Milwaukee Backpack Vac Review – Clean Up Your Act And Move On

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milwaukee backpack vac

Even when you’ve had all the fun you can stand for one day, you know there’s one last bit of it to be had before you disappear: Cleaning up the mess you (or someone) made. Time to drag out the big shop vac, untangle the cord, and make some noise. Not much fun, but keeping the work zone clean is important – especially if you’re doing reno or service work in an occupied home. Now there’s another option to help you zoom through your end-of-day tidying up quickly and quietly. Join us as we dish the dirt on the Milwaukee Backpack Vac.

Milwaukee Backpack Vac
The Milwaukee Backpack Vac, bare tool version…Photo: Milwaukee Tool

Because of the various ways the vac can be used, the Milwaukee Backpack Vac is billed as a 3-in-1 cleaning tool. The most obvious option is right in the name: Backpack vac. Strapping the vac on makes it fast and easy to clean large areas, or move from room to room, without dragging a cord behind. Want that vac off your back? Remove the harness, and carry it around by the built-in handle.

milwaukee backpack vac
The built-in handle makes it easy to schlep.

Working from a ladder, or with the vac connected to a tool for dust extraction? Pop out the hanging hook, and dangle it from the back of the ladder, or a convenient piece of framing.

milwaukee backpack vac
A built-in hook and safety strap let you hang the vac just about anywhere.

Harnessing the Specs On The Milwaukee Backpack Vac

Let’s take a look at the fit, finish and quality of the Milwaukee M18 Backpack Vac. Spoiler alert: Unlike the vac itself, it doesn’t suck. The first thing I noticed when I unpacked the vac was the metal extension wand. Yep, metal – never seen that on a shop vac! Solid and sturdy, it telescopes out and in from around 26” to 41” by simply pushing or pulling on its collar, and locks solidly in position when you release it.

The hose is equally sturdy and well-designed. Made of a nice pliable heavy-gauge rubber, it stretches to around 6’ and retracts to around 18″ when you’re finished playing in the dirt. Putting a swiveling hose connector on the end that attaches to the canister is a great idea; it keeps the hose from kinking, binding or getting crushed or twisted. The hose attaches solidly and easily to the wand and other accessories, making a nice, tight seal.

milwaukee backpack vac
The sturdy hose is protected by a swivel connector.

All the components can be stowed away onboard the Milwaukee Backpack Vac. The wand has a little shelf to rest on, and clicks securely into a recess on top, with the floor tool attached on top. The hose has a clip on the end, that fits into a recess on the side of the vac. The crevice tool and the dust extraction adapter slide into elastic loops on the harness. The battery sits in a recess on the bottom of the vac, giving it some protection from getting banged around.

milwaukee backpack vac
All accessories stow securely onboard. The wand sits atop the power switch…
milwaukee backpack vac
And clips in at the top.

The harness assembly on the Milwaukee Backpack Vac detaches quickly and easily with the push of a button. This exposes a steel hook and tethering strap, which slide out from the top. The hook is sturdy, and sized so it will fit over an upright 2×4 or other dimensional lumber, or the back rung of a ladder.

milwaukee backpack vac
Unharnessing the Milwaukee backpack vac is easy – push a button…
milwaukee backpack vac
And the harness pops right off.

Here’s the full list of features and specs, followed by a nice PG (Pickup Garbage) video from Milwaukee:

• 55 CFM
• 76 in. water lift
• 159 air watts
• Removable harness with integrated canister hook
• Sound power level: 76 dB(A)
• Capacity: 1 Gal.
• OSHA objective data compliance for select silica dust producing applications
• Telescoping extension wand provides 25″ to 40″ of reach
• Clear view and easy to empty canister
• On-board accessory storage
• Replacement dry HEPA filter: Model #: 49-90-1963

Hose Diameter: 1.875 in.
Hose Length: 6 ft.
Product Depth: 10.24 in.
Product Height: 21.97 in.
Product Width: 8.43 in.

Floor Care Features: Adjustable Backrest, Adjustable straps, Bagless, Commercial use, Cyclonic, HEPA Filter, Telescoping Wand, Variable Speed
Product Weight (lb.): 17.65
Returnable: 90-Day
Safe For Use On: Auto Interior, Bare Floor, Carpet, Laminate, Leather, Stairs, Tile, Upholstery, Vinyl, Wood
Vacuum Capacity (Gallons): 1

The Milwaukee Backpack Vac Gets A Little Domestic Abuse Before Hitting The Job Site

I don’t know if that’s what triggered it, but the arrival of the Milwaukee backpack vac coincided with my wife’s decision to do a pre-holiday deep-clean of our house. Window washing in and out, curtains washed and re-hung, dusting and scrubbing and vacuuming. Lots of vacuuming. Among the targets of her cleaning frenzy were our upper kitchen cabinets and shelves. With our 9-1/2’ ceilings, the upper-level cleaning had always been a treat to deal with.

