Finding the right running shoes can feel a bit like following in Goldilocks’ persnickety footsteps. Too much cushion or not quite enough? Too soft and pillowy, or too firm and harsh? Too heavy and slow, or too minimal and unsupportive?
Most runners’ preferences fall somewhere in the middle of these spectrums, and finding one that strikes all the right balances—especially if you’re looking for a do-it-all running shoe—isn’t always straightforward.
For me, for example, I love cushion and a soft landing underfoot, but loathe feeling like my shoes are heavy or clunky. I want to feel like I’m being propelled forward, but not so much so that the ride feels harsh or overly-aggressive.
With On’s new Cloudflow 4, an uptempo trainer with some serious upgrades from the previous iteration, I’ve found one of those unicorn *just right* shoes. And while I can’t claim they’ll be *just right* for everyone, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that what I love about them—the smooth, propulsive ride, the combo of softer and firmer foam, the substantial but not too heavy stack—makes this revamp of the Cloudflow a popular one.
Sizes available: 5-11
Heel-to-toe drop: 8mm
Color options: 5
- Comfortable, locked-in fit
- Snappy, forward-rolling ride
- Nice balance of softness and firmness
- Trendy look for non-running wear
- Made of 25% recycled materials
- May be too firm for some runners
- May not have sufficient cushion for longer distances
- Some reviewers complain about lace bite or laces coming undone
What’s new in the Cloudflow 4
Previous models of the Cloudflow got a lot of flack: Reviewers complained that it was too firm, could get rocks stuck in the outsole, and didn’t have much pop for speedier runs.
I never got the chance to test them out myself, but if that was the case, it’s safe to say that the new model is a totally reinvented shoe. For one, it’s both lighter and more cushioned than its predecessor, with 23mm of cushion in the toe and 31mm in the heel and weighing in at a rather light 200g. Compared to some of today’s max-cushioned trainers, it’s not a huge stack. But even as someone who typically gravitates towards shoes with more cushion, I found them to have a comfortable ride. That’s probably at least partially thanks to the dual-density foam, which has a softer cushion on the top layer of the midsole and a firmer layer on the bottom.
Lee Firestone, DPM, a podiatrist and certified running coach, says On’s signature CloudTec—aka those pods that most of their shoes have—also helps to absorb impact, providing a more cushioned landing while keeping down the weight of the shoe. Still, the sole is definitely on the firmer end of what I’d typically reach for, but with just enough softness to not feel harsh on the joints.
The upper of the Cloudflow 4 is also totally redesigned, a super lightweight woven material that’s a slightly thicker version of the ultra-thin upper on On’s Cloudboom Echo 3 racing shoe. It’s breathable and comfortable, with a gusseted tongue for security (though some reviewers have found the tongue to be too thin for comfort, causing lace-bite, or irritation of the skin on the top of the foot, and others have found the laces hard to tie securely, though I had neither of these issues).
And where the previous Cloudflow was relatively flat, the 4 has a pretty aggressive toe spring thanks to the spoon-shaped nylon Speedboard plate, which gives the shoe its poppy springiness. As far as plates go, the Speedboard is a relatively flexible one, but between its slight propulsive stiffness and the shoe’s forefoot rocker—which Dr. Firestone says he’s a big fan of—running in the Cloudflow 4 feels like being gently propelled forward, making a quick turnover feel easy and fun.
I found the fit to be true-to-size, and locked-in but not overly snug for my slightly wide feet. (Those with legit wider feet might find the tapered shape a bit too narrow.) The Cloudflow 4s also have new rubber pads on parts of the outsole for better traction and durability—I felt plenty grippy on the wet roads and slippery track I ran on. And there’s a new outsole design to prevent stones and pebbles from getting stuck: The channel that runs between the pods down the middle is not as deep as it used to be (though I can see how other debris like leaf litter might still make its way in there).
What the Cloudflow 4s are best for
While the Cloudflow 4s could do almost anything, short-to-medium tempo runs feel like what they’re born for, with their smooth ride and excellent energy return. But easy miles feel good in them, too, as did the speedwork I put them through. They could even be a solid option for races up to 10k or maybe even a half marathon, though I probably won’t be reaching for them for anything over 10 miles due to their relatively low cushioning.
The Cloudflow 4s are solidly neutral, so if you typically opt for stability shoes, they probably won’t be for you. Otherwise, though? It’s hard to imagine finding much else to dislike about them—especially since their sleek design makes them not just a do-it-all shoe for running but also for everyday wear. This Goldilocks is satisfied.