The Swiss home of Olivier Bernhard, three-time world duathlon champion and one of the founders of On Running shoes, is tucked high in the forested slopes of the Swiss Alps. Watching him dance nimbly up steep switchbacks covered in roots and rocks or fly down slopes of jagged scree, it seems a no-brainer that the six-year-old company would create a trail shoe.
The shoe they designed, called the Cloudventure, uses the company’s signature “cloud” pods on the outsole, tweaked to better handle off-road conditions. The purpose of these tubular outsole protrusions has always been two-fold. First, they deliver a unique combination of cushioning and responsiveness: They cushion as they compress upon impact, then, when fully flat and firmly held in place by interlocking teeth, they provide a platform for powerful pushoffs. Second, because of the open, flexible nature of the pods, they dampen the horizontal forces of touch-down as well, moving in whichever direction the forces are pushing.
This latter function is even more important over the variable terrain of trails. The large rearfoot clouds, in particular, create smooth landings on descents, slowing and cushioning the foot on touchdown as they deform backwards and compress vertically.
To provide a closer connection to the ground, the forefoot pods of the Couldventure are thinner, softer and have less internal space than other On shoes, such as on the Cloudsurfer, the road model most similar to the Cloudventure. Despite an initial feel of distance from the ground, once the clouds are compressed the stance feels surprisingly stable, regardless of the terrain, and the shoe provides underfoot proprioception with a nimble, pop-back response as you tread lightly over obstacles.
The On designers also removed a few clouds—just behind the toes in the center and on the arch side of the foot—and replaced them with aggressive lugs for traction on loose surfaces. The cushioning is not missed on soft trails but some runners feel a bit firmer ride under the ball of the foot on harder surfaces or roads. Overall, however, the shoe behaves nicely over tarmac, with the clouds and a solid layer of midsole providing protection and a smooth roll.
The Cloudventure’s sole is made of a stickier rubber for traction on smooth surfaces, and covered with a variety of lug shapes and heights for grabbing the terrain. Despite the grippier rubber, the shoes did better on surfaces where they could dig in, slipping some on wet, smooth rocks, although not so much as to feel dangerous.
Given the clouds’ range of “travel” from impact to lock-down and the independent movement of each cloud arrayed across the outsole, they also help the shoe to wrap around protrusions and smooth the trail underfoot. This adaptability is enhanced by using a softer, more flexible “speedboard”—a flexible plastic plate embedded in the midsole that forms a connecting core for the independent clouds and acts as a responsive lever on toe-off. Softer midsole foam also enhances the shoe’s flexibility and cushioning.
Up top, the Cloudventure is built of two layers: an external, engineered mesh with a smooth but durable feel, and an internal “sock” of soft, stretchy fabric that wraps around the foot. Reinforcement against abrasion and pokey things is provided around the toe and heel, plus along the sides at the “bite line” between sole and upper where you often get stabbed into the arch. A thick collar wraps and holds the heel comfortably and securely, and the sock-liner fits impeccably, all producing a smooth, plush feel inside the shoe. The laces are thin and smooth, designed to slide easily and tighten all the way to the toes with one pull from the top. It’s quick and convenient, but those who prefer to be able to adjust the relative tension on different part of the foot should swap them out.
One obvious question regarding taking the clouds on the trail is whether they will fill with mud. The On founders say no, as they close quickly with every step, before anything can get in. In initial testing, we confirmed this, running through some deep puddles as well as soft sand and mud. The wet immersion caused a bit of squish and squeak noise as the clouds pushed out water each stride for a few minutes afterwards, but it didn’t compromise their action, and we never got dirt or mud stuck in them. They also didn’t pick up rocks or debris in the spaces between the clouds.
After several runs in the Cloudventure, we found they deliver a unique, responsive ride on surfaces from grassy fields to steep roots and rocks. They feel light during climbs and shine as you dance down technical descents, holding the foot securely in both directions. While we wouldn’t want to run a road marathon in them, they can also transition well from door to trail and back, providing a versatile option that you can run in daily. On may have taken a bit of time to adapt their technology to the trail, but the result seems to have been worth the wait.
The Cloudventure will be available at select vendors in the U.S. on June 16.
Price: $150 (standard, low-top version); $160 (mid-top model); Water-resistant “Shield” versions will be $170 and $180 respectively when they launch in October.
Weights: 10.1 oz. (men’s size 8.5); 8.5 oz. (women’s size 7)
Heel-Toe Offset: 6mm; 20mm (heel), 14mm (forefoot)