Proper cordage is one of the most important things you can have in the wild, whether you’re camping, backpacking, or hiking. While you can make it in the wild, it is always good to bring some with you.
Not all types of rope are used for the same tasks as not all of them have the same tensile strength. However, campers and hikers usually avoid carrying more than one, universal type of cordage to avoid overburdening their packs.
So, how can we use our all-purpose rope, such as paracord or twine, and make it able to carry more weight than it was designed to? How do we make our cordage more durable to accommodate some of the heavy-duty tasks we might run into when backpacking in the wild?
There are numerous benefits of braiding your rope when on a camping, backpacking, or hiking trip. Depending on what you’re expecting from your cordage, you could braid three, four, five, or even more strands to create a super rope that will make it withstand more abuse and help you complete many outdoor tasks.
But how does this happen? Is it because it improves the elasticity or the strength of the cordage? Read and learn various other methods that you can use to strengthen your cordage when in the wild.
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How Does Braiding Rope Make It Stronger?
Braiding rope does not only improves its strength but also makes it easier to carry. There are various ways you can make your rope more compact by braiding it. And you don’t have to worry whether you will have any problems unbraiding it later, there are ways you can braid your rope to make it easily accessible, as well.
Weight Distribution Is Easier With Braided Rope
One of the most obvious reasons why bridging rope makes it able to withstand more weight than an unbraided rope of the same thickness is that by distributing weight along more than one strand of rope, you improve its tensile strength.
For example, most types of ropes will lose their strength when you’re camping in high humidity. The moisture in the air will seep into the cordage, and most materials will get stretched when they are wet. The solution – braid your rope to make it able to carry more weight.
Remember to dry your rope before braiding it as a wet braided rope can weigh a lot and is cumbersome to carry around.
Most camping cordage doesn’t have a lot of elasticity, and for good reason. You want to have a consistent length of rope when performing tasks in the wild.
Consistency can mean the world because you will know what to expect and you will not have to waste precious time and energy figuring out how to tie ropes that change their size. This is not the type of cordage you would use when you’re setting up your silnylon tent.
While a braided rope won’t stretch to the same degree as a single strand of rope, it still has more elasticity. Namely, the spaces between the fibers of a braided rope, as well as the fibers themselves will compress under heavier loads.
This will, in reality, provide even more elasticity than a single strand without stretching the rope. And, a rope less stretched is a rope less frayed. In addition to this, a braided rope has a better abrasion resistance than a single strand.
Unfortunately, braiding rope is not easy, and it will require patience, skill, and practice. And if you don’t invest enough of those, there is a good chance you’ll create a bad twist in the line which could damage the entire construction.
What Reduces the Strength of a Rope?
Apart from improper braiding, there are a number of things that reduce the bearing capacity of your cordage and can result in it snapping and/or fraying.
- Knots – almost any knot will damage the integrity of your line, reducing its strength by up to 50%
- Hitch knot – this one is a bit different as it only reduces the weight capacity by 25%. So, next time you’re looking to secure your cordage to a tree, hitching it will mostly keep the rope integrity intact.
- Splicing – connecting two pieces of rope or splicing a single piece on itself to avoid a break in the line will definitely decrease the strength of the rope. This isn’t a bad thing, though, because without splicing you wouldn’t have the same length of cordage. Just be aware that the spliced line is weaker than the original line.
How to Properly Braid Rope and How Does It Work
Even braiding or you can introduce weak areas that can become breaking points in the future. In order to avoid this, you’ll need to know how to properly do it.
Braiding rope is generally easier for people who have long hair, or have children with long hair. Why? Well, it’s because they had to braid either their or the child’s hair at some point.
And braiding three strands of cordage is exactly like braiding someone’s hair.
Simply take one of the outer strands and move it over the middle one and under the other outer strand. Repeat the process, by always bringing the outer strands in.
What to Expect When Braiding Rope?
First off, the increase in tensile strength of the rope will not increase linearly by adding more strands of rope to the mix.
Braiding three strands of rope that have a bearing weight of 100lb will not create a rope with a bearing weight of 300lb – it will be slightly below the weight that all three strands together.
Apart from the physics aspect of it, this happens because braiding rope by hands is not the same as braiding rope by a machine.
When in the wild, you probably won’t have a rope braider with you. Unless you are an expert braider you will make some mistakes. But don’t worry, you’ll get a hang of it eventually.
Even for those who have had plenty of experience braiding both hair and cordage, it is impossible to achieve such a level of braiding that you can simply combine the tensile strengths of all the strands. There is bound to be some loss.
Apart from this, you should be aware that while improving its overall strength, braiding rope will effectively reduce its length by three to four times. The higher the number of strands, the more it will reduce the overall length of the rope.
Finally, while braiding rope makes it more manageable, it doesn’t make it any lighter. So, if you think you could carry more cordage by braiding it, think again. The rope will be more compact, but the weight will stay the same.
Braiding Rope vs Twisting Rope
Braiding your cordage isn’t the only way you can increase its carrying capacity. Even though this is, in our opinion, the best and the most consistent way to do it, there are a few alternatives. The most common one is twisting.
With twisting rope, it’s easier to avoid those breaking points in your line. Breaking points are created when the line is braided too tightly or when the rope is turned the wrong way when it’s braided.
In addition to this, a rope that’s been twisted also acts as a mild shock absorber. It untwists and twists back providing absorption that could save your cordage if you plan on shock loading it.
However, a twisted rope doesn’t increase the strength of the line in the same way braiding does. Because of the technique employed when making it, a twisted rope will eventually unwind and lose both its springiness and its carrying capacity.
With braiding rope, you’re more likely to keep the rope from unwinding, but you won’t get as much shock absorption unless you make the spaces between the different strands larger. While this can help absorb some energy, it will make your cordage more difficult to use.
Additionally, if you twist an already braided rope, the twists can cause some serious issues with the integrity of the cordage. Firstly, it will cause the weight to be distributed unevenly across the cord, which could cause one strand of the rope to grow taut while the others remain slack. Needless to say, this will not make your cordage stronger.
Apart from this, twists in a braided rope are considered weak points and they will be the first ones to give out under pressure. Make sure that if you twist your braided rope, you do it properly, before braiding the rope.
As you can see, twisting cordage gives it that extra strength that can be utilized in many ways – from carrying to tying off your shelter and gear. If you plan on doing this with your cordage, make sure you do it properly, without twisting or pulling too hard.
There are various rope braiding techniques you can use, but we found that the simple three strand works the best because it is easy to do and strong enough to take care of the usual camping tasks.