Words by Matt Low
Let’s be honest, there are very few shoe brands out there that have reached star status in such a short amount of time as On Running has.
The secret to On Running’s success lies in their unique structure, attention-to-detail, and luxury materials used. The most iconic part of any On Running shoe is CloudTec, which is the company’s patented cushioning construction.
Essentially, CloudTec consists of hollow tubes of rubber or foam making up the entire outsole of the shoe, which are designed to absorb any vertical and/or horizontal forces experienced during each stride, as well as provide a sturdy platform for the toe-off.
Two recently introduced unique and patented aspect of On shoes are:
Speedboards: consist of specialised layers of strong material beneath the CloudTec structures to support and channel the motion of the foot for the most efficient technique and
Helion™ “superfoam”: a material in the CloudTec structure which temperature resistant, light on weight and big on energy return and durability — such technology brings On Running ever closer as a competitor to Nike’s fabled Vaporfly 4%.
I tried on a pair of the latest edition Cloudswifts to try out and give my thoughts. Let’s get unpacking.
On CloudSwift 2021 – Keep Calm and Helion™
On Running’s latest CloudSwift has no outrageous marketing claims like the Cloud X or CloudBoom, rather the company has taken a different more intriguing approach here.
That is to tout the CloudSwift as the latest addition to the line-up to feature On Running’s “zero compromise superfoam” known as Helion™. Now, as a massive fan of Nike’s equivalent “superfoam” known as ZoomX, they have definitely grabbed my attention and teased my curiosity.
I am reviewing the very latest 2021 (pre-release) model of the CloudSwift which is slightly different to the 2019/2020 version but is still made for the toughest and most critical market: The Urban Runner.
The Urban Runner are ruthless at wanting the lightest, durable, most agile yet comfortable road shoes out there, and On Running think the CloudSwifts are the answer to their prayers…let’s see about that!
What are the CloudSwift Specifications?
Weight: Fairly Lightweight | 294.7 grams in a men’s size UK9
Heel-To-Toe-Drop: Medium | 7mm
Heel Height: High | 29.0 mm (est.)
Heel Cushioning: Outstanding
Forefoot Height: Very high | 22.0 mm (est.)
Forefoot Cushioning: Firm yet forgiving
Stability Features: Excellent
Energy Return: Could be better
On Cloudswift 2021 first impressions
If you are new to the On Running world, then be prepared. The experience of unboxing a pair of On Running shoes can be likened to finding a $100 bill in a pair of old jeans you were about to throw away – you cannot believe your eyes or your luck and you cannot wait to put your new discovery to use.
Open the box and you are greeted with an inner graphic of a monotone cloudscape, providing the perfect silhouette for your new shoes. Cathartic much?!
I chose the “Denim | Midnight” colourway – a navy blue and white combo – to bring some style to my shoe cupboard and damn to they look sexy as hell! They make my Nike’s look a little clown-ish.
The first thing you will notice is a beautifully engineered knitted upper whose multi tonal patterns only serve to emphasise the already bold and modern design of the shoe.
The second thing is the rocker (the curvature of the midsole) which might seem extreme but this only serves to bring superior comfort and agility.
Overall, CloudSwifts seem incredibly well constructed with laser-cut and glued seams, and On have replaced their plastic shoe stays for recycled versions to keep them from losing their shape before reaching their new owner.
Don’t be surprised to find an “owners card” with an ID-number specific to the shoes, so they can be registered online – if that’s your thing.
How does the Cloudswift Uppersole Feel?
On Running have stepped their game up in the last 2 years when it comes to their uppers. They are truly works of precise knitted art.
On’s engineers and design team really went the extra mile with the Cloudswift to ensure that the wearer’s feet could breathe without the need of any wind or surrounding airflow – as you would have in an urban environment.
The Cloudswift upper is a bootie-construction – there is no tongue – composed of a padded engineered mesh with a sock-like interior. The Cloudswift upper comprises of a variety of materials, varying in tensile strength, stretch and support.
The laces run through these large and very noticeable soft fabric “cages,” which provide support and structure to the soft knitted upper. This new fabric “cage” is less rigid and more lightweight than its TPU predecessor.
The aim is to support the midfoot when cornering at fast paces, as well as, serving to dissipate any pressure on the forefoot and heel more effectively when undergoing such manoeuvres.
The “cages” also provide a hidden yet EXTREMELY useful feature: A pocket – in between the “cage” and the knitted upper – to store the excess of your tied laces.
This helps reduce flapping (which is a problem given how long the laces are) and instances where the laces untie themselves. Added bonus is your shoes look even cleaner than the design exudes.
Padding around the heel area is exceptionally soft and comfortable. The side walls are very similar to the Cloud X as they don’t rise too high either, which provide more flexibility in the ankle/Achilles heel areas without unwanted rubbing.
The CloudSwift is generally a really comfortable fit that feels great right out the box, with absolutely no ‘breaking-in’ necessary.
There is also ample reflective material used, making them ideal to be used in low visibility environments or at night.
Is the Cloudswift comfortable?
The CloudSwift slips on very easily and feels like your favourite slipper. There’s a neutral arch, which I personally love as it feels like this shoe was built specifically for my foot.
The CloudSwifts feature On Running’s standard comfortable insole with its surrounding rubber makes for extra grip especially when wearing thin socks or none whatsoever.
All seams inside the shoe appear to be really well hidden, contributing to the fact that these were made to accommodate bare feet.
Is the Cloudswift Midsole responsive?
There are two crucial features to understand before talking about the CloudSwift’s midsole is On’s proprietary Speedboard™ (see image below).
A rigid plate (non-carbon) that promotes lateral stability and reduces stride momentum loss -- essentially reducing the strain and fatigue felt by the muscles of the underfoot.
