With the plethora of pointe shoe padding on the market today, it can be as long and hard of a journey to find the right toe pads as it is to find that rumored perfect pair of pointe shoes. While there are many many different brands and styles of toe pads out there, they all generally fall in to one of the following categories: gel, foam/rubber/lamb's wool, and cloth/paper. Each have advantages and downfalls to consider when choosing toe padding.
Gel: The Goodies and The Baddies Eurotard /Leo's/ Prima Pads:Toepadssuchasthese are probably the most frowned upon toe pads on the market. While the thick brightly colored gel provides comfort, it also inhibits the dancers ability to feel the floor, takes up way too much room in the shoes, and can cause exponential sweating and even numbness in the toes and feet. As always, these work for some people, but not everyone, or even a majority of dancer/foot/shoe combinations. Ouch Pouch/Bloch: Contrastingly, Ouch Pouch type toe pads are highly recommended by many dance teachers and students. This type of toe pad generally has a very thin piece of gel encased in layers of fabric. They offer coverage and protection of the toes and metatarsal area without being horrifically bulky. However, almost every toe pad like this has a seam running up the side of it that are notorious for digging in to toes and causing some irritation. Because of their wild popularity, Bloch, Bunheads, Discount Dance, and many other brands offer a variation on this style of padding, all of which are virtually identical in shape, thickness, and quality. SkinnyDips / Gellows: These are essentially a fusion of the previous two pads discussed usually eliminating the downfalls of each. A layer of gel slightly softer and thicker than that in Ouch Pouches coats one side of a reversible fabric pouch. Mini toe pads: There are many different small toe pads available to help correct foot or shoe problems and discrepancies. Gel spacers are used to align the big toe and alleviate pressure from bunions. Small gel tubes can be used on toes significantly longer than others, or on a specific toe that always seems to get blisters. There are a lot of other mini toe pads on the market, all used to pad smaller areas of the foot instead of the entire toe/metatarsal area.
Foam, Rubber, and Lamb's Wool: Kickin' It Old Skool Loose Lamb's Wool: Loose lamb's wool generally comes in a big wad. You tear of a piece, fluff it in to an approximately spherical shape, and sort of wrap it around your toes. Some people love this, others hate it. Many people complain about the wool sliding around in the shoe and getting caught in weird places. One thing almost everyone that's used this kind of padding agrees on is that it is highly advisable to also use toe tape. Lamb's Wool toe pads: Lamb's wool toe pads are made of a layer of fluffy lamb's wool sewn in to a toe pad-shaped piece of fabric. They don't move around as much as loose lamb's wool adn are a lot easier to put on fast. Lamb's Wool with Gel: Exactly the same as above, except with a thin layer of gel painted on to the outside tip of the toe pad. Foam/Rubber: Foam and rubber toe pads offer a thicker differnt kind of padding than wool, without the use of gel. Freed and capezio are the only brands I know of that still make these. I've never even seen them, but from what I understand, they're known to be really stiff and sometimes cause blisters and a lot of sweating. Not a huge number of people use (or like) these.
Cloth and Paper Towels: DIYPointe Shoe Padding Many advanced, professional, or just tough-footed dancers choose to bypass conventional toe pads and make their own. Most commonly used are cloth, paper towels, and toe tape. Cloth: Usually cut from the toe of a sock, soft cloth can be used to soak up sweat and provide a "buffer" between the inside of the pointe shoe and the skin. Many different dancers with different feet and different shoes use (gasp!) different types of material cut in different shapes in different parts of their shoes (I should win an award for that sentence). Paper towels, etc.: Another common practice is the use of paper towels folded around the upper part of the foot for the same benefits as those of cloth. I've also heard of dancers using thin cardboard, duct tape lining the inside of the toe box, silicon painted inside the box, and many forms of toilet paper and paper towels as toe padding. It's all a matter of personal preference.