Paracord is one of the most useful items you can pack for any outdoor adventure because its strength-to-weight ratio is hard to beat. String up a wash line. Tie off a rainfly. Hoist your food supply high into a tree to keep it safe from critters. Replace a broken shoelace in a pinch. The list of uses for paracord (short for parachute cord) is almost endless. You’ll find all kinds available, but how do you separate the good stuff from cheap imitations? Here are three tips to help you separate the good from the bad and the really ugly.

Buy Braided

This paracord features 7-strands of interwoven braid, which provides great tensile strength. Paracord Planet

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The beauty of paracord is that it’s far more flexible (and about 3 times stronger) than standard nylon cord, but don’t be fooled. Some unscrupulous seller’s market cheap imitations that may look like paracord, but they’re not. If the cord you’re looking at isn’t comprised of multiple, braided strands of nylon, take a pass. Good U.S. cord is made up of a quality outer nylon shell and 7 braided inner nylon strands composed of two inner yarns.

Go for Type III/550

Type III/550 paracord like this supports up to 550 pounds—ideal for most outdoor uses. Paracord Planet

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Cord that is designated as Type III/550 means that the cord is made up of 7 strands of braided nylon and is rated to hold 550 pounds without breaking. Types II and I have fewer strands and are not rated as high for weight capacity. Type IV is heavier (it is rated to 750 pounds), but it is more expensive, which is why Type III/550 strikes a perfect balance between cost and utility. Remember to always stay well under the minimum weight rating and never use paracord for rock climbing.

Does Military Spec Matter?

True Military Spec paracord is the strongest you can buy as it has more strands of braiding for strength. This cord has a whopping 11 triple strands and will hold up to 750 pounds. TOUGH-GRID

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Paracord that is true, Military-Spec grad is made up of 7 to 9 strands of nylon, each of which is made up of 3 nylon yarns. Not all military spec paracord is the same, however. Many off-shore brands use inferior materials and quality control may be lacking. To be safe, stick to brands that are made in America and you’ll be buying better quality cord.