Black Diamond women’s Innova 50 (left) and men’s Infinity 60 (right) on a summer backpack in the southern Rocky Mountains. The large bagged item under the top pocket (right) is a plastic raft that someone abandoned at a wilderness lake.
Black Diamond introduced their Infinity and Innova backpacks in spring 2010. These are dedicated backpacking packs, not climbing packs. A much expanded line of backpacks of all types will be introduced in spring 2011.
By lightweight standards, the Infinity/Innova packs at 3.75 pounds (1.7 kg, size Medium) are just above our upper weight limit of 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg), but they are still lightweight considering the technologies they incorporate. What is remarkable, and why we decided to review the new Black Diamond backpacks, is their ergoACTIV suspension system. According to Black Diamond: most backpack manufacturers have now incorporated lighter weight materials and ventilated backpanels into their backpack line; the next innovation needs to be freedom of movement. In the ergoACTIV suspension system, the frame, shoulder straps, and hipbelt pivot and twist in concert with the hiker, allowing the backpacker to move unrestricted in any direction. The obvious questions from our standpoint are: does it really work, are the benefits useful, and if so, do they justify the weight of the technology?
|Year/Model||2010 Black Diamond men’s Infinity 60 and women’s Innova 50|
|Style||Built-in internal frame, top loading with floating top pocket|
|Volume||Infinity 60 is 3660 cu in (60 L), Innova 50 is 3050 cu in (50 L) for size Medium|
|Weight||Size L Infinity and size Small Innova tested. |
Measured Weight: Infinity 60 4 lb 3 oz (1.9 kg), Innova 50 3 lb 11.8 oz (1.7 kg)
Manufacturer Specification: Infinity 60 3 lb 13 oz (1.74 kg), Innova 50 3 lb 12 oz (1.7 kg) for size Medium
|Sizes Available||Men’s M, L|
Women’s S, M
|Fabrics||210d ripstop nylon and 400d nylon twill|
|Frame Material||HDPE framesheet with attached peripheral 6061 aluminum frame|
|Features||ErgoACTIV hipbelt, SwingArm shoulder straps, OpenAir backpanel, floating top pocket with zippered access (key clip inside), two stretch nylon side pockets, large front stretch nylon and fabric kango pocket, one fabric hipbelt pocket, two front tool holders, two concealed ice axe/trekking pole loops, four side compression straps, one top compression strap, two removable sleeping pad straps, load lifters, hipbelt stabilizer straps, adjustable sternum strap with whistle, pulley-type hipbelt, 3L internal hydration sleeve with one center hose port|
|Volume to Weight Ratio||57.4 ci/oz for the Infinity 60, 49 ci/oz for the Innova 50 (based on 3845 and 2929 ci, respectively, and measured weights of 67 and 59.8 oz, respectively for the pack sizes tested)|
|Maximum Comfortable Load Carrying Capacity||30 lb for the Infinity 60|
25 lb for the Innova 50
Estimated comfortable load for an average person carrying the pack all day
|Carry Load to Pack Weight Ratio||7.16 for the Infinity 60 and 6.68 for the Innova 50 (based on 30 and 25 lb and measured weights of 4.19 and 3.74 lb, respectively)|
|MSRP||Infinity 60 US$220|
Innova 50 US$200
Suspension System and Features
The Infinity and Innova backpacks have a unique ergoACTIV suspension system that provides freedom of movement. It consists of three design elements: an ergoACTIV hipbelt connected to a pivot hub on the backpanel that allows the hipbelt to swivel, SwingArm Shoulder Straps that are connected to each other by a cable and housing that allow the shoulder straps to move from side to side in tandem with the hipbelt, and a V-Motion Frame that transfers weight to the hipbelt. These three components working together allow the backpack to freely move from side to side and twist to the right and left with the user.
The pack’s frame consists of a HDPE framesheet and attached peripheral curved aluminum tubing to create a very supportive unit in the vertical direction while providing some horizontal and torsional flexibility to conform to and move with the user’s back. The frame unit is bendable to create a customized anatomical contour to match the user.
The packs’ ergoACTIV hipbelt is attached to a pivot hub on the backpanel (left), which allows the hiker to lean unrestricted to the left and right. The bottom ends of the shoulder straps are connected by a cable and housing (like a bicycle brake cable) to provide about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) of travel. The pivot hub (right) slides up and down and locks in position to provide 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) of torso length adjustment.
The pack’s OpenAir backpanel (left) provides ventilation and conforms to the user’s back; shoulder straps (right) are contoured and well padded. The suspension system on the women’s Innova pack is anatomically contoured for women.
Views of the Black Diamond Infinity 60: The frontpanel (top left) has a large capacity stretch nylon and fabric kango pocket; the backpanel view shows the pack’s pronounced lumbar pad, ergonomic hipbelt, and ventilated backpanel; each side (bottom left) of the pack has a stretch nylon pocket that can be reached with the pack on; and the top (bottom right) shows the pack’s roomy floating top pocket.
