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Given some paracord, is there a simple check that I can make to check that it's genuine and not the cheaper knock off stuff? Number of strands seems like the most obvious point, but is there anything else I should check?

Sometimes the cheaper knock off stuff has its place when strength isn't required, but for uses such as repairing guy ropes in windy environments, I wouldn't really want to chance it!

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    Unfortunately, it seems than EN 564 cord doesn't need to have an identification strip that you get in EN 1891 rope. – Toby Speight Mar 7 '18 at 17:20
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As Mr. Wizard mentioned, you cannot tell if it can be trusted or not. This is why its good to keep an equipment log noting when important stuff like rope that you depend on is used and anything that happens to it.

However, if you are given some paracord sealed from a manufacturer and you are curious if it is the Mil-spec stuff or not then there are a few things you can do. Originally Mil-Spec Cord has a braided sheath that with no core is rated to 300 lbs. Open the sheath and count the yarns inside there should be 7 and each should be 3 twisted together. Each yarn is rated to just over 35 lbs. On most commercial stuff the inner strands are just 2 yarns twisted together.

If you are still unsure then get a Force Gauge and test a single section of the rope. Remember though when testing a single section of rope it tells you NOTHING about the rest of the rope, just if that section was up to the standard. It also means that section of the rope should be disposed of because it has been taken up to it's load and probably cannot be safely done again. If you are going to go the testing route and you need to buy some of this crazy expensive equipment might I recommend a Universal Force Test System as it will test more than just pull tension.

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You cannot tell by simple observation if a cord is as strong as it should be. Even if the cord was originally manufactured to the correct specification it may become invisibly damaged by chemical exposure. See this report for an analysis of such a case that fortunately did not result in serious injury. Do not trust cord unless you know both its source and all intervening handling.

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