By Mike Bruton | Updated Apr 6, 2022 3:47 PM
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Not everyone enjoys mowing the lawn. Riding lawn mowers reduce mow time, improve comfort, and offer an abundance of options to facilitate yard care. Finding the best lawn mower for hills means getting acquainted with an expansive market chock full of options for power, features, sizes, functions, and more.
Not all riding mowers are ideal for use on sloped or rough terrain. Heavy or improperly balanced machines combined with inattentive operation increase the possibility of a rollover accident. Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to select the best riding lawn mower for hills. We did a deep dive into product specifications, features, and customer reviews to create a list of favorites.
The best riding lawn mower for hills will likely fall into one of three categories: lawn tractors, rear-engine mowers, and zero-turn mowers, each of which has its own capabilities and specialties. Finding the right one means identifying which characteristics work best for your situation.
Not all riding mowers are considered tractors. Lawn tractors employ wide, mid-mounted cutting decks as opposed to front-mounted decks. Operators use a steering wheel and pedal system similar to that of an automobile to cut large swaths of grass quickly and easily. They also tend to come with powerful engines corresponding to an increase in overall weight.
The main difference between lawn tractors and garden tractors is versatility. Lawn tractors are primarily used for cutting grass, while garden tractors may also plow snow, tow equipment, and perform other lawn maintenance duties.
There are a plethora of options to augment the mower’s functionality. Manufacturers build grass sweepers, fertilizer spreaders, aerators, rollers, sprayers, and other accessories that ease yard maintenance.
A few subtle differences set rear-engine mowers apart from tractor mowers. As the name implies, the engine sits on the rear of the mower. These mowers tend to be lighter and less powerful than other types, a trade-off that aids maneuverability and energy efficiency at the cost of valuable torque.
These mowers have deck sizes ranging between 28 and 34 inches. For expansive yards or users who are in a hurry, the smaller cutting deck translates to longer mowing times than with more powerful mowers that have larger decks. Rear-engine mowers are more maneuverable thanks to a smaller turning radius than tractor mowers, making them a middle ground between heavier mowers that require more space and zero-turn mowers that turn on a dime.
Because of their smaller size and reduced power needs, rear-engine mowers tend to be less expensive than other types. They make great mowers for yards smaller than an acre.
Zero-turn mowers are best for yards with curves and tight turns. Their moniker comes from the dual hydrostatic transmissions that drive the side wheels independently—a single lever operates each transmission. Pressing both levers forward results in a straight course, while depressing one lever allows the mower to make a complete turn in a space the size of the mower.
For those with a large lawn or limited time to mow, zero-turn mowers offer an excellent solution. These mowers tend to be faster than lawn tractors, averaging six to eight miles per hour (mph) versus lawn tractors’ three to four mph. Zero-turn mowers are more comfortable, as their design incorporates a large, padded pilot’s seat that’s easy on the body.
Drawbacks of zero-turn mowers include reduced stability. Operators should not attempt to operate these mowers on slopes greater than 10 degrees. Because of a high center of gravity, mowing on steep slopes presents a tipping danger. Additionally, the dual-transmission design requires the throttles to be in the neutral position to stop without the advantage of a dedicated braking system, making them difficult to control on downhill paths.
Locating the best riding lawn mower for hills requires doing some research. Yard size and terrain type are top priorities, while motor and fuel type, weight, cutting width, and tire type and size can make the difference between a quick and easy mow and a lengthy chore.
The first things to consider when selecting the best riding lawn mowers for hills are the yard size and terrain. Riding mowers can handle varying types of terrain. Most mowers include some height adjustment, but root-ridden or pockmarked lawns require higher clearances to prevent damage to the blade and minimize the damage of getting stuck.
Yard size dictates one essential aspect of mowing: the time it takes to do the job. Consider the size of the yard against the speed of the mower. Huge yards can take hours to mow; cut down on mowing time by getting a mower that’s fast and efficient enough to get the job done in a reasonable amount of time.
The advent of battery technology in recent years has cut the cord. Battery-powered riding lawn mowers that do not require an electrical tether have gained popularity in recent years. Electric mowers are quiet, light, easy to maintain, and environmentally friendly. Battery life is a crucial consideration. Running out of battery power before finishing the job could mean a delay of several hours while the mower recharges.
Traditional gas-powered motors are more powerful than their electric counterparts at the expense of being far more noisy and emitting exhaust fumes. Gas mowers provide more torque, are able to cut through overgrown or thick grass more efficiently, and refuel faster. Those with large properties or very dense grass will want to lean toward a gas-powered motor with a large fuel capacity for its superiority in run time and power.
The cutting width, which is sometimes referred to as the mower deck or cutting deck, refers to how wide a swath a mower cuts in one pass. Mowers with wider cutting decks require fewer passes to complete a lawn.
Small lawns measuring ½ acre or less require a cutting width of less than 40 inches. For lawns ½ to two acres, 42- to 48-inch-wide decks work well. If the lawn is larger than three acres, search for a cutting deck 50 inches or broader. The search for the best riding lawn mowers for hills or flat properties should include comparing yard size against cutting width to ensure that the mower can finish the job in a reasonable amount of time.
Riding lawn mowers can be heavy. Since they are self-propelled, the engine needs to be powerful enough to move the machine at a reasonable speed, cut through dense vegetation, and carry a rider’s weight up and down varying terrain.
Smaller and lighter mowers do not have the same power as heavier lawn tractors with large engines. For small yards, less energy is required. In the sub-acre range, look for a mower with at least 14 horsepower. Owners of yards one to two acres in size will be happy in the 14 to 16 horsepower range, while powerful mowers in the 18 to 24 horsepower range are suitable for yards of three acres or more.
