Clearing leaves is a perennial task that can be laborious and time consuming, and can seem never-ending in an autumn such as we have just had.
"The trees have really hung onto their leaves," confirms Andy Wood, Course Manager at Robin Hood Golf Club in Solihull, West Midlands. "We want to keep the course tidy, but don't want to spend hours doing the same job over and again, especially when we are so busy with other projects. So, powerful, user-friendly blowers are essential."
Whilst hand held blowers can be useful for tidying up odd corners or working around the clubhouse, the power required by most professional users for annual leaf clearance requires a backpack blower, so that the operator can more easily carry the extra weight of the machine.
Backpack blowers are surprisingly diverse, and when we applied to manufacturers for machines to test, they came back with a wide range of models from very compact to large and extremely powerful.
Luke Dennis, Deputy Course Manager at Robin Hood Golf Club comments: "We use a make of backpack blower that was not submitted for the test and have a clear picture of what we need from the machines. Power is obviously important, but so is an operator friendly design. If a blower is uncomfortable or awkward to use, no-one wants to do the job."
As the name implies, backpack machines are carried on the shoulders like a rucksack, using similar shoulder straps. But the amount of padding and quality of the material used varies widely between brands. Some machines also featured a padded backplate which added greatly to comfort, and a waist strap, which improved stability on larger blowers but was felt, by some users, to be a little restrictive when swinging the nozzle through an arc.
Luke comments: "Well padded straps make them more comfortable to wear, make up for a heavier machine and the backplate padding can help insulate the operator from vibration, so the harness is well worth examining carefully."
Durability of the harness is another issue, as it has to survive being pulled on by an operator, without necessarily being adjusted first, or dragged out of the truck. Some harnesses had flimsy metal clips and, on one, the plastic fastening actually snapped during our test.
Vibration is a crucial issue for employers, and any machine where the engine is actually worn by the operator will subject him to some level.
"Positioning and enclosure of the engine, the use of shock absorbing materials and the quality of the harness and backplate influence how much vibration the operator feels," comments Luke. "Most of the manufacturers in our test have addressed this issue well."
Ease of use is affected by the design of the trigger, tube and nozzle on a blower, and, whilst most are of a standard design, there were winners and losers.
Whilst Stihl's fingertip control of the trigger was highly praised for its easy, labour saving design, the nozzle output meant that the operator was constantly pushing it down, leading to fatigue.
Stihl also offers a handlebar system for the tube on the powerful BR 600, but operators preferred the traditional trigger grip.
Husqvarna mounts the trigger at angle to the tube, and Luke comments: "When the rep explained the system to me, I was sceptical, but it really is much easier to use in that position and I was very impressed."
With a proportion of his workload being on mechanical matters, Luke also had a keen eye on durability and serviceability.
"The best designs have all fuel caps, clips and switches protected within the structure of the body, so that they don't catch or get damaged when being transported. Protruding trigger switches are also vulnerable to getting snapped off."
The nature of the job makes it difficult to assess fuel economy, but fuel saving designs are worth considering on the bigger machines, and the use of a separate air filter enables the engine to work more efficiently. All but one of the petrol machines were two-stroke; four-stroke is becoming more common on mowers and is less fiddly to mix.
A Pellenc Airion battery powered blower was included in the test for interest, and Luke comments: "It's performance totally belied its size and appearance and, although it would probably be a better buy for a landscaper than a golf course, the low noise and emissions means that the Airion would be useful for clearing leaves around the clubhouse or next to housing."
Value for money was also a hot topic at Robin Hood Golf Club, as Andy explains: "We consider blowers to be disposable machinery, replaced every couple of years, so price is important. If the cheaper makes do the job, and you are on a budget, they are worth considering."
Our thanks to Andy Wood and his team at Robin Hood Golf Club for their time and effort during the backpack blowers testing.