But we had a new weapon in the arsenal – the sporty red Milwaukee backpack vac! I strapped it on, and prepared to attack the lower shelves. The vac can be a bit awkward to get onto your back, until you’ve done it a couple of times. It’s easier with a helper, but it’s also pretty easy to set it on a table or other surface, and slide both arms through the straps at once. At around 18 lbs. including the battery, the vac isn’t overly heavy. The weight is well distributed, and a chest clip helps keep it in place.

The switch is on the lower left side of the vac. I flipped it on HIGH and got to work. The first thing I noticed was how amazingly quiet the vacuum was, compared to our normal canister vac. And even more so compared to my shop vacs. The next thing I noticed was how good the suction was; I changed the setting to LOW, and there was still plenty of suction.

milwaukee backpack vac
Elevated dust bunnies were no match for the Milwaukee backpack vac…

Using the crevice tool, I quickly got the lower shelves done, and moved to the area on top of the cabinets. Being over eight feet off the floor, they seldom get even the occasional attention the lower shelves got, so there were a fair number of dust bunnies. Hey, you need to drag out a step stool, and nobody can see way up there, anyhow.

It was great not having to try to hold the canister vacuum up with one hand, while moving around sucking up the dust with the other, all the while trying not to fall off the step stool. I got the upper area finished quickly, then came back to earth, attached the telescoping wand, and tackled the spiderwebs in the upper corners. Easy peasy.

milwaukee backpack vac
The telescoping wand made it easy to get into the upper corners…

Once the kitchen was all clean and shiny, I attached the floor tool and headed upstairs to start vacuuming the rest of the house. All our bedrooms have hardwood floors with area rugs, except one with wall-to-wall carpet. Using a freshly-charged 9 Ah battery, I vacuumed four bedrooms, two bathrooms, the long upstairs hallway, all the stair treads down to the first floor, the first floor hallway, and about half of another bedroom before the battery quit.

milwaukee backpack vac
The red vac rests up after going walkabout through the entire house…

I did the first two bedrooms with the Milwaukee backpack vac set on high, then switched to low for the remainder, and still had plenty of suction. A fresh battery finished off the living room, entry room, sun room, dining room, downstairs bedroom and family room, with juice to spare. Not having to power off, unplug the vac, and plug into a different outlet every few minutes was a treat. Hey, when you’re vacuuming, you take your excitement wherever you can get it…

The Milwaukee Backpack Vac Picks Up The Pieces

Picking up dust bunnies is all well and good, but the Milwaukee Backpack Vac was designed for bigger and better things. Well, not necessarily better, but definitely bigger things than a bit of household dust. For a better test of its usefulness in the real world, I took the vac outside for its next mission.

milwaukee backpack vac

I strapped it on, and used it to vacuum up roughly a million tiny pieces of glass from a shattered pane of double-insulated glass from a greenhouse panel. The Milwaukee Backpack Vac inhaled every bit of it, although I had to go over some areas with thicker piles a couple of times.

milwaukee backpack vac
Lots of bite-sized pieces to clean up.
milwaukee backpack vac
I had to go over some spots a couple of times, but the vac got it all.

The vac was pretty heavy by the time I finished, but the canister held it all with no problem. The canister was also pretty full, so I pulled it out and emptied it. Doing so is fast and easy: Grab the handle on the front of the canister, push down the latch with your thumb, and pull the canister out.

milwaukee backpack vac
A belly full of broken glass. The canister pops out easily…

Unhook the latch at the bottom of the canister, the hinged “floor” of the canister swings downward, and out comes your debris. Swing the bottom piece back up, push the canister into the vac, and get back to work.

milwaukee backpack vac
Undo the bottom latch, and out it comes.

After emptying out the mountain of glass, I headed out to my shop. There’s generally no shortage of debris to clean up out there, and the Milwaukee Backpack Vac did a very good job picking up sawdust, metal shavings, and plenty of dirt that rode in on the tractor and mower tires.

milwaukee backpack vac
Regular debris was a nice change after all that glass…
milwaukee backpack vac
With a little sawdust for dessert.

I also used the hook to hang it off the back of a stepladder. A safety strap near the hook lets you quickly clip the vac in position, to prevent damage to your pricey vac – or someone’s head.

milwaukee backpack vac
The hanging hook works great; the 9′ hose is on my Christmas wish list.

While I was out there, I connected the vac to my Milwaukee random orbital sander, hooked the vac over a sawhorse, and generated some sawdust. The rubber end of the hose fit very snugly onto the sander’s dust port, and the Milwaukee M18 Backpack Vac did a decent job of corralling the sawdust.

milwaukee backpack vac
The Milwaukee backpack vac connected tightly to its little orbital brother.

