Founded in 2010, On was born out of a desire to create a shoe that would deliver the perfect Goldilocks running sensation with every step: a soft landing, followed by a firm toe-off. The company began in Zürich, Switzerland, when the duathlon and Ironman champion Olivier Bernhard teamed up with his friends David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti to engineer a better running shoe. Success came quickly. Just a month after founding the company, their prototype won an ISPO Brandnew Award, which recognises innovation among athletic startups. Later that year they were selling On shoes in running stores.
In 2012, On released its first flagship shoe, the Cloudracer, which was designed for competitive running. Swiss Olympic runner Nicola Spirig started using On shoes shortly afterward, and Frederik Van Lierde of Belgium wore Cloudracers when he won the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in 2014. Several other key On models have been introduced in the past few years, including the Cloud lightweight cushioned shoe, the Cloudflyer stability shoe, the Cloudventure trail running shoe, and the Cloudflash racing shoe. Although they’re designed for different types of runners, each one is engineered to strike a balance between cushion and energy return.
What makes On shoes different?
The secret to On’s success lies in the unique technologies built into its shoes. First, there’s CloudTec, which is the company’s patented cushioning construction. You’ll notice that On shoes have open tubes of rubber or foam across the outsole—these are designed to compress with each stride and absorb vertical and horizontal impact forces, and then lock in place to create a firm platform for an explosive take off. The open construction also saves weight, so you get plenty of cushion without a clunky foot feel.
In the midsole, On uses patented “Speedboards,” which are made up of specialised layers designed to support and channel the motion of your feet. And that’s not all: the proprietary Zero-Gravity Foam is a lightweight EVA blend used in many On models to provide additional midsole cushion, which contributes to the smooth ride these shoes are known for. To balance that cushion, On uses Rebound-Rubber, another midsole/outsole material that’s designed to create responsiveness and add durability, so the shoes provide good energy return and don’t wear down too quickly. All this tech comes together to create a lineup of shoes that support your natural foot movement while delivering comfort and performance. Here are a few of our favorites:
The 8 best On running shoes on the market in 2018:
The best On shoe for: Athletes looking for a lightweight trainer or an everyday shoe
On’s best-selling shoe, the Cloud incorporates the company’s signature CloudTec outsole and a wide central channel for added flexibility, as well as grip pads in key areas on the outsole for traction. Up top, the Cloud has a dual-density sock liner for a comfortable foot feel the moment you put these shoes on, and the molded heel counter hugs your foot for a snug fit. You’ll also find On’s unique “speed-lace” system, which allows you to slip these shoes on or off—a nice perk for spur of the moment runs and workouts.
The best On shoe for: Speedwork and hitting the gym for cross-training
A great, lightweight running shoe, this nimble trainer makes a great pick for up-tempo workouts. Large CloudTec units amp up the shock absorption and their rounded edges also keep debris and rocks from getting caught in the outsole. Although its name might make you think of a plush feel, this isn’t a very cushy shoe. Even so, it does serve up a smooth ride and is designed with enough flexibility and support to withstand lateral movements, so you can take them to the gym, too.
The best On shoe for: Racers looking for a fast shoe with lots of bounce
On calls the Cloudfash the fastest shoe in its lineup, and several innovations back up its speedy reputation. The usual CloudTec outsole is tweaked to deliver greater energy return, and the shoe’s Speedboard incorporates Pebax foam (a new formulation that’s lighter than older EVA foam), which together create more bounce and responsiveness through your stride. The Cloudflash comes topped off with a super thin “nanomesh” upper to save weight, and the tall heel counter is designed to grip the back of your foot for a lockdown fit, even when you start to really haul.
The best On shoe for: Runners who want stability without sacrificing street style
The Cloudace is On’s most cushioned shoe, and it’s geared toward runners looking for a plush, smooth ride. The CloudTec units on the rear of the outsole are made with On’s Zero-Gravity foam for superior shock absorption, and rubber on the forefoot adds durability and provides some of the bounce that On shoes are known for. The heel counter is super soft thanks to TPU foam, and it keeps your foot in place while adding extra cushion. With a wide speedboard and dual-layer mesh upper, you’ve got a shoe that’s cushioned and supportive.
The best On shoe for: Runners in search of energy return and responsiveness
The 18 individual CloudTec elements studding the outsole of this shoe are a clear giveaway: the Cloudflow is all about bounce. Each one works independently to cushion impact forces and propel your stride, so you’ll feel both protected and fast. On placed Zero-Gravity foam in the midsole for an additional lightweight layer of cushion, and the speedboard is specially designed to flex with your stride, which means you’ll be comfortable and supported as you run. Plus, the mesh upper comes with an antimicrobial treatment, so these shoes will smell as sweet as they ride.
The best On shoe for: Racers who want a comfy shoe that can withstand high mileage
Developed from the Cloudracer shoe that Frederik Van Lierde wore when he clinched the 2013 Ironman World Championship, the Cloudrush is designed to meet the demands of the competitive runner. On the bottom, the 18 CloudTec elements on the outsole are capped with rubber to bite into terrain and increase durability. The razor thin midsole is comprised of EVA foam for cushion, and the speedboard is designed to adapt to your stride—even as it changes during the course of a race. The result is a fast and comfortable shoe that will hold its own through grueling races.
The best On shoe for: Overpronators who want a lightweight stability shoe
The Cloudflyer is On’s purpose-built stability offering, and the company considers it a good shoe for beginners. It’s also become one of On’s best sellers since its launch in 2015. Bigger, wider CloudTec elements on the outsole create additional support for your foot through footstrike and toe-off, and a dual-density sockliner adds comfort. The V-molded heel counter sticks close to the back of your foot for a snug feel, and the “star” lacing system allows you to dial in the fit even more.
The best On shoe for: Trail runners looking for a lightweight shoe and a bouncy ride
On brought its running shoe philosophy onto the dirt with the launch of its first trail shoe, the Cloudventure, in 2016. It’s durable, with a full rubber outsole, and it features four kinds of lugs to grip a wide range of surfaces. Eleven CloudTec pods crank up the cushion for a smooth ride, and the upper is beefed up for extra protection. It’s made of two layers (comfortable and supportive on the inside, weather treated and breathable on the outside), and it has a fused rubber and mesh toe cap to guard against rocks and other wayward objects on the trail.
A version of this article appeared on Runnersworld.com