Tourniquets are an Essential Part of Any Good First Aid Kit


Back when I first learned to use a tourniquet, we were taught to release it every 15 minutes in order to keep from losing the limb.  Well all that has changed, now you leave them on until you reach a more advanced level of care.  Now I am not going to tell you how or when to use a tourniquet, there are people that are much better qualified than me to provide you with that information.  What I am going to do is provide you with some information on the best type of tourniquet to have in your first aid kit.

A tourniquet is a constricting or compressing device, specifically a bandage, used to control heavy bleeding in an extremity for a period of time. Pressure is applied circumferentially upon the skin and underlying tissues of a limb; this pressure is transferred to the walls of vessels, causing the blood flow to cease.

In recent years, the US military has done extensive testing on the treatment of wounds in the field.  This has resulted in the development of new individual first aid kits or IFAKs.  Currently there are only two tourniquets that are approved to be used in these kits. These are the North American Rescue CAT or combat application tourniquet and the SOFTT tourniquet.  Both are similar in style and consist of a strap and buckle with a windlass to tighten it.

The CAT is an excellent and simple tourniquet and is very effective.  The Cat has a good reputation with the military medics and with friends on the fire department.  However they all warn you that you need to practice and learn how to use it.  You should be able with a little training to put it on very fast.  The windlass on the CAT is plastic and I have heard reports of older tourniquets breaking while being tighten.



The SOFTT-W Tourniquet is the second one that is approved for the IFAKs. The basic mechanism is similar to the Cat in that both work by the rotation of a twist bar.  The big difference is the SOFTT uses steel and nylon webbing instead of the plastic and Velcro of the CAT.  Some people find that the mechanism of the SOFTT is easier to use under pressure.  Both the SOFTT and the CAT can be used one handed

SWAT-T tourniquet

The  SWAT-T, is another commercially available tourniquet, that you often see in first aid kits outside the military. This tourniquet did not meet the military  requirements. The SWAT-T is basically a long strip of elastic rubber.  They still will work and are less costly than the CAT or SOFTT and can be used to hold pressure dressings in place.

The CAT’s and SOFTT are both pricey often selling for up to $30 each.  The SWAT-T sells for about $8 each.

There are many other tourniquets and items you can use in an emergency, including such things as the Israeli bandages.  Many of these will work.  But I have decided to follow the militaries advice and I will include the CAT or SOFTT in my kits.

A couple of things to remember when using a tourniquet, once it is on, leave it on until you can reach a higher level of care. When a tourniquet is applied correctly, it hurts.

Hope you never have to use one.


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