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Pocket Tourniquets

The tourniquet market is dominated by the SOFTT-W and CAT tourniquets, and for good reason. I prefer the SOFTT-W. There is always one in my bag. Some people can make the SOFTT-W or CAT work for everyday on-body carry, whether through ankle holsters or always wearing cargo pants. Neither tourniquet, however, is something that I can fit into my on-body EDC. To solve that problem, I have to look at what Jonathan Willis refers to as secondary tourniquets.

Pocket Tourniquets

The SWAT-T is likely the most popular offering in the secondary tourniquet market. It tries to function as both a tourniquet and an emergency bandage, and ends up being mediocre in both roles. In its role as a tourniquet its largest failure is its difficultly to apply one-handed. If I can’t self-apply a tourniquet with one hand during training, the tourniquet is pretty much useless to me. I’ve heard some people claim the ability to apply the SWAT-T with a single hand (with the assistance of a wall to hold it in place), but I’ve never figured it out.

At first glance, the TK4 appears like it could be a promising solution. It is an elastic strap, roughly 36” long by 2” wide, with 2” metal hooks on either end. It folds to a compact size and easily fits in a pocket. Unfortunately the hooks are only 1” wide, which doesn’t work so well with the 2” wide strap. In my trials the strap would often pop out of the hook when attempting to start the wraps. I find it much more effective if used as an improvised tourniquet, with two overhand knots and a pen as a windlass, which is a terrible thing to say about any product that bills itself as a tourniquet.

The TK4-L is identical to the TK4, except one of the hooks is replaced by something akin to a gateless carabiner. This carabiner is shaped such that the elastic strap will actually fit inside of it and not pop out. The result is a product that is compact, not too difficult to apply, and effective.

TK4 and TK4-L

  • CAT and TK4-L
  • TK4-L and SOFTT-W

The RATS is made from a heavy duty, bungee-type strap and a unique buckle which locks the strap in place. The strap is around 45” in length but only 0.5” wide. With any tourniquet, you want a wide strap to avoid causing tissue and nerve damage. The idea with the RATS is that you get the desired width by performing parallel wraps, distributing the pressure over an area closer to 2” in width. This requires some care to be taken when applying the tourniquet, and it makes it less useful on larger limbs. On my leg I only get 3 wraps with the RATS.

RATS Tourniquet

Of these 4 secondary tourniquets that I’ve experimented with, the RATS is the most durable and, with the exception of the issue of parallel wrapping, the easiest to self-apply. However, the TK4-L folds up better for pocket carry, and its 2” wide strap inspires more confidence. I feel better carrying it and have been doing so for the past month and a half. It sits in my left rear pocket, with the carabiner hooked over the top of the pocket so that it can be easily grabbed without any fishing around.

Choosing a secondary tourniquet is an exercise in trade-offs. Without a windlass, pressure is achieved through tight wraps only. They certainly cannot replace a primary tourniquet, but may supplement it in areas where size or weight present limiting constraints. Given the choice between carrying no tourniquet on my body or carrying one that works but is less than ideal, I’ll choose the latter. Coupled with an H&H Mini Compression Bandage and a package of z-folded QuickClot Combat Gauze, you can build a compact blow-out kit that is easy to distribute across your body.

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H&H Mini Compresion Bandage

The H&H Mini Compression Bandage is a small, pocketable emergency dressing. It consists of an elastic strap 32” in length, with a plastic hook on one end that will be familiar to anyone who has used an Israeli Bandage, and a strip of hook material on the other end. The end of the bandage with the hook material features a 4” x 5.75” absorbent gauze pad. To apply the bandage, the gauze is placed over the wound, and the elastic is wrapped around the limb. The hook material secures the initial wrap. The final wrap is secured via the plastic hook, just like on an Israeli. Unlike an Israeli or OLAES Bandage, the bandage features no device to aid in applying pressure to the wound, except for the tight wraps of the elastic material.

  • H&H Mini Compression Bandage: Ends
  • H&H Mini Compression Bandage: Absorbent Pad

Functionally the H&H Mini is inferior to its larger cousins, but, as the name implies, it is small. As it comes from the factory, it is vacuumed packed into a package that is 4” x 3” x 0.5”. Compare that to an Israeli Bandage, which is around 4” x 2.75” x 1.5”, or the 4.75” x 3” x 2” of the OLAES (5.5” x 4” x 1.5” for the new flat pack variant). Even the flat packed North America Rescue Emergency Trauma Dressing is 4” x 3” 1.5”. Most pocket trauma kits will forgo an emergency bandage, in favor of something like a SWAT-T (4” x 3” x 0.75”) which attempts to be both an emergency bandage and tourniquet. The H&H Mini is the first bandage I’ve found that is actually pocket sized, largely due to its thin profile.

