Fancy some almost unbreakable shoe and boot laces?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

I have to admit, shoelaces can be a major frustration to me. You’d think the ones included with a pair of shoes or boots would be the absolute pinnacle of shoelace technology, to match the outstanding footwear supplied by the dedicated craftsmen that have carefully and lovingly designed, decided and crafted the footwear you are holding, using all their years of experience and available resources, right? Yet, how often do the supplied laces seem more like an afterthought, the last way to eek a little extra margin from the product as it sidles out the door on the way to an expectant customer? More often than not, I’d venture.

I’ve had expensive and well-reputed shoes with laces that were too thin, too short or too weak. Or shoes with speed hooks so sharp that the laces were frazzled in short order. There’s also the issue with lace friction, especially when you have something ridiculous like full heigh Red Wing 877 boots, with their 10 pairs of eyelets, where you have to undo 7 of them just to get the boots on. And cotton laces, that will select their moment to break with a scientific precision depending on how much of an insane hurry you’re in to run off.

So what we really need are laces that are strong and with low friction. No doubt there are some on the market that are better. Even waxed to keep the friction down. They’re expensive though. And having traipsed around shops trying to find a good pair of a specific colour and length this Summer, can be infuriatingly hard to find. This may sadly be an effect of people buying ever cheaper footwear, where a failure of the laces is reason enough to replace them.

A small selection of paracord in various colours.

A small selection of paracord in various colours.

My solution?

Parachute cord. That’s right, the cord used to fasten the parachute to the harness. I’ll not claim to have invented this (I did actually, but others invented it before me), but I’ve taken it a little further than most. Why paracord though? It’s really strong, the common 550 designation means it can lift 550 pounds or 249 kilos. That level of breaking strength means you can pull your boots tight and then some. The strength comes from it being having a nylon kernmantle inner, with 7-9 core yarns and a braided outer cover. Kind of technical for a shoelace, I’ll admit, but it’s strong. And the braided outer also gives a nice low-friction feel to it. Plus they’re available in any number of colours, so it’s not like you have to use army-issue olive drab on all your fancy footwear.

And keep in mind you can make the laces exactly as long as you want them to be.

How?

Available in a variety of lengths, it’s a case of cutting the length you need and then finishing the end. The simple way to do this is to just scissor it off then burn the end with an open flame. With a little care this can be quite tidily done. A couple of warnings though:

  1. When you heat the end you are in effect melting plastic, don’t get it on your skin as it’ll burn something rotten.
  2. Don’t be left with a huge blob on the end, as it’ll be tricky to lace up your shoes. Have a piece of card or something to shape the molten end against before it sets.
Paracord with metal aglets crimped in place.

Paracord with metal aglets crimped in place.

Taking it up a notch

If you want to take it further you can fit aglets to the ends. Aglets are the little plastic or metal sheaths that protect the ends of the laces and make them easier to thread. And they look nice. You could also use some heat shrink plastic, though metal will look nicer. To fit them you’ll need two things:

  1. A bag of aglets of the correct dimension. I found some on eBay, dimension 4mm diameter and 20mm long.
  2. Some way of crimping the aglets to ensure they stay in place. I found an “aglet hand crimping pliers” on Ali Express.
Pliers for hand crimping metal aglets, and the metal aglets.

Pliers for hand crimping metal aglets, and the metal aglets.

The paracord is widely available and I won’t recommend any specific place, though I found that paracord550.net has a huge variety of colours and is reasonably priced.

Not for everyone, and certainly not for the fancy or dainty shoes, but if your footwear is of the more rugged type, this may make a lot of sense. I’m still in the early days, enjoying my paracord honeymoon, so to speak, but so far this does not seem a disastrous idea. My primary use so far has been as contrast laces on boots, adding a little colour to brighten up the day, but I also have more subdued colours and will make up laces in less flashy colours.

At this point you’re probably all geared up and ready to go, yet maybe wondering what it costs? The paracord itself is very cheap, about 1.50 pounds for 10 metres (which should be roughly 10 pairs of laces). Aglets are again almost cost-free. The aglet crimping pliers came to about 25 pounds but will last for generations to come, as long as my children’s children are as focused on shoelaces as I currently am this may prove a prescient investment. If you go without the aglets and plier though, just melt the ends and stroll off whistling.

Learn a new knot

You may want to learn a new knot to tie your shoes, as the lower friction may make them come undone easier. For this I recommend “Ian’s secure knot”, as can be found on Ian’s Shoelace Site (a great site!):

Illustration of Ian's secure knot.

Illustration of Ian’s secure knot.

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5 Comments

  • Roland Novak 08/09/2018 at 09:55

    Great analysis! My main concern though is the low friction issue, that can get them undone quite easily. The double knot is ok, but the low friction means also, that in higher boots It’s harder to tighten them. All the best, Roland

    Reply
    • nick 08/09/2018 at 10:08

      It’s not zero friction, around the same as regular nylon or new waxed laces!

      Reply
  • Ian 09/09/2018 at 14:31

    My bug bear is replacement laces that are too slippy (and thin) won’t hold a knot so you are constantly re-knotting else go with a double knot then the slippyness goes and you have to cut them open!

    Reply
    • nick 09/09/2018 at 14:33

      Did you take a look at the knot I linked to? Ian’s site is incredible. I’m trying to work out the secure knot though!

      Reply
  • Kartturi 20/09/2018 at 11:25

    Pro tip: for smaller laces, you can gut the paracord by pullin the kern-yarns out and using just the mantle- That’ll work also for dressier shoes with smaller eyelets, because a full 4-5mm diameter Type III cord is pretty hefty, I’m thinkin mountaineering boot laces for comparison.

    Reply

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