If you have hills and inclines in your yard or farm then choosing the best riding lawn mowers for hills should be your top priority. A zero-turn mower is designed to be easy to maneuver and remaining stable while in motion, on slopes and uneven terrain. A wide base equals stability
Regular riding mowers can easily flip over on hills if you’re not careful.
Table of Contents...
Best Riding Lawn Mower for Hills
Few things are more American than waking up on weekends to the sound of a lawnmower running in your neighbor’s yard (and the smell of freshly mown grass). To many homeowners, the lawn is an extension of their own character and personality. A front yard filled with well mown, lush green grass and an assortment of flower plants is truly a sight to enjoy and fills you, the owner, with a great sense of pride and accomplishment knowing how much hard work and time went into achieving this end result.
Lawns come in all shapes and sizes, and the equipment needed to maintain them can also vary wildly in terms of cost and cutting capacity. A medium sized lawn which is half the area of a tennis court probably doesn’t require anything beyond a simple electric walk-behind mower like the BLACK+DECKER MTE912. However, when you own property that spans half an acre or more, it is important to use a landscaping tool which won’t slow you down and can actually get the work done in a reasonable amount of time. Be prepared to shell out extra money for something like a riding lawn mower, since these are the cream of the crop when it comes to lawn mower platforms.
Riding lawn mowers are very useful if your estate or property has hills or slopes along the terrain, which make it extremely difficult (and dangerous) to push a walk-behind across the slopes. Especially if it is a sunny day, you don’t want to be sweating in 95°F heat while pushing a 100 pound lawn mower up and down the hills. In this article, we shall talk about some of the benefits of owning a certain type of riding lawn mower called the Zero Turn Radius mower, or “ZTR” for short (also called Z-Turn mowers). Don’t confuse a ZTR mower with a lawn tractor, because they are two completely different machines with unique pros and cons.
Commercial Grade Riding Mower for Hills | Swisher Big MOW 31
Zero turn mowers are all about maneuvering between obstacles on the lawn and trimming around the base of trees with incredible precision. A lawn tractor isn’t nearly as precise, nor as fast as a zero turn mower. But a lawn tractor is more versatile since it supports a wide variety of attachments like vacuums, snow blowers, sweepers, aerators, etc. Lawn tractors are also equipped with tow hitches for pulling dump carts and other types of wheeled equipment.
How does a Zero Turn Radius (ZTR) Mower Work?
While modern zero turn radius lawn mowers are available in several different configurations, the most common style is something like this-engine in the rear, with the blade deck underneath the driver (in the middle of the mower), and two counter rotating drive wheels on either side at the back of the mower. The wheels spin in the same direction when the mower is moving linearly but if you want to do a zero radius turn, they will rotate in opposite directions. So, for example let us say you want the ZTR mower to turn right. The controls consist of two elongated handles, one on each side of the driver’s seat. When you pull the right handle back and push the left handle forward, the mower’s right side drive wheel will turn in reverse while the left side drive wheel will turn forward.
VIDEO | How to Operate/Drive A Zero Turn Mower
From a top-down view, it will look like the right side of the mower is moving anti-clockwise while the left side is moving clockwise. Likewise, if you want to make a left turn just pull the left handle inwards while pushing the right handle outwards. The concept is very similar to a battle tank, which can spin around a full 360° in either direction without moving an inch forward or backward, thanks to counter-rotating tracks. The front of a ZTR mower has two caster wheels which are very much like the casters on a shopping cart or office chair-they are unidirectional and allow the front end of the mower to glide along smoothly in whatever direction the back decides to rotate.
The caster wheels on the front may or may not have their own independent suspension. Top end ZTR mowers will always have independent suspension on each caster wheel for a smoother ride quality on bumpy terrain or hill slopes. ZTR mowers typically use gasoline powered 4-stroke internal combustion engines, but there are variants which utilize other fuel sources like biogas, diesel, propane, and even electricity. The engine drives a hydrostatic transmission which is responsible for the counter-rotating wheels as well as forward and backward motion. Unlike a traditional geared transmission which uses a clutch, input and output shaft, and a variety of planetary gears in various ratios, hydrostatic transmissions use a combination of axial piston hydraulic pumps and motors to transfer power from the engine to the wheels.