Pockets: The Infinity and Innova have a total of five pockets: a large capacity kango pocket on the front (left), two stretch nylon side pockets (center), one hipbelt pocket (right), and a large floating top pocket. The right side hipbelt pocket is (barely) large enough to hold a compact digital camera as shown; the left side is blank, without any strap or other means to attach an accessory pocket.
We tested the Infinity and Innova backpacks on several summer backpacking trips in the southern Rockies.
Our first time experience with the ergoACTIV suspension was: “Whoa, this pack is looser than a goose!” We are accustomed to backpacks that “stick” to our back, so the freedom of motion feature feels strange at first and requires some getting used to. The pack leans sideways with you, and twists as you twist. This freedom of movement is nice, but I wondered if it’s really needed for ordinary on-trail backpacking. After all, I am basically satisfied with a typical internal frame backpack that “sticks” to my back and allows me to comfortably carry a load down the trail.
On a solo trip, I carried a lighter load (24 lb/10.9 kg) in the Infinity 60 while hiking off-trail and found the freedom of movement feature more beneficial. When negotiating rougher terrain, it is helpful to carry a pack that moves with me, rather than restricts my movements. My conclusion is the ergoACTIV suspension performs well and is useful in situations where the extra agility is really needed, with the caveat of carrying a lighter load. A heavier load can throw me off balance when I’m in an awkward position, and the freedom of movement feature can work against me.
The heaviest load I carried with the Infinity 60 was 32 pounds (14.5 kg) while climbing a steady grade on-trail to gain 3000 feet (914 m) of elevation over 6 miles (9.7 km). With this heavier load (not all that heavy by conventional backpacking standards), I felt the pack weight concentrated on the pivot hub at the back of the lumbar pad, which caused some lower back fatigue by the end of the day. Also, the weight bearing down on one point at the back of the sternum pad caused the hipbelt to lever and press into my stomach, which was also uncomfortable. The problem was exacerbated by my tightening the hipbelt more to carry the heavier load on my hips. Note that most internal frame backpacks are designed to transfer and distribute weight to a much broader region of the hipbelt, rather than to a single point.
On a subsequent trip, carrying 28 pounds (12.7 kg) on secondary trails, I did not experience the problem, so there appears to be a threshold where pack weight concentrated on a single point (the pivot hub on the back of the sternum pad) causes discomfort. Overall, for me, the Infinity 60 carries loads up to about 30 pounds (13.6 kg) quite comfortably, but above that the concentrated weight on the pivot hub creates some less comfortable dynamics. For many lightweight backpackers, who carry loads in the 25-to 30-pound (11.3- to 13.6-kg) range, this should not be much of an issue.
Janet never really tested the upper load carrying limits of the Innova 50 pack, mainly because she has me to be the pack mule! She completely filled the Innova with bulky loads in the 15- to 18-pound (6.8- to 8.2-kg) range and was very pleased with the pack’s fit and comfort.
Overall, aside from the issue described above, the Black Diamond men’s Infinity and women’s Innova are very nice backpacks. They are exceptionally well designed and constructed to fill the needs of most lightweight backpackers. We especially liked the packs’ fit, contoured backpanel, anatomical hipbelt, comfort, large front kango pocket, large floating top pocket, and reachable side pockets. We would prefer two hipbelt pockets, rather than one, and a larger capacity to more easily hold a digital camera. For a new pack model, the Infinity/Innova gets most of the details right.
However, the ergoACTIV suspension is a mixed bag. It delivers freedom of motion quite well and remains comfortable (for me) up to around 30-pound (13.6-kg) loads, but with heavier loads, the concentrated weight on the pivot hub creates uncomfortable leverage on the hipbelt. This effectively limits the comfortable load carrying capacity of the pack to around 30 pounds (13.6 kg).
We are neutral on the benefits of the freedom of movement feature while hiking on a good trail. It’s nice, but it doesn’t make the load any lighter or easier to carry. However, the freedom of movement feature is appreciated much more while carrying light to moderate loads over rougher terrain. Also, it very likely will make a difference for traveling on skis or snowshoes, but we did not have an opportunity to test that out.
Weight-wise, the Infinity 60 compares favorably with similar backpacks. The current Osprey Aether 60 now weighs 4 pounds 14 ounces (2.2 kg) for size Medium, so the Infinity 60 is a full pound lighter, based on manufacturer data for size Medium. However, there are lighter similar-sized internal frame backpacks to be found, as covered in Roger Caffin’s state-of-the-market series on Lightweight Internal Frame Backpacks.
- Innovative ergoACTIV suspension provides freedom of motion
- OpenAir backpanel is contoured to fit the back and provides good ventilation
- Adjustable torso length
- Lightweight durable fabrics and frame materials
- Large front kango pocket is very handy for stuffing a jacket or carrying a wet shelter
- Numerous pockets for organizing and convenient access
- Fits well; women’s model is sized and contoured to fit a woman
- Comfortably carries moderate loads
What’s Not So Good
- With heavier loads, weight concentrated on the pivot hub leverages the hipbelt causing discomfort
- Only one hipbelt pocket
Recommendations For Improvement
- Provide two larger hipbelt pockets
- Revise the pivot hub and hipbelt so they distribute weight better
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.