Swiss brand On, founded in 2010, might be unfamiliar to Men’s Journal readers, mostly because its running shoes are not as easily found at retailers around the country as many U.S.-based makers. It also hasn’t received ink here previously; its early shoes tended to be bottom-heavy, stiff, and underperforming compared to other models from big name manufacturers. This is largely due to the signature rubber-pod cushioning system the manufacturer employs.
Over the past few years, however, On has been tinkering with a mix of foam and rubber to deliver a responsive platform that remains soft, while reducing weight and dialing in a smoother ride. The new Cloudsurfer represents the balance of its evolution.
Designed as premium neutral training shoes — the likes that can compete with a Nike Zoom Vomero, Asics Gel-Nimbus, or Brooks Glycerin — the Cloudsurfer uses the same collapsible rubber tubes you’ll find on all of its models. When you make contact with the ground, the pods compress under your weight and two halves make contact. Small teeth on the inner surfaces engage when the cushioning bottoms out, so there’s no slippage as you move through your stride and begin to push off the ground.
We appreciated the thick rubber pods in the rear, which offer a durable surface and firm cushioning that will work for most heel strikers. On a marathon-pace training run, we crushed a downhill stretch comfortably, transitioning to the toes swiftly. The forefoot pods are thinner than the heel, allowing them to compress more easily and leading to a more responsive feel underfoot without inhibiting flexibility greatly.
The upper, too, has been refined. The new shoes use a two-layer system: The outer fabric is an engineered mesh, knit in a way to give structure where you need it most — through the midfoot — and eliminates the need for glued and sewn-on overlays. It also allows plenty of ventilation holes to be incorporated in the front half of the shoe. This pair generally fits well, though we found the midfoot was a little looser on the lateral (outer) side than we’d prefer. That said, the collar is lightly padded and the heel cup cradles the foot well, so there’s not much movement inside the shoes, even at a quick clip.
One knock: The padded tongue is soft and offers plenty of protection from the extremely thin laces, but it’s just too tall. If you wear ankle-length socks, it’ll rub bare skin at the front of your leg. This is more annoying than problematic, however, as the materials are soft and unlikely to create any real irritation. [$150; on-running.com]
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