Gel Toe Protectors: Gel Toe Caps & Toe Sleeves

by Rebecca Rushton

There are two reasons why I love gel toe protectors for blister prevention. But they’re not without their limitations. This article will cover:

  • The two types of gel toe protectors: gel toe sleeves and gel toe caps
  • Why gel is the best material used in blister prevention
  • Why it can be the worst for blister treatment
  • Which toe blisters it works for and which ones it won’t


2 Types: Gel toe caps / toe sleeves

  1. Caps are like a little sock for an individual toe – it’s closed-in at the end and covers the toe tip.
  2. Sleeves are not closed in at the end, so they don’t cover the toe tip.
    Gel toe protector caps and toe sleeves

    Gel toe caps and toe sleeves

     

    How the gel in gel toe protectors works

    1) It cushions

    Take a look at this diagram showing a) no cushioning, b) good foam cushioning and 3) great gel cushioning. The gel does the best job as it bulges around the bony prominence to distribute pressure over a larger surface area, resulting in a lower peak pressure. 
    How gel toe protectors reduce pressure, including gel toe caps and toe sleeves

    How gel toe protectors reduce pressure

     

    2) It absorbs blister-causing forces

    Blisters are caused by the skin stretching too much. If this is news to you, be sure to watch the video immediately below. The thing about the gel material is, there’s a lot of give in it (see video below that). It undergoes a lot of this shear so there’s far less for the skin to do, if any! This is how gel toe caps and toe sleeves absorb blister-causing forces. Combined with reducing peak pressures, they go a huge way to preventing some toe blisters.

     [Video] What causes blisters
     
    [Video] How gel toe protectors work 

     

    Which toe blisters will they prevent?

    I would trust a gel toe protector to prevent the following toe blisters:

     

    Which toe blisters they might NOT prevent?

    I would NOT expect a gel toe protectors to prevent the following toe blisters:

    • All toenail blisters – Won’t help at all, even the caps. Please click the link to ascertain the cause of your toenail blisters and hone in on negating that issue.
    • Some toe tip blisters – The caps will help, but might not do enough to prevent blisters in very rigid clawed toes. Toeprops would be a better first choice.
    • Some blisters under the big toe – They'll help and are worth a try, but a better choice for these blisters is an Engo Blister Patch and/or a mechanical fix with the help of a podiatrist. Click the link to learn more.

     

    What other things can they help with?

    • Relieves rubbing and pinching of toes
    • Great for breaking in new shoes
    • Cushion and protect corns, callouses, hammertoes, clawed toes, overlapping toes, under-riding toes
    • Can be used in fashion shoes, high heels, sandals, work boots, hiking boots, running shoes
    • Used in sport for pressure and friction protection

     

    Practicalities to keep in mind

    They take up room in your toebox. You won’t get away with one on every toe. Unless your hoes are excessively tight to start with, you’ll get one on, maybe two if you’re lucky.

    Sweat can’t evaporate. That means maceration could be an issue. However, I've seen people wear them six days straight in ultramarathons without any issue. And, I've seen people want to get them off after half an hour. Experiment with them for increasingly longer periods to see how your skin copes.

    Washable and reusable.

    Some last longer than others. The ribbed protectors tend to be longer-lasting compared to mesh or raw gel protectors.

    You need two hands to get them on. Gel toe protectors are elasticised so they stay on without slipping off during the rigours of your daily activity. So you need to pull them onto your toe.

    They will fit very snuggly on your toe. They won’t cut off the circulation although they will be a close fit on your toes. They will stretch a little with continued use.

    Cut them to length. You can cut them with scissors and the ends won’t fray. Below is a video showing the best way to get full protection without it bunching up between your toes.

    • The toe sleeves generally come in 15cm (2 inch) lengths that you cut to the right length for your toe. Each 15cm sleeve with give you 3-4 individual toe sleeves for your small toes; and 3 individual toe sleeves for your big toe.
    • The toe caps are usually 6cm (2.4 inches) long – purposely too long for most toes, just so nobody get's a nasty surprise to find they're too short for full protection. Simply trim the excess off so it’s a perfect fit for your toe.
      [Video] How to fit your gel toe protector sleeve (or cap)

       

      DO NOT use gel toe protectors for blister treatment!

      Remember what I said about maceration? It’s for this reason you should not use gel toe protectors to treat blisters. While the silicone gel material is hypoallergenic and latex-free, weakened, broken, weepy and bleeding skin will almost certainly macerate and make things worse. 
      • Do not use them on open or weepy skin.
      • Do not use them on blistered or weakened skin.
      • Only use gel toe protectors when your skin is intact and at full strength. 

       

      100 x better than tape

      Gel toe protectors are a hundred times better at preventing toe blisters compared to tape and bandaids. OK, I made that up - I don't know if it's 50 times better or 200 times better. But they're WAY better at preventing the toe blisters I mentioned earlier. It's easy to see why when you look at the gel’s exceptional ability to absorb blister-causing shear and reduce pressure - something tape doesn't do at all, and a bandaid does to a tiny degree. As long as they feel comfy to you and they fit in your shoe, you're onto a winner. Personally, I wouldn’t leave home without a couple of these within easy reach. Consider popping one or two in your blister kit, in your draw at work, or in your hand bag – they’re just the shot to pull you back from the brink if the unexpected happens, whether you’re at work, breaking in new shoes or out hiking.

       

      Where to buy gel toe protectors

      You can buy gel toe caps and toe sleeves at most pharmacies. We've got our own BlisterPod brand in our online store too.

      The BlisterPod protectors feature a deluxe 2mm gel layer. It's worth noting, most cheaper brands have less than 1mm. Our protectors are designed for heavy sporting use and with troublesome pinch blisters in mind, so extra soft cushioning and maximum shear absorption are the most important features we were looking for. So our manufacturer doubled the gel layer thickness.

      We chose a soft but durable ribbed outer lining for durability, rather than a less durable mesh or raw gel outer finish. Our protectors are latex-free, hypoallergenic and don't exude any oils (oil will only increase the likelihood of maceration and increase friction levels). Click here to see them in our store.

       

      Gel toe caps

       

      Gel toe sleeves

       

        





      Rebecca Rushton
      Rebecca Rushton

      Author

      Podiatrist, blister prone ex-hockey player, foot blister thought-leaderauthor and educator. Can’t cook. Loves test cricket.


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