Tourniquets are familiar to some and foreign to others. Some people wave off the tourniquet, thinking they can just use their belt. Others think you should only use a tourniquet for an amputation. What’s the truth? Are tourniquets helpful? And which types of tourniquets should you carry?
This guide will cover three common tourniquets and list their pros and cons. Anyone carrying a firearm or spending time outdoors should understand how to use a tourniquet. In this article, we’ll talk about three of the best tourniquets on the market. Also, we’ll review several common tourniquet myths.
Some very reputable professionals carry the tourniquets we’ll cover in this article, including Navy SEALs, police officers, and paramedics. After reading, you’ll be one step closer to protecting yourself and your family.
Parts Of A Tourniquet
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, it’ll help to know the parts of a tourniquet. That way, you can easily follow along.
The parts of a tourniquet:
- Strap. All tourniquets need a strap that will tighten around the limb.
- Windlass. The windlass is attached to the strap. As you twist the windlass, the strap becomes much tighter. The windlass gives you a mechanical advantage.
- C-Clip. Once you tighten the tourniquet, you need to secure the windlass. The C-clip quickly locks the tourniquet into place.
- Time tag. Most tourniquets have an area to mark the time—an important step in tourniquet application.
These are the basic elements of a tourniquet. Some types of tourniquets will have slightly different parts. Tip: Before you hit the range with a new shooter, make carrying and practicing with a tourniquet part of your routine.
Types Of Tourniquets
We’ll start by talking about three of the best tourniquets on the market. If you’re totally new to tourniquets, don’t worry. As we talk about the tourniquets, you’ll learn what makes a tourniquet functional. Tourniquets work by compressing major arteries, essentially choking off blood flow and stopping the bleed. To illustrate this, think about stepping on a garden hose: you compress the hose, and the water stops.
Three of the best tourniquets:
- SOF-T by Tactical Medical Solutions
- CAT by North American Rescue
- SAM-XT by SAM medical
The CAT and the SOF-T are undisputed top tourniquets – they’ve shared recommendations by the CoTCCC for the longest time. The SAM-XT has a special feature that makes it unique. Note: If you’re curious about other options, you can read the CoTCCC statement on recommended tourniquets. The CoTCCC is an organization that recommends medical procedures and equipment for military use.
SOF-T Tourniquet: Pros & Cons
The SOF-T is common in professional environments. It works with a windlass design and a simple pull strap. Also, the SOF-T has an easy release clip that allows you to loop the tourniquet around someone’s leg or arm without releasing direct pressure. The SOF-T does not use velcro – this is one reason some people like the SOF-T over the CAT. While not a huge issue, velcro can become inhibited with water and dirt. Also, you need to secure the velcro, adding a step to the application. With the SOF-T, you just pull it tight and start twisting the windlass.
Pros to the SOF-T:
- CoTCCC approved
- Easy clip buckle
- Easy to store and carry
- Least expensive of the three options
Cons to the SOF-T:
- Smaller windlass
Helpful Hint: Use a tourniquet when you see a large amount of red spurting blood. Tourniquets are no longer “the last resort.” They can safely stay on someone’s limb for up to two hours and sometimes longer.
CAT Tourniquet: Pros & Cons
The CAT tourniquet might be the most popular in the world. You can easily use the newest generations of the CAT with one hand, and it has a large windlass that’s simple to twist. The CAT tourniquet is carried worldwide by the military, the police, and ambulance services. The CAT is user-friendly. It does have a velcro portion that adds a step to the application. Also, the CAT tourniquet is larger than the SOF-T, so it’s a bit more difficult to carry it around every day. With that said, you can’t go wrong carrying a CAT.
Pros to the CAT:
- Many people know it and are familiar with it.
- Easy to use one-handed.
- It’s recommended by the CoTCCC.
Cons to the CAT:
- Velcro (not a true con, just a dislike by some)
- Counterfeits (just be sure you double-check)
Beware: The CAT is one of the most copied and counterfeited tourniquets. You might buy a tourniquet, thinking it’s a quality CAT, when it’s really a knockoff. Buying a cheap tourniquet could get you killed. CATs usually sell for about $30 – If you find them for much less, be suspicious.
SAM-XT Tourniquet: Pros & Cons
The SAM-XT tourniquet operates like the SOF-T and the CAT; however, the SAM-XT has one clever development – it “clicks” once you’ve pulled the tourniquet tight enough. This solves one of the biggest issues with tourniquets, not pulling them tight enough before tightening the windlass.
Other than its auto-locking buckle, the SAM-XT tourniquet operates very similarly to the CAT and the SOF-T. If you’re curious, here’s a video on the special action of the SAM-XT. The main downsides to the SAM-XT are that it’s the largest in the group, and the added mechanism makes it bulky. For this reason, it isn’t as easy to carry every day. Also, the SAM-XT is the most expensive of the three options, at about $37-$40.
