Switzerland has a reputation for creating products with surgical precision, finesse and purpose (think: Swiss clocks, watches, utility knives and keys – and let’s not forget Swiss chocolates).
Well, the country’s latest export to this side of the pond is a sustainably-made performance runner by the brand On, and it has not only celebs like Zendaya and Kate Middleton sporting the shoes, but pro-level athletes too; other than signing on tennis legend Roger Federer as one of its key brand partners, running royalty and 2021 Olympic Silver Medalist, Hellen Obiri, also wears the shoe.
So being in such good company, I decided to give the brand and their award-winning, patented cushioning technology called CloudTec® a try myself (my partner also couldn’t resist snagging himself a pair to run in, as well).
On was born in the Swiss Alps with one goal: to revolutionize the sensation of running. Here are my takeaways on how the two pairs I tried stacked up to this mission.
I tried the Cloudmonster (a runner’s shoe), and the Cloudnova (the more casual of the two pairs) on pavement, a treadmill and inside my home during a workout.
The context: Where I’m coming from, and how I came into running
I’ve been a runner since my early teens and involved in one sport or another ever since I could walk. At first, running was a way to relieve some of that nervous teen angst and stay healthy, but also as a way to stay connected to movement at a time when so many young women stop participating in sport.
Fast forward to now, and I still try to incorporate running and movement into my routine. Over the years, I’ve acquired the normal repetitive strain wear-and-tear that comes with the pursuit of that runner’s high (the reference to that rush of feel-good hormones those who exercise know and love). My knees occasionally hurt, I have to regularly stretch and use a foam roller to avoid common runner woes like plantar fasciitis and more. Still, the endeavour remains well-worth it.
These days too, my activity levels look different as my partner and I are expecting a new addition to the family, but that drive to keep active and stay healthy still remains – and it’s perhaps even amplified. The 30-75 minutes I set aside to incorporate movement in my day provide me with a much-needed outlet and a way to hit pause and stay connected to that part of myself that anchors me to myself at a time when so much in my life is changing – and changing fast.
For me, that means a brisk walk, incline speed-walk, light jog (though let’s more accurately call it a trot), or mobility exercises with light weights – depending on the day and how I feel but always under consultation with my physician. (Disclaimer: if you yourself are expecting, always check in with your healthcare provider to confirm what approach to staying active is right for you and your situation, as this review is by no means meant to be prescriptive and merely reflects my personal journey.)
My partner is active himself and while, at one point, we were running buddies, he now continues to go for 5K to 10K runs solo (but more on that in a bit).
What makes On’s CloudTec® different
If you are a runner, you may recall the massive shift to minimum-support footwear from about a decade ago (think: toed runners and other “barefoot”-emulating designs). Well, On’s CloudTec® feels a world away from that with its cloud-like cushions.
The shoes incorporate lots of support in what the brand calls Helion foam soles, arranged in springy honey-comb pattern bubbles, literally adding spring to your every step (to me, it’s an overall playful, leaping sensation I associate with some of my best run days).
As I also noted, On seeks sustainable sourcing of its materials, with up to 80 per cent of its polyester being recycled (making up a total of 30 per cent of its total material). I would love to see the latter percentage go even higher, but it’s definitely a noteworthy start (the brand is also specific about where their shoes get made).
Cloudmonster in Acai & Lavender, On Running, $200.
Cloudmonster: The shoe goes beyond gimmick
Touted as On’s biggest-ever and tallest CloudTec® shoe, it’s affectionately dubbed monster for a reason. These unisex runners definitely provided me with bounce and cushioning that took a little getting used to, but in a good way (after all, the brand considers playfully weird a badge of honour). The design is intended for running on paved surfaces and roads, and is a great lightweight option for those tackling mid to long distances.
The shoe’s design promises extremely soft landings and max energy return, and while I didn’t hit the pavement with the intensity my pre-pregnant self would have, the shoe nevertheless held up to the hype. I definitely appreciated the shock absorption, and comfort (the latter is generally in short supply these days), which I can absolutely see encouraging me to run further when I eventually resume my regular running routine, when the time is right.
That same cushion is also supposed to help runners recover faster, and regardless if you’re a predominantly forefoot, midfoot or heel striker, I can see my joints being grateful for this following any long-distance runs. As I also mentioned, the leapy feeling I got from the shoe took me back to my best days of running, where I felt unbound by gravity (or injury).
The upper part of the shoe also felt super comfy as well, and not over-structured, so my feet could move naturally and easily as they needed to without pressure on my toes or arch, while still offering support.
You may also like: Are you feeling stressed, tired — or both? Forest bathing could help.
As for my partner, he is running in the men’s Cloudstratus pair (which feature a double-stack of clouds), and he had his own take for this men’s shoe. He has been on the lookout for a new running shoe that would provide better support on his runs than the pairs he had tried (and returned).
This latest pair from On made his run a lot more enjoyable (in his words, “zero stress, zero pain and zero strain with every step”). He similarly noted that the cloud cushioning required a bit of adjusting to, but that the buoyancy is definitely a feature he would recommend himself, setting the shoe apart from other runners he’s used.
Related: 10 signs you’re dehydrated.
Cloudnova in White & Pearl, On Running, $220.
Cloudnova: A beautiful and functional statement shoe
Cloudnova is On’s “all-day sneaker infused with performance tech,” and I can see why. Intended for everyday wear, travel and urban exploration, the shoes are a great option for those who spend most of their day on their feet.
OK, full disclosure – when I first saw this shoe, function isn’t the first thing that came to mind, as it’s simply a stunning, unique and elegantly-designed shoe. But personal tastes aside, it’s actually a great, comfortable pair – full stop.
Coupled with the fact that some days require me to be on my feet longer than others and that my pregnancy makes me tired and achier faster, I was curious to see how they would hold up. The verdict? The Cloudnovas provided much-needed support, and not only to my feet, but my hips and back felt noticeably unencumbered at the end of a particularly long day spent running errands as well. I loved the lightweight feel and the “walking on clouds” effect the shoes provided.
While I loved both pairs for different reasons, I would definitely stick to Cloudmonsters for running outdoors on those hard-on-your-knees paved surfaces and the Cloudnovas for days out or when I need just a bit more comfort and support on my feet.
If you’re curious to try a pair yourself, you can find On at Running Room, Holt Renfrew, Sporting Life, Harry Rosen, Foot Locker SSENSE and Altitude Sports, along with the On site itself.