5 Best Leaf Blowers and Garden Vacs 2016

It’s Autumn and that means one, annoying thing needs clearing up – leaves. We’ve tested five of the best leaf blowers available to see which one is ideal for you.

You might view a leaf blower and garden vac as something of a luxury, but they’re actually very versatile tools that can be bought for as little as £50 to £100.

Of course, what type of ‘blower’ is best for you will depend on what you need to do. Here’s what you need to know

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Types of leaf blowers

Leaf blowers are best for small gardens or if you’re dealing with a large number of leaves that can’t be easily vacuumed up. They only blow, but they’re ideal for moving lots of detritus in one big pile that you can then collect up easily.

Garden vacuums are useful for small jobs – particularly the non-shredding types, as they’re good for picking up general litter as well as leaves. They’re not great for big jobs, though, as it’ll generally take longer to run around sucking everything up than it will to blow everything into one big pile.

Combined leaf blowers and garden vacs are best for the great majority of people, due to their versatility. The main drawback is they can be fiddly to set up and often have extra attachments you need to store, which you could potentially lose.

LEaves

Things to consider when buying a leaf blower

We’ve already covered the different types of leaf blowers and garden vacs, but what else should you think about when deciding which one to buy? Here’s a handy check list of questions when choosing which leaf blower to buy.

How many leaves will you be clearing up?

This sounds very obvious (and it is), but it’s important. If you have a small garden then a smaller, lower-power blower or vac should suffice. Most people will be better off with a blower or combi blower and vac, but if you have a large amount of leaves then you’ll need a more powerful, longer-lasting machine to get the job done. If you have a large area to cover, don’t skimp on the machinery, as you’ll regret it later.

Do you want to pick up litter too?

If so, a straight garden vac without shredding is what you need. They’re not as good at picking up and storing wet leaves, but they’re a hugely versatile time saver.

Mains, battery or petrol – which is best?

Petrol is generally something you’ll only want to go for if you know you’re going to be working all day. Most battery-powered models only last well under 30 minutes, so if your garden is quite large you’ll probably need to go for a mains-powered unit.

How we test leaf blowers and garden vacs

Each time we test a leaf blower or garden vac we collect 3kg of damp leaves and scatter them over a 40m2 patch of lawn. We then time how long it takes to blow the leaves into a pile. Along the way we look at how easy the device is to handle, what its blowing power is and how loud it is.

For blowing power we stand at a fixed point and simply use the blower to create an arc in the patch of fallen leaves. We then measure the distance cleared by the blower. As for loudness, we hold a decibel meter at head height while operating the device at its usual position to the side of the body.

For vacs we then suck up the whole pile and assess how well the vac coped, checking for blockages, whether it can take in the whole pile and how easy it is to empty. We also assess how easy it is to switch from blowing to vacuuming modes – some multi-tube combi blowers can be quite a hassle to switch modes.

Bosch ALB LI

1 of 5

Score

Key Features:

  • Part of Bosch 18V cordless tool range
  • 1.8kg, 90 x 22 x 15cm
  • 10 minute run time

In some respects the Bosch ALB 18LI does fall fundamentally short of being a competent leaf blower; it’s not powerful enough to make a quick and easy job of clearing a large volume of leaves from a lawn. Certainly if you’ve got anything more than one mid-size tree in your garden it will take far too long to be practical, especially if the leaves and ground have become wet.

However, as something of a general purpose blower tool it is more useful. For blasting away dust and leaves from your patio, clearing out the cobwebs from your shed, doing the odd bit of dusting and of course clearing smaller patches of leaves from your lawn it is more than up to the task. What’s more, its compact, lightweight form makes it really easy to handle and its battery operation means you don’t have to faff about with cables or petrol to get the thing going.

If you’re buying the ALB 18 LI standalone with a battery its £85-£90 price is a little steep for its limitations. However, if you already have some Bosch 18V cordless tools and batteries then for £60 it’s a good addition to your collection.

Verdict

A useful blower for small jobs around the house and garden, just don’t expect it to shift industrial loads of wet leaves from your lawn.

At the time of review, the Bosch ALB LI was available for £85.

