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Trail Running Shoes • March 27, 2024

On Cloudsurfer Trail Review: Mostly Sunny Skies

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What You Need To Know


10.5 oz. (300 g) for a US M8.5,

7.9 oz. (225 g) for a US W7

Stack Height / Drop

Stack height unavailable (7 mm drop)

Best For

Tackling roads and light trails

Key Features

CloudTec Phase midsole, Helion foam, Missiongrip rubber outsole, mesh upper

On The Run
Very grippy Missiongrip outsole Soft, smooth Helion foam We'll see how the foam holds up
Price / Availability

Available now for $160

Introduction to the On Cloudsurfer Trail

TAYLOR: Just last week, my wife and I were able to sneak away for a little us time. Because of a recent snowstorm, we chose to don the AT skis and catch a quick lap in the backcountry. Driving to the trailhead was eerily warm and foggy, but I could sense the opportunity waiting for us. Even though we’ve lived in the mountains for a decade now, what we were about to experience has only happened a handful of times.

Fairly quickly, we broke through the foggy layer and ascended above the treeline only to turn around to a glorious sight. Everything was still. The tops of the clouds were like pillow bumps of cotton candy. The setting was the type of calm that you had to hold your breath to observe. Only then could we notice the cloud layer so smoothly, effortlessly, flowing west. Oh, what it would be like to float among those clouds…

This is the sensation I’d almost expect from any company naming its shoes after the floating mass of hydrogenated molecules. Smooth. Soft. Puffy. Any word you’d use for a pillow should also fit such footwear.

On has taken large strides in the past few years, and by the sound of it, it’s a good thing the Cloudsurfer Trail is my first experience with the brand. My expectations were fairly high from the start because our road crew gave the On Cloudsurfer such high praise, but what’s different between the shoes?

Well, the change to the outsole is obvious with a new Mission Grip rubber and deeper lugs. There’s also a more water/weather-resistant upper and outdoorsy aesthetic to round out the changes. The main ingredient, the Cloudtec Phase midsole with Helion foam, is untouched.

So, is this basically a road shoe with a beefier tread? Pretty much… But that’s now always a bad thing.

MICHAEL: Over the past year or so (at least since the Cloudmonster, if my memory serves me correctly), we’ve seen On steadily up its game in the overall running space, turning out several shoes that can compete with the wildly popular models in our road-based rankings. Not too long ago, On’s offerings were generally harsh, unforgiving, and maybe even a little gimmicky, but these dark times would not prevail. On’s recent releases, specifically the Cloudmonster and Cloudsurfer, have remedied past models’ wrongs with the development of a softer, more forgiving Helion foam and the exclusion of On’s “speedboard,” which felt exactly like a speedboard underfoot, just without the speed.

While this next generation of On shoes was largely tailored for the road, it was, of course, only a matter of time before these material and construction updates began to take over the trail line as well. As promising waves of new opportunity wash over the shores of On’s trail lineup, the first model to pull up to the beach is the Cloudsurfer Trail. Exchanging their speedboard for, well, a surfboard, On made a big splash on the road side of things with the first release of the Cloudsurfer — it caught all kinds of monster waves and accolades, including an honorable mention for the most surprising shoe of the year in our 2023 Best in Gear awards.

The Cloudsurfer Trail promises to capture some of that magic with a little more grit thrown in, boasting a simple outsole and upper change from the original Cloudsurfer. Can these minor changes translate the Cloudsurfer’s success on the roads to the trails? Cue some Beach Boys and settle into our review of the On Cloudsurfer Trail.

RYAN: So, Taylor and Michael have pretty much covered the basics, as they always do for our trail-centric reviews. I, however, am not a usual suspect when it comes to life in the dirt and trees, so I’ll keep my part relatively brief. The Cloudsurfer Trail is my second taste of On’s new midsole structure, CloudTec Phase pods and all, after inheriting Robbe’s Cloudeclipse and thoroughly enjoying it.

I inherited this one from Robbe, too, as a byproduct of On not quite knowing how to size its shoes. Listen, I’m not complaining; it gets me in more shoes than I expected to try out, but man, it’s a word of warning. Anyway, like the guys said, this is a slightly more rugged version of On’s road-ready daily trainer, and, seeing as I live in Baltimore City, I figured I’d put it through its paces mostly on the road side of things.

There’s not much else to introduce, so merrily we’ll roll along.

What we like about the On Cloudsurfer Trail

TAYLOR: There’s no doubt that the On Cloudsurfer Trail is a cruiser. It has the comfortable ride that On wants to be known for. Honestly, I had a hard time trying to describe the overall feel and where it lands among the masses.

One of those reasons is that the Cloudsurfer Trail has such a seamless ride that it kind of goes unnoticed. Once on the run, you’re just running… There’s no true squish or spring, yet there’s some of both. It’s not pillowy, not firm as a board, and not necessarily in the middle. There’s no doubt that the Cloudsurfer Trail is on the more cushioned side of the spectrum, but this one is uniquely annoying in the sense that I couldn’t land on a particular feeling other than ‘smooth,’ and I am just going to have to live with that.

