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Running on clouds: the science behind the sensation

It looks like nothing else, it feels like nothing else and it performs like nothing else. CloudTec® is designed to benefit any and every runner. Find out how we make it and what it can do for you.


All runners move in their own unique way. And we think that’s the way it should be. That’s why our signature technology CloudTec® is Swiss-engineered to benefit everybody – however and wherever they run. 


How? Well for starters, studies by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have shown that it's proven to reduce heart rates and muscle activation. What does that mean for you? More energy, more speed and more running. 


We come from the Swiss Alps, so we like doing things naturally. We focus on cushioning, not correction. Instead of forcing your feet to land in a certain way – which could cause discomfort or injury – our outsoles adapt to you.


This way you can make maximize your potential in absolute comfort.  



So, what is CloudTec®? 


Look at (almost) any On shoe. Those little elements underneath? We call them Clouds. CloudTec® is all those little elements formed into one outsole. The Clouds compress as you land to form a flat surface, then rapidly expand as you lift-off. They do this independently and as a complete unit to create soft landings and explosive take-offs


That's kind of our thing. 


Each time your foot lands it creates force, or energy. Usually, this energy would be lost or sent back into your leg – which can cause injury (but we'll get to this later). To counter this, CloudTec® is designed to harness this energy then use it to boost your take-off as you drive forward. 


That bouncy Cloud-like feeling? That’s great energy return. Comfortable and clever too. As it means your muscles have to work less to go at your usual speed. And that’s just one of the benefits of our unique system...  


Vertical and Horizontal Cushioning


“CloudTec® is a highly adaptive system that cushions only when you need it. Providing exceptional comfort thanks to the individual Cloud elements. Generally speaking, you don’t see this in other systems with a single, solid outsole. As they tend to cushion the same way from heel to toe.” says Ilmarin Heitz, Head of Innovation at On.    


"It’s like watching television in HD or 4K. The more pixels you have, the clearer the picture. It’s the same with CloudTec®. By breaking the outsole up into independently functioning Clouds, the system behaves very differently and allows for both vertical and horizontal cushioning." 



How does this help you? 


A frequent cause of injury when running is the impact of landings. But not from vertical (up and down) impacts like you might think. Instead, it's horizontal (front to back) force that can do the most damage. Running creates forward momentum but, as above, runners can hinder this momentum by landing in such a way that pushes it back into the body. It's called 'peak braking force' and it refers to the maximum amount of energy applied in the opposite direction of travel.


Think about doing a 100 meter sprint. For most of us, when we’re going all out, we lean forwards to try and go as fast as possible. But once we cross the finish line, we pull up and use more of our heels to slow down. Doing this increases the amount of braking force in our run. 


It's a bit like a car trying to drive with the handbrake on. So it can have a big impact on your run. And many of us also do this unintentionally when running at slower speeds.


The bad news? Research suggests that runners with a higher peak braking force are as much as eight times more likely to get injured than runners with a lower peak braking force.


The good news? “CloudTec® is the only system designed specifically to cushion horizontally and vertically. This helps runners significantly because it reduces the braking force and the amount of force sent into your body as your foot lands. Instead, we want to use it as forward momentum,” says Ilmarin. 


"Everytime your foot lands, it sends vibrations through the body. By collapsing horizontally, the Clouds are better able to absorb these vibrations. This can have a positive effect on overall energy consumption and the potential to cause less injuries."



A smooth ride for any runner


'Foot strike' refers to the part of the foot that first makes contact with the ground. Generally, runners are either a heel, midfoot or forefoot striker (see image below). It's a pretty hot topic, as many runners argue how you land can affect comfort, speed, energy consumption and injury. Many say that heel striking in particular – which is probably the most common landing strike – can have the biggest impact. 


But we want runners to do what feels natural for them. So CloudTec® is designed to work for all kinds of foot strikes by promoting a healthy rolling motion thanks to something called ride – that’s the feeling you get as the foot transitions from heel to toe, as you land then take-off. It is usually rated smooth or not smooth and seems to be directly correlated with the comfort perception during running. 


“Imagine trying to run in a ski boot. The ride will be terrible as the shoe doesn’t bend at all,” says Ilmarin. 


“We’re looking to create shoes that improve the ride so the pressure of landing doesn’t cause injury or break your momentum. We want to have a round, rolling motion and with CloudTec® that’s what you get.” 


“Plus, the more you land on your heel, the more the rear Cloud elements react in the same direction as your landing,” says Dina Weisheit, a Sport Science Specialist at On. 


