Rope can be fairly big and heavy, which makes inclusion in a survival kit a non-obvious decision. It is just that it has so much usefulness. Lashing things together, shelter ridge or guy lines, hanging things above the ground, lanyards, heavy duty snares, tourniquets or fastening splints if nothing better is available, pulling people out of water/quicksand, emergency belt or leash and many other uses.
There are two types of rope to consider: climbing rope and paracord. This is not to say that any other type of rope has no use; it is just that between these two types, most rope functions can be optimally provided.
Climbing rope has just one function – climbing down (or possibly up) something which cannot be safely traversed any other way. Having other climbing hardware is fairly important as well, particularly for climbing up. All told, climbing equipment is big and heavy (and expensive) and pretty much limited in versatility, so should only be included if climbing is a likely situation.
Paracord is parachute cord first used in parachutes during WW II. It is made of nylon with ‘kernmantel’ construction, where you have an outside woven sheath around internal strands. This makes it smooth, strong, light, compact and resistant to rot, with a bit of stretch, making it usable for most survival rope functions EXCEPT CLIMBING. And it can be disassembled, with the outer sheath providing a smaller rope and the internal strands providing string functions.
There are 3 grades of paracord. The best is military issue. Almost as good is mil-spec commercial grade made on the same machines and with the same material (except the dyes). Every other paracord is potentially ‘junk’ which might not stand up to survival needs. Whatever you get, make sure not only that it is mil-spec, but also was made in the USA, as the foreign made stuff is sometimes not up to the same quality even if they call it mil-spec. Military issue is available in limited colors since only the approved dyes may be used, but the commercial grades are available in many hundreds of single colors and multiple color patterns.
The most common type of paracord is ‘Type III’ also known as ‘550 cord’. This is because it is required to have a breaking strength of at least 550 pounds. This type often has 7 internal strands for commercial grades and 8 for military issue. Military issue has one of the strands color coded to indicate the plant of manufacture. There is also a Type IV with a minimum breaking strength of 750 pounds and 11 internal strands. There are Type I and Type II which are smaller and weaker, and Type IA and Type IIA which are just the outer woven sheath, with no internal strands. Generally these 4 types are not as useful in survival situations.
It may seem like 550 pounds or 750 pounds would support your weight, and it would, if all you are doing is hanging there (static weight). But climbing activity involves MOVEMENT, which causes a varying dynamic weight, which can easily exceed the weight limit of the paracord. Not to mention that the abrasion resistance of paracord is not enough to prevent catastrophic failure from rubbing on rocks or sharp edges. Thus it bears repeating – paracord is NOT for climbing.
How much should you have? The answer is, how much can you fit in? Generally 25 feet is a good starting point, and 50 feet is about as much as can fit into most kits without ‘kicking out’ some other important items. Note that paracord has an annoying tendency to fray if the cut end is left raw. Thus it is usually wise to ‘burn’ the ends immediately after cutting them, thus melting the ends so they can’t unravel. A few seconds in the flame should do it, unless you need the end to fit through something. Some people wet their fingers and use that to mold the molten nylon into shape, but I prefer not to risk a burn in a survival situation. I use the bottom of the lighter against a flat surface to mold the end into shape.
There are several ways to carry the cord. The most compact and easiest is to wrap most of it lengthwise to the desired length and the rest wrapped around it (bottom). The disadvantage is that this is usually difficult to deploy without it tangling. The easiest to deploy is a spool (middle), but this is about the least compact methodology. Perhaps a good compromise is a looped hank (top).
To do this, fold the length into quarters (for 25 feet) or eighths (for 50 feet). Tie a half hitch about one palms width from the end but leave a loop. Reach through that loop and pull another loop through it. Tighten the first loop, then repeat until most of the cord is looped up. Go ahead and pull all the remaining cord through the last loop and tighten. There you are. In order to deploy the rope, pull the end out of that last loop and yank on it to undo all the loops. Note that you have to separate the 4 or 8 strands carefully from the ‘center’ end (the one without the free ends) or it will likely tangle up.
You can also carry paracord by weaving, knotting or braiding it into a belt or bracelet or rifle strap or necklace, etc, or wrapping it around something you carry such as a knife sheath.