Even though we haven't had many new shoe releases so far in 2021, both HOKA ONE ONE and ON Running have released upgrades recently: the ON Cloudswift and Hoka One One Mach 4. Both brands offer very distinctive technologies. HOKA brought us max cushioning. Even the racing models of HOKA have thicker soles than other brands, and their lightweight foam and rocker design promotes the natural roll forward of your foot. They also traditionally have a low heel to toe drop, again, promoting a natural feel to your running. ON bought us its CloudTec elements and ON shoes rely on a unique technology to cushion your run. Just as lightweight as HOKA, ON shoes feature a system of clouds in the midsole.
Neither brands fit the traditional running shoe mould, but they're still regulars in T3's best trail running shoe guide (as well as popping up amongst the best running shoes and best women's running shoes). To really appreciate what they offer you have to set aside your judgement about how they look and run in them.
I remember resisting HOKAs for a long time when they broke into the UK market as they are so oversized and I am a small runner. I thought they would look ridiculous on my feet. When I eventually ran in my first pair, on the trail, I was blown away by the cushioning. I felt the same with ONs, but I was more intrigued by ‘running on clouds' and tried them out more willingly. Running on a CloudTec midsole also feels very different and very fast! As you land the clouds cushion you, but then tighten and expand rapidly, to give you a firm push-off.
Both of these models have evolved to offer a cushioned landing as well as speedy take-off. Even though there probably isn't one shoe to rule them all, as individual comfort is so varied, the Mach 4 and Cloudswift are great all-rounders. What do they offer?
ON Cloudswift vs Hoka One One Mach 4: the tech
The Hoka Mach 4 excels due to its Profly midsole which, rather than a plate, features a dual layer blend. The upper layer is softer and lighter, complemented with a more durable rubberised foam layer beneath. The Mach 4 also offers a very plush re-engineered upper with more padding than in the Cloudswift. So you're getting a superior sensation of comfort as you run from the Mach 4.
Launched last month, the second gen of the Cloudswift feature ON's signature Helion superfoam plus their basic CloudTec technology. Their clouds are like, well, clouds. They aim to reduce muscle fatigue and will compress both horizontally and vertically, which means they adapt to your running style. You should, literally, feel like you're running on clouds. You also get a polypropylene Speedboard and pronounced rocker shape.
ON Cloudswift vs Hoka One One Mach 4: performance
Due to the one-piece upper the Cloudswift is a great shoe for multi-events, as you can pull them on swiftly at the end of a triathlon, to speed off on the run. With the combination of CloudTec cushioning and the Speedboard this shoe feels well suited for fast runs and with many perforations it keeps your feet well ventilated. It feels a little less structured as you run, more flexible through the midfoot than the Mach 4. However, the Mach 4 feels like it envelops your feet more and provides more stability.
If I was choosing these for races I would use the Cloudswifts for shorter, faster distances, including triathlon, and the Mach 4 for longer races, 10 miles upwards, where I want more support from a faster shoe. For me, as a heelstriker, I felt the Cloudswift encouraged me forward onto my midfoot a little more too. They felt firmer under foot, and made my feet feel more in contact with the ground. The Mach 4 provided a smoother sensation. The truth is always in the testing, and this is all to come hopefully in summer races!
ON Cloudswift vs Hoka One One Mach 4: ergonomics
Both the ON CloudTec elements and Speedboard work together to propel you forwards. The Speedboard converts the energy put into the shoe when you land into an explosive take off. It's a liquid-injected plate of thermoplastic polymer sitting between the CloudTec midsole and the upper.
Turn your shoe over and you can see it under the Cloud elements. As the CloudTec compresses to soften your landing, the Speedboard flexes and releases energy to push you forwards (think of a bow and arrow). This means the energy of landing isn't lost but harnessed in the next phase of running, the push off, known as energy return. The more energy that can be transferred forward, the less you have to find to keep moving. The Cloudswift also features rubber reinforcements covering the Cloud elements on the outsole, providing extra traction, essential if you're speed training in wet conditions.
The design of the Cloudswift upper is impressive, with an integrated tongue and one-piece upper to give a sock-like fit as well as support – this is most noticeable around where the traditional tongue would extend into the heel collar. With this being all-in-one, once you're laced up it's a very secure feel. You also get a 100% recycled mesh on the Cloudswift.
The Hoka Mach 4 feels less flexible in the midsole than the Cloudswift, but provides more cradled support for your feet. The Profly midsole feels both soft and springy, so you get a double whammy of cushioning and a firm toe-off. If you have tired legs, this model would be the one to use. For long-term comfort on the top of your feet, the Mach 4 definitely has a superior upper.
ON Cloudswift vs Hoka One One Mach 4: aesthetics
Even though on first glance you think the Hoka shoe is more chunky, they are both similar in stack height and design, with the Mach 4 standing out due to the extended rear design and a higher Achilles protector. Both have plenty of reflectivity and both look smart, following the trend for white and light coloured trainers. The ON shoe has more rubber on the upper will show more dirt, but still probably has the edge on design. Both shoes I tested had yellow flashes which makes them look fresh.
ON Cloudswift vs Hoka One One Mach 4: verdict
These shoes both provide a very different feeling when you run in them. The Cloudswift are true to their name and feel fast, and secure, even in difficult conditions due to the sticky rubber positioned on the outsole. One negative about the ON shoe is the channels in the outsole. These collect small stones that will stay wedged in until you get them out.
The Mach 4 may suit you if you want an all-round shoe that offers a little more comfort, and it feels like they provide more cradled support for your feet, so your feet feel more stable when they are in contact with the ground. With just a small difference in price – the On Cloudswift are £10/$10 more expensive – they are both impressive all-rounders, with the Cloudswift giving a slightly firmer feel than the Mach 4.