This fall and winter, I jumped at the opportunity to test drive the On Cloudultra ($180), in doing so overlooking the higher drop of 8 millimeters and narrow fit. The Cloudultra has an advertised weight of 10.4 ounces (295 grams) for a men’s size 9.
Last summer, my partner — a sports chiropractor — had the opportunity to work at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Track and Field in Eugene, Oregon. The connection and the proximity to where I live prompted me to glom on to enjoy a couple of heat-filled days, observing some superior athleticism, and soaking up the running fervor.
Of course, all the major running companies descended onto the famed Prefontaine streets of Eugene, doing their best to show off their tried-and-true and newest wares. After our own road run, we happened upon an On shoe exhibition, with affable and fit salespersons who were eager to get our feet in and on the clouds.
I, of course, was intrigued and test-ran seven different road and trail running shoes. I was floating. I was keenly interested in the design, performance technology, and nuanced running experience.
Since then, I have been following On’s expansion, not only into the road running and trail running communities, but also into the athleisure department. The Swiss company has done well to serve up craftsmanship, performance, and aesthetic appeal in one package.
On says that its mission is to design running shoes that deliver “soft landings followed by explosive take offs,” that is, “running on clouds.”
The engineering behind On is its patented Helion foam, Missiongrip rubber, and CloudTec technology, the latter of which are pockets of air, or cloud pods, reinforced with soft foam aimed at creating a lightweight but durable experience. In sum, the Cloudultra has a uniquely appealing design in almost every aspect of construction.
From the bottom up, there are varied traction capabilities, highlighted with a much-needed closed-channel outsole. The core of the shoe is fashioned with a double-layered superfoam, and two layers of CloudTec. This is topped with a durable double-layered mesh with rubber overlays, uniting the shoe into an enhanced design feat for moving feet.
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On Cloudultra Upper
The On Cloudultra is true to size and very narrow with a sock-like fit. It is a tight fit, but I welcome the snugness of the semi-elastic mesh and sock hug.
The tightness and blade-like design are variables in a running shoe I can tolerate minimally. However, the precision fit of this shoe was designed for long and varied terrain endurance runs, while I keep my runs much shorter.
Additionally, the higher drop is also an adjustment. If you are like me with a wider foot and toes always fighting for some wiggle room, I recommend that you wear a thin running sock, loosely tie the shoes, and ignore the FlipRelease feature on the forefoot laces.
The FlipRelease is designed to alleviate pressure in the midfoot and forefoot. The addition seems somewhat frivolous, but perhaps a selling point to some people with foot-swelling challenges. I didn’t feel too much difference with the release, I left it open for all my runs.
Overall, I enjoy slipping on this shoe with its sock-like upper. More specifically, the upper has a durable and breathable double-mesh design, reinforced with rubber overlays and laterally placed bumpers. It is a seamless construction, not only with foot protection in mind, but also with a subtle heel counter and reinforced heel cup to keep the foot rocking and rolling through landing and lift-off.
Hats off to the fully gusseted tongue, lightly padded upper tongue, and unified heel collar. This is a simple and snug design that works well to keep out debris and rocks. The thin laces are also a bonus and can be tucked into the band located at the top of the midfoot, which prevents them from flapping around, and the laces stayed securely fastened.
On Cloudultra Midsole
The On Cloudultra has one of the most unique midsoles of any running shoe I have logged miles in. It boasts a double Helion foam midsole, with a SpeedBoard plate on top, both of which lie over a dual layer of CloudTec.
The Speedboard, or in my view, a pseudo-rock plate, is a full-length plastic plate that facilitates foot strike loading and energy transfer to propel forward. The addition of this plate, however, damps the cloud-like feel, cushion, and ground connection. It gives the shoe a more rigid and firm ride.
With the perspective that the Cloudultra is built for enduring miles and overall comfort, the midsole rightly tries to balance firmness with the exciting cushion of a dual-layered, albeit smaller, cloud pod construction.
This balance allows for more confident footfalls across textured terrain. The idea is to run across anything with stability and ample protection.
This design is weighed against a disconnection from the ground, and I had to work through the stiffness the first couple of times I ran in the shoe. I felt most alive on transitional roads and wetted-down trails. This midsole seemed most diligent and at work on the miles of forest-service roads, allowing for a smooth ride up and comfortable descent.
Some in off-road running have wondered if the CloudTec pockets of air in the midsole collect mud, pebbles, or other debris. I didn’t encounter any issues with this in my testing.
On Cloudultra Outsole
The outsole of the On Cloudultra was engineered uniquely with On’s Missiongrip technology. It isn’t an aggressive, deep-lugged bottom or a typical multi-directional open-channeled design. The shoe-to-ground interface is traction-focused with a closed-channel design and a deep Y groove to better deflect rocks and pebbles. The Missiongrip rubber is sticky and durable, but still performs well on road and on transitional terrain, which I prefer.
Upon closer inspection, the outsole has four distinct sections, as you move from the heel to the forefoot. The lug design in the heels contains square, 2-millimeter lugs on top of textured Missiongrip rubber. Then the outsole moves to larger, L-shaped, 4-millimeter lugs that help maintain a stiffer ride and rocker momentum.
Then we move up to a group of 3-millimeter square lugs under the ball of the foot for surefooted climbing, and finally a group of L-shaped, 4-millimeter lugs at the forefoot for extra grip and slip resistance.
The outsole is designed with multidirectional cushioning that activates upon landing that is unique to a runner’s gait. The overlay of the cloud pockets allows for compression forces to radiate up and out for a gentler landing.
I wore this shoe on road, dirt roads, and trails — both wet and dry. The outsole has held up nicely with little sign of wear, showcasing its stamina, and working well on basic trails and across most terrain. I found that it struggled on climbs with dry, granitic soils, but performed well on all kinds of descents.
On Cloudultra Overall Impressions
The stiffness of the On Cloudultra initially surprised me. I anticipated a more cushioned, lighter, and softer ride like I had experienced with the Cloudflyer and Cloudflow on the streets of Eugene. However, the design of the Cloudultra is focused on the dirt and the ruggedness underfoot. The comfort came with time.
The addition of the SpeedBoard plate seemed to mute the cushion and ground feel of the main engineering technologies, which led me to wonder what this shoe would be like without the plastic plate.
The Cloudultra stands the test of miles and terrain and provides a snug foot hug with the sock-like upper. I would definitely backpack in this shoe. Overall, the shoe performed the best on dirt and rocky roads in my local watershed, and I performed optimally wearing it.
If you’ve read my previous reviews, then you have learned of my bias toward a more minimal shoe. I can’t say I would run long in this shoe because of the higher drop and narrow design, but I still do like running and kicking around in this good-looking, durable trail shoe. I like explosive takeoffs. I like clouds.
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Call for Comments
- What is your experience with On shoes, either for road running or trail running?
- Are you running in the On Cloudultra? If so, share your experiences with the shoe and its details.
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]
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