Husqvarna Z254 | 54″ Zero Turn Riding Mower
Power from the crankshaft of the 4-stroke engine (12 to 25hp in most ZTR mowers) is sent to the drive pulley of the hydrostatic transmission via a belt drive (can be shaft drive in heavy duty commercial models). The transmission case contains a hydraulic pump, and two hydraulic motors, one for each wheel. The whole case is filled with hydraulic fluid, and the spinning pulley outside has a cooling fan on top to keep the fluid from getting too hot.
By pulling the levers near the driver’s seat, you control the rate at which hydraulic fluid flows in either of the two drive motors. When you push the left side lever harder than the right side lever, the left side wheel spins faster than the right side wheel which causes the mower to turn right. When you push both levers forward the exact same distance (both wheels spinning at equal speed), the machine moves straight forward in a straight line. When you pull both levers back equally as hard (both wheels spinning equally fast but in reverse), the machine goes backwards in a straight line.
Best Riding Lawn Mower for Hills
- New Rapid Response Control System for improved comfort and control
- 24 HP Briggs & Stratton engine
- 54″ cutting deck with 3 Gator mulching blades
- Hydro Gear 2800 transmissions and Ogura clutch
- Heavy-duty fenders with storage, battery compartment and cup holder
- Foot assisted deck lift
- 8 miles forward and reverse
- 8 gallon fuel capacity
- Rear tires 20″x10″-8″, Front casters 12″x6″
- 1.5″-4.5″ cutting range
- Full engine wrap
- Electric start, Electric PTO clutch
- High-back seat with arm rests
- 12V adapter and Hour meter
- Front and rear hitch
- Made in the USA
Max Swisher never really liked the activity of mowing grass, and in the late 1940’s his daily routine consisted of finding a way to simplify the task of mowing lawns. Some of his early ideas included tying up a lawn mower to a tree with a rope, so that it spun around in circles until it finally mowed all the grass around the tree. Clearly not a very practical solution, but in 1949 he eventually came up with what is considered to be the first true Zero Turn Radius lawn mower-the three wheeled “Ride King”.
VIDEO | A Closer Look at the Swisher ZTR2454BS
Today, Swisher is one of the largest zero turn mower manufacturers and their 60+ years of experience shines brightly through fine examples such as the ZTR2454BS. Yes, it uses a Briggs & Stratton engine instead of an in-house design but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this is one of the most durable and feature packed ZTR mowers under 5k dollars. It boasts an 11-gauge fabricated steel deck, with a massive cutting width of 54”. If you own an estate with 3 acres or more of lawn to cut and maintain on a monthly basis, this is the perfect zero turn mower for you. The Swisher ZTR2454BS is also a great choice for lawn care startups and small landscaping businesses.
We really love the 24hp 724cc V-Twin OHV engine. Its power delivery is smooth, and the Hydro Gear 2800 hydrostatic transmission ensures a brisk 8mph cruising speed in either direction. A comfortable seat with armrests, and polymer fenders with built-in cup holders ensure that you are always at ease while mowing across sprawling landscapes measuring several acres. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that this ZTR mower has a front and rear tow hitch, so you can easily hook up carts and trailers on either end or even tow other mowers out of ditches when they get stuck.
Troy-Bilt Super Mustang 50 XP
50″ Hydrostatic Lap Bar Zero-Turn. One of the best Riding Mower for hills.
- 50″ triple-blade side discharge deck
- Electric PTO (power take-off) for fast and easy blade engagement
- Standard front axle grease fittings for long service life
- Comfortable high-back seat with dual suspension springs for a smooth ride
- Greasable front caster wheels for longer bearing life
- 3-year limited residential warranty w/Limited lifetime frame warranty
- 24 HP* Kohler
- Zero-Turn Maneuverability
- 2-Way Adjustable Lap Bars
- The Mustang RZT features larger ergonomic lap bars that are designed to fit riders of all sizes. And when you open them to stand up, they automatically engage the parking brake.
