Let’s step away from firearms for a minute and talk about cordage. Just about everyone in the shooting world knows of, and probably uses, 550 paracord. In fact, we love to “paracord all the things” with bracelets, rifle slings, and more. The stuff is useful for a lot of reasons, and we’ll get to it. But bank line is another alternative that you really should try out.
Bank line is the common name for twisted, or braided, nylon twine. It commonly comes tarred for weather resistance, and you can pick it up in different thicknesses. I first came across the stuff through the bushcraft community.
The most common size is #36, which is .085″ thick and has a breaking strength of 320 lbs.
No, it’s not as strong as mil-spec paracord rated for 550 lbs. But in real-world use, 320 lbs is still very strong and useful for ridgelines, snares, trip wires, fishing line, rigging equipment, making nets, or really anything you would use cordage for.
The real benefit comes from its size, though. Bank line takes up significantly less space in a pack than paracord. That means you can carry more cordage for weight without sacrificing much strength or capability.
Bank line originates from the practice of trotline fishing. Commonly used for catfish, trotline fishing means setting a long span of cord from one bank of a river to the other, hence “bank line.”
You then set hooks and bait periodically along the line and place a weight along the middle so the middle sinks down to the bottom.
To be suitable for this style of fishing, the line has to be strong enough to deal with currents and fighting fish, resistant to wet conditions, and also easily tied into knots. All of those characteristics are great for any kind of outdoors cordage.
Bank Line vs Paracord
I’m not going to tell you that you should ditch paracord and only use tarred twine. Both systems have their merit and serve well for different purposes. Let’s do a quick down-the-line comparison of the two.
|Criteria||Bank Line #36||550 Paracord (Mil Spec)|
|Tensile Strength||320 lbs||550 lbs|
|Diameter||.085" or 2.1 mm||5/32" or 4 mm|
|Length per 1/4 lb||138 feet or 42 m||56 feet or 17 m|
|Cost per foot||$0.05||$0.12-ish|
|Water Absorbancy||Repels water|| Absorbs water|
and gets weaker for it
|Knot Suitability||Excellent for knots||Good for knots|
|UV Light Resistance||Good||Okay|
|Stretch||Less Stretch||More Stretch|
From this, you see that Bank Line is lighter, cheaper, thinner, more weather-resistant, and doesn’t stretch. On the other hand, paracord has higher tensile strength, costs more, is slightly less weather-resistant, and stretches more under load.
I mentioned earlier that both of these are well suited to different tasks. So let’s talk about my personal uses.
Paracord Uses Over Bank Line
There are three reasons that paracord continues to stay in my kit rather than be completely replaced.
First, I find that paracord makes for a better ridge line when setting up a tarp shelter. Combined with a trucker’s hitch, paracord makes for a very taut ridgeline. Since it’s also a little wider, it makes a good base for tying prusik knots.
Secondly, paracord includes several components that are also individually useful. Any length of paracord includes seven or more internal nylon strands. Each of these could also be used for building nets, lashings, as fishing line, or repairing equipment.
Once the inner strands are removed, the outer sheath itself becomes flat and works very well for securing equipment to a gear belt.
Lastly, I think paracord is better for visibility. It’s thicker profile makes it easier to spot. Not to mention you can get it in a variety of colors, including bright oranges. That means you’re much less likely to lose some of it should it land on the ground.
That makes it suited to guy lines and stake tie-offs as well.
Bank Line Uses Over Paracord
On the flip side, I think bank line makes better general-purpose cordage for outdoors use. You can carry more of it per weight, and it consumes less space in your pack. It’s thin enough that you can sew with it to repair your equipment as well.
If you purchase the twisted version, as opposed to my preferred braided format, you could even use those smaller strands as even finer sewing thread.
I use bank line for nearly all accessory tie points, to include prusik knots on my paracord ridgelines, hanging loops, and even used it to make a basic axe handle guard. In fact, the slight tackiness of the tarred line means that bank line takes and holds knots extremely well.
While both cords could be used for fishing, bank line is practically purpose-built for it. If your survival plan includes any kind of fishing via lines or nets, bank line is your ticket.
I don’t have any experience with it, but the stiffness and smaller diameter of bank line also makes it superior for setting traps and snares.
What to Look For
There are a lot of companies out there making bank line of some sort or another. It also comes in various weights and styles.
I’ll address the manufacturer first, since that’s the easiest.
The best bank line comes from the Catahoula Manufacturing Company. The only catch is that they only sell to retailers and not the general public.
The two best sources I’ve found for Catahoula line are Amazon and Self-Reliance Outfitters.
Twisted vs Braided
You really can’t go wrong here. Braided bank line, my personal preference, is slightly stronger due to the way each fiber weaves around the others. Braided is less likely to fray or unravel at the ends. I’ve never had to burn or fuse the end of a braided line as I do with paracord.
On the other hand, you can untwist strands of twisted bank line to produce smaller fibers useful for other tasks around camp. The only thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have to to deal with the ends fraying and unbinding, just as with paracord.
So there you have it, an introduction to the cordage you haven’t been using but probably should.
I’m slowly building up a stockpile of bank line, right along with my paracord stash. The stuff is just too darn useful even around the house. Grab a few rolls of it and stuff it in a pack for those “just in case” moments.
Matt Good post for those new to outdoor skills. We use tarred bank line a lot around the homestead. Usually pick it up at the bait store or that famous Arkansas mega mart that’s in most towns. It’s uses are virtually limitless. Add a few bungee cords and you’ve got a ton of light duty tie downs. It works great for trot lines and limb line too! Bungee cords work great for tent ridge lines. The little 1/4” diameter camo ones about 3 feet long are perfect. They wrap around the external frame of a pack so you’re all set… Read more »
Hey Jon, thanks for commenting! You’re right about the bungees for ridgelines and guylines. I know that’s a common British basha technique. It certainly makes setting up a shelter much faster. I guess I’m a little stubborn and old school that I keep practicing my knots, lol
To each his own.
I picked up the bungee TTP at Bragg about a million years ago. The habit just stuck.
Plenty of practice with the basic knots and rigging in other duties.
Matt, The only problem with tarred bank line is the smell. My wife hates the smell of it. To keep her happy, I always remove the plastic wrapper and place a new roll of bank line in the corner of my covered back porch on the top of the lid on a five gallon bucket. I let it stay there where the wind can blow on it (but rain or snow can’t get to it) for about two months or so until the odor dissipates. My wife can smell a six inch piece of brand new, undeodorized bank line from… Read more »
Happy wife, happy life!
You know, I’ve never really noticed a strong odor on it, and I’ve got several roles of the stuff in my gear crate. I suppose I’m lucky that my wife doesn’t seem to notice, either. It’s a fair point, though.
Good article. Thanks for writing,
Do you have any opinion or can you share experience about the different sizes of bank line? I see people using #36 a lot, but is #12 or #18 just as useful? I realize that they aren’t as strong, but they are lighter. Wondering if one is better suited for different uses?
Hey James, thanks for asking. I’ll admit that I don’t have a lot of experience with other sizes. I don’t think they would particularly present any problems so long as you are using it within the bounds of its tensile strength. I think the preference for #36 is that it has a closer strength to 550 cord, which works well for things like shelter construction and high tension knots like the trucker’s hitch.
If you’re not using the cordage for that, then I don’t see why the lighter ones wouldn’t do just fine.
Excellent breakdown. Having used both, I must agree with everything you said.