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9 Ropes For The Outdoors: What To Use and How To Use It

Two things I know: You can never have enough cordage, and you need a little bit—or a lot—of a lot of different kinds. At home, I keep lines and ropes stashed in two places: a good-sized plastic tote, and hanging from a hodge-podge of nails driven into the walls. I keep a pretty good collection in my truck, too—from parachute cord to mid-diameter climbing rope to a seriously stout tow strap. Because you never know.

Twisted Rope

Twisted rope, also called laid rope, has a spiral look due to the (typically) three strands that are twisted together. A lot of what you see is the inexpensive yellow polypropylene stuff that you can buy in any corner drugstore. It has a tendency to kink up, and it’s not the strongest rope design out there. But twisted poly rope has its uses. It’s impervious to water, and it’s one of the few ropes that sink, which has its value in some rescue situations. And in its yellow form, it’s very visible. And while polypro twisted rope isn’t easy to knot, it is cheap enough that I keep some around (webriggingsupply.com).

Braided Ropes

Braided ropes are made by weaving fiber strands. Hollow braided ropes consist only of a woven core. Ever have a rope that smashed flat like a straw? That’s a hollow braided rope. Double braided ropes are made of one braided rope inside the other. While twisted ropes are commonly used for anchor lines, I greatly prefer double-braided nylon lines. They have plenty of strength and abrasion resistance, but I think a bit of stretch helps keep an anchor in its place. And double-braid nylon lines are a lot nicer in the hand and don’t kink up nearly as badly (pelicanrope.com).

Climbing Ropes

Modern climbing ropes have a kernmantle design—it’s an awesome word that comes from the German kern meaning “core” and mantel meaning “jacket.” (Parachute cord and others are kernmantle ropes, too.) That jacket lends resistance to abrasion, while the inner core of separate strands provides strength. Dynamic climbing ropes are designed to stretch slightly when under heavy loads. This comes in handy when falling climbers are halted abruptly; a wee bit of stretch helps keep your spine intact. But that stretch makes them ideal for jobs that involve lashing things tightly to other things. I use 7-8mm climbing rope and a Trucker’s Hitch to tie a canoe or kayak to a truck rack. Bear down on that trucker’s hitch and the dynamic rope bites into the boat hull like a shark. Static ropes stretch very little. Climbers use them for rappelling, but they’re great for hauling stuff and make super painters for attaching to canoes. (rei.com).

Parachute Cord

It’s pretty clear to me that without parachute cord and its flat cousin, Duct tape, we’d all be vegetarians, unable to make it in the modern wilds. On a two-week Field & Stream expedition up Alaskan’s Dalton Highway, we were shipped a roof rack with no connecting bolts. The solution was close at hand: We lashed the rack to the Jeep with parachute cord. During hundreds of miles with a quarter ton of gear, gas, and spare tires in the rack, it never budged. That is the wonder of P-cord. Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations: Real parachute cord—a.k.a. 550 cord—has a military specification that requires a braided nylon sheath inside of which resides seven to nine interwoven strands of separate cord. Together, it has a minimum breaking strength of 550 pounds, and at least 10 times that number of uses. One neat trick: Those white cords inside the p-cord outer sheath make great field-repair thread (rothco.com).

Guyline Cord

I keep a hank or two of guyline cord stashed in my cord tote. Every now and then I’ll need to replace or lengthen a tent or tarp guyline. But what I really like about guyline cord is that some manufacturers make the cord with reflective materials that light up in a headlight beam. That’s great to keep you from tripping over a tent guyline. But this cord is thinner than p-cord, and I like it for lanyards or small loops on whatever I might drop in the dark—flashlights, GPS units, folding saws, fishing pliers, you name it (litetrail.com).

Bungee Cord

You run into bungee cord most often as the stretchy line that holds tent poles together, and most good camping stores sell this wonder line by the foot. I keep it in varying diameters. A short length is perfect for bundling up stuff that needs to rolled, such as sleeping pads, or tubular stuff that needs to be bundled, such as rod tubes and canoe paddles. My favorite use for bungee: Use 10 feet on the decoy end of a jerk string, and you can twitch a trio of mallard blocks with impressive decoy action (nrsweb.com).

