When you think of the word ‘soldier’, what comes to mind? For me, I envision a stoic individual who is focused, determined, and effectively carries out his/her duties. Such perspectives possibly lay credence the remark that one should ‘soldier on’ under challenging circumstances. In line with this view, footwear issued to the military should withstand rough use.
In Sep/Oct 2021, the ASICS Gel-Jolt was procured for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). There was so little media coverage of this release that I would have missed it entirely had I not visited Punggol SAFRA’s eMart. Out of curiosity, I obtained a pair for myself.
Billed as a shoe suitable for neutral to high arch feet, the Gel-Jolt features a sleek red-black colourway that, as far as I know, is exclusive to the SAF. Interested parties may purchase the shoe with eMart credits (SAF personnel only) or for $35.90, making it probably the cheapest ASICS running shoe on the market. Individuals with low arch feet or who desire greater support elements may instead opt for the newly released New Balance ME565v7 (also exclusive to the SAF) that’s also available for purchase at an identical price.
In this article, I review the design requirements, build quality, and ride experience of the Gel-Jolt.
Standard issue military equipment typically adhere to the principle of ‘function over form’ - what matters is not how pleasing the equipment looks, but whether it serves the purpose it’s built for. Based on this principle, so long as the footwear dampens impact and protects one’s feet from the environment, it sufficiently meets military requirements.
People in the military come from all walks of life. Therefore, standard issue footwear should meet general standards for comfort and utility. In Singapore, this translates to design requirements for a budget-friendly shoe that’s suitable for medium to heavy weight individuals who run with a habitual heel-strike. Given that soldiers spend significant time on their feet, the shoe should also possess features that provide durability over varied terrains and prolonged usage.
My pair of Gel-Jolt measures at 22mm in the forefoot and 35mm at the heel, thereby featuring a heel-to-toe drop of 13mm. Incorporation of the namesake ASICS GEL in the heel positions the Gel-Jolt in the category of high-drop, heel-strike friendly shoes. ASICS High Abrasion Rubber Plus (ASICS’s proprietary rubber blend) covers the entire outsole, with deliberate cut-outs in the forefoot to enhance flexibility for toe-offs. Multi-directional grooves on the outsole provide excellent traction even on wet surfaces. The absence of deep lugs indicate that the Gel-Jolt is designed primarily for road running.
For $35.90, one should not expect the Gel-Jolt to feature high performance ASICS technology such as Flytefoam or Solyte. But neither should one settle for a styrofoam midsole. Fortunately, the Gel-Jolt adopts an ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) midsole that decently absorbs impact and returns a surprisingly good amount of energy. The moderate stack of semi-firm EVA is also likely to delay midsole breakdown. The shoes include removable OrthoLite sockliners for added comfort.
Thick suede overlays are stitched over almost the entire upper. While overlays provide structure and support to the shoe, the sheer amount of coverage in the Gel-Jolt is excessive and unnecessarily contributes to the shoe’s hefty weight. The plastic heel cup is stiff and sturdy; designed to hold your heel firmly in place. The shoe’s tongue and heel collar are well-padded for comfort. Notably, the shoe only comes in 2E (wide) width; runners with narrow feet may find the toe box too spacious.
Nevertheless, this concern is easily remedied by wearing thicker socks.
I’m relatively lightweight (+/-54kg), have low arch feet and run with a pronounced forefoot strike. The Gel-Jolt is a great example of a shoe that people like me should not be using. But I guess athletes can a be pretty stubborn bunch. That said, I have used the shoes for interval trainings ranging from repetitions of 200m (3km pace) to 2,000m (marathon pace), up to a distance of 10km. All runs took place solely on roads. No pains or injures resulted thus far.
In general, expect a stiff, semi-firm ride that dampens impact to a consistent degree from the first kilometre to the last. While not as soft and springy as Flytefoam, the EVA midsole returned a surprisingly good amount of energy at faster paces. Coupled with the high-drop, the Gel-Jolt works reasonably well with you to maintain a high cadence. This is a pleasant surprise for one who expected the shoe to do nothing more than merely absorb impact. Despite the lack of arch support (this is a neutral shoe after all), the sturdy wide base provides sufficient stability for heavy footfalls.
Alas, the Gel-Jolt’s heavy weight gains prominence as the distance increases. This is accentuated by the bottom-heaviness of the shoe - an inevitable tradeoff of for having a full-coverage rubber outsole. As the pace slowed, the shoe gradually felt more clunky and any semblance of responsiveness soon vanished. That said, the Gel-Jolt worked well to dampen repetitive impact; my legs never felt beaten up even after a 10km workout. Such considerations lock the shoe firmly in the ‘daily trainer’ category; a workhorse that eats up mileage but lacks performance attributes.
To be fair, the Gel-Jolt is not designed for racing. It’s built to withstand rough and heavy usage. Soldiers and civilians alike can benefit from the shoe’s outstanding durability, low cost, and reliable all-roundedness. Like the armed forces who diligently shield us from threats without demanding for praise and recognition, the Gel-Jolt serves its purpose without the need for fancy bells and whistles.