Handhelds and backpack landscape units are often viewed as “little brothers” when it comes to landscape maintenance work tools. This is the case even for robust professional models. Given their relatively small size and motors (compared to the muscular mowers that share their space on contractors’ trailers), their true worth in the property maintenance world is too often under-appreciated.

Consequently, handhelds and backpack gear tends to suffer more misuse and lack of maintenance than their “big brothers.” These units are also more prone to worker inattention leading to theft, especially from parked trailers. These avoidable oversights cause operator frustration, lost productivity and customer service failures.

Read more: Ways to Reduce Your Chance of Equipment Theft

Honda’s new VersAttach is the first-ever split shaft trimmer offered on the market.

PHOTO: HONDA POWER EQUIPMENT

Smart contractors never under-value the role of handheld and mobile backpack gear in keeping their clients’ properties neat and attractive. Successful contractors train and make their field technicians responsible for the proper use, care and oversight of the trimmers, pruners, edgers, backpack blowers and related equipment they use daily.

Today’s professional products reflect decades of ongoing development and improvement. This was evident to anyone attending the GIE+EXPO this past October.

The most noticeable trend in recent years is the emergence of battery-powered handhelds and backpacks. But these ever-more-useful electric, cordless work tools are just part of the story. The continued evolution of more widely used gas-powered equipment, both two-stroke and four-stroke, is equally compelling.

So which category of handhelds is right for you? Battery-powered? Two-stroke gas? Four-stroke gas? Each handheld category has advantages depending on factors such as cost of purchase and operation (fuel costs), durability, comfort of use, serviceability, end-user preference, noise level and, hardly less important, customer preference.

While most contractors still prefer gasoline-powered handheld equipment, the popularity of battery-powered handhelds grows for applications, such as at schools, hotels, hospitals, offices, parks and retirement communities.

The many handheld product options available to contractors offer stark proof to the growth and vitality of the property maintenance industry.

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Gas models still reign

Gasoline-powered handheld equipment is available with both two-cycle and four-cycle engines. Two-cycle engines require that you mix the gas and oil together in the same tank. The benefit with a two-cycle engine is that it packs more power into the same space as a four-cycle engine. The advantage of a four-cycle engine is that it is more fuel-efficient and has the ability to produce more power. It also requires less oil consumption and reduces the emission of unburned oil in the exhaust.

Honda Power Equipment is a manufacturer of small engines. The company unveiled its first-ever split shaft trimmer, the VersAttach Multi-Purpose System, at the 2015 GIE+EXPO. Featuring two powerhead options and six different attachments, the VersAttach System combines the power and reliability of Honda four-cycle engines with a lineup of tools to fit a wide range of landscape maintenance needs.

The UMC425 powerhead is matched with the Honda GX25 Mini four-stroke engine. The UMC435 is powered by a GX35 Mini four-Stroke engine, the company’s most powerful engine for handheld applications. Each model can be paired with an optional interchangeable edger, line trimmer, blower, hedge trimmer, pruner and cultivator that fit quickly and securely into the attachment shaft by way of Honda’s SureLoc joint locking system, saving time and effort for the user.

Battery-powered handhelds such as these from Shindaiwa are making an industry-wide impact on how landscapers work.

PHOTO: SHINDAIWA

Manufacturers double down

Makita U.S.A. came to the GIE+EXPO with its most impressive lineup of handheld tool options ever. The lineup included two-stroke and four-stroke gasoline models, along with a full array of battery-powered units. The company also announced that as of this past Oct. 1, 2015, it became “fully responsible” for DOLMAR products throughout the U.S. Contractors now get the combination of DOLMAR professional two-stroke chain saws, Makita MM4 four-stroke engine products and more than 100 18-volt cordless tools. Makita is the company that created the 18-volt Lithium-ion tool category in 2005.

