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Best Lawn Mowers for Hills and Steep Terrain: 2019 Reviews

Mowing hills and other steep terrain can be challenging and even dangerous if you're not using the right equipment.  In this article we're going to cover a variety of mower options that will help you get the job done safely and efficiently.  

Whether you're mowing a small yard or a huge property there is a solution perfectly suited to your needs.  We're covering the best lawn mowers for hills, steep slopes, and other rough terrain. 

While riding lawn mowers are obviously faster, there are some situations for which they just won't work.  For those we'll be highlighting a couple of self-propelled walk behind mowers.

Best Mowers for Hillsides & Sloped Yards

When it comes to safely mowing hills traction and control is the name of the game.  This coupled with some basic planning will ensure a clean result, efficient use of your time, and most of all safety.

The best mowers for steep terrain all have a few things in common:

  • smooth acceleration and stopping via hydrostatic transmission
  • traction tires
  • plenty of power
  • even weight distribution

Best Riding Lawn Mower for Hills: Cub Cadet XT1 46-Inch Enduro

cub cadet xt1 riding lawn tractor

Our pick for the best riding lawn mower for hills and uneven terrain is the Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro.  The 24 HP engine has tons of cutting power and a forward driving speed of up to 5.5MPH.  It will also cut in reverse at up to 2.5MPH.

Pros

  • V-Twin engine offers tons of cutting power and easily handles steep terrain
  • 11 gauge fabricated deck for durability on even rough terrain
  • 16 inch turning radius
  • traction tires for navigating hills of up to 15 degrees
  • LED headlights for low light conditions

Cons

  • Lower deck cutting settings caused some scalping

Smooth Acceleration & Control

The Cadet's hydrostatic transmission allows for smooth starts and stops, making it ideal for mowing hills or rough ground.  Even starting from a dead stop on a slope was easy and smooth with no jumping or spinning of the wheels. 

The engine is front mounted, but traction was never an issue on slopes of up to 15 degrees.  The weight front heavy weight distribution also helps with front wheel traction.

Durability

While the fabricated deck on this mower makes it slightly more expensive, the additional durability is better suited to yards with hills and rougher terrain.  Stamped decks are generally less expensive, but they're more prone to warping or bending when encountering bumps in the yard.  Even if you're not going to be regularly mowing rough terrain, it's worth spending a bit more for a fabricated deck.

Good for Larger Yards

The 3-gallon gas tank and wide, comfortable, high-back seat make the Cub Cadet XT1 ideal for larger yards . One of my biggest complaints with riding mowers is the lack of a comfortable seat.  This is less of a concern with smaller yards, but if you're going to spend a couple hours on your lawn tractor it better have a comfy and supportive seat. 

Key Features

The Cub Cadet XT1 lawn tractor weighs in at only 410 pounds, giving it a great power to weight ratio. Here are just a few of the specs.

  • Fabricated 50-inch twin blade deck with 11 gauge steel
  • Foot-controlled hydrostatic transmission
  • Deck height adjustment between 1 - 4 inches
  • 15" Front wheels, 20" rear wheels
  • Max incline 15 degrees (manufacturers recommendation)
  • 16 inch turning radius
  • Comfortable high-back seat with multiple adjustments

Performance of the XT1

Rated for use on up to three acres, the Cub Cadet XT1 is one of the best steep slope mowers we've tested to date. It performed consistently on inclines up to 15 degrees.  On lesser inclines it's possible to cut across the face of the hill, but in most cases it is safer to mow up and down.

The 24 HP engine was powerful enough to cut everything we threw at it including longer, damp grass.  In fact we were unable to bog it down with anything we tried.

It  has a reverse safety switch and brake pedal lock that make it a good steep bank mower. The rear-wheel drive provides traction when mowing hillsides and the hydrostatic transmission decreases the need for shifting, making it the best mower for rough terrain and the best lawn tractor for hilly terrain.

Best Self-Propelled Lawn Mower for Hills: Cub Cadet SC 700

cub cadet sc 700 walk behind mower review

There are some situations where a riding mower just isn't safe.  In these conditions the ideal solution is a self-propelled walk behind mower.  The Cub Cadet is our pick for the best lawn mower for hills and uneven terrain.

Pros

  • Front, rear, and all wheel drive
  • Powerful 196cc engine
  • Aggressive tire tread for excellent traction
  • Push-button start
  • 3-in-1 bag, mulch, side discharge

Cons

  • Front bumper makes tight spaces tough to get to
  • Front wheel drive offers little traction

Superior Traction for Hills and Slopes

When it comes to safely mowing hilly yards traction and control is essential.  The Cub Cadet offers both in spades.  It offers all-wheel-drive and lots of power for even the thickest lawns.