The only issue with using the vac as a dust collector is that the relatively short hose limits your reach. Milwaukee sells an optional nine-foot hose for the vac that would make it much more usable both as a dust collector, and when it’s hanging from a joist or ladder.

Heading back indoors, I introduced the little vac to some drywall dust. This can be nasty stuff to vacuum up with a shop vac; because the dust is so fine, it frequently comes blowing right back out the exhaust port. Thanks to the HEPA filter on the Milwaukee Backpack Vac, all the dust stayed in the canister, or stuck to the filter. Although the floor tool did a fair job picking up the dust, the crevice tool, with its more concentrated suction, did better. According to the manual, the vac can even be used on silica dust; just make sure your HEPA filter is in place, and everything is nice and tight.

milwaukee backpack vac
The HEPA filter does a great job trapping dust and debris…

Note: After using the Milwaukee Backpack Vac on the drywall dust, I noticed a slight reduction in suction. I took the filter out and knocked the dust out, which helped a lot. To get it cleaner, it could also be vacuumed out (with a shop vac) or blown out with compressed air, if you don’t mind working in a dust storm…

milwaukee backpack vac
When it clogs up, tap out the crud, or give it a quick vacuum or shot of compressed air.

Ready To Strap Yourself Into The Milwaukee Backpack Vac?

Is the Milwaukee Backpack Vac capable of completely replacing your full-size shop vac? Nope. Its most obvious limitation is size; a one-gallon canister won’t get you far cleaning up after a day’s worth of demo work. Also, with its smaller sized floor tool, narrower hose, and lower suction, it simply doesn’t have the oomph needed to pick up large quantities of big stuff. One other important thing to note: The Milwaukee backpack vac is NOT a wet vac; it’s for dry use only.

Having said that, the Milwaukee Backpack Vac is a hugely useful tool. It’s perfect for daily or spot cleanup on renovation jobs or in a shop. Anyone in the trades who travels from site to site, doing repair work or punch list work, will love how fast and easy it is to get the cleanup finished using this vac. For its size, it has very good suction, and the design and build quality is first rate. Run time of 25 – 40 minutes with a 9.0 Ah battery should be sufficient to get you through typical cleanups, and the very low noise level means you won’t be getting dirty looks from everyone.

milwaukee backpack vac
Cordless free-range cleanups are a beautiful thing…

In addition to job site and shop use – and the aforementioned “Honey-do” workout – I’ve used the Milwaukee Backpack Vac to clean my truck and my wife’s car. I also strapped it on, and used it to vacuum the top side of our ceiling fan blades, although a brush attachment would have done a much better job. Hint, hint, Milwaukee design team…

One final thing that doesn’t suck about the Milwaukee Backpack Vac: The warranty. Milwaukee backs the tool with a robust five year warranty, with a three year warranty on the battery. The Milwaukee backpack vac is available as either a bare tool, or in a kit. The bare tool comes with the vacuum, a HEPA filter, telescoping wand, crevice tool, floor tool, a 6’ hose, and a dust extractor adapter. The kit adds a 9.0 Ah High Demand battery and a Rapid Charger. Next time you’re elected to do the daily cleanup, try one out, and maybe cleanup time won’t suck so bad after all!

Buy the Milwaukee M18 Backpack Vac from the Home Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Buy the Milwaukee M18 Backpack Vac from Ohio Power Tool:

Buy Now - via Ohio Power Tool

Replacement HEPA Filter from the Home Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Replacement HEPA Filter from Ohio Power Tool:

Buy Now - via Ohio Power Tool

Nine foot hose extension from the Home Depot:

Buy Now - via Home Depot

Nine foot hose extension from Ohio Power Tool:

Buy Now - via Ohio Power Tool

Photo of author

About Phil

Phil’s path to the pinnacle of success as HomeFixated’s Senior Writer was long and twisted. At various stages of his life, he worked as a framing carpenter, attended motorcycle mechanics school, served as an Army MP, did a hot and itchy stint installing insulation in Phoenix, owned and operated a small contracting firm doing residential renovations, and worked as an employee of a major airline (Motto: We’re not happy ‘til YOU’RE not happy). He is currently semi-retired, but continues to take on little projects, such as the total renovation of an old farmhouse. Yes, he is a slow learner. Future projects include a teardown restoration of his 1965 BMW motorcycle, and designing and building a kick-ass playhouse for his grandsons. Phil loves spending time outdoors, hanging out with family and friends, cool tools, and a cold IPA when beer o'clock rolls around.

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1 thought on “Milwaukee Backpack Vac Review – Clean Up Your Act And Move On”

  1. I just got the recently updated 0880-20 wet/dry vacuum and love it now that my 12.0 batteries fit. Not sure if it is still worth spending 3x as much for this. While there are cool features, the thought that I could have 3 of the others is something difficult to get by.


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