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How to Choose a Blower – Backpack or Hand-Held

by Tim Nephew
Sponsored by ECHO

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Up here in the northern part of the country, the winter snow has receded and spring cleanup looms on the horizon. One of the first things you may notice after a long winter is that the clean lawn you left in the fall, is now a patchwork of leaves, twigs and grass clippings. Maybe it was the neighbor who didn’t do as good of a job as you cleaning up last fall, or it might have been those 35 mile per hour winds that brought leaves from the field a mile away. 

Regardless of where the yard debris came from, it’s time to get the yard back in shape. If you already have a leaf blower, you know how handy they are when it comes to fall or spring cleanup. If you don’t have a blower and are thinking about making a purchase this spring, here are a few considerations to keep in mind.

Leaf Blower

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A leaf blower or more simply a “blower”, is in essence a hand-held tool that contains a motor that propels an impeller – think a set of rotating fan blades – that pulls air in and then expels it at a very high speed through a long tube. The motors used on the blowers can be 2-stroke, where oil and gas are mixed together which tend to be lighter in weight or 4-stroke, with separate oil and gas reservoirs that have lower smoke emissions but are heavier. 

Blower Power: How They Are Rated


The way blowers move debris is by concentrating the air generated by the unit in a single direction. How fast the unit can blow the air is an important factor, but how much air the unit generates also factors into the ability to be efficient.

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This concentrated air is measured in both miles per hour, (MPH) and probably more important, cubic feet per minute (CFM). While MPH measures the speed of the air coming out of the blower, CFM is a measurement of the volume of air coming out. Most experts tend to agree that while air speed is important, the volume of air produced is also an important number you want to pay attention to when purchasing a blower. 

Think of the two measurements working together: A powerful MPH gets the leaves moving and a higher CFM keeps the leaves moving. It is also important to keep in mind that high MPH and CFM numbers also correlate to an increased cost for the unit. Finding the right blower for your needs may involve several factors – not just speed and volume. 

Types of Leaf Blowers

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There are a lot of options and styles of leaf blowers to choose from and the type you select will probably be determined by your individual need and frequency of use. There are three types of blowers; hand-held, backpack and wheeled. Each has its benefits and advantages depending on your needs, and pricing can vary dramatically depending on features and power rating. Some models of leaf blowers have the ability to convert to a vacuum in order to clean up leaves and debris in hard to reach areas.

Hand-held Blowers

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Hand-held blowers are the most popular type of leaf blower for general use. They were designed for the user who wants a powerful unit but has a smaller area to maintain. These blowers typically employ a 2-stroke gas engine which tends to weigh much less than a 4-stroke engine. Starting the engine requires the user to pull a recoil cord which may be challenging for some people, but there are models that have auto choking and a reduced compression pull to ease starting.

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Hand-held blowers are also a good choice when considering models with the vacuum option. The vacuum feature is available on some models and it allows cleanup of those hard to reach areas behind bushes and along buildings and fencerows. There are also units available that not only vacuum the leaves into a bag but also grind or shred the leaves as they are collected allowing for greater volumes to be picked up.

Power ratings for hand-held blowers can range from 150 – 300 MPH and 300 – 500 CFM. Pricing for hand-held blowers starts at around $100, but depending on features and power rating can exceed $400. Depending on your individual use, units in the midrange pricing normally strike a balance between performance and weight that makes a good fit for most home owners.

Backpack Blowers

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If you need to maintain a larger area and find yourself frequently using a blower, you may want to consider the advantages of a backpack blower. While they are a main choice of professionals, home owners may also find a backpack blower a good fit.

Backpack blowers are generally more powerful than hand-held blowers due to the increased engine size and tend to weigh significantly more than a hand-held blower. Backpack blowers can weigh in excess of 17 pounds, but because they are designed to distribute the weight on your shoulders and back, they can be much less tiring than holding a hand-held blower for long periods of time.


Power ratings for backpack blowers go up significantly in the professional units, but range from 175 – 250 MPH and 300 – 900 CFM. Pricing for backpack blowers starts around $250 but professional models can range to over $1000. Before purchasing a backpack model, make sure you visit a dealer and ask to try on the unit. Even though the backpack helps distribute the weight of the blower, they may be uncomfortable for long periods of time depending on your size and body type.

Wheeled Blowers

I won’t spend too much time on wheeled blowers, but they are an option for clean ups that involve large areas or expansive asphalt stretches, and they are mostly used in the commercial or professional market. Simply put, wheeled blowers are at the top of the spectrum for both MPH and CFM and can move volumes of leaves, grass, debris and even small rocks.

Wheeled blowers are operated by walking behind them and they may even be self-propelled. They are normally 4-stroke engines that can produce a 200 MPH and a whopping CFM of up to 2900. Prices start around $500 but can easily exceed $3000.

Noise – Protect Your Hearing

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The one thing that all blowers have in common is the tendency to produce a loud volume of noise that can be not only annoying but extremely damaging to your hearing. Leaf blowers can produce sounds up to 90 decibels which according to the Centers for Disease Control, (CDC), can cause hearing damage in as few as two hours of continual exposure. It is important to wear appropriate hearing protection when using any leaf blower. There are a variety of ear muffs or ear buds that are comfortable and easy to use that will provide the proper protection.




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