Sisal

Sisal is more a material than a rope, but you still find folks who call cordage made of this natural fiber “sisal.” Made of fibers from the leaves of a kind of acacia plant, sisal is strong, durable, easily dyed, and resists deterioration in saltwater. On the down side, sisal is very bristly and will take the hide of your hands if you’re not careful. Like twisted polypropylene rope, much of sisal’s charms have to do with that fact that you can buy enough to tie up an elephant for 20 bucks. Not a bad idea to have some stuffed under your pickup bed liner just in case (amazon.com).

Baling Twine

This is easy enough: baling twine is small-diameter sisal—about 350-pounds of breaking strength—used to tie up hay bales. Just good, cheap cordage to have handy, great for attaching camouflage materials to blinds (betterbee.com).

Tow Strap

Not really a rope, but a tow strap is absolutely required. These flat webbings come with sewn loops on each end to make it easy to attach to tow bumpers, tow hooks, and wrap around trees. A tow strap rated at 20,000 pounds should do it, but upgrade to a 30,000-pound strap if you’re in the habit of hauling boats, beasts of burden, and other complexities. Like jumper cables, no vehicle should be without one (cabelas.com).

Comments (14)

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from pfschmid wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

1. Polypropylene floats
2. 3 strand twisted nylon stretches more than double braid, 14% as opposed to 5% for double braid.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Pathfinder1 wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

Hi...

Interesting info...thanks.

When afield, I always carry an 'adequate' amount of 550 paracord...it can come in handy so many times...frequently in emergency-type circumstances.

I also carry a large length of braided rope in my UTE.

Re: the tow straps...they, too, can be very handy. Unfortunately, I had the experience of pulling a car, up to its hubs in mud. The tow strap broke...!!

I carry a fairly HD tow chain for such circumstances now (no, not on my pack!).

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from RJ Arena wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

Now my wife will know that I am not the only one who has an abundance of various cordage in the car, truck, garage and basement. I have a towing chain and towing strap with the jumper cables and tarps, and several of the above mentioned ropes in my truck kit. You never know when you will need them, and you will miss them terribly if you don't pack them!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from the Preacher wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

I loved how you called duct tape a cousin of 550. Duct tape is so important it would have probably fit nicely on this list on its own.

Another important emergency cord.... fishing line. Mono, braid or flouro carbon. Sewing, stitches, shoelaces ect.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from the Preacher wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

It is very hard to go to a hardware store and not grab a little cord. the worst is when outdoor stores put 550 right beside the cash register, hows a guy supposed to pass that up?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from the Preacher wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

550 paracord; monkey fist cufflinks. A must for the outdoorsman wedding attire.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Carl Huber wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

I worked with rope for 35 years. the only thing I would add is Poly rope is Very Stretchy on a heavy load. It will snap and come back on you. It is also impossible to knot securely and can cut it's self. To avoid this loop thru the steel eye twice and weave thru the lay of the load side every 3 inches for about 2 feet. This is also a good fast method for manila rope. Be advised to know the max load for each rope. The biggest mistake a novice will make is winding your rope between your thumb and elbow. All you wind up with is a twisted mess that will knot up and can't be thrown. Rather hold a loop in one hand and place loop after loop of untwisted rope in that hand. If this is unclear watch a Rodeo and see how Cowboys gather their Laurette

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from JamesD wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

A guy can never have enough rope, chain or duct tape. Show me a guy whose well stocked with these items and I,ll show you a guy whose ready to tackle anything.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Chad Poindexter wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

Awesome, glad to see that the LiteTrail G line (guyline cord) was listed in the line up! I use the LiteTrail G Line on a few of my tents and tarps I carry when backpacking, and it's great stuff... It's stiff which makes it easy to work with and keep it somewhat tangle-free, it has enough of an rough exterior to hold a knot pretty well, and it's light enough not to realize it's even in my pack! Not to mention, it is very fairly priced, and the owner (Jhaura) is a great guy to deal with. Two thumbs up in my book!

