parachute cord, but does not have any core strands.  The marker strand is a colored yarn braided into the sheath.  This cord may technically have a diameter of 5/32 in., but in practice it is usually flat since it lacks a core.
  • Type 1A Parachute Cord: This is sometimes referred to as Micro-cord or Nano-cord, although those labels can also be applied to commercial cord and should not be relied on.  Type 1A cord does not have a core strand, and its marker strand is woven into the sheath.

5col Survival Supply only sells Mil-Spec parachute cord; anything called "parachute cord" or "paracord" on our website conforms to the military specification.  Anything that does not conform (or for which we have not seen the certificate of conformance) will NOT be described as paracord.

Where can I find a copy of the official military specification for parachute cord?

You can download a copy of the MIL-C-5040h specification here.

What are some good uses for Mil-Spec parachute cord?

Parachute rigging, lashings, tie-downs, slings, snares, gill nets, braids, trot lines, gear repair, crafts, shelter construction, lanyards, handle wraps, bear bags, dragging game, camping, bushcraft, boot laces, survival kits, E&E/SERE kits, etc.

Is there anything parachute cord should not be used for?

Parachute cord is an excellent general purpose utility cord.  However, it should NEVER be used for climbing, rappelling, or fall protection.  Those applications have very specific, very serious requirements that parachute cord does not meet.