- FastAttach Accessories
- Model : 17AKCACZ066
✓ View or download the MANUAL for the Troy-Bilt Super Mustang 50 XP
It is the cheapest out of the three, but that doesn’t make it any less productive. Powered by a 24hp Kohler engine, the Mustang 50 XP delivers great performance for an astonishingly low price. It lacks in the raw speed department, with 7mph forward and 2.5mph reverse being its limit. But that is still enough to maintain a 2 acre per hour mowing speed, which means you can finish working on a medium to large sized plot in just 1 to 1.5 hours.
VIDEO | Troy-Bilt Super Mustang XP 50
If you asked us to pick one aspect of the Mustang 50 XP that we like the most, it would be the convenience of using and maintaining what is otherwise a fairly large zero turn mower with lots of power and plenty of features. For instance, accessing the air filter is super easy. All you have to do is pop open a plastic cover (no tools needed) and the air filter is ready to be removed and inspected or replaced. You can change and monitor the engine oil fairly easily, and there is a rather tall metal bumper at the back to protect the Kohler engine from harm if you bump into stuff.
All of the controls are very conveniently located, and we love the way you engage its parking brake-just extend the ergonomic handlebars outwards to the sides, and it will automatically engage the brake. No need to fiddle with levers underneath your seat, no need to press on pedals. The choke, Electronic PTO (power take off), and starting key are all located in one cluster on the right side of the seat. And yes, it also has a cupholder because why not? This is America after all, and you will find cup holders in everything with 4 wheels. Ride quality is excellent, but not on par with the commercial grade zero turn radius mowers which feature air suspension underneath the seats and coilover shocks for the front casters.
Spec Sheet :
- Deck : 50″ triple-blade side discharge w/integrated premium deck wash
- Deck Height Adjustment : 8 position
- Deck Engagement (PTO) : Electric – Button control
- Deck Wheels : 4
- Engine : 24 HP* Kohler
- Transmission : Twin hydro – Dual EZT
- Frame : Reinforced heavy duty
- Front Axle : Heavy duty
- Fuel Tank Capacity : 2.8 gallon
- Forward / Reverse MPH : 7 MPH / 2.5 MPH
- Seat : 18″ High-back
- Wheels : 13″ x 5″-6″ front caster / 18″ x 9.5″ rear
- Accessories : Rear Bumper, Deck Wash (included), optional bagger or mulch kit
- Shipping Weight : 620 lbs
- Shipping Dimensions : 84″(L) x 58″(W) x 34.5″(H)
- Warranty : 3-year limited residential w/Limited lifetime frame warranty
Best Riding Lawn Mower for Hills for 2019.
- Commercial-inspired components such as rugged 1.5” x 2” steel front axles, high-performance transaxles and a wrap-around steel bumper ensure this mower is built to handle tough mowing applications.
- Built for high-performance applications, the Hydro-Gear ZT-3200 hydrostatic transaxles deliver a smooth grass cutting experience while you are changing directions and speeds.
- Commercial-inspired components such as rugged 1.5” x 2” steel front axles, high-performance transaxles and a wrap-around steel bumper ensure this mower is built to handle tough mowing applications.
- Wide, 52” fabricated mower deck made from thick 10-gauge steel with speeds up to 9 mph. Welded and reinforced for years of repeat mowing and are also backed by a limited lifetime warranty.
- Easy-to-use lawn mower controls, including a fuel-level indicator, are all within reach. A wide-mouth gas fill ensures you can easily fill gasoline without any spills.
- Convenient deck-lift easily adjusts grass cut height from 1.5″ to 4.5″.
- Model Options:
- * All power levels are stated gross horsepower at 3600 RPM per SAE J1940 as rated by Briggs & Stratton
This is our favorite out of the three. Let us begin with the engine-the snapper 560Z is powered by a Kawasaki FR730V which is a 726cc OHV V-twin 4 stroke motor producing 24 horsepower. Ask any industry professional or landscaping expert, and they will tell you that nothing beats Kawasaki engines when it comes to reliability. Honda engines rule in the walk-behind market, and Kawasaki makes the best zero turn radius mower engines.
The engine packs enough power to send this large mower rolling across fields filled with tall grass at speeds up to 9 mph, and you even have the option to integrate a plastic cargo bed into the back, right above the engine which allows you to carry up to 100 pounds of equipment along with you in the mower.
