A huge part of emergency preparedness is being able to improvise.
Disaster situations are fluid, and what might work one moment might not in the next, so you have to be ready and able to change your response to fit the immediate situation.
We’ve already discussed how critical it is that a good multitool (or two) be in your kit, as they can become what you need when you need it. If you have to build a shelter, or make an emergency stretcher, or fashion a weapon, that multi-tool is what you’ll use to cut and shape the supports.
The other half of the equation is binding it all together so it doesn’t fall apart on you. As wonderful as duct tape is, it can’t do everything.
Whether you need to repair torn clothing, catch dinner, or safely traverse obstacles, keeping the right cordage in your disaster prep kit will make it easier to cobble together anything you may need in the field.
The thread comes in all colors, fiber options, and thicknesses. The right thread (and knowing how to do some simple sewing) can repair your clothes or your packs.
You can also use it to create rough clothing, make signal flags, or in a pinch, close a wound.
Most thread by itself isn’t very strong, so if you have to use it outside of sewing—as a replacement shoelace, for example—know how to do some simple braiding.
The more lengths of thread (or any other cordage, for that matter) you can braid together, the stronger the resulting cable will be. And you can join multiple cables together with this way until you have the strength or thickness you are looking for.
There are more complex braid patterns for more than four strands, which you can learn if you want.
Braids and knots (more on knots tomorrow!) are something you can practice at home in front of the television to build up muscle memory of the precise sequences.
Remember: if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it.
Fishing line is available in different strengths and is a great piece of cordage to have in your emergency prep kit. The fact that it is waterproof makes it a good choice for lashing outdoor shelters together, but its thinness can make it difficult to work with.
Again, braiding multiple lengths together helps with this. If your evacuation or shelter plan puts you near a good fishing spot, keep some hooks, weights, bobbers, lures, etc. in your kit. They weigh next to nothing and take up hardly any room at all.
Ounce for ounce, dental floss has the highest tensile strength of any cordage its size. Weave enough of it together, and you have a cable that is practically unbreakable.
There are even documented cases of inmates breaking out of prison on ladders made from dental floss! Floss can also be used as a makeshift saw, easily slicing through soft items.
According to some field tests, it is even possible to eventually saw through steel with floss (“eventually” meaning “after hundreds of days”).
Sometimes you need some structural stability that limp cordage can’t deliver. If you are constructing a simple snare, for example, using fishing line or dental floss (avoid the flavored floss; animals will smell it) will require that you find some way to hold the loop open.
Suddenly, that simple snare becomes an engineering project. A thin wire will keep itself in whatever shape you set it in.
Most craft stores sell small spools of wire for hanging pictures or making jewelry, or you could get some at the hardware store. You can get it in many different materials and thicknesses, insulated or not; it’s up to you.
Best Paracord type
This is the one you will hear about most often as you research survival prep kits. Parachute cord is the duct tape of cordage. It is also known as 550 cord because if made to spec, it has a minimum breaking strength of 550 pounds (for Type III).
There are other types, but Type III is the most popular due to its strength and the makeup of its core. The core of Type III paracord is made up of seven to nine separate inner yarns, with each of these yarns made up of three separate strands.
All strands and the sheath are made of nylon for weatherproofing and slight elasticity (approximately 30% minimum elongation).
If you only carry one kind of cordage in your emergency pack, this is the one to have. The inner yarns can be stripped out and the sheath used by itself (as a replacement bootlace, for example), or the inner yarns can be used as threads or fishing line.
If you need thinner pieces, you can separate the inner yarns into their component strands. Some commercial varieties of paracord also include actual fishing line, snare wire, or cotton thread for tender within their sheath.
Typically, when a piece is cut from the main body of the paracord, the remaining end is run through an open flame to seal it and prevent unwanted unraveling.
NOTE: If you read our post last Friday on making tourniquets, please be aware that paracord should not be used as a tourniquet, as its small diameter means that it cannot stop the blood flow before it crushes tissue.
Many people weave paracord into belts, bracelets, key chains, and other decorative objects, which can be combined with smaller pieces of survival gear to make a pocket or Every Day Carry (EDC) kit. We’ll have a separate post on these types of survival kits in the near future.
Rope For Your Survival Kit
Even with all of the other options out there, sometimes you might just want a good rope. Available in many different materials (cotton, nylon, hemp), compositions (solid core or braided core), and thicknesses, a rope can be a great general use piece of cordage.
Choose the one that best meets your needs. Keep in mind that any cordage made of natural fibers will eventually mildew and rot.
If you plan on using your rope to move through mountainous terrain, one made specifically for climbing is your best choice. It is similar to paracord in its manufacture in that its weave, core, elasticity, and tensile strength are held to very exacting tolerances, and rock climbers and mountaineers depend on it to protect their life.
Though technically not cordage, nylon webbing can be just as handy in certain circumstances. Nylon webbing is available in many different colors and widths. Its most obvious use is as a strap, especially if you add some D-rings or hooks onto the end, but by cutting the strip into narrow pieces (again, run all raw edges through a flame to seal them), it can serve to bind or lash smaller-diameter pieces. As with the paracord, being made of nylon makes it water- and mildew-proof.
As you can see, cordage can be just as much of a multi-tool as your Swiss Army knife. With the right knots, you should be able to securely fix or fashion just about anything you may need in a survival situation.
We hope you have found this post to be helpful as you start putting together your emergency survival kit. Join us tomorrow when we will talk about the different categories of knots, and learn when each kind is called for. We will include examples and diagrams, too, so we hope to see you then!