The reason for this buttery ride is in the midsole construction. It’s a neutral shoe that actually feels inherently stable. It has a moderate forefoot rocker that keeps things rolling. Also, the Cloudsurfer Trail has On’s updated midsole formation called Cloudtec Phase with Helion foam. It’s exactly the same setup as its road counterpart. Essentially, the midsole consists of a softer foam and compression pockets (the clouds) to absorb impact and propel the foot forward in a fairly effortless way.

With a midsole like this, it was very easy to stack a bunch of training miles on.

The Missiongrip rubber outsole played along nicely with the midsole, too. It felt smooth and adequately grippy for the terrain I chose to tackle in the Cloudsurfer Trail. The lugs are a wider-than-average chevron shape. They can’t be more than 4 mm in depth, and there aren’t a ton of them poking out from the outsole. Even so, I felt a consistent grip, which led to confidence over mellow trails, wet gravel, packed snow, and pavement.

The fit, though not my preferred for true trail scenarios, was also comfortable. The Cloudsurfer Trail is a roomier option all the way around. Of course, with this much overall volume, there’s always a risk of the upper feeling baggy like we experienced in the Craft Xplor Hybrid. The mesh upper here felt moderately light and structured around the foot, and the added structure kept my foot locked nicely on the footbed to enjoy the underfoot experience.

MICHAEL: Like its roadie cousin, the Cloudsurfer Trail offers a smooth, soft heel-toe transition and promises comfort for miles on end. The Helion foam is a real star here — it’s largely comparable to Salomon’s Energy Blade foam or maybe a slightly softer version of Topo Athletic’s Zipfoam. If you do most of your training miles on smooth, mellow single-track or wide dirt roads, the cushioned and rockered feel through the midsole makes the Cloudsurfer Trail a fantastic option for recovery miles.

Adding to the perks of the shoe, I found the knit upper to be generally comfortable and accommodating without losing a sense of security when I pointed it down more technical trails. I had no problems with heel slippage, lack of midfoot lockdown, or any other issues that can turn the compass rose of potential quickly south.

While the upper and midsole of the shoe are clearly hand-me-downs from its road cousin, the trail version did stop by the mall to pick up one piece of fresh new drip — the outsole. Featuring On’s proprietary Missiongrip, the super shallow lugs here admittedly resemble a very roadie-esque silhouette. On the run, however, I found that the really excellent tackiness in the Missiongrip helped compensate for the lack of lug height, and this outsole felt substantially more capable than one might expect at first glance. That being said, it still was truly at home happily jogging off recovery miles on the local double-track dirt loop.

It has to be mentioned that this shoe is remarkably comfortable for its weight — only further increasing its versatility. The Cloudsurfer Trail is more than capable of throwing in a few fartleks on that aforementioned dirt loop, and it feels good doing it.

RYAN: While the On Cloudsurfer Trail might not be built Ford tough, it’s a no-brainer if you want a shoe that can do both roads and light trails. It reminds me a lot of On’s Cloudvista, which tried to tackle the same road-to-trail niche before the advent of CloudTec Phase. This new setup, however, is far, far more effective. Where the Cloudvista felt a little clunky and a little like “old On,” the Cloudsurfer Trail is decidedly new and smooth.

I’ve taken the Cloudsurfer Trail on several shorter runs through the city, both wet and dry, and I’ve had no issues with it. I am, of course, not hurdling roots or banging my toes against rocks, so I didn’t find myself wanting more protection, but the mean streets of Baltimore have hazards of their own. The Missiongrip rubber seemed to put up with the slippery boards of the promenade as if they were the muddy trails it’s meant for, and the lugs themselves added just enough grip if I veered onto gravel or other sandy surfaces.

On’s knit upper also feels more at home on the roads than it does on the trails. I didn’t have to worry about sudden jumps or cuts to the side to avoid obstacles, so I never felt like the security was lacking. It breathed well enough for whatever you want to call our current not-too-hot, not-too-cold weather, at least.

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What we don’t like about the On Cloudsurfer Trail

TAYLOR: Picking up where I left off, the upper is, in fact, “roomy,” especially in the back half of the shoe. Having such space around the foot created more issues as the terrain became more technical. I had no qualms about light trails and gravel. Even though the On Cloudsurfer Trail is not intended for rougher terrain, I do always hold the standard of trail shoes being (at minimum) able to approach some moderate trails with some confidence. Otherwise, what are we making this thing for? The On Cloudsurfer Trail made me question it a couple of times because of the lack of security in the overall fit. It’s one of those shoes that feels very good until it doesn’t.

One more thing with the upper. I’m noticing a trend that the lowest eyelets on some trail shoes are small loops of mesh wire or woven chords. It looks cool but doesn’t always feel it. One benefit is a consistent fit in that area. The struggle is that this lower eyelet needs to be adhered via an overlay or stitched in. The On Cloudsurfer Trail has two large embroidery stitches at both ends of this loop, but depending on where that lower eyelet lands on your foot, it could cause some irritation. For me, because of a bunion, I was well aware of that stitching. As miles progressed in the shoe, it became less of an issue, thankfully.

