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!

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