I have recently spent time testing the new STIHL HLA 66 and HLA 86 long pole battery powered hedge trimmers. I’ve used them in various hedging scenarios as well as asking work colleagues to also try them out.
The HLA 66 and HLA 86 are the latest models in the company’s range of long pole battery hedge trimmers, replacing the old HLA 65 and HLA 85 models respectively.
Both new models come with innovations and redesigned ergonomics intended to make them easier and safer to use. Emphasis is placed on the new design of the battery case which is housed more centrally on the shaft of the hedge trimmer to help distribute the weight of the battery and balance up the machine. There are also improvements to the reconfigured trigger, making it easier to operate whether you are right or left handed.
First up for testing was the HLA 66 lightweight (3.8kg) long pole hedge trimmer.
STIHL have restricted the weight of the machine to under 4kg, making it easier to handle and you can adjust the loop handle position for better comfort and control.
Using the AP 200 battery gave me enough power and lasted long enough to complete most of the tasks we encountered before needing to recharge.
On both models the working head can be folded back on itself for easy moving and storage and the 50cm double blade enables efficient cutting strokes when cutting hedges.
Both models have ring fittings to attach to shoulder harnesses if you want some extra support. As you can see from the above photographs, there are few controls to worry about, other than the power trigger, head adjustment and on the HLA 86, the opportunity to extend the operating length of the trimmer. It is essentially a case of inserting the battery, setting the angle of cutting head and then operating the trigger switch.
I personally liked the HLA 66 as it is more user friendly than the HLA 86 in terms of handling and versatility. It would be more of a general hands-on hedging tool to compliment my regular go to HSA 56 C-E petrol hedge trimmer, or, if I had one, a HSA 66 cordless battery hedge trimmer.
I would say the HLA 86 is a good complementary tool for taller hedges and has its place in a contractor’s set of hand tools, especially if they were doing a lot of regular hedging work.
I found it OK to use in shorts sessions, however, once you have extended it to its maximum length, it then tends to become more difficult to handle and operate, especially in terms of how long you can physically hold and use it. I soon got fatigued after 15 minutes. Having said that, like most tools, if you are using them on a regular basis, you soon get used to its feel and it becomes the norm. One option is the STIHL RTS harness which takes the weight of the tool and spreads it across your shoulders and waist, so your arms are just doing the positioning.
As for clipping speed, they both operate adequately well at 3000 rpm and produce a clean sharp cut through a variety of hedging materials. During the trials we used both machines on some box hedging, Conifer, mixed fields hedge, holly, privet and purple plum.
Regarding performance, both hedge trimmers had plenty of torque and power to cut through most types of hedging material.
To ensure I was not biased about the performance of these hedge trimmers, I arranged for a number of friends and colleagues to try them out under different working conditions.
First up was a fellow turf professional, John Breeze, who kindly cut a large conifer hedge and said he found the HLA 66 ideal for giving him the finish he required. It also allowed him to cover more area without the need to use step ladders. He was impressed with the power of the hedge trimmer and its easy operating on and off switch. He also commended it on its durability and robustness.
John was also keen to try the long HLA 86 on a purple plum tree and managed to reduce the crown quite easily without the use of any steps.
Next up was Rob Forrester, a gardener who trialled both the HLA 66 and HLA 86 on some of his field hedges. Again he told me he was impressed with the build quality, ease of use, the power of the tools and the longevity of the battery life.
He was also keen to try out the HLA 66 to cut some vegetation at the base of the hedge. In his eyes he found it a versatile tool.
Finally, Kyle Lait a landscape gardener, wanted to try out both machines on his large privet hedges. Kyle said he was impressed with both hedge trimmers’ power and battery performance and thought both machines complemented themselves well, making the job of cutting hedges more efficient.
In general, we all were impressed with the ergonomics and design of the hedge trimmers and pleased with their performance in terms of power, cutting ability and robustness.
The other key point to mention was the reduced noise and vibration levels when using these two machines, compared to petrol driven machines.
Using STIHL’s AP 200 battery as the power source, we found it to be accommodating and quick to recharge, taking less than 40 mins, and it can be used in both machines. If you want further power options the manufacturer provides the AR 3000 L and AR 2000 L Backpack Batteries plus a carrier.
The Lithium-Ion backpack battery offers the professional gardener high power and long life. Including a USB connection and a Bluetooth interface for connection with STIHL Connected, the batteries are protected inside a sturdy housing and offer user-friendly features including an integrated carry handle and a six LED charge-level indicator. To maximise performance a weatherproof coating allows for use even in the rain and is tested to IPX4 standards.
As for cost, the HLA 66 based on current costs with no batteries included, comes in at around £300 while the HLA 86 is about £425. Choice of battery power will be dependent on work load requirements. I found, as a general landscape gardener, two AP200 batteries and a fast charger was sufficient for my needs - however, a contractor may want the option of the AP300 batteries or indeed go for a backpack AR 3000 L system.
The cost of both hedge trimmers, HLA 66 and HLA 86, with a selection of both single AP 300 and a backpack system would cost around £2200 – a substantial investment, but that does include the running costs. If you were to invest in petrol driven hedge trimmers, then you’d have the constant need to buy fuel - and at £20 for 5 litres it soon becomes a no brainer to convert to battery powered products. And this will of course become the norm in a few years’ time anyway, as petrol driven machinery is legislated out of use.