Longevity is a concern for the On Cloudsurfer Trail as well. I’m already noticing some shaving of the outsole lugs. They’re not that deep to begin with and will get smaller every run. So, it does make me question, again, if the extra $20 is worth slapping a grippier, luggier outsole that doesn’t last the life of the shoe. The same story goes for the midsole. With only 30 miles on the shoe, I noticed that the ride was still smooth, but the sensation sort of “flattened” near the forefoot.

It will be interesting to see if these durability concerns will persist in a downward spiral or will their properties maintain from here on out.

MICHAEL: While I absolutely enjoyed the initial feeling of the Helion foam in this shoe, I’m afraid that soft, cushioned, slightly responsive feeling won’t be around for very Heli-long. It’s already beginning to feel like the bit of magic it had right out of the box has been zapped away after my test period.

While I’m sure the aesthetic cutouts (the clouds) in the midsole contribute to the Cloudsurfer’s lovely ride, I do think they have some downsides as well. First, mud and stuff get all up in there. Second, I think these drastic cuts from the midsole likely add to the previously mentioned longevity concerns, as there simply isn’t as much material there absorbing impact step after step after step.

The material that is there is having to work overtime on the energy dissipation front. Right now, it still feels excited about the extra time and a half pay, but eventually, it’s going to get tired and just want to go home. And now that I’m done stretching that metaphor out way too far… Third, I think they negatively affect the stability of the shoe. When pointing the Cloudsurfer Trail down rough tracks that, in fairness, it probably wasn’t intended to rip, there’s so much soft cushion in the midsole here without a plate or tons of width to bolster landings. The heel just felt a little wobbly at times for me.

Speaking of rough singletrack the Cloudsurfer probably wasn’t meant for, this shoe lacks underfoot protection against sharp objects and all that other aggressive trail paraphernalia, brought about by its super soft midsole, thin outsole, and lack of a rock plate. Don’t fret, though, because all in all, if you mostly stick to gravel roads, smooth dirt tracks, and road-to-trail applications, you’ll be totally fine.

Lastly, this shoe seems to run a quarter size small. Typically, I wear a US M9.5, but the size M9.0 that I received fit me absolutely perfectly length-wise.

RYAN: Sizing is, obviously, an issue when it comes to the Cloudsurfer Trail. I ran in Robbe’s US M7.5 when I normally wear a US M8. However, as long as you know to size down just a bit, you should have no other issues with the fit.

I’d also have to say that maybe I’m not one for an all-black shoe. There are several other colorways of the Cloudsurfer Trail to choose from, but I really feel like the blacked-out one we were sent feels a little bit too restaurantcore.

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Final thoughts on the On Cloudsurfer Trail

TAYLOR: At the end of the day, this is a shoe that I’ve put a bunch of miles in because it’s an easy option to throw on at home whether I intend to take the gravel roads, hit the path, or make my way toward non-technical trails.

Could you get away with purchasing a pair of the original Cloudsurfer for $20 less and hit the same terrain? Probably. The added grip and aesthetic are nice, though. The On Cloudsurfer Trail can pick it up. It can go long. It would be a great “shoulder season” road shoe where a little extra grip gives peace of mind or a nice option for a road to light trail shoe.

MICHAEL: Like Taylor, I think this shoe is going to stay in my rotation for quite some time. I see myself continuing to enjoy the Cloudsurfer Trail’s cushioned, comfortable feel for many more recovery miles on gravel roads, road-to-trail commutes, and everything in between. Additionally, if you’re a fan of the original Cloudsurfer and are looking for a wee bit more grip for those gravel miles, look no further.

RYAN: The trail guys nailed it. On’s Cloudsurfer Trail is a solid option if you want a road-to-trail cruiser that can pick up the pace but won’t try to pull your attention away from the aggressive mountain crushers that you love so much. They’re also right in saying that it’s very similar to the road-ready Cloudsurfer. If you’re planning on mostly running roads and the occasional gravel rail trail, I’d recommend the road version instead, but if you wanna get a little wild, Missiongrip will treat you right.

You can pick up the On Cloudsurfer Trail for $160 at Holabird Sports using the buttons below.

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Ryan Haines
Assistant Editor
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Ryan is kind of like Robbe’s Igor behind the scenes. He helps to compile and clean up everyone’s reviews, and finds time to get in a few miles of his own. When he’s not running or editing, Ryan writes and reviews for Android Authority, spending time with the latest tech and complaining when things don’t work quite right. If he’s not doing any of that, maybe you’ll find him nose-deep in a crossword puzzle or trying to catch up on an endless backlog of shows to stream.

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Fav. Distance


  • 3:54

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    Half Marathon
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Taylor Bodin
Lead Trail Reviewer
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Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.

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  • 27:03

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michael bio photo
Michael Loutzenheiser
Southern Trail Reviewer

An engineer living with his wife and cat in Birmingham, Ala., Michael loves chill morning runs in the neighborhood, but especially enjoys soaking up long miles of technical southeast singletrack. Occasionally, he’ll get a racing itch and actually string together some “organized” training for a trail race or FKT. In his free time, Michael enjoys books, backpacking, and hanging out with friends.

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Fav. Distance

13.1 (Trail)

  • 4:48

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