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How To Identify Real Mil-spec 550lb Paracord

Learn how to identify real Mil-spec 550lb Paracord. Save money on your preps, don’t get ripped off on cheaply made yet overpriced China cordage.

Is your paracord mil-spec, or a cheap china knockoff?

Paracord, short for parachute cord, is a survivalist’s bread and butter. It has a million and one uses, none of which we are going to talk about here.

Instead, today I hope to educate you on the difference between real and “fake” paracord.

550 Paracord, which goes by the spec number “C-5040H Type III”, is also one of the most bootlegged survivalist tools.

In fact it’s hard to find the real stuff on sites like eBay or Amazon unless you know exactly what to look for.

So how can you identify REAL mil-spec paracord from the cheap china knockoffs? Look for these signs.

How to identify real mil-spec 550lb paracord

  1. The cord will be rated to hold 550lbs of weight, and should clearly state so. Good cord sellers may even link to test data for their cords.
  2. If you have the cord in front of you, look at the end. Mil-spec paracord will have seven to nine internal strands as is required by C-5040H Type III specifications.
  3. The cord will be advertised asC-5040H TYPE III somewhere on its packaging. It’s a big deal to meet the specifications so manufactures will advertise it.
  4. Each strand will be tightly braided and made of three smaller strands. Not two, but three.
  5. The biggest sign your cordage is real mil-spec is if one or more strands are colored. These colored strands are used to identify the manufacturer. Without exception, almost all knockoff paracord will not have these colored threads inside the sheath.

Note that “C-5040H” is the actual military specification for paracord supplied to the US Army.  C-5040H defines several different strength grades. “Type III” indicates that the cord is 550lb rated, the most common mil-spec paracord by far.

paracord milspec

Bootleg cords will usually be called simply “mil-spec” or “military grade” but if they do not say “C-5040H Type III standard” rest assured they are a cheap knockoff.

So how does your cord look? Does it pass the test? If it doesn’t, don’t throw it away just yet! It doesn’t mean it’s worthless!

There are plenty of good uses for less than mil-spec paracord. Some manufacturers produce good quality 550lb paracord, just not to full military specifications, so it’s not the end of the world. Just know that you probably could have paid a lot less and make sure you avoid polyester or single-strand cores for any serious job.

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Sergeant Survival

I spread the news of disaster preparedness and homesteading skills to the masses. My mission is to teach the keyboard commandos out there some real life skills.


  1. I found this thru Reddit, and my final thoughts are this: This is a fine and good article, and it’s nice to be able to identify milspec 550. Having said that, I think the follow-up question/answers are “why should I spend time/money” hunting down milspec 550? What are the characteristics and standards that make this a better choice? I’d love to see some testing/analysis between the two types, much less various manufacturers. Any chance you’ll do a follow-up article?

    1. Good questions, lets see if I can shed some light.

      “why should I spend time/money hunting down milspec 550?”

      Time isn’t much of an issue because real mil-spec paracord manufacturers are proud of their certifications and will clearly mark their product as so. It’s a huge selling point for them.

      Also, I think that it depends on how much you care about getting the best for your preps. A lot of people will be happy with sub-par paracord that can tie a tarp, make a bow drill, etc. Others will want better, and anyone who think they may need to actually support their weight with it, like repelling down something or making a platform bed, should most definitely get the real stuff.

      Since you never really know what situation you’ll be in after it’s literally impossible to buy more preps I highly suggest spending a little more (it’s almost the same price nowadays) and get the good stuff. This applies to paracord and everything else IMHO.

      “What are the characteristics and standards that make this a better choice?”

      Besides what is in the article above the biggest difference is durability, the ability to actually hold your weight under load, it’s thicker and rounder in your hand, and the knots are easier to untie. There are a few other personal preference too, but they are mostly negligible.

      “I’d love to see some testing/analysis between the two types, much less various manufacturers. Any chance you’ll do a follow-up article?”

      If a manufacturer is certified to meet the standard there will be little difference between their products, but sure, I may do such an article detailing the difference between cheap mall ninja paracord and mil-spec cordage in the future.

  2. Still got a roll I got while at Ft Bragg. Only discrepancy from your points is only four internal strands, three white, one back and white.

    1. Sounds like Type II 400 Paracord. Type II has 4 strands and holds at least 400lbs. Otherwise it’s just like Type III 550.

  3. What about 850 paracord? is there a mil spec one for that?

    1. As far as I know Mil-Spec only goes to 750 lbs, which is Type IV.

      Here’s the actual Mil-Spec paperwork (in pdf).

  4. Do you have any websites/stores you can suggest that sell legit 550 cord?

    1. Our recommended is

      We’ve tested it ourselves and it is the real deal. Great prices too.

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