Ready to Try Trail Running? We’ve Got Just the Shoe.

On stuffed its famous Helion foam into the off-road-stomping Cloudsurfer Trail

The On Cloudsurfer Trail, a trail-running shoe, against a forest background. Here's our full review of the shoes.
Every runner — even city-dwelling runners — should give trail running a try. This shoe will get you started.
On, Lucas/Unsplash

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Every runner should own a good pair of trail-running shoes. In the age of Instagram and Strava, trail running might evoke images of mountainous efforts in Chamonix or the Smoky Mountains. But as the kids say, it just isn’t that deep. Anywhere that you can find routes with roots and rocks is worthy of a trail run. And while the majority of the running community is now clustered around cities — where clubs reside and the biggest races take place — many urbanites actually have excellent access to networks of trails.

We’re talking mulch loops, crushed gravel double-backs, paths along coastlines, etc. Running along more natural tracks like these just requires a little homework (check out Alltrails or TrailLink by Rails-to-Trails), an early morning and a pair of shoes that can withstand the change in terrain.

This year, I’ve been testing out On’s Cloudsurfer Trail. For my money, it’s the perfect entry-level shoe for the urbanite looking to put in miles somewhere wilder.

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The Cloudsurfer Legacy

If the “Cloudsurfer” moniker sounds a little familiar, that’s because it’s already the name of an On running shoe. In our estimation, it’s one of the Swiss brand’s absolute best. I trained for the New York City Marathon last year in a pair of light green Cloudsurfers (probably logging 400 miles in them? 500?) and feel uniquely qualified to attest that they absolutely slap.

It all comes down to the foam design, which On calls “CloudTec Phase cushioning.” The tech offers a plush and responsive ride (some online have called them “bouncy”) that anticipates — then mitigates — a runner’s tendency for heel-striking, transferring the energy through the midsole. This is common practice now in running shoe design, On’s just really good at it.

Why We Like the On Cloudsurfer Trail

Meanwhile, the Cloudsurfer Trail is the first of On’s trail shoes to include CloudTec Phase cushioning.

For city-dwellers who primarily burn miles on the roads or at the track, I think the familiarity of the run-feel here makes for an easy transition to trail running. Sometimes, trail-running shoes can ride a little stiff, sluggish or slow. But the Cloudsurfer Trail runs like a modern running shoe. It has a 7mm heel to toe drop (only 3mm off the original Cloudsurfer), and it’s lighter than you’d think and rocks with ease in full stride.

The last bit is kind of awesome, considering those strides are happening over more intense terrain. But the shoe’s also built for the uneven stuff. There’s grip on the outsole (not Vibram, On has its own in-house rubber lugs: Missiongrip), which prevents slips and makes sure pebbles don’t get stuck, plus some extra oomph in the mesh upper, to accommodate the mud or dust that inevitably swirls around trail runs.

I can’t say the shoe performs as well as I’d hoped in rainy or snowy conditions, but that’s mainly because the upper isn’t waterproof. (Naturally, this whole operation goes one shoe deeper. On is also now selling the Cloudsurfer Trail Waterproof.) That said, I’ve relied on the shoe for many road situations in which I’d rather not subject my usual go-to’s to the elements. For instance: running up a bridge with ice or rock salt.

Ultimately, trail running is good for you — whatever your definition of it may be. It can imbue your running routine with a sense of adventure, helping you avoid plateaus, physically or mentally. The Cloudsurfer Trail is an excellent way to take that initial plunge, while retaining those soft padded heels and smooth rides you’ve likely grown used to.

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