Paracord has an interesting history, and is an example of something that started out with one use but because of its versatility continued to thrive in others.
Since parachute cord, aka paracord, was developed in the military in total there are six officially recognized sizes of paracord: 95 cord, 275 cord, 325 cord, 425 cord, 550 cord, and 750 cord. Outdoor companies have made many other commercial sizes since then, but those 6 are the only standard “official” sizes of paracord recognized by everyone.
The question of how many different sizes of paracord is easy to answer if you are only speaking about “official” paracord sizes. In that case the answer is six.
If you’re looking at all sizes it’s hard to get an exact number as since companies just create new sizes all the time.
Official Military Sizes of Paracord
These six sizes of paracord are all official military approved sizes and thus held to a certain standard. While it’s hard to say that a type of paracord is “official” or “unofficial,” you can assume all six of these sizes are held to a high “official” standard that other sizes may or may not apply to other sizes.
So here they are: the 6 official sizes of paracord.
This is the lightest of the six official military grade paracords out there. It’s not going to have the strength of the other ones but it will work for what it’s designed for. The one inner strand has decent tensile strength and this is great for bracelets, weaving projects, and has 100 lb of tensile strength.
These are also very thin with a 1.18 mm diameter so you have the ability to make very small knots and weavings that don’t take up a lot of space. That is the benefit of the 95 cord.
When you’re looking at 275 paracord, this is, to the surprise of many, one of the stiffest paracords found out there. This cord features five strong strands that are packed together in a way that makes this cord slightly less flexible than the others.
If you’re used to 95 or 550 you’re likely to be surprised at how stiff the 275 works out. So why would you want a stiffer paracord?
Some people want some flexibility in their paracord but not as much as the 95 or 550 bring to the table. This is a 2mm paracord that allows a bit more folding as opposed to stretching.
While 550 is the most popular choice and sort of a standard in the paracord world, it’s worth noting that 325 is actually a favorite pick of many crafters or even those in the bushcraft arena. Considering how versatile and reliable a product needs to be in order to get the big thumbs up that is worth taking note.
This cord offers strength, flexibility, and durability without taking up the same space as the traditional and more widely lauded 550. Because of that, it’s a really solid choice for a variety of reasons and uses. Especially for those of us who like to go out and explore in the middle of nowhere.
The 425 heavy duty cord is right up there in size with the 550 and almost as strong. No one should be surprised at this point at learning that the tensile strength of this cord comes in at 425 lbs and it is a reliable yet flexible cord that saves you some size on the 550.
Generally speaking 550 cord is sort of a “standard” for paracord. Chances are if you’re looking at paracord, paracord bracelets, or any other type of parachute cord item it is probably 550.
You can assume this is the standard unless it says otherwise.
Why is this?
There are actually a few reasons. First of all 550 means this cord has been stress tested to reliably handle 550 lbs of stress. Keep in mind this is the level of stress test, not saying that 550 cord can be used to say, tie a hammock up for someone 550 lbs.
550 Cord will be 4mm in diameter and often have 7 strands tightly wove together to make this cord. It’s extremely strong, extremely flexible, yet a favorite of preppers and survivalists because of just how versatile it is.
The overwhelming majority of paracord survival bracelets will be made from 550 paracord. Keep in mind this means that 550 paracord handles 550 lbs of pressure – not pure weight.
750 paracord is the heavy duty paracord that is rarely in high demand or sold in large amounts in the civilian world. This was the cord used for parachuting equipment in with paratroopers when it was originally tested during World War II.
There’s no denying that this cord is heavy duty, but it is also thicker and more resistant to wearing, fraying, or damage that could destroy it.
Where Does Paracord Come from?
Before moving into the non-military sizes that are fairly widely available or easy to find, it seems like a good time to go through a brief history of paracord to understand it a little better.
This was just like it sounds like. This was cord that was used as parachute lines back in WWII. The history of paracord as a survival gear actually occurs at the same time here.
American paratroopers who were dropped into enemy territory were quick to realize the versatility of the parachute lines were perfect for a wide array of emergency fixes or needs in the enemy territory.
So to some extent the idea of paracord as a bit of survival gear is basically as old as the paracord itself.
What about paracord bracelets?
These are a bit more recent. While there’s little doubt that these have appeared well before modern times, they did not come out in widespread form as we know them today until around 2006. This is around the time they began appearing in massive numbers and then were mass produced.
Demand followed and it’s not hard to see why. These aren’t a magic bullet when it comes to survival situations however it is undeniable that they are extremely versatile, easy to carry along, and with the paracord bracelets that are clearly designed to have a fire starter set up as well.
But they are useful. And they are definitely worth including on you for an EDC kit, as well as any bug out bags.
Widely Available Unofficial Sizes of Paracord
These are sizes of paracord that you can find from private stores, military surplus locations, and other similar stores. They are also available from many manufacturers who not only produce traditional paracord but have also decided to expand based on a variety of individual and small business needs across multiple industries.
Remember that although it’s common to find the following, none of these are military grade.
This is an incredibly thin version of paracord, that generally has the thinnest diameter of all the cord options out there – including micro cord. It will certainly be even thinner than any of the military grades of paracord discussed earlier in the article.
This commercial grade is incredibly thin while still maintaining some degree of strength and functionality however it will be too little for most normal daily needs. Sort of a specialty option for a very narrow focus.
Micro cord is also thing, small, but surprisingly strong and stretchy for something its size. It is by far and away the smallest option that you will find out there.
1/8 Shock Cord
This will be slightly larger than the micro cord and more comparable to the traditional lines used for setting up tent poles or being weaved together for creating hammocks or large scale nets. One of these won’t do much, however weaving them all together can create something special.
5/32 Survival Cord
The same diameters 550 paracord, some companies have made a slightly altered version of traditional paracord in the same size and label it as the 5/32. This will vary in other attributes based on the company, the style, and sometimes even feedback from customers on what the best attributes they want are.
It is worth noting that some companies will try to pass off 5/32 survival cord as 550 paracord, but if it is not up to the original military standards then it is NOT the same thing.
1/4 inch Shock Cord
Think bungee cord. A fourth of an inch is quite a bit of size when it comes to talking about paracord and paracord-like rope. Because of that, this is generally not included as even an “unofficial” size of paracord.
Why Is 550 the Standard Paracord Size?
Technically while there is no “standard” size among the original six sizes of paracord, the 550 was what consistently was the right combination of reliability, flexibility, and strength needed for paratroopers.
Since such a strong stretchy cord could be made in such a small size and worked for the overwhelming majority of air drop needs, it just sort of became the “standard.”
Paracord stretches as much as it needs to for what it was designed to do. 550 was designed as actual parachute cord for loaded up paratroopers, and it has the right combination of being strong, flexible, and versatile to meet whatever needs you may have.
So What Paracord Is Best for You?
This is going to depend on what you need your paracord for. Whether it’s crafting, survival, a project, semi-permanent bushcraft work, or something else entirely. The good news is that there are plenty of options when it comes to paracord and while the 550 or 325 will be right for most people, there are many more options available for all projects or situations where something else is going to be needed.
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