VIDEO | A Closer Look at the Snapper 560Z
The 52” deck is fabricated by welding 10-gauge steel plates to each other, and it houses 3 blades. This is the most resilient deck we have seen in any mower at this price range and will easily survive minor scalping on hills and inclines. And there are 12 different cutting height positions, ranging from 1.5 up to 4.5 inches. The best part about the deck is how easily you can adjust its height-just press on the right side pedal to actuate the deck lift which will raise the cutting height.
On most riding mowers you also have to pull a pin or lever to lock in the deck height after making an adjustment, but not on this Snapper. Little things like this make operating the 560Z much easier, and help you get the most out of your time. The large 13 x 5-6 front wheels and 22 x 11-10 rear wheels help create an extremely stable ride with plenty of traction for hilly terrain.
This Snapper model has everything required to be considered as one of the best riding lawn mower for hills.
Safely Mowing the Hills
….with a Zero Turn Radius Mower
While it is true that a ZTR mower is often the best choice when you want maneuverability and speed, learning how to control one can take a while because the handlebars take some getting used to. And it takes even more practice if you’re trying to drive a zero turn mower on a hillside or across ditches, because most zero turn riding mowers lack 4-wheel steering, so the front casters can often get airborne on slopes causing loss of traction while turning. The front casters are like the wheels on a shopping cart-there is no telling which direction they will point in if you don’t control the mower properly, and since the steering relies on traction in the rear drive wheels, a loss of traction in the back also means a loss of steering which can induce a deadly slide on a sloped terrain.——
VIDEO | Zero Turn Mower on Hills
Don’t use your zero turn mower on slopes with an incline higher than 15°, and if it is wet restrict yourself to an incline of 10° or lower. Wet grass combined with a steep incline can result in nasty accidents. Always engage the ROPS (Roll over Protection System) by locking the roll bars in their upright position whenever you take the mower on a slope. Wear your seatbelt whenever the ROPS is engaged, and if the roll bars are in the down position don’t use the seatbelt. Never mow ACROSS the hillside with a zero turn radius mower or any riding mower for that matter. Always go up and down the slope, never across it.
If there is a pond or river at the base of a hill, don’t push your luck by taking the zero turn mower near the bottom. Always stay two cutting widths away from fences, drop-offs, and ditches when operating a zero turn radius mower, because if you get too close to the edge one of the wheels may slide off and the entire mower can roll over. Or if the soil is loose, don’t try going doing a sloped terrain because the rear wheels can lose traction or dig into the ground when your mower is moving sideways, causing it to flip.
Don’t make sudden stops when mowing hills and take care while turning on wet grass. Make the turn gently, while making sure that both wheels are moving. Don’t just push one handlebar forward while the other is in neutral, or else the wheel that is in neutral will act like a pivot and dig into the turf. Make sure you are moving both handlebars in opposite directions at the same rate to make the zero radius turn smooth, without ripping up the grass underneath your tires.
It is not advised to tow anything behind your zero turn radius lawn mower while operating on hills. The added weight will prevent your mower from gaining enough traction to climb up and down the hill, and it will almost certainly result in an accident if you are going across an incline while towing a cart. Adjust the deck and keep it near maximum height to avoid “scalping” the turf when operating on a slope or hillside, and always do a test by trying to reverse your ZTR mower up the hill slope with the deck in a low position. If the mower wheels are spinning and unable to climb up, it means you cannot rely on the mower to maintain control on the hill slope. When going downhill with the mower in reverse (going down facing backwards), don’t make any sudden stops or you will flip the mower.
If you own a property with slopes exceeding 15° of incline, we strongly recommend the Cub Cadet Pro Z 972 SD. It almost costs as much as a new car, but there is nothing better in the riding lawn mower world when it comes to cutting grass off giant hill slopes. It boasts a massive 72” cutting deck with reinforcements on the top, side, and bottom. The deck is made from 7-gauge fabricated steel, so it won’t bend if you ride over bumps and dig into the dirt on a hill. The main reason why the Cub Cadet Pro Z 972SD is so good on hill slopes, is the 4-wheel steering. There are dual rear wheels with extra aggressive off-road tread patterns for maximum grip even on wet grass. It can climb inclines as steep as 25°, which is far beyond the limits of a standard ZTR mower.