~Stick~

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from coosabass2012 wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

Great review, thanks! I always have some paracord on me, even when traveling on business. It has so many uses it's hard to leave it behind.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tony Fligg wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

P cord and bungee cords are at the top of my list whenever I plan any trip, short or long. Thanks for the info on the other ropes

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Patrick Thibodeau wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

I have been in EMS for what i'll say is a number of years! 550 cord or climbing rope is a must in any persons pocket or backpack. Cord alone can stabilize a fracture or stop bleeding (ie. a tourniquet). Climbing rope can save a friend or yourself in a water rescue situation or if you just need a little extra help making back up that little hill.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from B Mogren wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

Nice summary - well done. Only comment is that you would never step aboard boat (power or sail) and refer to any of the "lines" found as "ropes" unless you want to face immediate classification as a rank amatuer.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from New Age Bubba wrote 1 year 5 weeks ago

I carry a Zippo lighter to seal the ends of rope and cords after cutting (except natural fibers of course)

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Post a Comment

from Carl Huber wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

I worked with rope for 35 years. the only thing I would add is Poly rope is Very Stretchy on a heavy load. It will snap and come back on you. It is also impossible to knot securely and can cut it's self. To avoid this loop thru the steel eye twice and weave thru the lay of the load side every 3 inches for about 2 feet. This is also a good fast method for manila rope. Be advised to know the max load for each rope. The biggest mistake a novice will make is winding your rope between your thumb and elbow. All you wind up with is a twisted mess that will knot up and can't be thrown. Rather hold a loop in one hand and place loop after loop of untwisted rope in that hand. If this is unclear watch a Rodeo and see how Cowboys gather their Laurette

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Pathfinder1 wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

Hi...

Interesting info...thanks.

When afield, I always carry an 'adequate' amount of 550 paracord...it can come in handy so many times...frequently in emergency-type circumstances.

I also carry a large length of braided rope in my UTE.

Re: the tow straps...they, too, can be very handy. Unfortunately, I had the experience of pulling a car, up to its hubs in mud. The tow strap broke...!!

I carry a fairly HD tow chain for such circumstances now (no, not on my pack!).

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from the Preacher wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

I loved how you called duct tape a cousin of 550. Duct tape is so important it would have probably fit nicely on this list on its own.

Another important emergency cord.... fishing line. Mono, braid or flouro carbon. Sewing, stitches, shoelaces ect.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from the Preacher wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

It is very hard to go to a hardware store and not grab a little cord. the worst is when outdoor stores put 550 right beside the cash register, hows a guy supposed to pass that up?

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from JamesD wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

A guy can never have enough rope, chain or duct tape. Show me a guy whose well stocked with these items and I,ll show you a guy whose ready to tackle anything.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from pfschmid wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

1. Polypropylene floats
2. 3 strand twisted nylon stretches more than double braid, 14% as opposed to 5% for double braid.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RJ Arena wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

Now my wife will know that I am not the only one who has an abundance of various cordage in the car, truck, garage and basement. I have a towing chain and towing strap with the jumper cables and tarps, and several of the above mentioned ropes in my truck kit. You never know when you will need them, and you will miss them terribly if you don't pack them!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from the Preacher wrote 1 year 7 weeks ago

550 paracord; monkey fist cufflinks. A must for the outdoorsman wedding attire.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Chad Poindexter wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

Awesome, glad to see that the LiteTrail G line (guyline cord) was listed in the line up! I use the LiteTrail G Line on a few of my tents and tarps I carry when backpacking, and it's great stuff... It's stiff which makes it easy to work with and keep it somewhat tangle-free, it has enough of an rough exterior to hold a knot pretty well, and it's light enough not to realize it's even in my pack! Not to mention, it is very fairly priced, and the owner (Jhaura) is a great guy to deal with. Two thumbs up in my book!

~Stick~

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from coosabass2012 wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

Great review, thanks! I always have some paracord on me, even when traveling on business. It has so many uses it's hard to leave it behind.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Tony Fligg wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

P cord and bungee cords are at the top of my list whenever I plan any trip, short or long. Thanks for the info on the other ropes

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Patrick Thibodeau wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

I have been in EMS for what i'll say is a number of years! 550 cord or climbing rope is a must in any persons pocket or backpack. Cord alone can stabilize a fracture or stop bleeding (ie. a tourniquet). Climbing rope can save a friend or yourself in a water rescue situation or if you just need a little extra help making back up that little hill.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from B Mogren wrote 1 year 6 weeks ago

Nice summary - well done. Only comment is that you would never step aboard boat (power or sail) and refer to any of the "lines" found as "ropes" unless you want to face immediate classification as a rank amatuer.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from New Age Bubba wrote 1 year 5 weeks ago

I carry a Zippo lighter to seal the ends of rope and cords after cutting (except natural fibers of course)

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment