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From a comment on the How to select paracord question I was curious, what is the benefit of paracord over hardware store yellow twisted poly stuff?

The yellow stuff is cheap, readily available, floats, strong enough and easy to see as guylines and in trees.

I have almost always used paracord, because, that's "camping" rope and that's just what I used. But that comment got me thinking, what is the big deal with paracord? Why is it better?

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Does paracord float? Can you melt the ends to keep it from fraying? Is it bright yellow? Does it come in different thicknesses? –  Kate Gregory May 31 '12 at 2:52

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Paracord

  • Better strength*/diameter ratio. 550lb paracord is 5/32" (4mm) in diameter generally. Twisted poly of a comparable strength is around 3/16" (4.75mm). So the paracord will pack smaller.

  • More versatile. You can easily divide it into multiple ropes. Its form also makes it much easier to braid than twisted poly if you need to make a stronger rope.

  • Easier on your hands -- If you've ever tried to hoist a heavy pack with twisted poly you know that stuff eats skin. The smoother paracord is less hand-shredding.

Twisted Poly

*Strength = maximum load strength.
(I know people are looking for weight comparison too, I'm going to post those when I break down and spend the $ on twisted poly)

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+1 for easier on your hands. Paracord also holds a knot much better than the yellow stuff. –  furtive May 31 '12 at 14:50

Some of it may well be historical - while there are a lot of generic hardware store type things that "do the job" out there now, I'm willing to bet that a few decades ago this wasn't the case.

However, I'd still say that unless you're just doing light hiking / camping where it's never going to be stretched much, it's still worth getting:

  • Overall, it's really not that expensive, even for the genuine stuff (especially when you buy in bulk.) OK, cheap knock off cord can be substantially cheaper in some cases, but it's not like proper paracord sets you back anything more than a few pence a foot.
  • It's more versatile - you can cut it and use it as one cord or strip the inner cords from it if you need something thinner (or even strip the inner cords and tie them together if you need something thicker.) Can't do that with most other stuff.
  • You know what you're getting with it. If you get the same paracord every time you know you're always getting, well, the same ol' paracord. Get cheaper hardware store stuff and chances are it'll change over time - perhaps for the better but perhaps for the worst, and you don't want to find out at the wrong moment in a gale when repairing a guy rope!
  • You say the generic stuff is strong enough to be used as guy ropes, but is this in a light scenario with no wind or in a heavy context with lots of gales / rain? It relates to the previous point, but are you sure it'll definitely hold up in those sorts of circumstances? Are you sure? You pretty much can be with paracord.
  • It often handles better - I find the outer sheath a lot smoother than a lot of the cheap stuff, and it's easier to coil too.

Sure, you could get cheap stuff for doing odd tasks where it doesn't matter, and save the proper paracord for where it matters, but this is a lot of hassle and IMO the price point doesn't make it worth faffing around trying to save a few pence here and there when you've got a decent solution that can do the job already.

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What's the weight/bulk difference between say 550 paracord and your average yellow poly stuff? Everything you said is all nice, but for me, the weight is probably the key difference... –  Ryley May 30 '12 at 16:15
    
@Ryley That I wouldn't know - I've never done a side by side comparison! –  berry120 May 30 '12 at 19:34

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