ON, the Swiss company have been making these shoes for some time now and they have turned heads with their distinctive looks. Yes, those little bubbles on the sole really do look different!
When they first arrived in stores and on the shelves, I must admit I did dismiss them thinking it was a gimmick… this is coming from someone who was using and racing in Hoka One One in 2007/2008!
ON first appeared just a few years ago and the first editions were launched in 2010 – they are the baby of the shoe world but throughout 2015 and 2016 I witnessed a growing following for these distinctive shoes. A trail shoe didn’t exist but in road racing and triathlons, they were popular.
Many things have been claimed of the CloudTec technology which gives the ON it unique look, basically, cushioning when landing and a propulsive take-off.
German magazine Die Zeit in 2012 actually went on the describe the technology as ‘Doping through the sole!’ You can take this one of two ways, this also relates to the recent Nike ‘sub-2’ shoe (the Vaporfly Elite) – I do wonder when a run shoe becomes ‘more’ than a normal run shoe.
I have always wondered what the ON experience is like but for many years now, my running on the road has primarily been to get to a trail. I rarely, if ever, go for a road run so experiencing ON seemed unlikely.
ON have now produced the CLOUDVENTURE – a trail specific shoe available in four versions:
- Cloudventure (Summer version)
- Cloudventure Peak (includes Speedboard provides forward-motion and protection on uneven terrain.)
- Cloudventure Midtop (slightly heavier version with more upper and protection)
- Cloudventure Waterproof
All the shoes are NEUTRAL with a 6mm Drop.
ON say the Cloudventure is a lightweight trail shoe – they are not! You notice the weight as soon as you lift them out of the box, it’s noticeable. I use a UK9.5 and the shoes weigh in at 340g. For perspective, here are other shoes I am using at the moment:
- Inov-8 Trail Talon 250 247g HERE
- Nike Wildhorse 290g
- TNF Ultra Cardiac 292g HERE
- Inov-8 Roclite 290 307g
- ON Cloudventure 340g
- Scott Kinabalu Supertrac 408g HERE
Sizing is true to size for those who may wish to purchase online.
The heel box is plush and really does hold the heel in place providing a trusty fit.
The toe box is somewhere in the ‘middle’ – not too wide and not too narrow. It is a little vague I know but I found they offered a great compromise in allowing my toes to splay but not at the expense of control or precision on technical trail.
The upper is breathable with plenty of ventilation and it is durable which I am sure adds to the weight of the shoe, they may be a little heavier but they will last! The toe box is reinforced and offers excellent protection. The rear of the shoe has considerable reinforcement from a dark durable section that extends from the toes and increases to the heel.
Cushioning is plush, really plush and you bounce along with a very unique feeling – the shoes made me want to run faster than my fitness would allow. Of course, the most distinctive element of the shoe is the clouds on the bottom – 11 of them. The cloud elements absorb horizontal shock allowing for running faster downhill and longer without fatigue. These do add to the bounce and propulsion of the shoe when running on the flat.
Grip varies over the outsole with four different levels, each designed to address a different situation when running, primarily:
- Micro-grip on rocks
A ‘Speedboard’ is within the shoe which doubles up to help the propulsive phase (take-off) when running and it also acts like a rock-plate offering protection from underfoot objects.
Fit is excellent from the sock-liner and gusseted tongue, I have said it before and I will say it again, this is the best system for a shoe in my opinion. It is so comfortable and on trail it makes even more sense as it reduces the possibility of debris entering the shoe.
The laces are thin but one is able to really pull and adjust the fit of the shoe based on ones needs, once tied, they stay tied. The lace eyelets continue up the shoe with the all-important additional eyelets should you wish to lace-lock for a more secured fit.
I was really impressed with secure heel cup that was comfortable, caused no rubbing and made me confident that the shoe would do what I required without my heel slipping out. The toe box protection is also excellent with great reinforcement.