Note : A faster moving ZTR mower isn’t better for hills, in fact you rarely go beyond 5mph while mowing slopes and ditches.
Questions & Answers —
Riding Lawn Mower for Hills
Q: Do I get a lawn tractor or zero turn radius mower?
Answer: Tractor if you’re more concerned with towing stuff and equipping attachments like tillers, aerators, snow plows, fertilizer spreaders, etc., otherwise get a ZTR mower.
Q: How much time does a zero turn radius mower save in comparison to a lawn tractor?
Answer: Anywhere between 25 to 50 percent of time, depending on the type of terrain and the number of obstacles. A lawn tractor usually runs at 5 to 6 mph whereas a ZTR mower can achieve speeds higher than 10 mph on flat terrain. Thanks to zero radius turning, you can weave around obstacles like flower beds, gates, benches, etc. much more easily.
Q: Which manufacturers make the best zero turn radius riding lawn mowers?
Answer : Gravely, Kubota, Troy-Bilt, Husqvarna, Scag, Hustler, Toro, Cub Cadet, etc. are some of the most popular and well respected ZTR mower manufacturers.
Q: Any extra features I should look out for in a ZTR mower?
Answer : Apart from the deck construction and durability of the frame, you also need to consider ride quality which can be affected by tire width. Narrower tires have less traction and leave deeper stress marks on the grass, wider tires offer a more comfortable ride and don’t dig into the grass when you turn. A heavy duty steel bumper at the back protects the engine. Look for stuff like coilover shocks if you want better handling. Fuel monitoring gauge, cutting deck wash port, oil level indicator, cup holder, phone chargers, lights, etc. make operating your zero turn radius mower much more convenient.
Q: Are there different seat options for zero turn mowers?
Answer : Yes, there are plenty of options depending on how comfortable you want to be and how long you operate your mower. Seats can be low-back or high-back, equipped with lumbar support, and the high end ones even have air suspension. Be prepared to pay upwards of 1000 dollars for premium seats.
Q: What to look for when buying a used zero turn mower?
Answer : While you can save quite a bit of money by going the used route, it is important to make a checklist of things to inspect before you buy used. Make sure the mower has no more than 500 hours on it, the best ones usually have 300 to 400 hours logged on their meters. Check basic stuff like engine oil, air filters, drive pulleys, etc. Check for play in the deck pulley, and make sure the engine oil isn’t too dark when you pull out the dipstick. Check if the hydrostatic pumps are still working without too much play in the steering or transmission. Hustler, Scag, and Gravely zero turn mowers stand the test of time very well, we highly recommend those three brands if you are looking to purchase used.
I know there’s a lot to digest. Choosing the best riding lawn mower for hills is a big decision. These are expensive machines so it’s important to do your research so you can make a smart decision.
Residential or Commercial?
Residential grade Zero Turn Radius mowers use stamped steel decks and lighter frames. Their decks will bend when you hit obstacles and can damage the blades. The frame isn’t very tough or robust, so you cannot tow stuff behind the mower which makes it less versatile on larger estates and farms where you might want to spread fertilizer or pull something like a tiller/ cultivator behind the mower. The engines on residential models aren’t built as well as commercial grade models, so you cannot run them longer than 3 or 4 hours at a time.
Commercial grade zero turn lawn mowers have sturdy 10-gauge welded steel decks and heavier frames, along with superior cooling systems for the transmission and engine. They also have PTO clutches, so replacing a thrown drive belt is much easier. Commercial grade and certain “Prosumer” ZTR mowers have roll bars for driver safety, along with more comfortable seats and amenities such as cell phone charging outlets, cup holders for beverages, etc.
Protecting your lawn —
….while using a ZTR mower
They are fast and can turn on a dime (literally) but if you don’t handle your brand-new zero turn radius mower with care, you can rip off big chunks of turf and create ugly divots in your precious lawn. Practice around the center of the lawn, learn how to control the speed and make a proper 3-point turn with your ZTR mower.
VIDEO | How to Drive a Zero Turn Mower