Tuesday, March 11, 2014

More Mil-Spec Fun!

On my last post I said we were going to beat the Mil-Spec horse a little longer. Apparently I was wrong. We're gonna ride that sucker around! So, more Mil-Spec cord fun!

Today we are going to look at other types of  MIL-C-5040H/PIA-C-5040E cord. Other than the most popular being the Type III 550, there are five other types;

TypeInner StrandsBreak Strength
Type I495
Type II4400
Type III7550
Type IV11750
Type IAnone100
Type IIAnone225

Types IA and IIA are listed separately by me. For the reason that they do not have a requirement for inner strands. The inner strand count listed for the other cords are a minimum number. I have seen cord with additional strands. Although it is very rare.

I have heard Type I & IA described as accessory cord, dummy cord and vest cord. It is used to secure objects to your person that you cannot afford to lose.

I have also heard Type IV described as the bigger beefier cousin of Type III. The cords have identical construction with the addition of four extra inner strands in Type IV. I don't believe that Type IV is used all that much. Hence the lack of availability.

I have found sources for all of these cords except Type IIA. I am not sure that anybody is manufacturing it. (I have seen a 425 Tactical Cord that sounds like Type II.) Here is a list of sources for the others, except Type III 550 which I covered in a previous post.

These cords are rare, so don't expect to find any deals.

Type I     The Paracord Store. - Commercial, Not Mil-Spec - 100' - $6.75
Type IA  Adventure Survival Equipment - Genuine Mil-Spec - 100' - $6.95
Type II   Horizon Industries - Genuine Mil-Spec - 1200' $85.87 Very limited selection. One color.
Type IV 5col Survival Supply - Genuine Mil-Spec - 100' - $16.49 Free shipping.

If anybody has any input on additional sources for these cords, I would be happy to hear them.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What is Mil-Spec Paracord?

Is My Paracord Mil-Spec?

All right, let's beat this Mil-Spec horse a little longer so I can get it out of my system.

There are very specific requirements for Mil-Spec cord. There is also a lot of misunderstanding involving Mil-Spec cord.

Type III 550 cord from 5col Survival Supply

As stated in the Military Specification MIL-C-5040H/PIA-C-5040E, Type III cord must have a nylon sleeve with 7-9 inner strands of 3-ply nylon. Some commercial Paracord will not meet this standard.

Nylons characteristics are:
  • Variation of luster. Can be lustrous (shiny), semi-lustrous or dull.
  • High durability. Used in seat belts, tire cords and ballistic cloth.
  • High elongation. Can stretch up to 30%
  • Excellent abrasion resistance.
  • High resistance to fungi, molds mildew, rot, oil and many chemicals (reason enough alone to use this material).
  • Melts instead of burning. High melting point. 471° F.
  • Resilient
Some commercial paracord is made with polyester which is not as strong as nylon.  It is resistant to elongation or stretching. It only stretches 5-10%. I believe most, if not all U.S. manufacturers use nylon for their commercial paracord. See my previous post that discusses several of those manufacturers. (Rothco sells paracord made with polyester and nylon.)

Mil-Spec cord must pass a complete battery of tests and standards.The material and cord must meet six ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards, six AATCC (American Association of Textile Chemists) standards, four PIA (Parachute Industry Association) standards, component testing of; Denier, Tenacity, Melting Point, Twist Single Yarns, Twist Plied Yarns and Plying of Core Yarns, and inspected for eighteen end item visual defects. Not to mention a "Sunshine Carbon Arc Test" and a "Xenon Arc Test"!!!

The core yarns must be wet shrunk for a minimum of 60 minutes at a temperature of 200°. They must be dried at a temperature not to exceed 200°. Sleeve yarns must be wet shrunk a minimum of 30 minutes at a temperature of 160°. They must be dried at a temperature not to exceed 160°.

Of course breaking strength must be 550 pounds minimum. Must be able to elongate (stretch) at least 30% minimum. Length per pound of cord prior to Teflon treatment must be at least 225' feet. Length per pound of cord after Teflon treatment must be at least 208' feet. There is a pH wash test that must fall between 5.5 and 9.0.

It must also be resistant to light verified by a Sunshine Carbon Arc Test and a Xenon Arc Test. In these tests the cord is exposed to these lamps under specific air temperature and humidity for 48 to 50 hours. It is then tested for breaking strength.

