REVIEWER: KARL FORCEY
Ultra cushioned, ultra comfortable, ultra versatile. So says the marketing tag from Swiss company On Running about their new max-cushioned, long-day-out trail shoe, the Cloudultra. Sounds promising, right? I thought so, too, and was happy to give these a trial. Do they deliver? Let’s find out.
All shoes from On Running have one thing in common: the distinctive Cloudtec sole. This gives the shoes not only a unique appearance, but also multidirectional cushioning elements, which make for a uniquely comfortable ride that reacts to your individual movements. Think soft landings followed by explosive take offs. On the Cloudultra, these Helion foam elements have been doubled up, which increases stack height. But straight away, you know this shoe is made for big runs.
There is an 8mm drop, and for its size, this is a light shoe at 295g. As I put them on, I was expecting something a lot more cumbersome. But for me, what happened next was the most impressive aspect of wearing theses shoes. Slipping them on, the upper just wrapped around my foot. Soft, smooth, comfy and snug without being tight. At this point, I actually took them off to have a closer look at the construction. There was no tongue at all. The entire upper was like a stretch-fit perforated mesh sock with a tough outer. It’s a technology borrowed from the more speed/performance-oriented Cloudventure, but it fits perfectly here. Before I even started running, I knew my feet would love these. Well, that would be true if my feet weren’t so darn wide. These are a fairly narrow fit, and I could tell my rapture may not have lasted all day. Lacing up, though, nothing needed adjusting or fiddling with – they just felt beautiful.
I did a mix of runs in these, including a night-time run on steep, technical and single track, and a couple of longer runs on the target terrain for the Cloudultras: hard-packed fire trails. On the technical stuff, they do well. These are a very stable shoe with the rubber bumper coming high around the heel. There is a variety of high and low profile lugs on the bottom that dig in when you need them to. On Running use a plate called the Speedboard in the midsole that has again been borrowed from the Cloudventure, but widened for more support over long distances. It does provide better take-off, but makes the shoe very rigid. Trying to move quickly over rocks and roots is difficult because of this, as it just doesn’t have the responsiveness or ground feel. If that’s what you need, though, you wouldn’t have chosen this shoe.
Which brings me to my next run: long, flowing hills on mainly fire trail over a few hours. This was where the Cloudultra came into its own. That rigidity was now welcome and the double cloud worked with it to let me fall into a rhythm and cruise. I didn’t even notice my feet anymore; I just ran, and it was superb. Obviously, a lot of engineering effort has gone into this shoe, but you don’t notice that from the outside. With the sock-fit construction, it looks simple: just a basic shoe. Maybe it’s the simplicity that makes it work so well, though. On Running took the base components of a shoe, made them awesome, and then combined them in a way that makes the Cloudultra more than the sum of those parts.
Almost as an afterthought, then, is one more feature to mention, and that is the flip release system. This is advertised as a Swiss-engineered fit adjustment device that allows you to flick it and loosen the laces on the forefoot for more room after your feet start to swell. I like the idea, and I get the logic behind it, but I don’t know. It’s a little plastic gizmo that seemed a bit superfluous. If I wanted to loosen my laces a bit I would just, you know, loosen my laces. Even if you agree with me here, though, it doesn’t in any way detract from everything else that is fantastic about this shoe.
My toes did start to get compressed after a few hours, but I say that about almost every shoe I try. Yep, I’ve got wide feet. This shoe does fit a bit small, too, and it is recommended to fit half a size up. As always, I recommend trying on in store first. These small quibbles aside, if you run long or just want a great, comfortable shoe, then you really need to try these. For all ‘round fit and comfort, they are one of the best shoes I’ve ever tried.
The men’s come in Olive/Eclipse, Black/White and Limelight/Eclipse, while the women’s come in Lavender/Eclipse, Black/White and Moss/Eclipse. I’ve seen On Running shoes popping up in more and more running stores in Australia lately, so do your feet a favour and check them out.
THE LOW DOWN
GREAT FOR: Long days. Ultra distances. This shoe loves hard packed, undulating fire trails that go for a while. They do well on bitumen too.
NOT SO GREAT FOR: Fast or technical stuff. The tread can handle it, but the rigidity makes it a bit less responsive and nimble.
TEST CONDITIONS: Steep technical single track at night. Long fire trails and some bitumen.
TESTER: Karl Forcey
TESTER MECHANICS: Midfoot striker preferring zero and minimal drop. Likes lightweight, more minimalist shoes.
RRP: $269.00 AUD /$309.99 NZD
CONDITIONS: Shoes provided for testing by On Running