Do CAT Tourniquets Expire? (And other Tourniquet Questions)

Dietrich Easter


Do CAT Tourniquets Expire? (And other Tourniquet Questions)

CAT tourniquets must withstand bullets in battle and blood in the ambulance, but can they withstand the test of time? Many people wonder if CAT tourniquets expire. In this article, we’ll answer these questions and many more. 


CAT tourniquets do not have an expiration date; however, they should be checked from time to time to ensure they are still in working order. In general, you want to have a separate “practice” tourniquet, as repeated use of a tourniquet can cause it to wear. 


Below, we’ll dive a little deeper into the reason CAT tourniquets don’t really expire, and what you can do to ensure your tourniquets, whether it’s a SOF-T or a SAM, are ready to go! 

How Long Do CAT Tourniquets Last? 

CAT tourniquets can last many years when stored properly. If you have a genuine CAT tourniquet, then there’s no reason the CAT tourniquet couldn’t last indefinitely with proper storage and care. 


How should you store a CAT tourniquet? You should store your CAT tourniquet out of the sun in a dry location. With that said, CAT tourniquets are made to withstand the worst environments in the world, so they won’t be harmed by exposure to the sun or the water. Of course, you wouldn’t want to repeatedly expose the tourniquet to water, as this could inhibit its ability to secure itself. 


Check to see that your tourniquets are in good working order before a shift or at the end of the day. Ensure there is no built-up dirt or mud, and that the buckle and straps were not harmed in some way. 


It’s not recommended to practice with the tourniquets you’ll be using in real scenarios – let me clarify – you should definitely practice with the same model of tourniquet; however, repeatedly using your tourniquets could expose them to wear and tear, making them less effective during a live event. 


We talk more about this in the next section. 

Can You Reuse CAT Tourniquets? 

In general, you should not reuse a CAT tourniquet. A CAT tourniquet for strictly training purposes can certainly be reused. If you’ve used the CAT on someone in the field, then there is the potential for blood and grime to build up on the CAT, making it unwise to reuse them. 


Further, as we just discussed in the last section, the stress placed on a tourniquet during use could cause the tourniquet to fail during future uses. Tourniquets are not made to be reused.  

Do SOF-T Tourniquets Expire? 

Like CAT tourniquets, SOF tourniquets do not expire either. If you store them correctly and try to protect them from the dirt and the mud, then you will end up with a tool that will last for many years. 


You should still perform routine checks on your tourniquets – no matter how silly they seem. Too many times an ambulance crew will say “I checked that yesterday, I don’t need to check it today.” And then they go on a call, only to find that another crew took their gear over the night shift, or that their gear was replaced with something worn or broken. It happens. 


This is sort of like the “treat every gun as if it’s loaded” rule – it’s there to keep you safe. Just as you should treat every gun as if it’s loaded, you should also treat every medical kit as if it’s missing something – and check it daily! 


Now let’s talk about some more common questions about tourniquets in general. 

Common Questions about CAT Tourniquets 

Let’s go over several common questions people have about CAT tourniquets and tourniquets in general. Out of all the medical skills and equipment, it seems that tourniquets are some of the most misunderstood. And this is bad because tourniquets are some of the most important pieces of gear. 


Here are some frequently asked tourniquet questions: 


  • Do tourniquets always lead to amputation? 

  • How many tourniquets can you apply? 

  • What’s the best tourniquet for first aid? 

  • How long can tourniquets stay in place? 

  • How should you fold and stage a tourniquet? 

  • What’s the best way to carry a tourniquet?


Let’s look at these in more depth. 

Do Tourniquets Always Lead to Amputation? 

No, tourniquets do not always cause an amputation. This was a common belief for many years, and unfortunately, it lives on to this day. Tourniquets can stay in place from two to six hours without causing long-term damage – of course, this will depend on the severity of the injury, how the tourniquet was placed, and how long it takes for the patient to receive definitive care. 


You should train yourself in how to stop a bleed and use a tourniquet. These are some of the most misunderstood yet important skills to know. Many people think stopping a bleed is a simple task. It’s not. Yes, it’s simple in principle, but in practice, there are many moving parts and things to consider. 


Here’s a video that shows you how to use a tourniquet. Also, seek out expert first aid training and never stop practicing. Practice is the only way you’ll be able to perform these skills properly in a high-stress situation. 

How Many Tourniquets Can You Apply? 

If the person has arterial bleeds from all four limbs, then you could theoretically apply four tourniquets – one per each limb. 


However, the more plausible scenario is applying a maximum of two tourniquets. The first tourniquet should be placed about two inches from the wound, and if the bleeding doesn’t stop, you should apply a second tourniquet above the first tourniquet (closer to the heart) and leave the first one in place. 


If this doesn’t work, you’re either applying them incorrectly, or you need to consider another way to stop the bleed (wound packing, better direct pressure). 

What’s the Best Tourniquet? 

The best tourniquets are probably the SOF Tourniquet and the CAT tourniquet. There are other tourniquets out there that work well; however, these two have the longest track records and some of the best reputations. Both these tourniquets are used by the military, law enforcement, and EMS. 


The SOF tourniquet packs down a little bit smaller than the CAT, but the CAT has larger controls that may be easier to use for some people. Again, training. That’s the key. Let’s talk about another common tourniquet question. 

How Long Can Tourniquets Stay in Place? 

After you’ve placed the tourniquet, the most common advice is to leave it in place. However, there are times when you should consider removing the tourniquet. 


NOTE: This article is not meant to be definitive medical advice – always refer to local laws and professional medical guidance.        


With that disclaimer out of the way, here are a few things to keep in mind. First, there are times when you’ll place the tourniquet in haste, seeing bad bleeding and going straight to the tourniquet. This is usually okay. However, if, after placing the tourniquet, you soon see that the bleed did not need a tourniquet, you can remove it (while still controlling the bleed). 


However, if the tourniquet has already been left in place for a significant period of time, it’s best to leave it in place and wait for surgical care.


Again, there is a lot of gray area in this decision, so ensure that you double-check everything with your local medical authority – this article should not be taken as medical advice! Even well-established rules can change over time, so keep up with things and always check for updates. 

How Should You Fold and Stage a Tourniquet? 

There’s an art and a science to folding and preparing your tourniquets. The art comes down to personal preference. If you play around with your tourniquets, you may find a folding and staging method that works best for your setup. However, the science comes down to concrete needs. For example, you need to be able to apply the tourniquet rapidly. Also, you should be able to deploy and apply the tourniquet with one hand. 


If you’d like you can watch this video on how to stage a tourniquet. It’s much easier to watch the process than explain it in words.  

What’s the Best Way to Carry a Tourniquet? 

The best way to carry a tourniquet is to have it always within reach. How do you do this? A couple of ways. The most obvious way is by carrying it on your person, in a pocket, or on a belt. However, some people may choose to strategically place the tourniquets throughout their lives. 


For example, they might have one tourniquet attached to the visor of their vehicle, they might have one on their desk at work, and another in their kitchen. Wherever it is, you need to ensure the placement is consistent. 


If you choose to carry the tourniquet on your person (that’s my recommendation) you can go a couple of routes. First, you can buy a more pocketable tourniquet, such as the SOF tourniquet. Or you could buy a specified tourniquet carrier and keep it on your hip or backpack. If you’re curious, you can learn more about this in my article on tourniquet carriers.