“CloudTec® cushions the impact in the same direction that the body is experiencing it. In almost all other products this is impossible because they use a single slab of foam.“



Taking this concept even further, CloudTec® uses individual Clouds to allow for cushioning based on where the bulk of your weight is distributed when you land. 


What does that mean?


It means that if you land more on the outside of your foot, also known as supination (far left in the image below), then that’s where the Clouds compress first. But if you land more on the inside of your foot, also known as pronation (far right in the image below), then these Clouds collapse first. 


It’s adaptive cushioning taken to new heights in the pursuit of performance and comfort. 



Millimeter by millimeter 


To create this unique sensation, we have to do a lot of testing. The thickness, density, height and position of individual Clouds has a huge impact on how the outsole functions as a unit.


Clouds are measured on a millimeter level, as is the space in between them. And often what works for one gender, shoe size or model, won’t for another. It’s a painstaking process as there are so many variables that come into play. 


“We play with the geometry of the elements. In the heel, for example, we have larger elements with the biggest cavities as this allows for more cushioning. Towards the front of the shoe, the Clouds get smaller,” says Dina. 


”The shape of the cavity is important too. We’ll add or take away material to play with the reaction of the elements. Every Cloud element has a role to play and will be constructed in such to generate the response we want.”


“We also play with garages – or the space between Clouds. It’s extremely important that every element can move freely. It’s not 360 degrees of movement but it is to the front and the back and sometimes to the left and right as well,” adds Ilmarin. 


“Our shoes have different sized Clouds to produce a different sensation. When we create prototypes, we look at the performance of every Cloud very carefully in order to elicit a specific response.”


“This take result of countless hours of experimenting and testing. Maybe that’s why nobody else copied us so far!”



The evolution of CloudTec® 


Since we first got started, we have developed a number of different types of CloudTec® to handle different types of runs, runners, surfaces and conditions. But the goal is always the same: to create the best possible running experience for you.   



Rebound Rubber CloudTec® 


What the Lab says: “The original CloudTec®. This variation is all about rebound, explosiveness and ground contact. It offers the most horizontal cushioning of all CloudTec® forms. It’s very comfortbale and capable of going very fast. We call it CloudTec® at its purest.” 


As seen on: The Cloudsurfer


Standard Clouds    


What the Lab says: “This is arguably a more approachable version of CloudTec®, as it looks more like other running shoes on the market. But don’t be fooled, it performs like nothing else out there. We use Zero Gravity foam or Helion superfoam to maximize the sensation of cushioning, as well as to enhance the running sensation and offer an increased ride.”


As seen on: The Cloud, The Cloudflow, The Cloudswift, The Cloud X, The Cloudflyer 


Connected CloudTec® 


What the Lab says: “We developed this type of CloudTec® specifically to increase impact distribution area and create a more explosive push off in the forefoot. We’ve found it also increases the longevity of the products, so it’s ideal when distance or power is key. But it works very well on some of our more casual styles too.”


As seen on: The Cloudnova, The Cloudstratus, The Cloudboom, The Cloudflash 


Double Clouds


What the Lab says: “Double the Clouds, double the cushioning? Sort of. But it’s not quite as simple as that. This is CloudTec® that really adapts to its wearer. When walking, only one layer of Clouds collapses. But when you run, both layers collapse. So you get the same great cushioning sensation regardless of what you do. This technology is great for a runner that weighs a little more.”


As seen on: The Cloudstratus 


CloudTec® above the Speedboard®


What the Lab says: “Having CloudTec® above and below the Speedboard® allows for cushioning closer to the foot without sacrificing any stability when landing or turning. We used this configuration in some of our faster shoes, as it provides more cushioning in the forefoot, which is often where elite runners need it.” 


As seen on: The Cloudflash, The Cloudboom 


Trail Shoes 


What the Lab says: “Because we’re from Switzerland, we wanted to create the same great CloudTec® feeling on trails. We kept Cloud elements in the heel to ensure soft landings, even on for downhill runs, but created grip-stud like elements in the forefoot. In addition we added a full rubber skin. The combination resulted in technology that has the same CloudTec® feeling but with superior grip and traction.”


As seen on: The Cloudventure, The Cloudventure Peak, The Cloudrock Waterproof, The Cloudrock Edge Raw




What the Lab says: “Our goal for THE ROGER was to streamline the CloudTec® design for a whole new look with the same sensation. We realised that for urban walking, we could hide the CloudTec® and still give the wearer superior comfort and our trademark spring in your step. ”


As seen on: THE ROGER 


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