A tourniquet is a medical device that works by squeezing large blood vessels. When pressure is applied to the blood vessels it can stop blood loss. It can also be one of the most important items in a bug out bag. This type of medical equipment can end up saving a person’s life in emergency situations, when used correctly. If you’ve never used or purchased a tourniquet before, then this guide will help you find the type and style you need, whether you’re building a bug out bag, stockpiling important safety gear, or you’re planning a long hunting or camping trip. Many people are surprised to learn that there are many different types, widths, and styles to choose from, which can make shopping for a model that’s effective, durable, and high-quality, seem overwhelming.
I’ve not only created a buyer’s guide that includes all of the information you need to make an informed decision, but I’ve also included several products that earned top marks for quality, design, and durability. Below, I’ve put together a comparison chart that lists each of the products, their specs, and how each model rated.
Tourniquet Comparison Chart
Best Tourniquet Overall-North American Rescue 2 Pack Genuine NAR CAT Tourniquet Gen 7
This North American Rescue CAT 7 model features one-handed application. It has also been tested and proven to be 100% effective. Testing on the CAT was conducted at the Army’s Institute of Surgical Research. The tests showed that the CAT was able to occlude extremity blood flow. This model utilizes a windlass system with an internal band that’s free-moving. The band provides the circumferential pressure. When tightened correctly, the bleeding is stopped as the windlass is locked into place. There is a windlass strap and hook that’s applied to secure the windlass, locking it into place. This is done to maintain pressure. The design of the securing system prevents the need for a windlass clip and screws, which can be impossible to operate when under survival stress or when fine motor skills have been compromised.
- One hand application
- Unique windlass lock system
- Quickly stops extremity bleeding
- Free-moving internal band
This gen 7 CAT tourniquet is designed by one the top tourniquet manufacturers and is the perfect addition to any trauma kit. The unique dual lock design and free-moving internal band makes using this medical device fast and simple.
Best Combat Casualty Care COTCCC Tourniquet-Recon Medical TANTQ Tourniquet
This piece of life saving equipment can prevent hemorrhaging, which is the leading cause of preventable deaths in non-tactical and tactical trauma situations. The tourniquet features a finger hole design that helps improve the user’s grip due to blood, mud, or wet weather conditions. This model will make a great addition to any tactical combat casualty care kit.
The tourniquet features a composite buckle that resists cracking and breaking due to cold weather conditions. In fact, the manufacturers are so sure this model will not fail you that it’s covered by a cold weather lifetime guarantee.
- Prevents blood loss
- Easy windlass turns
- Perfect addition to any first aid kit
- Easy to apply
- Low quality plastic belt loop
Research has proven that this combat application tourniquet is 100% effective when it comes to stopping arterial blood flow quickly. A shorter application time can save both life and limb. The windlass design and patented finger hole work together to make this one-handed model easy to apply, and difficult to dislodge.
Best Tuck Tourniquet-SWAT T Tourniquet
This Swat T model is considered one of the best tourniquets on the market. This is a multipurpose stretch, wrap, and tuck model. With fast application, this model can quickly stop arterial blood flow. The biggest selling point is its ease of application. Additionally this model is a third of the weight and cost of competing tactical combat casualty care tourniquets. Swat T is a trusted brand that’s known for producing tactical gear that’s not just durable and reliable, but beginner friendly as well. Their latest tourniquet allows for higher application than competing products, which is a huge selling point for any potential buyer.
- Excellent bleeding control
- Life saving beginner friendly design
- Low price
- Hard to self apply
This Swat T device was developed by a former medic/operator with fourteen years of experience in operational medicine. These tourniquets by Swat T offer a faster means of controlling extremity bleeding, in addition to higher application into the axilla and groin, making it more versatile than competing tourniquets.
