550 Para Cord 101

In the last 3-5 years 550 para cord has gained mainstream popularity. With a lot of survival gear designed out of 550 cord or incorporating 550 cord somehow, a lot more people are carrying it. Since the invention of 550 cord, which was originally made for and used in parachutes for the military, many outdoor enthusiasts have carried this cord for building shelters, lashing things together as well as many other things. Many people that were familiar with its strength have always kept some in their garage as well. 550 Cord is useful for so many applications that it is considered the duct tape of cordage. It wasn’t until “survival bracelets” became popular and became very fashionable, that many people became familiar with this type of cord. Many veterans that were familiar with 550 para cord because of their military service continued to carry and use 550 cord after they left the military just because of its usefulness.

I as well as many others have always carried some 550 cord in their packs well outdoors. 550 para cord is great because it is made of a synthetic material (nylon or polyester) and because of that it does not rot or mildew. This is great for water applications. Since I like to Kayak it’s great to be able to not worry about my cordage deteriorating because of water contact. 550 cord is affected by UV rays and will weaken with prolonged exposure to the sun. Dirt and oils, like the oils from your skin do affect synthetic materials as well. That is why climbers take very good care of their robes. After each climb they are washed, dried and stored in a dark place. This helps any synthetic cordage to last longer. I’m not telling you that you have to wash your para cord bracelet every time you wear it but remember the dirtier and older it is the higher the chance the cord will not be as strong when you use it. You also want to be careful around open flames or intense heat because 550 cord will melt. That is one of its weaknesses.

If you are buying 550 cord or any gear made out of 550 cord make sure that it says that it is made in America. All of the American cord is tested to meet the 550 lb limit and some of the cord even surpasses 550 lbs. The stuff coming from china is not tested to meet the 550 lb limit even though it is labeled as 550 cord. One of the local companies that I order my 550 cord from, they make 550 cord for our military, has tested Chinese para cord and most of it is failing around 150-200 lbs. You can use this cord if you want but don’t expect it to hold 550 lbs.

The great thing about 550 para cord is that, say you only have a two foot piece of cord, you can take that short piece, cut the melted ends and pull the seven inner strands out and now you have eight cords, two feet long. You will now have enough cord to tie the frame of a shelter together. You can also take one of the inner strands that you just took out of the outer sheath and unwind it so that it can be used for fishing line. There are tons of uses for 550 para cord. Here are just a few:

Making a Shelter                                              Attaching gear

Fishing Line                                                         Snares

Knife Lanyards                                                  Neck Lanyards

Bow Drill                                                              Shoe Laces

Making a Hammock                                        Fishing Lure

Lashing a Knife to a Spear                             Hanging Things around Camp

Tourniquet                                                         Gun Slings

Belts                                                                      Repairing Failed Gear

Equipment Handles                                        Color Coding Gear

 

I could go on and on about how useful 550 para cord is and all of its many uses but I’ll stop here.  550 cord will only be limited by your problem solving skills and or imagination. If you do not have or are not using 550 para cord I suggest that you get some and keep it in your bug out bag, backpacking bag, hunting bag, garage or anyplace you may be able to use it. I always carry 100 feet of cord in my backpack no matter what I’m doing. It is to useful not to have some on me at all times. What things do you use 550 cord for? Are you familiar with its strengths and weaknesses? All of the 550 cord gear in my store is made in America by Americans out of American made parts. You don’t have to buy from me but make sure you are buying quality para cord gear that is made in America out of American made parts.

A simple shelter

The fallen tree or debris shelter is one of the simplest survival shelters to make. If you find yourself stuck out in the wilderness with no man made form of shelter like a tarp or tent and there are no other natural forms of shelter, then knowing how to build this shelter could be very helpful and lifesaving.

