Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review

Freedom of movement is the next advancement in internal frame backpack technology, but it appears to have limitations.

Overall Rating: Above Average

While we like the innovation, we found a significant limitation to Black Diamond’s ergoACTIV suspension system. Specifically, it concentrates pack weight on a single point, the pivot hub at the back of the lumbar pad. While this does not seem to be a problem for light and moderate loads, it does produce discomfort with heavier loads. Overall, for general backpacking on good trails, the Infinity/Innova packs rate an Above Average rating for their innovation, design, and construction quality. They are lightweight considering their technology, comfortable, and full-featured. For lightweight backpacking, carrying loads less than 30 pounds (13.6 kg) over rougher terrain (and possibly for winter travel on skis or snowshoes), the packs’ freedom of movement becomes a useful feature. For those situations, we can raise our rating to Recommended.

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by Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl |

Introduction

Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review - 1
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?

Specifications

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.

Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review - 2
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.

Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review - 3
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.

Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review - 4
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.

Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review - 5
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.

Field Testing

Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review - 6
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.

Assessment

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.

What’s Good

  • 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.


Citation

"Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review," by Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/black_diamond_infinity_innova_50_backpack.html, 2010-12-14 00:05:00-07.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review on 12/14/2010 15:15:46 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Loads on 12/14/2010 18:12:23 MST Print View

Ive tried this pack with 30 lb loads ... I found the load pulls away from the back ... Was not overly impressed

its also heavy compared to a lot of the packs reviewed in the recent bpl state or market report

Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
Heavy on 12/15/2010 11:04:14 MST Print View

Man, that's a lot of weight for such a narrowly targeted feature set. I think Will should have said more about the advantages the articulated suspension. Does it just buy me a little comfort? Does it allow me to do something that isn't possible with a rigid suspension? I really don't know what I'm getting for the extra pound or so. For all I know, it's just a marketing gimmick.

Other packs in the recent survey, are lighter, have an excellent feature set and outstanding, abeit rigid, suspensions. I need to know why I wouldn't rather have one of those.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Not a new idea on 12/15/2010 13:24:25 MST Print View

I once owned REI's original UL backpack, the UL 60, which had a similar connection between the shoulder straps. It was a narrow nylon tube webbing that ran through flat webbing loops and had a travel limit built in. It worked VERY well for loads up to 40 lbs. When forced to scramble and reach for a hold this pack was extremely comfortable.

Unfortunately the bag's light silnylon fabric began letting go at the seams even though my loads never exceeded 32 lbs. so I returned it to REI. Their next pack, the Cruise UL 60, lacked this shoulder strap flex feature but had Spectra reinforced Dyneema fabric and more robust seams. I still use this 2nd gen. REI UL pack and it is a good fit for me. Too bad they dropped the original shoulder strap configuration.

Edited by Danepacker on 12/15/2010 14:53:50 MST.

aarn tate
(aarndesign) - MLife
Interlinked shoulder straps to give Freedom of movement. on 12/15/2010 14:13:55 MST Print View

This is not a new idea at all. In your reviews of the Aarn Featherlite Freedom and Liquid Agility, you and Ryan praised the benefits of the Freedom of movement and stability of the Aarn system.

John Murtiashaw
(murda) - F

Locale: Ashvegas and beyond
MORE OF THESE ARTICLES PLEASE on 12/15/2010 20:04:25 MST Print View

The flaws of these BD packs aside, I am so psyched to see an article about a PACK, not another high priced sleeping bag. I love my Lafuma unlimit 900g bag, and love showing it off, don't get me wrong. But it's what I wrap up in at night, and I chose it because it was the best down bag offered under my pro deals. I get zero use out of all these top end sleeping bag articles, and I think most BPL members will agree. A round-up of what's new a couple times a year is fine, but I was getting extremely frustrated considering I paid for the privilege of using this website. No, $20 is not a lot of money, but it's about respect for your customer. Your new trip report is wonderful as well, a return to the sweeping and stunning reports that were here when I first subscribed. What I use most when I'm in the woods are rain gear, shelters, stoves and packs. I WANT TO SEE ARTICLES ON THESE! I don't spend all my time sleeping or staying warm in downy stuff. Do you have a mainline to every down manufacturer in the nation, or what's the deal? Those how-to articles are wonderful as well. And while we're at it, UPDATE THOSE PODCASTS. Or take em down, but don't keep my hopes up by keeping a fake section stocked with the same old 'casts on an ultralight niche pursuit most of us don't have the resources or time to get into. Ever read the magazine Mental Floss? You get six issues a year, dedicated to trivia, travel, just a bunch of interesting stuff. It costs $22 a year, and I highly recommend it. I don't highly recommend BPL to anyone. Unless something changes, that's where my money is going next year. Maybe ya'll don't care, I don't know, it seems you have a bunch of people who will always subscribe. It's just too bad, because UL is the future of camping, and this sight has a lot of potential, very little of which I have seen fulfilled.