U.S. Army Official Tourniquet-CAT – Combat Application Tourniquet
The CAT windlass tourniquet is a Committee on Tactical Combat approved model, it’s also the official tourniquet for the U.S. Army. This combat application tourniquet features a one-handed design that has been proven to be 100% effective by the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army’s Institute of Surgical Research tested the CAT to prove it’s able to completely occlude the flow of blood to an extremity in cases of severe hemorrhaging. This model features a durable windlass design complete with a free-moving internal windlass band that provides proper circumferential pressure to extremities. Once the CAT has been tightened correctly, bleeding will stop and the windlass will be locked securely in place. The hook and loop windlass retention strap must then be applied to secure the windlass and maintain the correct level of pressure during casualty evacuation.
- Used by the U.S. Army
- Easy access retention clip
- Includes windlass security strap
- Reinforced stabilization plate
- Requires fewer turns
- Difficult to use
The CAT is considered one of the top windlass tourniquets on the market. This CAT model meets single protocol application standards, comes with a reinforced stabilization plate, a writable windlass security strap, and windlass rod. It also features effective slack removal and a single routing buckle that promotes faster application. Unfortunately, this is a medical device that you will want to practice using now, before you’re put in a life threatening situation. The CAT can be difficult to learn how to apply correctly, especially when it comes to self application, which is why buyers should read the included package information and practice learning how to apply the CAT and how to take advantage of the different settings, contact bar, and other components to ensure they know how to utilize this important medical device correctly.
Best TQS Set-Tourniquet+Trauma Shear+Tourniquet Holder
This model can occlude arterial blood in lower and upper limbs to cease life-threatening bleeding. This is a three in one combo that allows you to have trauma shears and a tourniquet ready to go, for faster emergency care.
This set can be used in non-tactical and tactical situations at home or as part of a bug out bag first aid kit. This model is made out of hard plastic and durable nylon, so it will work in a variety of tough conditions. The adjustable design also adds to this product’s versatility.
- Durable retention clip
- Made out of tough nylon
- Includes holster and shears
- Holster is bulky
The content in this kit includes trauma shears, a holster, and a tourniquet. The shears can be used to cut through clothing and bandages, and features a razor sharp design that can handle slicing through the thickest material, including denim. The overall quality of the components in this set will make it a must have for home, travel, or as part of a bug out bag.
Best Choice for Beginners-SOFT T-W Tourniquet
This Soft T tactical medical device is said to be stronger, faster, and lighter compared to past models made by Soft T. The 1 ½ inch constricting band is designed to improve patient comfort and constricting pressure. This model also features a snap-lock quick connect buckle design that promotes the band’s fast rerouting around trapped limbs.
It also features a low profile design and a much lighter weight, thanks to the alloy components. This improves the windlass tourniquet’s strength and durability.
- Beginner friendly
- 1 ½ inch constricting band
- Very difficult to put on with one hand
According to Soft T, this model is fifteen percent lighter compared to competing models. The reduced size equals easier storage and transport. Durable, built tough and the perfect addition to any bug out bag, this model earned top marks for ease of use, the innovative snap buckle design, and overall quality. However, many experts claim that it’s almost impossible to put this model on using just one hand, so practice is recommended.
Tourniquet Buyer’s Guide
Tourniquet use can be life saving, but not all tourniquets are created equal. Because this is such an important piece of medical equipment, you definitely want to invest in the best and read information concerning how these tools can be used effectively and what makes one model better than the other.
Should I Include a Tourniquet in My Bug Out Bag?
Carrying a tourniquet in your bug out bag may just seem like another piece of gear to carry that you’ll never use but doing so can potentially save a life.
Unfortunately, uncontrolled bleeding is the leading cause of preventable deaths among trauma patients. Injuries such as gunshot wounds, stab wounds, and injuries sustained in vehicle accidents can require the use of a tourniquet. In under four minutes, a person can bleed out from a complete femoral artery and vein disruption. Using a tourniquet can help a victim suffering from a life-threatening extremity hemorrhage.
While not all injuries warrant the use of a tourniquet, depending on the emergency, they can definitely save lives.
