There's plenty of high-quality commercial grade paracord out there, and it's great for a variety of purposes. Paracord makes a great and versatile tool when you're camping, hunting, fishing, or off on pretty much any outdoor adventure. It can also be useful for crafters and other DIYers in a variety of situations, and oftentimes commercial grade paracord is all you need.
There are some paracord suppliers out there who slap a "Military Grade" or "Mil-Spec" label on their commercial grade 500 paracord, though, without any real regard for—or any real knowledge of—what military grade paracord really is, or how it differs from the commercial varieties. There are some applications where the difference matters a great deal, and even if your needs are less demanding than the average soldier or Marine, if you're being sold mil-spec paracord then that's what you ought to be receiving.
This post quickly covers the difference between true mil-spec paracord and the more broadly available commercial grade paracords, helping ensure you get the best value and the best performance out of the paracord you purchase.
Not All Commercial Grade Paracords are Equal
First and foremost, it's important to note that there is no body governing paracord manufacturing/distributing, and no standardized grades of commercial paracord. If a company makes a claim about test strength or other elements of the paracord's construction and/or properties, then that company is held to the same standards as manufacturers of other items when it comes to verifying such claims—in general, there's no one testing those claims before the product hits the market.
This means it's entirely possible for two lengths of seemingly identical pieces of 550 paracord to have different construction methods, different properties, and even possibly to be made of slightly different materials. Most paracord providers are fairly reputable and honest, of course, but that still doesn't mean they understand what they're selling or really know what matters when it comes to cord.
Mil-Spec Paracord or Military Grade Cord Has High and Exacting Standards
Mil-spec paracord, on the other hand, has to meet very specific and stringent criteria established by the Department of Defense for the US Armed Forces. There are both material and construction method specifications, as well as limitations on what can be done with the paracord after its construction (for example, paracord cannot be bleached, treated with any oils, or spliced/knotted into longer lines and retain its mil-spec status).
While there may be some commercial grade paracords that are manufactured using close to the same practices as mil-spec paracord, true military grade paracord has every element of its construction verified. It is wet-shrunk at high heats to ensure the integrity and strength of each individual yarn, including the sleeve yarns, and the construction of the inner strands and their placement in the sleeves are also specified to ensure the greatest performance and reliability in the cord.
So, how can you tell if the paracord you bought is truly military grade? Try asking the folks you bought it from what exact specifications their paracord meets. See if they can explain the difference between commercial grade and mil-spec paracord using more than general terms.
Better yet, buy from a veteran-owned and -operated business that wouldn't dare stamp a mil-spec label on anything that wasn't.