Backpack leaf blowers mount a large gas engine to a harness, leaving the user to manage only the tube when blowing leaves. They're the most powerful and the heaviest type of leaf blower, making their backpack design almost a necessity. These models "provide the power and go-anywhere ability of gas without the arm strain of a handheld blower," says Sal Vaglica at This Old House.
Because they are generally built for commercial use, backpack blowers have lots of blasting power and are designed to be comfortable enough to use for hours. They cost more than handheld leaf blowers, and most homeowners probably don't need the extra oomph. But according to Roy Berendsohn at Popular Mechanics, for some it's a question of time versus money: "If you're willing to invest, nothing can speed outdoor jobs more than a backpack leaf blower -- the gardener's answer to the jet pack." He says desirable features include a carrying handle on the top, an easy-to-reach fuel spout, a see-through gas tank and a footrest for pull-starting the engine. Backpack blowers don't have the ability to vacuum; if you want to suck up and mulch your leaves, consider a handheld blower instead.
Among backpack blowers, the Husqvarna 350BT (Est. $300) gets the best reviews from experts and users alike. It has a low-emission engine that creates airspeeds of up to 180 mph. In addition, it offers a range of comfort features, such as an ergonomic, padded harness with a thick hip belt and wide shoulder straps, and an adjustable, soft-grip handle. Its fan speed can be locked, so you don't have to keep pulling the trigger, and it comes with a two-year warranty.
The Husqvarna 350BT earns a top rating in Popular Mechanic's comparative evaluation of backpack blowers, with Roy Berendsohn noting that its airflow is powerful and very productive. He also calls this model the most comfortable machine in his magazine's five-model test. In addition, product expert Joe Delulio of LeafBlowersDirect.com says the 350BT is highly powerful and yet "remarkably quiet for a gas leaf blower." The 350BT is included in ConsumerReports.org's comprehensive leaf-blower test, which evaluates models for performance, handling and noise; and it earns a recommendation from the editors at 10rate.com, who find it very powerful, extremely comfortable and easy to start.
More than 280 users posting to Amazon.com give the 350BT an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Like the experts, owners find it very powerful on wet and dry leaves, as well as dust, cobwebs and snow. They also call it comfortable and like how easily it starts. We found very few complaints about this model.
Another top backpack choice is the Echo PB-500H (Est. $300) , which is considered especially easy for beginners to use. "Our volunteer corps, working at clearing leaves at a church, needed no coaching to use the Echo," says Roy Berendsohn of Popular Mechanics. "Anyone can start it, sling it on his back and start blasting leaves in seconds." The PB-500H creates airspeeds of up to 195 mph. It comes with a padded harness and variable-speed throttle with locking ability, and it has a five-year warranty for consumer use.
The PB-500H earns a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars in a Popular Mechanics comparison test of five backpack models, with writer Roy Berendsohn calling its flexible left control wand "so smart, you wonder why other manufacturers haven't copied the design." It is also included in ConsumerReport.org's comparative test of leaf-blower models. Among consumers, the PB-500H earns an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars from more than 120 users posting to HomeDepot.com. Owners say it starts quickly, feels comfortable and loosens even soaking-wet leaves very well. We found very few complaints about this model.