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What important features should I pay attention to when buying paracord for hiking (such as different types, load limit, etc)?

I just use it for bear bags, tarp lines, etc.

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Serious question: why not buy fairly random yellow twisted poly stuff from the hardware store for bear bags and tarp lines? What advantage is the paracord bringing? The cheap stuff floats, is easy to see in trees, and easy to get. I would love to know what I'm missing. –  Kate Gregory May 22 '12 at 23:57
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@KateGregory I think that would make an excellent question for the site. –  MaskedPlant May 23 '12 at 13:25
    
@KateGregory That's a whole other question, but the advantage with real paracord is strength and versatility - it's strong enough to use to repair shoelaces and tent lines for instance as well as those uses, if you need smaller thread you can use the inner cores you strip from it, etc. –  berry120 May 23 '12 at 16:39
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@KateGregory -- I do ultralight hiking and the weight to usefulness ratio of paracord is much better. Cheap twisted poly from the hardware store with a similar load limit weighs a lot more. –  Russell Steen May 23 '12 at 18:24

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Parachute cord aka paracord comes in basically 6 major types based on weight limits of 95 lbs to 750 lbs. Type 3 has a weight limit of 550 lbs and is referred to as 550 paracord. Usually when someone says paracord they are referring to 550 paracord. For bear bags and tying tarps and tents and securing gear 550 paracord works perfectly well and is cheap and readily available.

On Military grade 550 paracord the sheath has a weight rating of 300 lbs and has 7 inner strands that are each made up of 3 braided strands. Most commercial 7 strand cord has 2 lines twisted to make each of the 7 inner strands. You can also find commercial variety with a different number of inner strands.

If you are looking for something other than 550 paracord the major questions to ask are what diameter do you need and what strength. Almost any where you go from 550 paracord it will get more expensive. For comparison Mammut is a company that makes climbing rope and rates their rope all the way down to 2mm (which is rated for .85kN) and 2mm is usually around $.10/ft.

For your uses 550 Paracord will probably work best and be cheapest.

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Since 550 "paracord" is not a life line (unless actually used as shroud lines or similar), I think price takes precedence, assuming the cord is up to a basic standard of size and construction.

If you are willing to buy in bulk you can get it for about 5¢ per foot.

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