First survey your surroundings. You can either use a fallen tree where the tree is still attached, about 3-4 feet off the ground, to the trunk. It should look like a triangle on its side. If you do use the fallen tree method, make sure the tree is secure and you are not in danger of the tree coming loose and crushing you. The method I recommend and use is first find a generally good level spot where you would like to make camp. Next, look for a good sturdy tree with some good branches that will be low enough for the entrance of your shelter. Now go find a log for the ridge of your shelter. Make sure it is long enough so that you will be able to lie down in the shelter when you are done building. I am 6 feet tall so I generally try to find a thick log or fallen tree that is about 9-10 feet long. If you cannot find a good log or already fallen tree then you will have to cut a small tree to fit your needs. Try to find everything you use on your shelter from already fallen trees if at all possible.

Now lean the log on the tree so that one end of the log is still on the ground and the other is resting on top of a thick branch where it ties into the main part of the tree. Lay the log in the notch of the branch and trunk. If you have some sort of cordage it wouldn’t hurt to tie the log off for safety sake. You will now want to go find sticks or branches that are about as thick as your forearm and lean those out along the log you have leaning against the tree. Make sure you have a good steep angle to help run water off in case of rain. If you weave some thinner branches or vines trough the branches it will help make it sturdy.

If you are in an area with evergreen trees you can begin thatching the roof with evergreen branches. Keep the butt end of the branch up and start along the ground and keep piling them on until you reach the ridge log. Place a layer of evergreen branches along the ridge so that they overlap each sidewall and close the ridge up.  Now just fill the inside with leaves or evergreen branches and move in for the night. You can also close in the front door with branches and leaves after you are inside. Make sure that you do have some vitalization though.

If you are not in an area with evergreens then you can supplement by building up piles of leaves and debris against the walls you built out of sticks.  Place some small branches on top of the leaves and debris to help hold everything together and then place more leaves and debris on top of those branches. Completely cover the two walls and ridge. The more layers of leaves and debris that you have the warmer the shelter will be and you will be less likely to get wet in a rain storm. Place a thick layer of leaves inside the shelter for bedding. Climb in and enjoy all your work.

In the winter you can also place snow on the outside walls and ridge for insulation and to cut out any wind that might be blowing. I recommend that you test out building one of these shelters in your own yard or wherever you might be able to. It is easier to learn from any mistakes you make now than when your life might depend on it. There are also many modifications that you can make to this shelter as well. You can thatch the walls with birch bark, add a tarp or Tyvek underneath the thatching to make the shelter more water resistant and you can also thatch the roof with moss. Have you ever built one of these shelters and what modifications if any did you use? As always build at your own risk and never stop learning and fine tuning your survival skills. You are only guaranteed to have your knowledge and skills in a true survival situation. You may not have any man made tools or supplies when you most need them. So go out and enjoy the wonderful place we call the great outdoors and test your survival skills.

Ripstop Nylon

Ripstop nylon is an awesome material. It does have some limitations though. It will melt if it comes in contact with flames, sparks or intense heat. Sunlight (UV) will over time wear on the fabric. Even with these limitations ripstop nylon is well worth looking at using for your many needs as an avid outdoors person. There are many different types of nylon fabric for sale. You can buy plain nylon fabric but it will be more susceptible to tares and holes. I prefer ripstop because if the fabric gets a hole or slight tare in it the ripstop sewing pattern helps to limit the hole or tare from getting bigger. That is a huge advantage.

There are many different weights available as well. I generally like to use 1.1 or 1.3 oz ripstop nylon for my projects. You can get ripstop nylon that is uncoated, coated with silicone, silicone impregnated or urethane coated. I like to buy the uncoated ripstop nylon and spray it with a waterproofer myself when I’m done. If you use the uncoated ripstop nylon it’s easier to find in your local fabric store.  For making a tarp for camping I would recommend using either one of the silicon coated ripstop nylons. I’m not sure how the uncoated nylon with waterproofer sprayed on it will hold up to an all out down poor. I have used the uncoated for tarps but have yet to be out in a down poor. Feel free to test it out though. Here is a site where you can buy any materials you might need for your project, if you are not able to find what you need in your local fabric store.

http://www.bearpawwd.com/fabrics_misc/fabrics_misc.html#rip1

They have a lot of good information on their site and if you don’t want to make something yourself you can just buy one of their products. I am in no way affiliated with the website and do not receive any money for recommending them. I have just found them very useful over the years. You will need small sharp needles for your sewing machine and Gutermann polyester thread works the best. I like to use “hot scissors” or a soldering iron to cut the fabric. This way your edges are sealed as you cut them. I cut on top of a piece of glass for safety purposes. I also like to use shock cord or 550 cord for my projects.