Pros of the SAM-XT:
- Easy to use
- CoTCCC recommended
Cons of the SAM-XT:
- Slightly more expensive
- Bulky for EDC
Helpful hint: Be careful with tourniquets that don’t have a windlass or ratcheting mechanism. However, some tourniquets, like the SWAT-T, can work and have multiple uses (though they aren’t recommended as a primary option).
How To Use A Tourniquet
Let’s cover the steps to using a tourniquet – this will not be in-depth, and it’s no excuse for live training. Here’s a good video showing you how to use a tourniquet. Note: It’s wise to research and update your training around any medical practice. Why? How we use tourniquets, and the types of tourniquets might change in the future.
Steps to using a tourniquet:
- Apply pressure to the wound. If you see bleeding, start with extra firm direct pressure – even if you know you’ll need a tourniquet. You may need to use the tips of your fingers and press hard directly into the wound. If you have time, apply gloves.
- Assess severity. Responders use tourniquets for life-threatening arterial bleeds – that means bright red, spurting blood. However, you can consider a tourniquet even if the blood isn’t spurting.
- Apply the tourniquet. Place the tourniquet 2-3 inches above the sight of bleeding. If you’re unsure where the bleeding is, place the tourniquet high and tight – just below the hip or shoulder. If you’re applying the tourniquet to someone else, loop the tourniquet around so you don’t need to release firm pressure.
- Pull the tourniquet straps tight. Pull the end of the tourniquet so it’s tight around the extremity – as tight as you can pull it. Secure the strap.
- Twist the windlass. Now, twist the windlass until bleeding stops. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, continue applying pressure with your hands while you think about applying another tourniquet above the one already in place.
- Mark the time. Mark the time on the tourniquet. Remember, you usually have about two hours before significant damage occurs. Even physicians debate the risks of removing a tourniquet after two hours. Many advocate for leaving it in place, as there are risks beyond amputation, like the limb releasing dangerous toxins back into the blood after the tourniquet is removed. However, if the bleeding was relatively minor, you may choose to slowly release the tourniquet, while applying pressure.
- Expose and evacuate. Try to determine exactly where the bleeding is coming from. Continue applying direct pressure if there’s still active bleeding. Also, leave the tourniquet exposed – you want everybody to know there is a tourniquet in place.
Also, you can apply a tourniquet over clothing. However, make sure there isn’t anything in the pockets of pants. If the patient is wearing especially bulky clothing, like a heavy winter coat, you may need to remove it first. Hint: As you practice safety techniques like trigger discipline, train to apply a tourniquet in under 30 seconds. The faster the better.
Common Tourniquet Myths
In this section, we’ll talk about some common myths. Common tourniquet myths:
- A belt will work as a tourniquet
- Applying a tourniquet means you’ll lose the limb
- Tourniquets are only a last resort
- It’s okay to use knockoff tourniquets
Let’s explore these in more depth.
Myth 1: A Belt Will Work as a Tourniquet
Makeshift tourniquets have a history of being ineffective. Hollywood has done a serious disservice by propagating the “use your belt” myth. The main reason belts don’t work is the lack of a windlass. Most people just try to pull the belt tight – this is difficult to do and maintain. A good improvised tourniquet combines a wide and flexible material with a sturdy windlass. It’s better to learn how to make a real improvised tourniquet. Here’s a video showing how to improvise a tourniquet that works.
Myth 2: A Tourniquet Means You’ll Lose the Limb
Tourniquets are safe and effective when used properly. In fact, the CDC found they save lives on the field of battle. People used to think that if you place a tourniquet, you’ll automatically lose the limb. This isn’t the case. With that said, if the tourniquet is in place for over 2 hours, the risk of losing the limb becomes higher. However, even if you lose a limb, it’s better to lose a limb than lose your life.
Myth 3: Tourniquets are Only a Last Resort
These days, if you see a bad bleed, you can start applying firm pressure as you start preparing a tourniquet. If you’re on the fence, err on the side of applying a tourniquet. It’s better to apply a tourniquet and not need it than to skip the tourniquet and find you need it.
Myth 4: It’s Okay to Use Knockoff Tourniquets
The only purpose of a tourniquet is to save someone’s life. Period. So, when you use a tourniquet, it needs to work. For this reason, be skeptical of any super cheap tourniquet. Buy a nice, quality tourniquet and carry it with you everywhere. Hopefully, you never need it. But if you do, you’ll be glad you spent a few more bucks on a quality tourniquet.
Life Savers: Types Of Tourniquets
If you carry a gun, you should also carry a tourniquet. A tourniquet could save your life in a gunfight, a hunting accident, a workshop mistake, a bear attack, or even a car crash – and it’s not just for you; it’s for your friends and family. Also, in addition to carrying a tourniquet, carry some gauze and pressure bandages. Many gun owners and hunters wear an ankle medical kit – easily carrying a lifesaving tourniquet and medical supplies. Finally, seek out good training. Contact your local fire department and ask when and where you can get trained in first aid.