Emergency Bandages

To achieve this small size it sacrifices a bulky absorbent pad and any form of mechanical pressure – both of which I’m willing to give up for something I can have in my pocket. But it also sacrifices length. At 32” long it is significantly shorter than the Israeli (84”), OLAES (42”), or NAR ETD (55”). This means you’ll get less wraps around a limb with the H&H Mini. Less wraps, particularly on a larger limb, may compromise the functionality of the bandage, since the H&H Mini is dependent on wraps to apply pressure and make up for its thin absorbent dressing. On the thigh of a smaller person like myself, I don’t think it will be an issue, but on a large person it will likely be a problem.

I’ll continue to always carry an OLAES or Israeli Bandage in whatever bag I have with me, but I’m happy to have found an occasional supplement in the H&H Mini. When going to a venue where I cannot carry a bag, or do not want to, I’ve found that I can easily slip the H&H Mini into a back pocket and not be bothered by it. This gives me some limited capabilities, which is better than leaving my full kit behind and having nothing. Supplementing the bandage with z-folded QuickClot Combat Gauze and a small tourniquet (like a SWAT-T or one of its competitors) makes for a very compact kit that can be slid into a pocket or two and, with training, ensure some measure of life-saving capability.

Minimalist Trauma Kit

H&H Mini Compression Bandage

Size (Packaged)
4” x 3” x 0.5”
Size (Flat)
32” x 4”
Weight (Including Packaging)
1.6 oz

Israeli Bandage

Size (Packaged)
4” x 2.75” x 1.5”
Size (Flat)
84” x 4”
Weight (Including Packaging)
2.5 oz


Size (Packaged)
4.75” x 3” x 2”
Size (Flat)
42” x 4”
Weight (Including Packaging)
3 oz

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The Inaugural ITS Tactical Muster

The inaugural ITS Tactical Muster was a great multi-disciplinary training event. I had never been involved with planning something like this, and was surprised at how smoothly the whole thing went. A large part of the credit for that goes to the students, who represented a diverse set of backgrounds and energetically attacked all training blocks.

Mike, Eric and myself all flew in to Dallas-Forth Worth on Tuesday. We met up with Bryan, Kelly and Matt Gambrell at the ITS offices and loaded up all the gear needed for the week.

Hitching the Trailer

The six of us drove out to Lake Mineral Wells State Park to begin the setup and finalize our class preparations. We had rented a building for our kitchen and indoor classroom. We also had our own private ring of camp sites, far from where any other campers would be.

Ghost Hunters

The following day, Matt Fiddler of SerePick and Nathan Morrison of Morrison Industries and The Morrison System arrived and assisted with our setup. One of the projects that needed to be completed that day was the building of a POW camp – something that I had suggested as part of the FTX that the students would be surprised with on Saturday night.

POW Camp: Under Construction

On Thursday the students arrived, along with Caleb Causey, our final instructor. From there on it was a flurry of activity. I didn’t take many photos.

Classes began on Friday with Bryan teaching knot-tying. That was followed up by a land navigation course, which I instructed. It was difficult to squeeze my instruction into a 4-hour block – we had wanted to start with the absolute basics of how to read a topographic map and go all the way to shooting, plotting and following bearings, resection, and plotting UTM coordinates – but the class seemed to be a success. Everyone succeeded in the exercises I gave them during the class, as well as the navigation aspects of the FTX the following day. After the navigation class, Bryan took over again for the stove building class, in which we had everyone build a fancy feast stove. At the end of the class I interjected some of my thoughts and experiences with using alcohol stoves. Nate Morrison completed the day with a class in fire building.

Saturday began with Nate teaching a basic rappelling class. During the downtime I worked with a few of the students on the navigation skills that I didn’t have time to cover during my class. In the afternoon we transferred back to the dining hall for Matt Fiddler’s lockpicking class. This was the first time I had ever received direct instruction in this skill. It helped me immensely. Lockpicking was followed by a shelter building class, which I was initially scheduled to assist with. Our FTX was scheduled for Saturday night and I had taken point in setting up the navigation element of the exercise. I had to forgo the shelter class and run off with Eric to finalize our preparations. Nate ended up taking over the shelter discussion. As the shelter class reached its end, we let the students know that they would be having a late night. I won’t detail the FTX here as I don’t know which elements of it will be reused next year. I don’t want to ruin the experience for future attendees. I will say that we had a lot of fun planning it and the feedback we received from the students afterwards was all positive. I was a little jealous of them, myself. I would have liked to run the course.