Riding lawn mowers run the gamut from bare-bones models with efficient engines to feature-rich high-end models with enough horsepower to perform nearly gardening tasks. Like automobiles, more powerful mowers tend to be more expensive and less efficient than their lighter counterparts.
The difference between a brushed and brushless motor is the presence of a brush. Only found in electrical motors, the brush refers to a bundle of carbon wires used to transmit electrical energy that spins the riding mower’s driveshaft. Brushless motors rely on magnetic force rather than physical contact to drive the motor.
Brushless motors are quieter than brushed motors and sense the amount of energy required to continue operation, adjusting the power to appropriate levels. They require less maintenance because they have fewer mechanical parts subject to wear and tear.
Brushed motors are louder due to the metal continually making and breaking magnetic connections, but they provide more power, better speed, and a broader torque range.
Aside from the blades, the tires are the only part of the lawn mower that actually touches the ground. The right tires are critical for traction and safety.
The average tractor and lawn riding mower weigh in at 470 pounds, and the engine accounts for 18 to 25 percent of its total weight. More powerful mowers may tip the scale at up to 600 pounds, while lightweight electric models can weigh as few as 400 pounds.
Electric mowers are the lightest type of mower. The lack of a heavy internal combustion engine significantly reduces weight.
Zero-turn mowers are the heaviest type of riding mower. A light zero-turn mower may weigh up to 650 pounds. Heavier models can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. While heavier mowers are more powerful, they can sink in soft or swampy turf and often have reduced fuel efficiency.
Safety is paramount when operating mechanical equipment. Whirring blades, gasoline engines, and hundreds of pounds in weight can add up to a disaster for the unwary.
Consider the following safety tips when operating a lawnmower:
Many riding mowers incorporate a dead man’s switch: a sensor detects the driver’s weight and kills the engine if the rider stands up or falls out of the seat, reducing the potential of a runaway mower.
Identifying the best riding lawn mowers for hills means finding the right combination of power, cutting width, and fuel type. The following list includes some excellent options regardless of which characteristics suit your yard.
The twin-cylinder Kohler engine in the Craftsman T310 puts out 24 horsepower that pushes this 650-pound riding mower along at a maximum forward speed of 5½ mph. Combined with a massive 54-inch cutting deck, it’s perfect for getting through large lawns fast.
This Craftsman mower boasts a tiny 5-inch turning radius that’s not far off from the performance provided by zero-turn mowers—but without the added risk of a tip-over accident on sloped terrain. The hydrostatic transmission delivers power through an infinite gear system that provides drive when most needed, including up hilly terrain.
Get the Craftsman riding mower at Lowe’s.
Troy-Bilt’s affordable riding mower is a top choice for the budget-minded consumer. The 30-inch cutting deck is comparable to a sizable walk-behind mower with ride-along comfort. The deck is adjustable to five lengths, making the Troy-Bilt suitable for those with yards less than one acre.
The 382 cubic-centimeter single-cylinder gasoline engine pushes the mower along on turf tires at a maximum forward speed of 4.25 mph. A six-speed manual drive transmission is not as smooth as some models, but it provides enough gearing to push the 340-pound mower along comfortably. Diminutive compared to zero-turn mowers or lawn tractors, the Troy-Bilt won’t take up too much space in the garage and makes an excellent addition to the time-conscious landscaper’s arsenal.
Get the Troy-Bilt TB 30 in. riding mower at The Home Depot.
Tool manufacturer Ryobi is no stranger to the benefits of battery power. Their 38-inch rear-engine electric riding mower is an excellent choice for those with less than two acres. A trio of whisper-quiet and low-maintenance brushless motors delivers 48 volts of power—enough to mow for about 2½ hours. The mow time is suitable for an electric machine but low compared to gas-powered models. Once power runs out, achieving a full charge takes up to six hours.
The dual-bladed cutting deck can be adjusted in 12 different positions between 1.5 inches and 4.5 inches for cutting the grass to the desired length. LED headlights are surprisingly bright, and this next-generation machine includes convenient features like cruise control and USB charging ports.
Get the Ryobi 38 in. riding mower at The Home Depot.
This residential zero-turn mower is an ideal option if you have a yard that is 2 acres or less in size that also has relatively flat terrain, even if there are a few obstacles. You can raise or lower the cutting height of the two powerful cutting blades that are safely stored under the 13-gauge steel cutting deck, which measures 42-inches wide and can be used with a bag, a side-discharge chute, or a mulching feature.
The gas-powered mower provides a fuel tank capacity of three gallons and a 22.5 HP twin-cylinder engine. It weighs 502 pounds and reaches speeds of up to 7 MPH when it is moving forward and 3 MPH in reverse. The control levers feature extra padding that reduces hand fatigue and gives you a better grip surface so you can stay in control of the mower at all times.
Get the Toro 42 in. riding mower at The Home Depot.
There is a lot to consider when choosing the best riding lawn mower for hills. For a quick reference to your most pressing queries, check out this frequently asked questions section to get more information.
Zero-turn mowers have a high center of gravity and uneven weight distribution that make them a poor choice for mowing on hills.
Always mow up and down the slope in straight lines. Mowing parallel or executing turns on the slope increases the risk of a rollover accident.
Keep the mower in low gear to reduce the possibility of running down the slope. Mow in an up-and-down pattern rather than along the length of the ditch. Excessively steep ditches should not be mowed with a rider.
A good rule of thumb is to never use a riding mower on a slope greater than 20 degrees. Reduce this number to 10 degrees for zero-turn mowers as they are more prone to tipping over backward on steep hills.
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