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What rope would be most helpful/versatile in a survival situation?

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

I think in this situation, the actual choice available is limited (at least in general terms of types of rope) so it isn't an unreasonable question. – HorusKol Jan 29 '12 at 12:43
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Most survival experts recommend parachute cord. From Wikipedia:

Parachute cord (also paracord or 550 cord) is a lightweight nylon kernmantle rope originally used in the suspension lines of US parachutes during World War II. Once in the field, paratroopers found this cord useful for many other tasks. It is now used as a general purpose utility cord by both military personnel and civilians. This versatile cord was even used by astronauts during STS-82, the second Space Shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

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I'd argue that it's more than just a survival rope -- it's useful in many regular camp tasks like hanging a bear bag or putting up a clothes line.

Unfortunately, the term "parachute cord" has been slapped on cheaper knock-offs that aren't up to the military's original specifications, so it's not as strong. If you're going to purchase some, make sure you select a type that's strong enough for your intended uses.

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+1, especially for watching out for the dodgy rip offs! – berry120 Jan 28 '12 at 17:32
You can make a bracelet or belt to carry it. Google around for different ideas. – Jay Bazuzi Jan 28 '12 at 18:22
Does it float? When you on the water, I find floating rope to be the best. – Shawn Jan 28 '12 at 20:32
Para-cord is great for most things - but I wouldn't trust it for an emergency abseil... – HorusKol Jan 28 '12 at 22:31

As Hartley Brody suggests, I would carry a few metres of para-cord, as this is a very tough and versatile rope which can be used for a lot of things in survival situations.

However, if you are heading up onto a hill, I would also carry a 30m or 60m length of abseiling or climbing rope (and a belay device), just in case you ever need to make an emergency descent.

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