The SC 700 is the first mower to offer users the selection of front, rear and all-wheel drive. The 4-wheel drive can be locked into cruise control to a consistent mowing speed, making this a great solution for mowing across steep banks and uneven ground.

The SC 700 also uses an aggressive tire tread that further enhances traction on wet grass, slopes and other uneven terrain.

The 11" rear wheels offer additional stability when mowing bumpy lawns by helping the mower stay on track.  All of these features make it our pick for the best self-propelled lawn mower for hills and steep yards.

Durability

The SC 700 utilizes a 15 gauge stamped steel deck.  This isn't as thick as some mowers in this class, but the thinner material was used to lower the overall weight of the mower. 

A front bumper was utilized to help reduce damage to the deck, but we found this to be cumbersome and made getting into tight spaces difficult.

front bumper on the Cub Cadet

Performance

The drive selection on this mower is a great feature.  We found the most effective use was to switch back and forth between all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive.  On flat terrain the rear wheel drive was perfect for maintaining straight lines even over bumpier sections of lawn.

The all-wheel drive was perfect for even very steep slopes.  Between that and the knobby tires we were easily able to mow across every hill on our property, even when they were damp.  The front-wheel drive was completely unnecessary and once the bag was half full or more became almost useless.

The push-button start worked as advertised.  Each start took a matter of seconds.  The backup pull-start was also easy to use and required very little force.

The adjustable ergonomic handles are comfortable, even after a couple hours of use.  The cruise control feature worked well and was easy to disengage for quick turns.

The 196 CC engine offered plenty of power for even thicker damp spots in our lawn.  We typically bag all of our grass, but the mulching feature worked well, leaving little evidence of grass clippings behind.

The Club Cadet SC 700 is equipped with variable selection of front, rear or all-wheel drive. Its locking push bar prevents the mower from coming to a sudden stop when it hits an obstacle, making this the best lawn mower for hilly yard work.

Though the SC 700 weighs in at a hefty 116lbs, you won't really notice this unless you're pushing it manually.  The higher weight combined with the larger rear wheels made this mower  a breeze to keep on track even through bumps and other rough spots.

Key Features

  • Front, rear, and all wheel drive capable
  • Push button start with pull-start backup
  • Stamped 21-inch steel deck
  • Powerful 196 CC OHV engine
  • 3-in-1 cutting system with bag, mulch, and side-discharge
  • 2 point height adjustment from 1.25 to 3.75 inches
  • 11-inch rear, 8-inch front wheels

Budget Self-Propelled for Hills: Troy-Bilt TB400 XP

lawn tractor for steep inclines

The Troy-Bilt TB400 XP is a self-propelled lawn mower that is ideally suited for use in smaller yards (½ to one acre).  Like the Cub Cadet it offers excellent traction with it's all-wheel-drive transmission.  While it doesn't offer as much power, it is perfectly suited for use in yards with thinner grasses.

Pros

  • All wheel drive
  • Top off instead of change oil
  • Tire tread for excellent traction
  • 3-in-1 bag, mulch, side discharge

Cons

  • Small rear wheels
  • Better suited to thinner grass
  • no push-button start

Traction for Hills and Inclines

The Troy-Bilt is another mower that offers the option to change between front, rear and all-wheel drive for maximum performance over a variety of terrain.

Similar to the Cub Cadet we found the all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel drive the most useful.  Front wheel drive alone just doesn't offer as much traction, especially when bagging and the weight shifts to the rear of the mower.

The 159cc engine offers decent power, but for thicker lawns you'll definitely want to consider the larger engine of the Cub Cadet.

Durability

The Troy-Bilt also utilizes a 15 gauge stamped steel deck.  Instead of a front bumper there's a comb-like feature intended to lift the grass before it reaches the cutting blades.  This is supposed to help provide a more even cut.  We didn't notice any significant improvement from this feature.

Performance

The Troy-Bilt TB400 XP offered great traction and control while mowing up, down, and across hilly terrain.  The all-wheel-drive made short work of steeper sections of our yard, pulling smoothly with little wheel spin.

The 159cc engine is probably a little under powered for thicker lawns as the cutting blades share power with the self-propulsion system.  

We also noticed the Troy-Bilt was more likely to get knocked off course when it encountered sharp bumps in the yard.  This is due in large part to the smaller rear wheels, and lower overall weight (98lbs)

The triple action blade system performed well at bagging and side discharge.  The mulching feature tended to leave behind more clippings that we would like.  Again, this is probably due to being slightly underpowered.

The ergonomic handle was comfortable and all controls were easy to use.  There is no push-button start on the Troy-Bilt TB400 XP.