It must have a PTFE Fluoropolymer Resin (aka Teflon) treatment. It must be evenly distributed throughout the cord.

When it is delivered to the Department of Defense and the U.S. Military it must be delivered on spools of 1200' feet or 2100' feet. It must have a label with part number M5040-5x. X being the color.

Needless to say Mil-Spec Type III cord is pretty durable and long lasting. It must be able to stand up to punishing conditions and treatment. These requirements assure that the U.S. Military is getting the highest and most consistent quality cord. And of course if your Military parachute is rigged with this material, you can depend on it with your life.

It is for these reasons that Mil-Spec cord is not cheap. At the cheapest, a 1000' foot spool goes for $71 and a 100' hank for $11. If you paying less than this, you are either getting a smoking deal or it's not the real deal.

Commercial Paracord could probably not meet all of these standards. And I doubt that any of it is treated with Teflon or pre-shrunk.

So let's break it down. To rule out that you don't have Mil-Spec cord, look for the following things.

  • Is your cord Black, Foliage Green, Coyote Brown 498, Khaki, Desert Tan 499, Camo Green 483, Natural (White), Olive Drab 107, Foliage Green 504, Red, Maroon, Sea Blue or Saftey Orange? If not, it's definitely NOT Mil-Spec Type III cord!
  • Does it have 7-9 inner strands with three ply threads on each strand and unique color threads on one of the inner strands identifying the manufacturer. (see below for manufacturers and their unique color threads.). If there are no identifying threads, it's not Mil-Spec Type III!
Type IV 750 cord from 5col Survival Supply
These two tests alone can eliminate most if not all of the fakes or imitations. I have seen a merchant selling a patterned cord and claiming it is genuine Mil-Spec. I have yet to see any definitive proof that true Mil-Spec cord is being produced in any color other than what I have listed above. I would invite anyone with information to the contrary to contact me. I want my information to be accurate as possible.  

Here is a list of manufacturers and their identifying threads;
  • American Cord & Webbing      2 Black - 1 Green 
  • Atkins & Pearce                        1 Red - 1 Green - 1 Black
  • Cortland Line Co. Inc.                      3 Tan
  • ELC Industries LLC                         1 Red - 2 Blue
  • E.L. Wood Braiding Co., Inc.           2 Yellow - 1 Black
  • Franklin Braid Mfg.                          2 Black - 1 Red
  • Gladding Braided Products Inc.        1 Tan - 2 Black
  • Gudebrod Inc.                                   1 Blue - 2 Yellow
  • Hope Global                                      1 Yellow - 1 Green - 1 Tan
  • Mills Manufacturing                          3 Green
  • Rhode Island Textile Co.                   2 Black - 1 Blue
  • United Stretch Design                        3 Yellow
I do not have information indicating that all of these companies are actively producing Mil-Spec cord at this time. There are five of them that are producing both Mil-Spec cord and Commercial Paracord. I have underlined those. See my prior post that talks about those companies.

Hopefully this information can lie to rest the questions regarding Mil-Spec cord. If anyone has any information that may contradict my research, please let me know. I am not above reproach. Thanks for reading! Happy tying!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

And Yet More Resources!

Where to Get It and How Much It Costs.
In the search for sources of Paracord, the choices are numerous. Prices vary wildly along with type and quality. As stated in the previous post, it's not always Mil-Spec. Read between the lines very closely and maybe you'll figure out what you're getting. Some sites are very clear on what they are selling. There are sites that state clearly that you are getting "Commercial Paracord" or more vaguely, "Military 550 Paracord".Other sites state that it is made to mil-spec standards. That's not always true. It may have the same basic physical characteristics as mil-spec but it would never meet the rigorous testing standards. And let's remember the one basic rule, if your Paracord is not Black, Foliage Green, Coyote Brown, Natural (White), Olive Drab Green, Red or Orange, it's definitely NOT Mil-Spec Type III cord! Again, you get what you pay for. And for most, it may not matter. The genuine cord is very nice, but if exterior appearance is all that matters, then don't sweat it. Then there are those of us that are OCD and have to have the genuine article. So go ahead and spend the bucks and get it. 