In all my test runs I always start and finish with road, sometimes 1-2 miles and maybe more on occasion. The first thing I noticed with the ON Cloudventure is how good they are on hard-stuff – not surprising I guess with the shoes history. I bounced along and I was extremely comfortable. So comfortable I may add that in testing I ran an 8-mile road loop to confirm my thoughts. Ironically, considering this is a trail shoe, I would have no issue running a road half-marathon or marathon in these they are THAT comfortable, however, the outsole wouldn’t thank you!
On hard trail and dry rocks the experience was like on the road. My fitness couldn’t keep up with the shoes and the feeling they gave of wanting to run fast. The clouds bounced me along and as I sped up they encouraged me to push on more. On my first run, a 12km loop, I actually had to stop at one point as I had got carried away with the feeling the shoes gave. I thought back to that Die Zeit article in 2012 that went on the describe the technology as ‘Doping through the sole!’ There is some truth in it! The feeling I had from the ON was just like in 2007/2008 when I started using Hoka One One. The combination of clouds and speed board fire you along the trail with one of the best run experiences I have had – that is some compliment. The 6mm drop also providing that sweet spot between the popular 4mm and 8mm drops. In all honesty, I much prefer 8mm to 4mm, especially on longer runs and I didn’t notice any detriment of running with 6mm. One thing I did notice is the cushioning and feel from the heel area. I purposely heel-striked on one run and I have to say, if you have a run style that leads with the heel, you will love the ON.
The four grip levels on the outsole work well. I was worried to be honest, the 11 clouds obviously provide elevated sections with gaps. This works fine on flat trail and when on irregular terrain such as rocks/gravel, the grip works well. In the middle of the outsole there is just one cloud and on the opposite side a grey area with several different lugs – useful when on rocks! The toe area has specific grip for when running uphill.
All of the above make the ON Cloudventure one of the most comfortable and fun trail shoes I have tried. It’s a fast shoe!
However, in mud and on wet rocks they are close to useless.
In all honesty, this is not a surprise. The outsole is not aggressive and the compound used is quite hard – there is little or no ‘soft-rubber’ that would grip a wet rock. On wet grass and on a thin layer of mud the Cloudventure was workable but anything else, no! I had no confidence on my local muddy trails and when going over wet boulders and rocks I was taking the speed off and being very cautious.
The outsole also has some real questions over durability and longevity too. I am just over 100-miles in them and they are already showing some considerable wear.
The one thing that has separated ON from the competition is the clouds on the bottom of the sole. They are unique and YES, they work on the road and dry trails. In mud though the holes filled with mud. This caused three issues:
- The shoes got heavier as I ran as the mud was not dispelled.
- The feel of the shoe changed.
- They made some ridiculous and quite frankly annoying squelching sounds
In the wet and the mud, the ON Cloudventure is best left in the box.
The ON Cloudventure is one of the best dry trail shoes I have used. The combination of comfort, drop and dry grip is excellent and they would be a shoe that I would happily consider for training or racing. I would even run on the road in them with no issue they are that comfortable.
Unfortunately though wet rock and mud are not the ON Cloudventure’s friend. If you know this, it’s no great issue and depending on where you live, considering this may not be an issue. For example, I run in the USA on occasion where trails are pretty groomed and I rarely encounter the mud and mayhem that UK trails offer, if that is the case, the Cloudventure will be great.
Finally, this is a shoe review in two halves:
Running dry trails, the On Cloudventure is awesome and I recommend you give them a spin.
Running in the wet/ mud, the On Cloudventure doesn’t cut it.
The ON Cloudventure is not an ‘all-round’ trail shoe and that is a shame because I personally think ON would like it to be. Knowing this is valuable information though as the dry-trail experience is something quite special. To draw comparisons, you wouldn’t use a inov-8 Mudclaw on road and dry -trail, it has a specific use. The ON Cloudventure is no different.
ON website HERE