- What is 550 Cord

What is Paracord or “550 Cord”

550 Cord

As you’ll probably read on many places, the term paracord comes from the cord originally used on the Soldiers’ parachutes in WWII. The term 550 simply means that it has a minimum breaking strength of 550 pounds, giving it the name of 550 paracord, or 550 cord. When Soldiers landed in the battle fields, they would cut the paracord off their parachutes and pack it up for later use. This particular cord would come in handy for the Soldiers during battle, whether it was used to strap gear to harnesses, build shelters, or sewing string, the cord could be used in endless ways.

Once paracord started becoming popular amongst civilians, many types of “commercial” paracord started making their way to to the market. Although this particular type of paracord is often mis-labeled as “mil-spec” paracord or mil-spec 550 cord by amateur sellers, it is not the genuine 550 cord that is used by the military. Manufacturers of paracord that is explicitly commercial grade are not required to produce that paracord to all of the same standards needed by the military; if they did, it wouldn’t be commercial grade, it would be MIL-C-5040H paracord. Some of the standards are met, though, and this can be one of the reasons for confusion with most casual users of paracord that try to distinguish the difference. There are manufacturers that make both types of paracord, but they label them correctly. There are also US Government contractors that also sell commercial grade paracord to government agencies, and yes, commercial paracord can even be found on military installations to be purchased for recreational use. However, at the end of the day it’s still not true mil-spec paracord. BUT…that’s okay too, because this is also why commercial paracord is more often used by crafters and/or for non-military uses because commercial paracord is a lot less expensive and comes in a seemingly unlimited amount of colors.

Now if you ARE seeking the best of the best, genuine, military-grade 550 cord, then you want Mil-C-5040h Type III paracord. This particular 550 paracord is for life-dependent uses, and there are only a handful of companies that make it for the government. One well known company, is E.L. Woods Braiding Company. They make a number of cords and ropes for the military used for a number of things throughout the military. currently gets our Mil-C-5040h Type III Cord from E.L. Woods Braiding Company.

But you must be careful. There are still websites out there that will tell you their cord is Mil-C-5040h Type III when in fact it is not. So how do you know, you ask?

How to tell Mil-Spec Paracord from Commercial Paracord


  • “550” – refers to the minimum weight of the cord’s rated breaking strength, measured in pounds (lbs.)

  • TYPE III – originally one of the six types of paracord to the mil-spec standard. Designates a 7-strand inner core for commercial paracord and a 7 to 9 strand inner core for mil-spec paracord

  • MIL-C-5040H – the complete specification for military-use paracord

  • Sheath – the outer jacket of the paracord; can be nylon or polyester

  • Inner Core (or kern) – collectively refers to the individual twisted yarn strands within the center of the sheath


  • At a glance, the difference between the genuine mil-spec cord and the commercial cord is marginal. The minimum breaking strength of both types of paracord is rated at 550 lbs.

  • Genuine mil-spec paracord only comes in select natural colors while the color options are endless with commercial paracord. Genuine paracord comes in black, coyote brown, white, tan, foliage (or camo) green, OD green, and orange

  • Genuine mil-spec paracord is 100% nylon, both the sheath and the inner core, because nylon is rot and mildew resistant which makes it a great all-weather material. Commercial grade paracord can also come in 100% nylon, or with a polyester sheath and nylon core. The polyester sheath doesn’t have as smooth a texture as a nylon sheath nor does it stretch as much as nylon. It does however have good rot/mildew resistance, is very close to nylon in strength when a steady force is applied, and is generally less expensive.


  • An easy way to tell the two types of 550 cord apart is by cutting into it and looking at the inner core, also known as the kern. In commercial Type III paracord, there are generally 7 individual strands and each strand may have a 2-ply or 3-ply braid, or twist. In mil-spec paracord, you will always find a 3-ply twist on the individual strands, of which there may be 7 to 9 of the strands, depending on the manufacturer. MIL-C-5040H Type III 550 Paracord

  • In mil-spec paracord, you’ll find that one of the strands is color-coded whereas the others are all white. This is done by the manufacturers to meet the MIL-C-5040H standard by identifying the manufacturer, so the colors you see here will vary by manufacturer

  • Genuine mil-spec paracord will often be slightly thicker than commercial paracord because of its 3-ply twists on the inner strands, compared to commerical paracord’s 2-ply twists, as well as the fact that the mil-spec paracord can have up to 9 inner strands. The mil-spec cord measures closure to 4 mm (5/32 inch) while commercial cord is often closer to 3mm.

Hopefully the above information can help you spot false advertisers and make informed choices. Some people like to make the analogy of comparing brand name cereal to the store brand cereal…do you want Honey Nut Cheerios or Toasted O’s of Honey? At the end of the day, only you know what you want in terms of color variety, price, the intended use of the paracord, and whether it’s important to you or your organization that it meets the mil-spec standard.

Either way, has you covered, from the government agency or military organization looking for genuine MIL-C-5040H TYPE III Paracord down to the crafter or outdoor enthusiast needing some quality Commercial Paracord!

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