Carrying this type of medical device in your bug out bag will not take up much room, and it can be such an important tool to have on hand in the event of a natural disaster or car accident, hunting accident, or any other type of emergency situation.
Now that you know how important this type of medical tool is, I’ll begin the buyer’s guide by discussing the Committee on Tactical Combat Care, before diving into the different kinds of tourniquets to choose from.
Committee on Tactical Combat Care
This is a committee of representatives from the marines, navy, air force, and army that provides guidelines for the standard of care for the modern battlefield. This committee provides guidelines for tactical field care, care under fire, and tactical evacuation care. They provide an extensive list of tourniquets that are deemed suitable for combat casualty care, such as the popular CAT tourniquets which have seven versions available. CAT tourniquets have been rigorously tested by the U.S. Army’s Institute of Surgical Research and proven effective at completely occluding bleeding, which is why CAT devices often come heavily recommended. The committee often recommends new brands and tourniquets each year, for their manual on TCCC Guidelines.
Types of Tourniquets
There are four main types of tourniquets sold:
- Elastic band
Considered the best tourniquets on the market, the windlass is available in a few different forms, however, the windlass bar is the most common. This type is made out of a web sleeve with Velcro or another type of material that’s used to keep a loop, such as a buckle. Inside the webbing, a strip of webbing is threaded through the windlass bar’s center. When it’s twisted it will twist the strip of internal webbing. This method will produce compression that can occlude the flow of blood in the limb.
Aside from the windlass bar, there’s also some windlass tourniquets that have a cable inside. The cable is wound up to create compression.
- This style can occlude blood flow more effectively
- Great addition to any first aid kit
- Affordable product
- Unfortunately, this type of product only locks on one of the ends. To lock the bar, the user must turn it 180 degrees. This can cause the user to accidentally exceed the level of compression needed to stop bleeding. More pressure is not always a good thing. Additionally, the user will be unable to precisely adjust the device to maintain the same level of pressure.
Pneumatic tourniquets are items that you probably won’t put in a bug out bag. It looks more like a blood pressure cuff and is often referred to as a medical tourniquet. These are the best tourniquets to use during surgical procedures, although there are some that are designed for home and field use. This style consists of a sleeve that’s secured with Velcro. On the inside, there’s an inflatable compartment that’s inflated by machine or manually. Manual tourniquets usually consist of a bulb that’s squeezed to increase the level of pressure inside the tube until the occlusion pressure has been reached. An automatic model is connected to a machine that provides pressure elements as it inflates. This style is often found in hospitals and is used during limb surgeries.
- Can provide compression at lower levels, unlike other styles of tourniquets
- Easy to use
- If the sleeve is punctured the device is no longer usable
- The tourniquet can take more time to apply, depending on the size of the user and the injured person, and the environment.
- It can also be tricky to apply the device high on a limb.
The ladder strap and ratchet combination is made out of webbing with single or double buckles located at the end. To use this type, you’ll need to thread the free end through one to two rings and pull the strap tight. Single ring tourniquets usually have Velcro at the end since one ring alone cannot keep the strap tight. Tourniquets with a couple of rings have webbing that has been weaved through them. With this design, the rings will clamp down into the webbing, securing the device firmly in place. When the lever is lifted the teeth on the buckles will engage with the ladder strap teeth. This will increase the compression.
- Can be a great addition to a first aid kit
- Is able to fully occlude blood flow
- Affordable product
- Once the buckle is engaged, the user will need to apply a lot of force to release the compression. This makes it one of the most secure types of tourniquets on the market, since others can accidentally disengage if they’re bumped or not applied tight enough. It’s also easier to quickly apply these tourniquets, compared to other styles.
- Because it has mechanical parts, there’s a risk of part failure
- Some people may have a hard time removing the device
Features to Look for
As you can see, there are many styles of tourniquets available. Below, I’ll go over more important characteristics to look for to ensure you purchase a model that’s easy to use, adjustable, and above all else, reliable. The items you put in your bug out bag should be the very best.
