Building a first aid kit for your car emergency supplies, Go Bag or EDC? Here is what you need to know about Israeli bandages and tourniquets – including which one is better to pack if you have limited space.
The Quick Answer
Israeli bandages and tourniquets are both used for treating severe bleeding. However, they are not interchangeable.
A tourniquet is applied above arterial wounds on limbs only.
An Israeli bandage is used to apply direct pressure to non-arterial wounds or heavy bleeding in places where you can’t use a tourniquet.
Ideally, you would have both of them in your trauma kit, but there are situations where one might be better than the other.
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Israeli Bandage vs. Tourniquet
An Israeli bandage is a type of Emergency Trauma Dressing (ETD). It is designed to apply direct pressure to bleeding wounds and can be used anywhere on the body except for gaping chest wounds. Israeli bandages are made up of four parts:
- Sterile non-adhesive dressing that goes against the wound
- Stretchy outer layer which is wrapped around the body
- Pressure applicator which applies pressure against the wound
- Closure bar which allows for one-handed closing and also exerts additional pressure
Israeli bandages come in several sizes. The smallest is 4” wide and the biggest is 12” wide. There are also many other types of ETDs. The US Military CoTCCC Guidelines don’t specify a certain ETD. Other manufacturers, such as OALES and H-Dressing, can be used instead of an Israeli bandage.
See what is included in soldier’s IFAK kits.
A tourniquet is a band that you tighten above a limb wound to stop the flow of blood to the wound. The best tourniquets are designed so they can be applied quickly with one hand and apply a large amount of pressure without breaking. For more info, read: How and When to Use a Tourniquet.
Most people will never need to use a tourniquet. However, if you ever needed one, you would really need it. While it is possible to improvise a tourniquet out of things like a stick and bandana, they don’t work very well. Multiple studies show that improvised tourniquets have very high failure rates. For this reason, good trauma kits always include a tourniquet.
Can You Use an Israeli Bandage Instead of a Tourniquet?
No, an Israeli bandage is not a substitute for a tourniquet. Even if you used a stick as a windlass, the Israeli bandage wouldn’t exert enough pressure to stop arterial bleeding.
If you didn’t have a real tourniquet, an Israeli bandage would be better than nothing – but you’d be better off improvising a tourniquet out of a less-stretchy material such as a triangle bandage or bandana.
You also shouldn’t use an Israeli bandage as a substitute for an Ace bandage, for stabilizing impaled objects or splinting broken bones. Despite the hype, an Israeli bandage is not a multi-use item. It’s meant for one thing only: stopping bleeding.
Which to Pack: Israeli Bandage or Tourniquet?
An Israeli bandage and tourniquet have very different purposes, so you should ideally pack both of them. However, it isn’t always necessary to pack both. Here are some guidelines.
Pack Both If:
- Space and weight aren’t an issue,
- You don’t have medical training,
- You are going to high-risk situations
If any of these apply, you should really have both a tourniquet and an Israeli bandage (or other pressure bandage). Ease of use will be especially important without medical training so you can administer first aid quickly and without mistakes.
Also note that, if you ever needed a tourniquet, you would still have to bandage the wound. You could use the Israeli bandage for this.
Pack Just a Tourniquet If:
- Space or weight is limited
- You have sterile gauze and an elastic bandage
- AND you have medical training
It is possible to use sterile gauze and an elastic bandage instead of an Israeli bandage. These two items are much more versatile than just an Israeli bandage. So, you can save weight and space by bringing them and skipping the Israeli bandage. But it takes skill to make a pressure bandage this way, so this only makes sense if you’ve had medical training.
Pack Just an Israeli Bandage If:
- Space or weight is limited
- You don’t have much medical training
- AND arterial injury is highly unlikely
Outside of combat and some other high-risk situations, arterial injuries are very rare. So, to save space, you might decide to risk it and skip the tourniquet. Trauma injuries aren’t as rare though, so you wouldn’t want to skip the Israeli bandage. For those without training, it is much easier and faster to apply than gauze and an elastic bandage.
Pack neither if:
- Space or weight is limited
- And you are fine risking it.
It is up to each person to balance risk and decide which gear they want to pack. For example, I know very few people (including EMTs) who carry a tourniquet or Israeli bandage in their everyday carry kits. It’s simply not worth the hassle of lugging around those items every day when the actual risk of something happening is so low.
Of course, if something were to happen, they might regret that decision. So think carefully about how much risk you are willing to accept and adjust your supplies accordingly.
Gear is good but training is better.
You can lose consciousness in less than a minute from blood loss. So, regardless of what you pack in your first aid kit, it’s important that you know how to use it. Every second matters so practice real-life scenarios until you can apply a bandage without even thinking. Want to learn first aid? Here are some good places to start learning.