Makita’s 18V X 2 (36-volt) professional-grade tools include blowers, a string trimmer, a hedge trimmer and two chain saws. The company’s expanding line of MM4 four-stroke power equipment includes backpack and handheld blowers, string timers, brush trimmers, hedge trimmers, edgers, telescoping pole pruners and a couple of shafted products.

STIHL, as expected, generated a lot of excitement at the most recent GIE+EXPO, not just with its energetic German ompha band during the Dealer Day, but also with new products and enhancements to other products.

The two new additions to the STIHL Battery KombiSystem include the BGA 100 handheld blower at a mere 5.5 pounds and a quiet 65 dbA and the professional FSA 90 R trimmer, with a 15-inch cutting width and featuring ECOSPEED throttle setting.

Read more: Chasing GIE+EXPO’s Biggest Trends

PHOTO: MAKITA

In terms of gasoline-powered products, STIHL showed off its new BG 50 gas- powered handheld blower. This unit, powered by a 27cc engine, is the lightest gas-powered blower in the company’s lineup at a shade less than 8 pounds. The company’s new HS 82 and 87 (22.7cc) hedge trimmers use 20 percent less fuel than previous models and feature low-vibration technology, according to the company.

STIHL also displayed its BR 450 and BR 450 C-EF (63.3cc) backpack powers with new features. The 450 C-EF is the only backpack blower on the market with electric start technology. No more idling to the next job. The electric start is powered by an onboard battery that charges while the unit is running.

Battery power on the rise

Echo Inc., which pioneered noise reduction technology with its popular gasoline- powered handheld equipment, is now also making a big splash in the battery-powered category with powerful new Shindaiwa products.

The company’s new Lithium-ion 56-volt cordless product family is being sold exclusively through Shindaiwa servicing dealers. The first three models, the Shindaiwa T3000 string trimmer, the EB6000 handheld blower and the DH2000 hedge trimmer, will begin shipping to booking dealers in time for the spring season.

All three pro-grade cordless tools feature powerful brushless motors and use a shared 56V battery platform. The 56V Lithium-Ion batteries come in two-amp-hour (2 Ah) and four-amp-hour (4 Ah) sizes. The tools may be purchased with or without batteries and chargers, further leveraging the investment.

Read more: Battery Power Gains Traction

Handheld and mobile backpack gear such as these from Makita, STIHL and Mean Green are helpful on a variety of landscape jobs.

PHOTO: STIHL

DEWALT is also expanding its line of pro-grade battery-powered handhelds with the 40V MAX brushless backpack blower and the 40V MAX brushless chainsaw. The 40V MAX backpack blower generates up to 450 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air volume at 140 MPH and will be available with one or two of the new 40V MAX 7.5Ah Lithium-ion batteries. Only one battery is required to operate the tool, but the backpack blower features wells for two batteries for extended runtime. The activation switch on the handle allows the user to choose which battery to pull energy from or to lock the tool off for transport and storage. The speed control features a full variable trigger and speed lock that is activated or de-activated with the push of a button.

At just 63d(A), DEWALT‘s backpack blower is compliant with noise-restricted areas and is ideal for working in noise-sensitive environments.

It’s impossible to ignore the Mean Green Products brand when considering battery-powered landscape equipment in light of the growing popularity of its 48V LEM (Lithium Energy Module) zero-turn and stand-on professional mowers.

PHOTO: MEAN GREEN

Mid-season this past year, Mean Green began selling its BLAST electric backpack blower with quiet turbine technology. The battery in the 26-pound unit provides 65 minutes of continuous run time and can be charged in one-and-a-half to three hours, says the company.

Batteries are interchangeable so, like battery-powered gear offered by other manufacturers, it’s a good idea to have an extra charged battery on hand. The unit comes with a one-year commercial warranty.

Mean Green now also offers an electric hand-held string trimmer and MGP-ST Backpack with a two- to three-hour run time at about one-quarter of the noise level of a comparable gas-engine trimmer, says the company. The string trimmer and backpack weighs 12.4 pounds.

Read more: Mean Green’s LEM Power