Here are some ideas for what you can make out of ripstop nylon. This list is by no means complete. It is just a list to get you started thinking about what piece of gear you could make instead of buying.

Ditty Bags (easiest thing to start with)              Lightweight Backpack or Day pack

Tarp                                                                 Sleeping Bag Cover

Tent                                                                  Hammock

Lightweight Shirt                                               Pants

Sleeping Bag (with added insulation)                Gaiters

Jackets (add insulation)                                     Backpack Cover

 

As you can see this is just a small list to get you started on your way to making some of your own gear. If you are not familiar with sewing I’m sure that there are plenty of YouTube videos out there that can show you how to use a sewing machine. Do your research first and learn how to use the sewing machine you have. If you don’t have a machine, check garage sales for a used one, craigslist or ask anybody you know if they have one you can borrow or buy. Many people have one but don’t use them, so you might be able to get a free machine or at least borrow one. If you want to buy a new one and have the money don’t let me stop you, but research the machines first and ask questions about the machine you are about to buy. Let the sales people know what you are planning on using it for.

Enjoy the journey to making your own gear and good luck! Always remember that it doesn’t have to look perfect, and it won’t at first, but you will get better with practice and time. As long as whatever you make is functional and works the way you want it to, who cares if it’s not perfect. It will have character and you’ll have a sense of accomplishment. Feel free to ask me any questions you might have and have fun. What gear do you intend on making over the next year?

Tyvek

If you are not familiar with Tyvek you need to get your hands on some. Growing up in the construction industry I’ve always had some at my disposal. It was designed and is used today as a vapor barrier for homes. If you drive by a newly constructed home that has not been sided yet, you will most likely see Tyvek wrapped around the outside of the plywood or chipboard. Tyvek is generally white and is stamped with the manufacturers’ logo. You can buy a roll of it at your local hardware store and it will last you a while. Before you go buying some, check with anybody you know that works on a construction site. They may have some they are throwing away that they may gladly give you for free. Contractors throw this stuff away all the time. I highly recommend you get your hands on some.

Tyvek can be used for many things. The nice thing about having a big roll of it is that you can cut it to fit your different or changing needs. One thing I use Tyvek for is a custom size ground cloth. It works perfectly. No more wasting money on expensive or heavy ground cloths that are going to get ruined with use. Tyvek can also be used as a temporary shelter. It does keep water out to an extent but is not completely water proof. I want to test spraying water proofing on it and see how it holds up in a down poor. I will let you know how that goes. Add some grommets and you can make a custom sized tarp. I know of one guy that made a sleeping bag bivy that looked and worked great.

Tyvek is noisy when working with it so if you are making something that you will be using in the woods, and you want it quiet, you will want to wash it first. Just run it through a cold rinse cycle once and then let it air dry. It will be much quieter and nicer to work with. I know of some people that have tried to die it after washing it once but I’m not sure how well that will work.

A Tyvek ground cloth in combination with a lightweight nylon impregnated ripstop tarp make the perfect shelter for your bug out bag or for those that like lightweight backpacking. This option is much cheaper and lighter.  It’s one I use frequently. So go buy yourself a big roll of Tyvek and make as many things as you can come up with. Have fun saving yourself a ton of money well making your own gear. Some ideas of what to make are a ground cloth, a custom size tarp, a sleeping bag bivy, a simple backpack, diddy bags and whatever else you can come up with. Enjoy and have fun. Thanks for reading and let me know what you made or came up with.