The length of tourniquets is important. Because some people are smaller or larger than others, you need a length that will work for people of various sizes. Three feet should work for most people. However, if you or a family member are smaller than average, you may also want to purchase shorter tourniquets.
The best tourniquets are usually made out of very strong materials, such as nylon webbing. If you’re planning on taking your tourniquet in tough environments and conditions, then a model made out of nylon webbing will be the best choice.
The kind that is used in medical facilities are made out of elastic. This type of medical device is effective only for venous blood flow occlusion. Basically, elastic tourniquets stop the return of blood to the heart. This will increase pressure placed below, so that the person taking your blood will be able to draw your blood into a vial. Elastic tourniquets are not considered life saving models. However, you can find elastic tourniquets that are designed for lifesaving conditions, yet, they don’t have the same reputation for durability that nylon webbing tourniquets do.
Most tourniquets are available as one size fits all. But you can also find a variety of widths and sizes available. You should definitely purchase more than one size for smaller adults and children.
A tourniquet that’s designed to be placed on the arm using only one hand will usually come with a bite strap, which helps with self-application. If you’re looking for a model to store in your bug out bag, then a one-hand application style tourniquet is a smart buy.
The width of a tourniquet is another important factor.
The wider the device is, the better it will be at occluding blood flow. A narrow model will require a higher level of pressure to stop the bleeding. Because of this, when it comes to tourniquets, wider is better.
Windlass style tourniquets feature a one-inch width webbing, which is threaded through the windlass bar. The sleeve it’s inside is not considered the functional width. The ideal width to look for is between 1 ½ inches and 3 inches. Ideally, you should go with a 2-inch model.
Ease of Use
Most types of tourniquets are simple to use, although some are easier to use than others. Pneumatic tourniquets are pretty straight forward, but considering their price, you probably won’t be carrying it around in your bug out bag. Elastic tourniquets can be unreliable and it’s also simple to apply one too tightly. If you don’t have any prior experience or training with tourniquet use, then I recommend a ratcheting or windlass model. Both are very easy to apply and will not loosen up like an elastic model will.
The price varies greatly based on type and the materials used. A pneumatic tourniquet is by far the most expensive option and can cost a few hundred dollars or more. Elastic is the most affordable option, but it doesn’t have a reputation for durability like a ratcheting model does. The ratcheting tourniquet can also be a little pricey, but considering its foolproof design and overall quality, they’re definitely worth every penny. In most cases, you’ll come across tourniquets that range from $15 to $50.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Should You Not Use a Tourniquet?
The tourniquet is designed for limb injuries only, so it should never be used on the torso or on the head.
Does a Tourniquet Kill the Limb?
No. When applied too tightly or left on for an extensive amount of time, a tourniquet can cause tissue damage. In most cases, tourniquet use will not cause significant damage to an already injured extremity.
How Long Should a Tourniquet be Left on a Patient?
A tourniquet should only be left on for a maximum of two hours, otherwise it can lead to nerve damage or tissue damage. If a surgical procedure takes longer than two hours, the pneumatic tourniquet must be partially deflated for a few minutes. A sterile Esmarch bandage must be reapplied before the tourniquet is reinflated.
When Should a Tourniquet be Applied?
Before using this medical device, use direct external hand pressure. If this doesn’t successfully stop the bleeding, then use your tourniquet.
What can I Use Instead of a Tourniquet?
If you don’t have this type of medical device on hand and you’re trying to help an accident victim, you can use anything made out of cloth and turn it into a tourniquet. This includes towels, sheets, and even shirts.
When you’re shopping for the best tourniquet, there are many factors to consider, such as type, materials, length, and width. Because this is a lifesaving medical device, you definitely don’t want to skimp on price. Quality matters. This buyer’s guide and the products I’ve included here are designed to point you in the right direction, so you can purchase a model that won’t fail and will work in any type of emergency situation and environment.