On’s Helion™ superfoam – formed of a special structure fusing stable, hard elements and softer, elastic segments. This enables greater durability without adding weight and more rebound without sacrificing cushioning.
It’s also temperature resistant, making it more durable than other foams such as Adidas’s Boost.
The two of these features work in unison to create the CloudSwift’s supportive Cloud Element midsole. I say supportive because the CloudSwift provides firm support for a clean and responsive landing and toe-off.
Additionally, the ‘rocker’ construction of the midsole – the curve of the shoe in the front and the back – compliments the Speedboard™ and Helion™ foam to deliver a more natural and ergonomic transfer of energy.
This is to forward momentum than any other shoe with the traditional flat sole. This should help minimise injuries and loss of form over longer distance runs.
Although the Helion™ “superfoam” is meant to assist with energy return, I feel that the CloudSwift’s do not contain enough of it to generate a bounce similar to Nike’s ZoomX.
The CloudSwifts feel slightly heavier over faster paces because of this, keeping them in the category of longer and slower run shoes.
Does the Cloudswift Outersole Have Good Grip?
There truly is no ignoring On Running’s typical 16 semi-circular Helion™ pods called ‘Cloud Elements’. Apart from the Speedboard™ and Helion™, the CloudSwifts feature newly designed Cloud elements on the sole.
These collapse diagonally to increase horizontal cushioning, alongside durable rubber reinforcements that provide better traction across a multitude of dry and wet terrains.
In the forefoot, Cloud elements connect at the central channel for a more directional push-off to assist with energy loss, however, I was left wanting more in this department. MORE Helion™ please!
The channel running along the length of the CloudSwift provides an excellent spot for debris and stones to collect, which they most certainly did over longer runs.
The rigidity of the Speedboard™ prevents the flex in the shoe necessary to squeeze them out, and as a result I had to stop at least twice to pry some loud stones from the channel.
Are On CloudSwift 2021 true to size?
Given the bootie construction, sock-like upper and generous toe box area, I would say the CloudSwifts are true to size, and are more forgiving if you have made a miscalculation of up or down 0.5 your actual shoe size.
How are the Cloudswift laces?/h3>
On Running have received a lot of feedback regarding their laces which have either been too long, too slim, and/or too stretchy. Unfortunately, The CloudSwift’s laces are a little on the long side, however, the side pockets to tuck the excess lace in makes for a great solution to this problem.
Apart from the length, the laces are firm and do an excellent job to lock the shoe down without any hotspots caused by eyelets or bunching. On Running has emphasised their incredible attention to detail, by featuring the words “put me ON” on the plastic ends of each lace.
Is the On Cloudswift 2021 any good?
I only had this shoe for 2 weeks, during which I tried my very best to put it through its paces. I racked up 115kms of road running, walking, and even a gym workout or two.
The CloudSwifts are a step in the right direction for On Running, as they provide an incredible platform for stability and responsiveness regardless of whether you are running, walking, or partaking in an intense HIIT class at the gym.
The updated design of the Helion™ cloud elements coupled with the bootie + “cage” design make the shoe disappear around your feet even when taking hard corners on tough tarmac without the thought that you may twist an ankle – which cannot be said for runs in Nike’s Vaporfly.
Of course I would still like to see more use of Helion™ throughout the midsole to provide more energy return per stride, however, the CloudSwifts are a masterpiece in form following function (although it may not seem it).
They offer an excellent mix of plush cushioning, airy breathability, sharp style, lightweight, solid stability, and rapid responsiveness to keep you in them regardless of what you are doing.
Like the Cloud X’s, the Cloudswifts on the run ride feel lively, low-to-the-ground and especially nimble, offering great proprioceptive feel for the road — especially throughout longer training runs.
Notably, the Helion™ doesn’t give off a bouncy or marshmallowy sensation as likened with Nike’s ZoomX foam, but instead a feeling of consistent smoothness.
This coupled with the extreme ‘rocker’ promotes stride consistency and efficient turnover during a longer run resulting in an experience in which the runner can focus on everything but the shoes.
Are the On Cloudswifts the Right Shoe for You?
Is the On Cloudswift for flat feet?
Not necessarily, as the neutral arch of the shoe may create some discomfort over longer runs which these shoes were built for. This could lead to your foot being pushed to the outer sides resulting in friction and hotspots. However, pulling the inner sock liner could resolve this issue.
Is the On Cloudswift for plantar fasciitis?
I would give this a definitive yes. The On CloudSwift shoes have a neutral fit. Adeptly, they feel moderately soft, very light and extremely dexterous once you lace them up. The bootie design with the lateral “cages” ensure an adaptable fit to suit most foot types.
The heel counter is very well padded in its construction yet sturdy enough to minimise the abnormal stretching of the plantar fascia which diminishes pain and inflammation in the heel and arch of the foot.
Is the On Cloudswift 2020 waterproof?
Unfortunately not. In rainy conditions or for those that sweat profusely, the inner sock liner and upper tend to hold a bit more moisture than is ideal. However, the wide-gauged upper knitted mesh as well as the fabric “cage” do help resist or wick away some smaller drops that it may encounter in a light drizzle.
The On Cloudswift 2021 Verdict
The CloudSwifts are a testament to On Running’s pursuit to listen to its customer and adapt to constructive feedback. The subtle moderation in the material of the lateral “cages”, plushier Cloud Elements, and re-engineered knitted upper make for a great long-distance trainer for hard terrains found mainly in an urban environment.
So, if you are a die-hard runner, or long-distance walker who has yet to find the shoe to take them the distance in style, comfort, and without injury then these are the ones for you!