Monday, 2 July 2012

As Long as a Piece of String

After the very popular Hard as Nails article on the numerous uses for a nail in a survival situation, I posed the question, "what could be done with a metre of string or cord?". Here are the more sensible replies which I got back and a look at versatility and imagination.
  1. tie something to something else (lashing)
  2. a ridge line for a tarp
  3. tie bags around you to keep dry
  4. snare
  5. trip wire
  6. fishing line
  7. string for fire bow
  8. string for hunting bow
  9. washing line
  10. dental floss
  11. climbing, winching or pulley aid
  12. lasso for things out of reach
  13. safety line for equipment you might drop
  14. make a sling or bolas
  15. leach water from a rock face
  16. use as thick, thin or fine thread
  17. handcuffs
  18. net making
  19. hanging food off of the ground
  20. belt or shoe laces
As you can see, some standard and not so standard uses for cordage. Many of these rely on the string being of the Paracord variety. This appallingly over and misused term should describe cordage that was originally used on parachutes, though it is now manufactured and sold by the roll. It is a multi-core, sheathed cord which has an incredibly high breaking strain. However, there are many in the world who would market their garden twine as paracord since it's an unregulated term being used for anything that comes in green and has a camo label on it. Don't be fooled, the real deal has a breaking strain of 550lb (which is why it's called 550 Paracord) and has seven strands, which are braided and sheathed. The strands themselves are twisted of three cores, see above. Accept no substitute if you're buying paracord. There are other quality cordages available, but in my experience, none match the quality and versatility for the price. 

Cordage is one of Dave Canterbury's five/ten Cs of Survivability (see Acronym Insanity) and represents something important in acquisition of resources in a genuine survival situation as well as camping and everyday outdoorsiness. Cordage can be made from natural fibres such as nettles, roots or various barks, but having done so myself, I can tell you, for anything other than lashing a few poles together, it's a time consuming process to make good quality cordage.

Cordage is versatile, but cordage is time consuming to make and a practised skill. If the shit hit the fan, then having no cordage around is going to be a pain. Compared to many other things, cordage is cheap and light weight. With this in mind, it is clear that the return on investment on having such an item is huge, compared to, say, a plastic tent peg, which is comparatively bulky, largely single use and could easily be fashioned from nature. This is why I have spare lines for my tent, but only one spare peg. 

Can you imagine one of those catastrophic shoelace breaks on your speed looped boots which just makes it impossible to tie properly once knotted. How much of a ball ache would it be to make new shoe laces out of nettles? On the subject of shoe laces, I recently provided the local game keeper with a  length for his boots, since he was unable to locally source laces long enough. Even though you need a slightly more secure knot, because it's slippery in that context, they made a quality substitute. Some replace their laces with paracord as a matter of course.

Sometime, however, you can avoid using cordage and it is certainly the case that if you only had a little, you wouldn't want to waste it on some task that could be achieved with a little engineering, such as propping or with some alternative, like a little a bit of seat belt or ripped rags. Like all difficult to replace or maintain resources, we try to limit their use when possible in order that we have them at their best when there is no alternative.

There are those among us; paracordists they are known as, who are masters of weaving and fashioning paracord into all manner of items and at any moment might be wearing 40m or so in laces, belts, bangles, cup holders and string vests. It's worth a google, I assure you. My friend and trusty assistant Wurz is never without paracord and in a genuine survival situation, his apparel might be considered a resource in itself. 

So, don't forget how useful cordage can be, don't forget to pack extra, choose the best, wear some if you like and if you are up the proverbial creak, remember that your shoe laces are cordage, as is your tie, belt and the wool from your jumper, but having said that, not even the best paracordist will be able to fashion you a paddle from it.

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