With constant war going on for the last twelve years, the availability of tactical gear has grown exponentially. Some of the sites that sell paracord are also tactical gear sites that cater to soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Fact; Since the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, about 2.5 million members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and related Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to Department of Defense data. That's a lot of people! So it's easy to see what's driving interest into tactical gear and related items.

The following list is far from exhaustive but is representative of what's available. Disclosure: I have no allegiance or relationships with any of these vendors. (Although if one of you wanted to throw some samples my way, I would not object!) I cannot vouch for quality or construction of any of these items, so buyer beware.

Paracord Planet These guys seem to be the leading seller of paracord these days (May 2017). I'm not sure who is making their cord. Either way, I would tend to stick with Nylon cord. Typically most nylon cord is USA made. Whereas polyester is usually foreign made (China!). They have a large selection of different diameters of cord to include ParaMax. It is a 1200 pound cord. Very robust. They also have 750 cord which is 550 cord with additional inner strands. It's basically a heavier 550 cord.  $9.50 for a one hundred foot hank of 550 paracord. $19.99 for a one hundred foot hank of Mil-Spec Type III 550 paracord. If you want sheer variety of different sizes of cord, this is the place to go.

Supply Captain  These guys have been around for awhile. It appears they sell Commercial Paracord from E.L. Wood. E.L. Wood manufactures genuine mil-spec cord for the U.S. Military and is a listed vendor with the Department of Defense. 1000' foot spool goes for $55. 100' foot hank for $9. Not sure about shipping. It is based on weight. They make you register in order to see the cart with shipping. They also sell accessory cord (Type I Paracord) and shock cord (mini bungee cord). No Mil-Spec cord.

Camping Survival These guys sell Gladding Paracord, E.L. Wood, and Rothco cord, You can get a 1000" foot spool of black for under $39. Most other colors go for under $38 for a 1000' foot spool. Their 100' hanks (that's a funny word!) go for $6.43. Shipping on all of their 1000' foot spools is $5.25. Shipping is also $5.25 for 100' foot lengths. Although you can add additional lengths with not much additional shipping charge. They also sell an 850 Pound test cord made by Gladding for $49 for a 1000' spool. A lot of the cord they sell is made by Rothco. Last I checked Rothco wasn't a manufacturer of Mil-Spec cord. They sell "U.S. Made Military 550 Paracord" That is NOT mil-spec cord. No Mil-Spec cord. 

True Mil-Spec Type III 550 Cord

Paracord.net aka Wholesale Parachute Cord.

Wholesale Parachute Cord has "Commercial Type III 7 Strand Cord" He has a minimum order of $130 for wholesale pricing. They sell a 1000' foot spool for about $40. Shipping comes out to $4.25 per 1000' foot. No Mil-Spec cord.
Paracord.net has a retail page with no minimum order. A 1000' foot spool goes for $43 - $48. 100' feet for about $10. Good color selection. Their cord looks like it comes from E.L. Wood. They have Mil-Spec cord. 1200' for $75.95 (Shipping - $14.35). 100' for $11.95 (Shipping - $6.25).

Survival-Pax Co. (Update! 5/19/17. I think these guys are going out of business. Not much to see here.)

Adventure Survival Equipment (aka Best Glide) These guys sell ONLY Mil-Spec cord. You can have any color you want as long as it is Black, Foliage Green, Coyote Brown, Natural (White), Olive Drab or Orange. Yeah this stuff is not cheap. 100' feet for $10 and 1000' foot spool for $96. Shipping is $11 for a 100' foot hank and $13 for a 1000' foot spool. So ordering in small quantities is not a good idea.  

Commercial Paracord

Paracord Galaxy These guys have a ginormous color selection! 355 different color choices of their U.S. made Paracord. And 614 color choices in any sourced Paracord. Prices range from $5.49 to $6.99 for 100' feet to $45 to $50 for a 1000' foot spool. Shipping is $7.50 flat rate for three hanks or more, and $15.80 for a 1000' foot spool. Also glow in the dark Paracord for $17 for 100' foot hanks. And Kevlar Paracord for $75 for 100' feet! Not sure what you would use that for. Especially at that price. It's supposed to be 1050 pound test and rated to 900°!!! Still not sure what you would use that for. They also offer a 650 Coreless Flat Paracord" It is hollow and lies flat. Supposed to be good for whip making, lanyards, rectangular braiding using the crown sinnet knot, flat shoe or bootlaces. I believe their U.S. made cord is from E.L. Wood. Their site is a little clunky. There isn't a sort function on their product page. No Mil-Spec cord. Also, make sure to click on the USA Made button to make sure you're getting decent nylon paracord. For sheer color selection, you can't beat these guys!!

