If you’ve ever looked into wilderness survival, you may have heard about a great little item called parachute cord. More commonly referred to as paracord, it’s basically a cord comprised of inner threads wrapped in a braided shell. It may not sound like much, but this stuff is amazingly versatile and can be a lifesaver. From building shelters to gathering food and other supplies, paracord has too many applications to be listed in a single article. Instead, here’s a rundown of some of the best on-the-fly uses for paracord — most of which could save your life in a survival situation.
Building a shelter
One of the first priorities in any survival situation is shelter from the elements. This is where paracords really shine. The most basic use here is simply tying a tarp with paracord to trees or large rocks. This is a classic improvised shelter that can keep the rain and wind out, and paracords are tough enough to keep the structure from collapsing in moderate wind. If you don’t have a tarp, try using a rain poncho. For a few other ideas of how to set up a shelter, check out this tutorial video:
If you want to get a little more fancy, paracords can be invaluable when constructing a shelter from scratch. The most straightforward of these shelters is the “lean to,” which pretty much just involves lashing some branches together and leaning them against a plank or low branch suspended between two trees. It may not sound like much, but a simple shelter like this can make a big difference in the wilderness. Paracord can be used to reinforce the traversal plank, along with binding corners of the structure together to make everything a little tougher.
Traditionally, many survivalists have resorted to using things like shoe laces in bow drills; however, a paracord is far superior. They’re stronger and save you from spending the rest of your trip wandering around with a missing shoe lace. Bow drilling takes some serious practice, but once you’ve figured out the basics, it can be a lifesaving piece of knowledge. This video provides a good tutorial on the basics of bow drills.
Fishing wire or trot line
Once you’ve got your shelter and fire, food is a major priority. Luckily, a piece of trusty paracord can make a fairly reliable fishing line. It’s a simple matter of removing the inner threads of the cord and finding something to use as a hook. Anything you have on your person that’s malleable enough to be formed into a hook but pointy enough to give a fish some trouble is worth a shot. For many survivalists, pull tabs from cans are the go-to option here. Once you have your hook ready, creating your fishing line is a simple matter of using a bend knot to tie the ends of your thread together at the desired length, tracking down some bait and throwing it in the water. Here’s a video tutorial:
If waiting for an indefinite period of time for a meal that may not come isn’t quite your thing, you could always try making an improvised trot line. The benefit of using a trot line instead of a simple line really comes down to time — trot lines can be left unattended for hours at a time. This frees up more time for the survivalist to get other business out of the way, such as preparing camp or hunting for other sources of food. They can even be left overnight. The process here is very similar to making a simple fishing line, but with a series of drop lines with hooks tied along the line. Try to keep the drop lines a few feet apart, then tie the line across a body of water.
Another option for catching fish is to create a net. Like with the lines, you’ll need to remove the inner threads. These inner threads should be tied to the outer shell, roughly an inch or two apart. Those inner threads can then be tied in a crisscross pattern, making those diamond shapes you’d expect to see in a net. Once this is done, you should have a very basic net. Here’s a video tutorial for a similar kind of net:
Different survivalists have all kinds of complicated methods of putting together more sophisticated nets. While the basic net can be used for fishing, more sophisticated versions can be incorporated into traps for small game, or even baskets to carry goods. Your imagination really is the limit here.
Self-defense isn’t always the first priority in a survival situation, but sometimes it pays to be prepared. You can use paracords to create trip wires and slings, and to attach knives to sticks to make spears, and they apparently even make pretty decent improvised handcuffs. Another great application is a monkey’s fist. This basically involves wrapping a portion of the cord around a round, solid object such as a rock. With the excess, the ball (or monkey’s fist) can be swung at an attacker. This won’t do too much damage, but can be useful for creating space in a melee. Check out this example of how to make a monkey’s fist
Replace shoe laces
Speaking of laces, paracord can make great replacement laces. I already hear you asking, “How could a spare pair of laces possibly save my life?” For the answer to that question, spend a day walking around without laces in your boots and you’ll see why a spare pair can be nothing short of a lifesaver.
Those inner threads have so many uses, it’d be impossible to list them all here. But, along with nets and fishing lines, one of their handiest applications is as an on-the-fly sewing kit. Use the threads to quickly sew up any damage your clothes may sustain and your outdoor gear might just last a little longer.
When it comes down to it, paracord is just super strong cord, and cord is best used for bundling stuff together. Use paracord to bunch together firewood for easy transport to camp, use it to hang your food high above the reach of bears or just keep some handy to tie extra stuff to the outside of your rucksack. The options here are limitless, ranging from minor conveniences to potentially lifesaving applications.
Whether you need to get down a sheer cliff, or you just want a nice tree house, a ladder can be a big help. Two pieces of paracord can be turned quickly into a portable rope ladder with the addition of a few sturdy branches. Just make sure you use nice, heavy branches that can easily sustain your weight. The process is pretty straightforward, as you can see in this tutorial video:
Okay, so this isn’t exactly a lifesaving application, but it’s a good one anyway. Those inner threads of the paracord are the perfect size for flossing. This won’t save your life, but your travel companions will thank you.
— Ryan Mallett-Outtrim