550 Cord

Just as every real man (and most real women) keep duct tape handy, every soldier worthy of the name has a good supply of 550 cord handy.
What IS 550 cord?

Well, it’s a nylon “kernmantle” line, generally 4mm in diameter. It takes its name from its specified tensile strength, 550 pounds. You’ll also commonly hear it referred to as paracord. It was originally used as the suspension line for parachutes.  There are actually several different grades of paracord, but almost universally throughout the army, 550 cord is found.


There’s almost limit to creative uses for 550 cord.  First, there’s any number of uses for a strong, lightweight cord in the field.  Use it to pitch a tent or shelter with your poncho, tie equipment to vehicles, or “dummy cord” equipment such as compasses or flashlights that you don’t want to lose.  In Hawaii, we actually “dummy corded” our old M60 machine guns to keep parts from going astray.

One the old ALICE style Load Carrying Equipment, I liked to cut off the metal hooks that connected the suspenders to the belt. They tended to dig into my kidneys. I’d replace them with 550 cord.

“Kernmantle” means there’s two layers to the line. There’s the “kern” or the main weightbearing cords inside, and the outside woven mantle.

Many times, I (and countless other soldiers) would cut a length of cord, then pull the inner kern (or “guts”) out and just use the mantle for whatever chore we needed.

Decorative devices made from woven 55o cord are common as well, such as keychains and wristwatch bands.

What strange uses did you have for your 550 cord?

11 thoughts on “550 Cord”

  1. I came across a length of 550 from my time in a couple months ago, it was only about a foot in length, so I knew I used it to lanyard something to my LBV while in the field, I know it was while in the field because I didn’t cook the ends like other poly chords.

    I wonder what that little bit of chord used to hold for me.

  2. dogtag chain sleeve was the best use i made of it (outer mantle). years of sweat and grime later, and it still kept the chain from chafing around the back of the collar…

  3. Huh. The tether for the Tethered Satellite was kernmantle, with Kevlar on the inside for strength and Nomex weave on the outside.

    Also, I am pretty sure that SH1 has used paracord for many things in the lab. The only one I can think of right now is tying up air and vacuum lines to make them neat and not vibrate loose.

  4. Around here, the kids have used it to make bracelets and keychains, pencil covers, and even wove the mantle to repair a torn cot.

    I have made potholders with it, and also keep several bolts in the cars just in case.

  5. 2 things I can think of, I did a tight wrap on a 2D OD green maglite, top to bottom,was about 2 ft of 550, just for an added handle capability, and there, if I needed the rope for whatever. Like a dummy I was back then, I took a huge spool of it to a surplus shop in Lawton, OK, and sold it for 20 bucks(1989 dollars) it was GI 550, but hey, it still degrades anyhow, over time. I need fresh 550, all the time. 😉

  6. I made a hammock out of 550 cord a few years back. Also made a cat-o-nine tails, a cosh, a bolas and a few other things. It’s amazing what you can do with it.

  7. Used it as boot laces for my jungle boots (the old green boots).

    Repaired the canvas on my 1/4 ton.

    Hung handmikes of the dashboard of my 1/4 ton & HMMWV.

    Made an emergency fan belt for a 1/4 ton in Germany in 1982. It got us back the 10 miles to hook up with the mechanics.

    Use it in my outdoor kitchen as a potholder and utensil holder with my Scoutmaster camping gear.

    Always carry a bunch in my backpack….I have tied more kids’ packs and frames back together after a fall on the trail than I want to remember.

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