Sgt. Knots These guys offer some good prices on Paracord and shipping. But their color selection is  limited. $40 for a 1000' foot spool with $7.90 for shipping. 100' hanks go for $5 with $3 shipping. Very reasonable total costs. Especially in 100' lengths. They also offer a lot of accessories. No mil-spec cord. They have a neat Knot Tying Kit  for $15 that comes with two six foot lengths of rope, one six foot length of flat webbing material, and waterproof knot tying cards with fourteen different knots. Very handy way to learn common and popular knots.

Atwood Rope Mfg. Not sure about these guys. They claim to be "the largest 550 Paracord manufactures in the USA". They have a lot of patterns that match E.L. Wood. But they also have a bunch of unique patterns. They may manufacture some of their own patterns. Anyway, 100' feet for $7.99. Shipping is $2.83 for a single hank. 1000' spools starting at $60. These guys are a bit of an anomaly. No Mil-Spec cord. What they do have is an very large selection of different diameter rope and cord. All the way from 0.75mm nano cord to 1.5" diameter polyester rope. They manufacture cord and rope in many different materials; nylon, polyester polypropylene, Kevlar, and Dyna X, They also have a device called a "Tactical Rope Dispenser". It is a cased spool of 550 cord (included) with a belt clip and a cutting device for $25. Looks kinda cool. No Mil-Spec cord.

True Mil-Spec Type IV 750 cord
5col Survival Supply These guys sell only true Mil-Spec cord. In addition to Type III 550 cord, they also sell Type IV 750 cord. This cord has the same outer sheath as Type III 550 cord but has 11 inner strands. This gives it a fuller, rounder appearance in addition to greater strength. A 100' hank of 550 Type III 550 goes for under $14 with free shipping. A 100' hank of 750 Type IV cord goes for under $15 with free shipping. These guys also sell bank line.

West Coast Paracord Lots of colors and patterns. Called "West Coast" but located in the absolute least coastal location possible; Fargo, North Dakota. Go figure.100' hanks go as low as $4.99. They sell ten foot hanks for $1.99. Shipping starts at $5.50, so you may want to combine your orders. They have a huge selection of colors and patterns. Not sure who makes their cord. I've seen their colors and patterns elsewhere, but they seem to have changed the names. Their cord is nylon and American made. There are 68 different solid colors and 304 pattern colors. They have eleven colors of Mil-Spec cord. 100' goes for $13 and 1000' for $140. Shipping appears to be free on a 1000' spool. Also many other size cords from Type 95 to 850 cord.


So, if you want genuine Mil-Spec cord, you will have to go with 5col Survival Supply or Adventure Survival Equipment aka Best Glide, or West Coast Paracord.

For Commercial 550 Cord, out of all these sites, I would pick Camping Survival for pricing. (Seems like everything is on sale. They may be getting out of the paracord business.) Their site is also pretty easy to use. The sheer selection award goes to Paracord Galaxy with over 614 color choices!!! Remember not all of that is U.S. made.

With my research on different sites I have come to the conclusion that the majority of U.S. made Commercial Paracord sold, is made by two companies. Gladding Braided Products, Inc. and E.L. Wood Braiding Co., Inc. Gladding appears to have 115 different colors and patterns and E.L. Wood  has 193. And Franklin Braid Manufacturing Company has 44 different colors and patterns. All three of these companies are manufactures of Mil-Spec cord for the U.S. Military. If you want to purchase American made cord in bulk, you might not go wrong by contacting one of these companies. Rothco sells commercial paracord made in the U.S. and China. Their U.S. paracord is nylon and their China paracord is polyester. Not sure who makes their U.S. paracord.

P.S. I was digging around on the Defense Logistics Agency web site and found the order numbers and pricing for paracord. DOD charges their own customers about $49 for a 1000' foot of Type III cord. Of course they have to order one hundred 1200' foot spools. That's 120,000 feet for those of you that are slow at math! If you want a single spool, you would pay $67 for a thousand feet of cord. They are still paying less than you for Mil-Spec cord!

Edited: 01/30/2018