Read the full Bosch ALB LI review

Stihl BGA 85

2 of 5

Score

Key Features:

  • Part of Stihl cordless tool range
  • Incredible 650 m3/h air throughput
  • Variable speed control
  • 23 minute run time

The Stihl BGA85 is quite simply the finest handheld leaf blower we’ve ever used. Its combination of sheer power, with accurate controls and battery power portability makes it utterly effortless to use. Its battery life doesn’t quite make it suitable for really big gardens without either investing in multiple batteries or being willing to wait half an hour between sessions. But the power it offers means you can get a hell of a lot done in those 23 minutes.

The only downsides are that it is quite bulky and very expensive for a single use tool. Weaker battery powered units are much more compact and lightweight while Stihl’s own mains powered combined leaf blower/garden vacuum is nearly half the price of the BGA85. Other battery powered models do also come at a premium but the BGA 85 is still around twice the price of most competitors. This is a premium product and you really do pay for it.

If you’re simply after the ultimate handheld leaf blower then this is the one to get. It’s powerful, versatile and effortless to use. However, it is quite large and very expensive for a device that’ll still require you to bag up the leaves manually.

At the time of review the Stihl BGA 85 was available for £235 on its own or £475 including a battery and charger.

Read the full Stihl BGA 85 review

Stihl SHE 71

3 of 5

Score

Key Features:

  • 580 m3/h air throughput
  • Leaf Blower, Garden Vac and leaf Shredder
  • Mains powered

For its type of combi garden vac and blower, the Stihl SHE 71 is excellent. Its powerful output makes short work or both blowing and vacuuming jobs and its very ergonomic design makes it easy to use, particularly in blower mode.

However, its shoulder-mounted collection bag is a little clunky, plus its lack of speed adjustment and modest power output do technically put it a little behind the competition even if real world performance is still very good.

Then there’s the fact that we’re still not convinced these multi-tube style models are better than the true all-in-one designs that only need a switch to change between suck and blow. They’re less convenient to use and you have to find a place to store all the extra pieces.

Overall, though, the Stihl SHE 71 is an excellent combi garden vac and leaf blower, with particularly good ergonomics. It’s pretty basic for the price but is still a very good option that’s well worth considering.

At the time of review, the Stihl SHE 71 was available for £90

Read the full Stihl SHE 71 review

Score

Key Features:

  • Leaf Blower, Garden Vac and leaf Shredder in one
  • 2500W maximum output
  • Variable speed
  • Powerful 83.3 m/s air speed and 800m3/h air flow

The Bosch ALS 2500 is a perfectly competent, well built garden tool. Its powerful output makes light work of all blowing and sucking duties and its variable speed provides a degree of extra control. It most definitely does the job.

However, we do have a few ergonomics complaints. The main power switch is awkward to reach when in blower mode and the lack of a second handle also makes it a bit of a strain too. The variable speed is also more of a token gesture, though is still a welcome addition.

All this and we’re still not convinced there is any particular advantage to this style of multi-purpose vac/blower. All the changing of tubes – and finding somewhere to store them – is far more hassle than the all-in-one devices that just change functions with the flick of a switch. Sure the latter are bigger overall but they’re just one device.

The Bosch ALS 2500 gets the job done but doesn’t quite excel in any one area and is let down by slightly below par ergonomics. It’s a solid, low cost option but not one that sets itself apart.

At the time of review the Bosch ALS 2500 was available for £70

Read the full Bosch ALS 2500 review

Score

Key Features:

  • Leaf Blower, Garden Vac and Leaf Shredder
  • 2200W mains-powered motor
  • Simple push-button changeover system

In some ways the Black and Decker GW2200 is a triumph. Its clever external fan design makes it quicker to change between blow and suck modes and easier to store. Overall usability is good too, with particularly easy blower operation.

However, in other areas the GW2200 really shows why it costs under £50. The fit and finish is below par, you can access the blades while they’re still spinning, and this is the only vac we’ve tested to have become blocked.

It’s a shame, since the basic design is one I’d choose over any other blower/vac we’ve tested – but I’d really like to see it used on a more premium model that’s built to a higher standard.

Overall, a decent basic leaf blower and vac, although poor overall build quality means that it can become blocked on occasion.

At the time of review the Black & Decker GW2200 was available for £50

Read the full Black & Decker GW2200 review