Key Features

  • Single blade 21-inch stamped steel deck
  • Six cutting heights from 1.25 - 3.75 inches
  • 159 CC gas engine
  • Front, rear, and all-wheel-drive
  • 3-in-1 bagging, mulching, and side discharge
  • Weighs 98 lbs

Best Electric Mower for Hills:  Yard Force 120V Cordless Mower

included accessories and mower

While electric lawn mowers are not new, powerful cordless options are a relatively recent development.  The Yard Force 120V electric mower is the most powerful on the market.  It's self-propelled with rear-wheel-drive.

Pros

  • Extremely quiet
  • 22" steel deck
  • Good performance on hills
  • Requires NO Gas or Oil
  • Minimal Maintenance
  • 3-in-1 bag, mulch, side discharge

Cons

  • Not as much power as gas engines
  • Better suited to thinner grass
  • higher priced

Hill and Slope Performance

The Yard Force 120V mower is ideally suited for smaller yards with steep slopes.  While it doesn't offer all-wheel-drive, the rear-wheel-drive functioned fine when testing it on steep banks and slopes.

We loved the large 12" rear wheels.  They make both maneuvering and following a straight line a breeze.  

The electric engine never struggled with cutting and driving at the same time, though it will rev up when you hit thicker grass.

Durability

While some electric mowers tend to feel cheap and plasticky, the Yard Force is built to last.  The 22" steel deck is tough and durable.  The plastic front bumper is somewhat flexible, allowing it to absorb impacts with bumps and other obstacles in the yard.

Performance

lithium ion batteries on the Yard Force 120V

We recently reviewed the Yard Force to compare it with other electric mowers so we were pleasantly surprised how it compared with the gas mowers in this comparison.

While the cutting power doesn't match the larger engine of the Cub Cadet, it holds it's own against the Troy-Bilt.  The brushless electric mower senses load in real time so when you encounter thicker grass you'll hear the engine speed up to cut more effectively. 

We experienced no lag in the self-propulsion even when mowing thick grass on a steep slope.

The batteries are rated for up to 45 minutes.  Hilly terrain definitely impacted the run time, but it was still enough to allow us to charge one battery while using the other.  This allowed for uninterrupted mowing until the job was finished.  Charge time on the batteries is 30 minutes on the dot.

The best part about this mower is that other than sharpening the blade each season, there is zero maintenance.  There's no gas and no oil.  You simply pop in the battery, push the start button, and you're mowing.

Key Features

  • Single blade 22-inch stamped steel deck
  • 7 position, single lever cutting heights adjustment
  • 120V Electric motor (up to 100 min runtime)
  • Rear wheel drive
  • 3-in-1 bagging, mulching, and side discharge
  • Weighs 90 lbs

For more information on the Yard Force read our full review here.

How to Mow a Steep Hill With a Riding Mower

Safely mowing hills isn't just about the mower you're using.  Even the most stable riding mower can slide, flip, or roll on steep terrain.  Always use a low speed to ensure you can accurately control your movements.

Always choose a low gear and keep the engine speed steady to avoid shifting and braking while on the slope. Some attachments, such as rear-mounted baggers, can destabilize even the best lawn tractors and increase the rollover risk when used on steep slopes.

In most instances you will be better off mowing up and down the face of the hill.  This ensures you'll be able to brake if necessary.  While you can mow across the face of a hill with a riding mower, you should use extreme caution.  Here is a simple method to determine the slope in your yard.

If you are trying to decide between a zero turn vs a lawn tractor for your yard, there are some things you should know.

Zero-turn mowers are great for speed on flat terrain below 10 degrees.  Anything more than this can be extremely dangerous. These mowers are typically rear engine leaving little weight over the front wheels.  As a result they provide almost no traction.

Mowing with a Walk-Behind Mower

Walk behind mowers are lighter and more maneuverable.  Generally they are the best lawn mower for hills as they are less prone to tipping. 

Two of the three we've covered also offer all wheel drive.  This can be a big help when mowing across the face of a hill as the mower is less likely to slip or go off track.

Of course there are limits to what they can handle.  So use your best judgement when determining whether you should mow up and down or across the steeper parts of your yard.

Safety First

Your purchase of a lawn mower requires consideration of safety, comfort and performance issues. The best mowers for steep hills offer the options you need to complete your mowing chores easily and efficiently. 

Even the best riding lawn mowers for hills require special precautions when used on inclines. If your mowing area is less than one acre, a self-propelled walk-behind mower may be the best option for you.

Safety should always be a priority whenever you operate machinery. Knowing your terrain, becoming familiar with the features of your mower and understanding your limitations will decrease the chance of an accident while enhancing your overall enjoyment of this very important outdoor task.

About the Author Jason Thompson

Jason is a work from home dad who has a passion for DIY projects, yard work, and SEC Football. His background is IT, but he's always fancied himself as a part-time ship welder, landscaper, and short order cook. During the week he can be found on his laptop 10 hours-a-day, but on the weekends he escapes to the local DIY Cave to play with REAL toys.  You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and can contact him via email.

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