Most of us only had a few hours of sleep that night. Sunday got off to a slow start. The day’s only class was Caleb Causey’s medical course. Afterwards we gave out awards, wrapped-up the event, and said our goodbyes.

Stop the Bleeding

Matt Gambrell, who is the artist responsible for the ITS patch and t-shirt designs, is also a cook. He served as chef for the Muster, waking up early to dish up three amazing meals per day. We jokingly referred to the event as an eating experience with a few classes thrown in between meals.

Prepping the Kitchen

Despite being involved with ITS for over two years, this was my first time meeting the rest of the crew. I enjoyed meeting them all and building our relationships. The other instructors – Nate, Matt and Caleb – are all experts in their fields. I learned something in all of their classes and it was an honor to be included in their company. It was frustrating for all of us to need to compress our subjects into a 4-hour block, but everyone succeeded and the combined total of training that we were able to pull off in two-and-a-half days of instruction was amazing. The students, too, were top notch. Before the event I was anxious about what kind of people would attend. I had no reason to be. Some of them turned out to be readers of this blog (clearly they are gentlemen of good taste). We all enjoyed quality conversation.

As someone who served as both staff and instructor, I have an obvious bias here, but I think that anyone who is interested in this type of thing should strongly consider attending the next event. When pricing for the inaugural Muster was first announced I scoffed a little, thinking “How could a 3-day camping trip be worth that much money?” Now having seen what Bryan and Kelly imagined I think the ticket price is an excellent value. Between food and swag, students had a significant portion of the fee returned to them. And the breadth of skills is unmatched by any other event that I know about. Where else can you attend a class in rappelling, break for lunch, learn how to pick and bypass locks, stay up all night sneaking around the woods, and then attend a class on tactical medicine after breakfast? As Nate wrote, it sets a new standard. Not only is the experience fun, students also leave with at least an introductory understanding of important life skills. If I was not part of the staff, I would certainly pay to attend.

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Irrigation Syringe

If I could only carry one first aid specific item in the wilderness, it would be an irrigation syringe.

Irrigation Syringe

There’s a lot that can be done with bandannas, duct tape, and paracord. A multitool, spare clothing, sleeping pad, tarp, poles – pretty much everything in a pack, including the pack itself, can be fashioned into some kind of medical implement with a little ingenuity. But cleaning a wound will always remain difficult. It also remains extremely important. Infection is both very common and very inconvenient in the wilderness, where you’re well away from definitive care.

Irrigation Syringe

Clean water should always available and irrigation is a simple and effective method of cleaning a wound. But water just poured over a wound won’t do much good. Pressure is needed. Occasionally you might hear people claim that you can fill up a ziploc bag with water, cut or poke a hole in one corner, and squeeze the bag to force out a stream of water. That’s certainly better than nothing, but in my experience the pressure from that is not comparable to the pressure from a syringe. With an irrigation syringe, you can take the cleanest water available (usually your drinking water) and shoot it into the wound. Pressure washing the wound like this allows you to easily clean out all the grit and dirt. There’s no need to go poking around in there with unsanitary tools, probably causing more harm than good. A 12cc syringe like the one I carry costs $1, weighs 8 grams (0.28 oz), and takes up very little room. I can’t think of a reason not to have one in your pack!

Remember: a clean wound is a happy wound. You can put all the effort you want into the perfect bandage, but if the wound isn’t clean, you’re going to have some problems down the line.

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Herbal Stye Healing

A stye is a sort of pimple on the eyelid, caused by a bacterial infection at the root of the eyelash. The common treatment for the infection is applying a hot compress to the area, which encourages the stye to drain. I had a small stye on the inside of my lower left eyelid last week and decided to see if I could speed the healing process along with herbal experimentation. It ended up healing in 2 days.

The first day I applied a thyme compress to the area twice, for 15 minutes each. The compress I made by simply making a cup of thyme tea (steeped for 20 minutes for medicinal strength) and soaking a sterile gauze pad in it (with occasional re-soaking throughout the 15 minutes process as the compress lost its warmth). Thyme contains Thymol, an antiseptic which acts as a sort of antibiotic.

Of course, with any infection, the most obvious thing to reach for is Echinacea. I was out of tincture at the time, but I made a cup of tea with some dried Echinacea purpurea root before bed the first night.

The second day I repeated the twice daily 15 minute compress, but this time with Chamomile (Matricaria recutita). Chamomile has a reputation as general-purpose healer, and is also a relaxant.

The morning of the third day, there was no evidence of the stye.

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