CAT tourniquet is probably the most well-known type of this life saving device. But, is it actually the best? Let’s find out!
A tourniquet is an ancient device. It was used at least since the time of Alexander the Great. It’s a simple device designed to stop severe bleeding. And heavy bleeding is one of the most common causes of combat fatalities. Hiking or camping in the wilderness brings the same risks in case of heavy-bleeding injuries. So, it seems clear you should have one in your first aid kit or IFAK.
But, the story’s not that simple or one-sided.
During the 20th century experts often disagreed about the benefits of the device. There were cases where tourniquets made things worse and caused permanent damage to muscles and nerves. However, modern research has shown and proven that tourniquets are often the best option to save lives in cases of severe traumas and heavy bleeding.
The bottom line – tourniquets are highly effective, but one should use them strictly according to rules and indications. Before I delve deeper into the CAT tourniquet, let’s make things clear about the use of these devices. In good and trained hands, they can be life-savers. But, if you don’t know how and when to use it, you might make things worse.
What Is a Tourniquet
It’s a belt-like device that stops heavy bleeding from the limbs. Basically, it’s a strap that wraps around the wounded limb that provides pressure and eventually stops the bleeding. Another crucial part of the tourniquet is a pressure-applying mechanism. Typically, it’s a windlass, ratchet, or pneumatic mechanism. It’s based on the “rope and stick” design.
The stick acts as a windlass, and as you keep turning the stick, the rope tightens around the limb. I’ve mentioned it only to explain the typical mechanism, but a rope tourniquet is not a good idea. Modern, commercial tourniquets are designed to do the job efficiently – so stick to them unless there’s no other option.
How and When to Use a Tourniquet
First of all, you should get some basic training and knowledge. Truth be told, the newest generation of the CAT tourniquet is pretty easy to use for civilians as well. But, you still need some training and understanding.
- Use tourniquets only if you can’t control the bleeding with direct pressure. Tourniquets aren’t our first line of defense. They are more of a last resort to stop heavy bleeding.
- It can be used on limbs only! Remember, it’s a band you need to wrap around body parts. It’s not safe or even possible to use it on the head, groin, or joints.
- It shouldn’t stay on the limb for more than 2 hours. Tourniquets create a lot of pressure to stop the bleeding. But, they also barely allow some blood to reach muscles and nerves. Therefore, after two hours muscles and nerves will start to die out. So, the tourniquet provides life-saving, but only temporary assistance. It buys time to reach or wait for proper medical attention.
- Make it tight enough. Application is quite painful, but if it’s loose, it won’t be effective.
- You should position it about 2 inches above the wound. It means it should be between the wound and the heart.
- Place it over a bone, not at a joint. Proper placement is the only way to make it work. Tourniquets are ineffective over a joint.
- Bleeding should stop soon after the application. If it works, it should take up to 60 seconds.
- For larger limbs, you may need to apply the second tourniquet. The second tourniquet should be placed above the first one.
- Write down the time of the application. It’s vital for medical professionals to know the time of application.
Is CAT Tourniquet the Best?
We are talking about saving lives, so there shouldn’t be any trade-offs or compromises. You don’t really want to save a couple of bucks when it comes to tourniquets.
I think it’s fair to say that the CAT tourniquet is probably the best one out there – far better than RATS. While all manufacturers try to improve their products, and new generation models may match the CAT’s quality, my vote still goes to the CAT. Here’s why.
- Tested and proven. A CAT tourniquet is the official tourniquet of the US Army. It was tested in labs as well as in the field and the results were nothing short of impressive. With the CAT tourniquet, you know you get a reliable device that has a proven track record in saving lives.
- It was the first tourniquet recommended by the Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care. There were only two tourniquets on the list for years. Recently, the list has expanded, but the CAT still stands on the top.
- It excels in all departments. There’s a good reason why the CAT tourniquet is the top choice of almost all experts. It’s easy to use even one-handed. CAT needs less pressure than the competition to maintain the total occlusion. As a result, it reduces nerve and muscle damage. With a little bit of practice, you can apply it in well under a minute. So, it’s fast, simple, reliable, and highly effective.
- It’s improving. Smart design and high-quality materials made this tourniquet successful. Nevertheless, the company is constantly improving the device. Currently, the 7th generation is available. But, why would they improve a super-successful product, you may ask? The basic design remains the same. The improvements are more of a fine-tuning. For example, newer generations feature sturdier and more durable windlass, or easy-to-write-on security strap.
- Single routing buckle. It allows faster application and fewer turns to tighten the strap.
- Windlass stick. The windlass was a sort of shortcoming of older CAT models. After long exposures to UV radiation it used to lose strength and could break under pressure. The new rod is sturdier and thicker. It also has ribbing for improved grip.
- Clip. The clip is also reinforced.
- Strap. The strap has a writable area. The color of the strap is changed from black to gray for tactical and visibility reasons.
- Stabilization plate. It minimizes pinching.
- Free-moving internal band. It provides an even circumferential pressure.
A perfect tourniquet doesn’t exist. Since it’s designed to help with life-threatening wounds, there’s a lot of stress involved. You need to act quickly and there are so many things that can go wrong.
Having said that, the CAT tourniquet is the closest to perfection at the moment. It has withstood the test of time.
There are dozens of competitors out there such as SOFT-T, RATS, TMT, and others. Some of these are almost as good as the CAT, while others haven’t been battle-tested enough.
I haven’t seen all of them, and I can’t deny the possibility that some of them might turn out to be even better than the CAT. However, in the business of saving lives, you don’t want the next big thing. There’s no room for error. So, my advice is to stick with proven and reliable products. And the CAT tourniquet heads the list.