Samuel C. Farrington
(scfhome) - M

Locale: Chocorua NH, USA
"Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review" on 12/15/2010 20:40:10 MST Print View

Guess you might like to hear something positive at this point?
Your reviews are almost always very helpful, and provide a lot of info unavailable anywhere else. Nothing else around of the same caliber since Kemsley sold BP. IMO, even though I thought that in recent reviews, the Spot and BSI single-wall were
way over-rated. So long as you keep making as careful and objective evaluations as you have in the past, BPL will continue its current popularity, because there is a need-to-know, big time.

As far as the pivoting hipbelt is concerned, the idea goes back to Warmlite's packs and TNF "Back Magic." None of these ideas survived, which suggests that people didn't find them to be much of an improvement. Part of the problem may be that the more moving parts between the pack and the wearer, the more customized the fit must be to be comfortable. OK for the MYOG crowd like moi, who has used pivoting hipbelts since first seeing them in a Warmlite catalog (hard to focus). Maybe not for the mass market, but there's no harm in trying to be innovative.

Nate Powell
(powell1nj) - F

Locale: North Carolina
re: more articles... on 12/15/2010 20:50:53 MST Print View

I don't know John, I think on average I get $25 worth of information and enjoyment from this site in a couple of weeks tops. I mean it 25 bucks - that's a burger and a few beers - I don't see how it can get any cheaper for the level of quality information this site provides.

Also, just my two cents, but I appreciate the fact the BPL takes time to do in-depth reviews on higher-priced, top quality items like several of the recent ones on sleeping bags. If I'm in the market to make a larger purchase like that I want as much information as possible. Say what you will about BPL, but you're not going to find more informative and detailed reviews of gear anywhere else.

Whatever works for you though - just thought I'd chime in with another point of view. Sorry bout the thread drift... Happy hiking.

Edited by powell1nj on 12/15/2010 20:51:55 MST.

Ken Thompson
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: re: more articles... on 12/15/2010 21:40:05 MST Print View

There is a letter to the editor option...

Eugene Smith
(Eugeneius) - MLife

Locale: Nuevo Mexico
"Black Diamond Infinity 60 & Innova 50 Backpack Review" on 12/16/2010 05:57:01 MST Print View

"They are lightweight considering their technology, comfortable, and full-featured."

Hmmm. This all sounds like gimmicky feature creep to me with very little reason. There are many other lightweight packs currently available that have new and innovative features for evaluation that I think the BPL membership might find more palatable (ie. ULA Epic, Ohm, SMD Swift, heck... even the BPL Absaroka)

"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."

The ergoACTIV suspension systems unique "...advancement in internal frame technology" was the basis for this review. If the point of spotlight wasn't really beneficial to the reviewers then what's the point of reviewing this 3.75lb. pack? I suppose to discover again that many of the features available in these packs are gimmicks. Freedom of movement comes from not having to rely on an 8 inch wide bear hugging hipbelt and pivoting hub suspension system to move with you. Pack light and move freely, loosen you hipbelt and lest ye not be burdened.

BPL Above Average recommendation?

Edited by Eugeneius on 12/17/2010 08:56:19 MST.

Gordon Bedford
(gbedford) - MLife

Locale: Victoria, Australia
Free pivot idea on 12/19/2010 15:02:59 MST Print View

Macpac of New Zealand used this free pivot idea back in the late 70's and early 80's. I used there big Torre mountaineering pack with the feature for years.
Their whole advertising campaign revolved around the benefits of the free pivot. However it slowly disappeared from their range. Having used it I don't think it made any difference to comfort. In fact it was probably a bit of a problem when ski touring. Anyway Macpac discontinued it and my old rucksack eventually wore out after many years of hard use.