While paracord bracelets started as a military trend, they have since exploded in popularity and diversity. Many now wonder, "What did the paracord bracelet originally mean? and "Who made the very first one?"
Where It All Started
If you don't know what paracord is, read Paracord: What Is It? The short version is that paracord was used for American parachute lines back in World War 2. Soldiers would often salvage their parachute lines when dropping into enemy territory and use them for all kinds of emergency fixes in the field. It then became a standard military supply that was routinely shipped over with deployed soldiers—even after parachutes stopped using paracord for suspension lines.
My best estimate is that paracord bracelets first showed up in 2004. I used to think the trend started back in Vietnam, but I have found no evidence of paracord being tied into bracelets prior to 2004. Every story I have read so far confirms this estimate. I do not have any clues as to WHO first tied paracord into a square knot bracelet.
I've heard multiple stories of different deployed soldiers receiving paracord bracelets as gifts from someone else in their platoon. To them, wearing a paracord bracelet meant something. It meant they had each other's back in the face of danger—that they were going to get each other back home.
For other soldiers, it became sort of a good luck charm—a sense of security when everything around them was so out of their control. For still others who made them for themselves, it was a symbol of their self-sufficiency. And to those who came home without a friend or battle brother, wearing a paracord bracelet was a way to recognize their sacrifice and mourn their own loss.
Around 2007, The idea of making paracord bracelets back home in the united states got picked up by ex-military. Veterans, who had used paracord while deployed, turned their knowledge of knots into a way to pass the time, keep their hands busy while adjusting back to civilian life, and sometimes make a small side income. Some of these veterans became very successful and built entire businesses around their craft.
During this time, paracord's reputation as a tough rope that had gotten soldiers out of jams spread to the survivalist and prepper communities. There, it was heralded as the "ultimate survival tool". They would boast that it could be used for everything from trapping wild game to flossing your teeth. The lists went on and on—some of them realistic, some of them not so much.
The bracelets sold by veterans turned out to be so popular that they became not only a symbol for the toughness of the military, but also a way to show solidarity with any number of causes, from breast cancer awareness to mourning with the families of policemen and policewomen who had died in the line of duty.
This increase in demand was met by many of the companies who had originally made paracord for the military expanding their offerings and selling to the private sector. Now, paracord could be found in outdoor equipment stores and online as a rugged crafting material and backpacking gear item.
Paracord also became available in many more colors and varieties than before. Paracord Planet now sells hundreds of colors.
This popularity also attracted rope manufacturers around the world, who began manufacturing similar ropes out of other materials and calling them paracord. There is no regulation on the term "paracord", so the buyer has to be smart about where they buy it—especially if you are using it in load bearing situations.
So, to answer the question of "What does a paracord bracelet mean?": It means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but originally it represented the toughness of the American military. As the use of paracord continues to expand, it's interesting to look back on the history of the paracord bracelet and appreciate its origins.
If you have anything to add to the history of paracord and paracord bracelets, please comment! I know we have lots of veterans out there who would be more qualified to answer this question than I am. Thanks for reading!