Survival Series – How To Make Your Own Cordage

Many times you’ve heard me say, “Knowledge is worth more than gear,” when I talk about the great outdoors.  Today I’d like to pass on a little knowledge on how to make your own cordage, which is very important if you’re in the woods and you don’t have any.cattail

There are different methods of making cordage and different materials you can make it out of.  I’ll cover one method of making it and one or two different plants that make decent cordage.

First, where do we get the raw materials?  As you may or may not know there are no grocery stores where you can buy rope in the middle of the woods; however, there are several plants you can use.

A quick and dirty way to get cordage is to find a spruce or fir tree and dig into the ground underneath.  There you’ll find long ropy roots that make pretty good cordage.  You can take and split the roots thus giving yourself extra cordage for tying various things that need tying.  Birch bark canoes made by Indians used this type of cordage for tying gunwales and other birch bark items.

Another source for good strong cordage is milk weed.  Harvest the plant and let it dry for a bit.  Break up the stalk and pull long pieces off it and set them aside.

One of the best sources here in Maine for strong cordage is Dogsbane.  Harvested in much the same way as milkweed it makes a very strong cordage.

Another source is the inside bark from various trees such as a Maple tree or a Cedar.


Today I’m using leaves from nature’s shopping mall – the cattail.  The cattail has many uses in a survival situation and if you see a stand of them you have found food as well as other natural supplies.


Breaking down the fibers

To harvest the leaves of the cattail break a bunch off near the stalk and let them dry for a day or two.  This makes an ok cordage, not good for something like a bow drill, but you can use it to lash things together.  I’m going to make a midsized cordage and to do that I’ll use the whole leaf.


The technique I use is to twist the leaf until it bunches up.  At that point I take hold of the top strand with my thumb and forefinger and twist it away from me and then using the small fingers of my right hand I twist the whole thing towards me.  Check out the video for a demonstration.



Below are pictures of the finished product.  Experiment making different sizes by cutting the leaves in half or even in quarters.  This will make a much small cordage suitable for things like tying an arrowhead to a shaft and other small, but vital jobs.

Never underestimate the importance of cordage in the bush!











There you have it!  An easy way to make decent cordage when you’re in the field.

Post questions or comments below.

-Jarhead Survivor





19 comments… add one
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. July 20, 2012, 7:36 am

    Very cool video, thanks for making it. I think you did a great job of illustrating and describing the steps to make the cordage – even a simpleton like me understood it. 8^)

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. July 20, 2012, 7:41 am

    Dang, forgot ask above – do you have any tips on estimating a ratio on how much material you will need for a job? Such as ‘I will need 10 linear feet of material to get a 5 foot piece of cordage’ ?

    Also – how long should the splices be when joining materials to gain a good bond, 5 or 6 inches ?

    • Jarhead Survivor July 20, 2012, 1:45 pm

      I usually put in between 3 to 6 inches. The splice looks best when you take your time and do it right.

  • Tim July 20, 2012, 7:59 am

    Off topic: I’ve been told my whole life that “cattails are a food source”, yet I’ve *never* heard anyone actually describe what the heck you’re actually supposed to eat.
    I know that cattail stem isn’t going down my gullet anytime soon. Are you supposed to eat that “pillow stuffing” on top? I sure hope not…

    • Jason July 20, 2012, 9:03 am

    • Jarhead Survivor July 20, 2012, 1:37 pm

      The guy in Jason’s link pretty much nails it. When people have asked me in the past what the heart tastes like the best I could come up with was “wild cucumber,” which is similar to what he says.

      Also, the rhizome (root system) is edible. You have to dig them out of the muck/water and while you can eat them raw they taste better cooked. Very starchy. If you ever run into a survival situation and you find a stand of cattails your chance of survival just got a lot better.

      I’ll try and do a post later about cattails and how to cook and eat them.

  • Spook45 July 20, 2012, 9:14 am

    YEa….. and yu can eat em too.

  • Brandon July 20, 2012, 9:55 am


    I took a couple wilderness survival classes for fun and they mentioned eating the cat tail roots. Dig them up and cook them like potatoes. The guys in the class said they are really starchy and don’t taste that great but you will get calories.


    • Phil July 20, 2012, 10:12 am

      Thought I read sometime back that you could also eat the green tails if you boild them up like corn, but you may want to double check me on that.

      I have eaten the roots, but I don’t remember what they tasted like?

    • Tim July 20, 2012, 10:12 am

      Thank you, Brandon, that makes more sense than anything else I’ve ever been told. I never considered the roots.

  • Leon July 20, 2012, 11:28 am

    Nice post – there is nothing like a simple, informed video on making cordage to emphasize the need to carry paracord or other type of rope along with you! Goo job!

    • Leon July 20, 2012, 1:54 pm

      GOOD job!

  • Ranger Man July 20, 2012, 11:37 am

    Excellent job.

  • Cindy B. July 20, 2012, 1:26 pm

    Excellent tutorial! I have now learned my new skill for the day! Not many cattails here in this region, but will look around at the local plants and see what I can find that I could use to make cordage! Thanks again!

    • Jarhead Survivor July 20, 2012, 1:41 pm

      Hi Cindy – I used cattail simply because it’s more abundant here than most other natural materials. Like I mentioned, you can use many different plants to make cordage. You might want to google “natural cordage” and your area to see what people are using where you live. The technique is valid with just about anything you can pick up and twist.

      Glad you enjoyed the tutorial!

    • Tassilyn June 23, 2016, 9:13 pm

      me gustaría saber la dirección exacta para poder ir al nuevo mall del oulet, horarios de atención y cualquier otra información que me puedan faatdiiar.Sclulos Cordiales Gisel Peñaloza.

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  • Practical Parsimony July 23, 2012, 4:25 am

    I live in the South and have wisteria and grape vines in my yard. If I needed cordage, both those, especially green, would be at the top of my list. Wisteria is impossible to break. It grows wild in the woods,often. But, I have about 80 ft of it as an ornamental plant. It gets out of hand and can grow to 100 feet long, same with the scuppernong grapes.

    • Smoke Hill Farm January 11, 2016, 2:23 am

      I suspect that the ornery plant we call “Virginia Creeper” would make tough cordage, based on how hard it is to cut. I suspect that most creeping-type plants would work, or even hollyhock. Good way to get rid of nuisance plants, too.


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