Monday, March 5, 2012

In search of ankle bliss: an unscienfic comparison of Silopad gel tubes vs gel sleeves.

Two approaches for ankle relief.  Which is the better solution?  See below.

Back when I started skating regularly again I was without my own skates and spent a couple months in rental skates.  It didn't take long for those poorly fitting boots to gnaw at my feet.  In particular the malleoli of my ankles proved to be susceptible to the loving embrace of those boots.  I blogged about that here.  I bought a "large" Silipos brand "silopad" gel tube from our rink's pro shop as a work around until my new skates arrived.  The single gel tube was long enough to cut in half, making two shorter tubes--one for each ankle. This tube cost me $23.95 plus Maryland tax for a  total of  $25.39.  One of my gel tubes can be seen, on the right, in the photo above.  The tube consists of medical grade silicon gel on the inside and heavy stretchable mesh fabric on the outside.  In the photo below, I've turned one of the tubes inside out to show the gel part.

The gel tube turned inside out.  The silicon gel forms a continuous layer throughout the entire interior area of the tube.  
 The gel tube did provide a degree of comfort to my admittedly already skinned ankles but the thickness of the tube, at least in my hands, tended to work against this product.  After placing the tubes on my ankles the lower edges of the gel would curl and ride up as I attempted to put on thin socks.  This rolling phenomenon was even more pronounced when inserting a tubed and socked foot into the tight confines of a skate boot.  I tried different positions: just around the ankle vs having part of the tube tucked under the heel of the  foot.  Neither position was 100% satisfactory.  I did a google search on "bunga" pads and discovered that both the Bunga Company (who I think are the originators of these products) and rival Silipos offered other products beyond the meager selection carried by the pro shop, including the malleolar gel sleeve seen in the first photo on the left.

When my new boots finally arrived I was confronted with a different comfort problem.  I basically traded poorly fitting boots for better fitting ones which needed breaking in.  Yes, the new boots can (and were) heat molded but break in is still a part of the program.  The gel sleeve mesh material is much thinner than the mesh used with the gel tube and is designed to fit over the instep, heel and ankle (leaving the toes exposed).  Instead of have a continuous layer of gel on the inside, each sleeve has a pair of 2 inch diameter circles of the same gel material, one on either side, so both ankle malleoli are cushioned.

The gel sleeve turned inside out.  One of the two circles of gel (one for each malliolus) can be seen.
In practice, the gel sleeves are both better fitting and stay in place much better than the tubes while offering the same or perhaps better abrasion protection, due in part to better staying in place and not shifting while putting on boots.  But because one needs two, the sleeves are almost double the cost of the tube.  I found the ones I bought on Amazon for $18.00 each.  So I shelled out $36.00 plus $9.98 for shipping (no tax this time).  Knowing what I now know, I'd skip the tubes and buy the sleeves even though they cost more.  For me the price difference is worth it.  Final note:  both gel tubes and gel sleeves can be hand washed.  After air drying they should being turned inside out and dusted with talcum powder so that adjacent gel areas don't stick together.  An additional benefit of the sleeves is that the mesh used in the sleeves being thinner than the mesh used for the tubes, air dries faster than the tubes.  Although the pamphlets accompanying both products do not touch on whether or not machine washing and drying is permissible, my common sense says hand washing and air drying will probably be kinder to the gels as well as the different mesh materials.  So, there it is.  I'm no expert and have no interest in the Silipos Company but my ankles know which product they prefer.


  1. I <3 my silipos gel tubes. I've never tried the sleeve, but it looks like it would cover the foot too- I skate barefoot, so that wouldn't work for me. In my previous boots they were a requirement- the edge of the boot would cut into my ankles, the boots have blood marks and I have scars. Now, my boots don't do that, but I am so used to wearing them, I still do, just to prevent the rubbing. If I forget them though, life goes on.

    Bungas are thicker than silipos. Some people thinks this makes them better. A pro-shop online once sent me Bungas when they advertised silipos (they considered this an "upgrade") after wearing them for an hour, I was off the ice for 2 weeks with tendonitis issues. The difference in thickness caused a problem for me. (thankfully, I was given a refund)

    1. Yep, the sleeves do cover most of the foot leaving the toes exposed, so perhaps for you the tubes are better. Having said that the mesh material for the sleeves is very thin (similar to a surgical sock) and for me the sleeves are both less bulky and behave better when sticking a foot in a tight boot. Different strokes for different folks! Maybe next time I'll spring for the real McCoy Bunga pads just to check 'em out. Thanks for the input.

    2. Now here's a thought: skip the socks if using the sleeve version of Silipos gel products for a closer fit of boot and foot. That sounds good in theory but I think my toes would get cold--I'm kinda of a cold wimp! I don't mind the cold so long as I don't have to BE cold...

    3. My boots are heat molded which takes care of the maleoli issues but I have problems with lace bite. The front of my ankles were rubbed raw until I started using them. They roll a bit in the back but that's OK as long as the front stays flat. Dh started using them when he needed ankle brace to play soccer.