When it comes to some outdoor products, there are times when it may seem like the line between fashionable and functional is a little blurred. As companies continue to make products, a side effect of the process is that such products—shoes, water bottles, backpacks, etc—become more practical on and off the trail. I shed some light on one such product, Vibram’s popular Five Fingers shoes, in the past, and today I’ll do the same with another product that has become more mainstream over the last year: paracord bracelets.

Paracord is a strong, but lightweight, nylon rope that was originally used in parachutes and the securing of equipment for the military. In recent years, outdoorsmen have utilized paracord in campsites and when transporting gear with vehicles. It can also be useful in emergencies, where campers and hikers can use paracord to make tourniquets or lift heavy objects, which is one of the reasons paracord bracelets were created.

Made from a length of braided paracord and equipped with a strong buckle, the bracelets fit conveniently around one’s wrist and offer ready access should an emergency arise. They come in different sizes, depending on your wrist size, which ultimately means varying lengths of cord among the different sizes. There are also different braid and buckle styles, depending on the maker of the bracelet, which can have an impact on how long it takes to unravel the cord for use.

More recently, the bracelets have branched off from the conventional camouflage, black, or white color, and have been used as an expression in relation to school pride, professional sports teams, and companies by incorporating new colors and even logos. Furthermore, there are people who simply wear them around as a fashion statement. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it does steer away from the bracelets’ original purpose. Personally, I wouldn’t purchase a bracelet from a school store or stake my life on one handed out at a company picnic.

The bottom line is this: paracord bracelets were made to be easily accessible emergency tools for the outdoors. However, bracelets are just that, bracelets, and being such are subject to being picked up as the next big thing in fashion accessories. As I said earlier, while there’s nothing wrong with schools or companies utilizing them as creative ways of advertising or expressing school spirit, it’s still smart for outdoorsmen to stick with outdoor retailers or gear websites when it comes to picking up a bracelet of their own.