If your loved one has limited mobility, you know firsthand that a quality wheelchair can make all the difference. From offering them more freedom and comfort to alleviating some of their pain, these devices can help your relative regain a sense of independence. One wheelchair cannot be suited for every single situation. But it can go a long way towards making life easier for the whole family.
What types of manual wheelchairs are there?
Every situation is unique and requires an individualized solution. When it comes to wheelchairs, there are several types that might fit your loved one’s needs, depending on their condition, lifestyle and preferences. The main ones include:
- Standard wheelchairs: these are generally the most reliable and long-lasting option, but not necessarily the most convenient; they are typically made out of steel, have lower prices and are very straightforward to operate;
- Transport wheelchairs: also known as companion wheelchairs, these items are more convenient and easier to use during travel, but also limit the user’s independence because they require assistance from a caregiver; they are generally made from aluminum, have small wheels and swing-away footrests to ensure that the chair is lightweight, compact and easy to fit through doors and under tables;
- Ergonomic wheelchairs: these products are designed specifically to decompress pressure points, improve posture and relieve back strain; they are typically lightweight, easy to store and covered in an anti-bacterial fabric; they are convenient and the most comfortable of all models;
- Lightweight / Ultra Lightweight wheelchairs: these terms usually refer to a chair that is very easy to lift and foldable, without sacrificing durability or support; they come with both small and large wheels and are most suited for quick transportation and travel.
What should I look for in a manual wheelchair?
The main aspects you should take into account before making your purchase is your loved one’s physical ability, their medical needs and personal choices. The size and cost of the wheelchair, as well as how portable it is are also essential factors.
There are several elements you need to consider, according to what is the best fit for your relative. These include their body height and weight, mobility level, posture, skin condition and cognitive ability, but also the seat width and depth, leg rigging type, back rest height and armrest height. Here are a few questions to help you find out what product would work best for your family:
- What is your loved one’s weight and height?
- How extensive is the impact of their condition (level of mobility)?
- Will a companion be pushing the chair? If so, what is their strength level?
- How much time will you spend using the chair?
- What is most important to you: durability, convenience or comfort?
- Do you want to use the wheelchair during travel?
- How often do you plan on transporting the wheelchair?
How to choose the right wheelchair
In addition to the basic considerations mentioned above, there are several features you should look for in a quality wheelchair. Some will be must-haves for your loved one, whereas on others you might be able to compromise. Below you will find an in-depth guide that delves into the specifications of thirteen reliable and high performance wheelchairs, as well as what level of mobility, budget and situations they are most suited for.
Read also our article about how to make your home more wheelchair accessible.
1. Medline Transport Adult Folding Wheelchair with Handbrakes
This simple and lightweight model is a reliable choice if you are looking for easy transportation. Best suited for indoor use and even or paved surfaces, the Medline Adult Folding Wheelchair is sturdy and durable, but comfortable. It has a portable back that can be quickly folded for convenient storage and transportation during travel. In addition, the extra large 12-inch rear wheels guarantee increased stability and high performance, even on rough or bumpy outdoor surfaces. It features full-length arms which provide an extended area for gripping and optimal support. For added safety, there are loop-lock handbrakes that slow down the chair on tilted sidewalks or rugged terrain.
Medline’s Adult Folding Wheelchair is much lighter than traditional models. This is because the frame is made of slim aluminum. This type of material is not only easier to lift, but it also lasts longer than conventional bases. It is powder coated to ensure increased resistance to scratching and chipping, as well as to prevent wear and color fading. A drawback to this wheelchair is that it does require a lot of maintenance when it comes to its structure. The owner’s manual specifies that as many as eight different points on the chair need to be inspected once a week and there are another six points that need monthly adjustment. The brakes also require frequent adjustment, which can be quite troublesome and time-consuming. On the plus side, there isn’t much upkeep involved with the frame material, and it is free of any solvents or toxic chemicals.
- Well-designed and easy to maneuver
- Lasts longer and is lighter than conventional wheelchairs
- Features detachable footrests and seatbelt for added safety
- Breathable nylon upholstery that is easy to wash
- Rear wheels can be locked through the handbrakes for easy and safe transfer
- Does not leave marks on the floor
- Holds up to 300lbs
- Armrests are permanently welded into the chair and cannot be removed
- High maintenance (the base requires frequent adjustment)
- The handles only have a 20-degree lateral movement range
- There is no latch to keep the chair in the folded position for storage or transfer
- There is no brake lever on the back wheel
- Requires a caregiver for optimal use
2. Aluminum Transport Chair Lightweight
This model is primarily useful for fast and convenient transportation. Due to its aluminum framework, it is lighter than standard wheelchairs, not as bulky and much easier to push for the caregiver. It is made of quality, durable materials and has a functional design. The wheels are smooth and easy to glide around. Additionally, the chair can be folded quickly by using the pull-up handles and tucking the back. All of these features make it a wise substitute for a traditional wheelchair that may be too heavy to lift and inconvenient if you need to store it in your car and use during travel. However, the product is not a good choice if transportation involves a lot of rocky terrain. A larger and stronger model would be more suited for that.
A unique element of this Aluminum Transport Chair are the caster wheels. The latter guarantee that noise levels during transfer are dramatically diminished, even on rougher terrain. They also offer increased floor protection (fewer marks after repeated use) and resistance to corrosion. Another benefit includes the rear wheel brakes, which feature a dual “push-to-lock” for shorter stopping distance. On the downside, the weight limit is lower. Although the manufacturer states that the chair holds up to 300lbs, anyone heavier than 250lbs is bound to make it very difficult to steer. This is a simple and small model that allows basic transportation for someone under 200lbs.
- Easy to use and fold
- Allows for quick and convenient transfer
- Features caster wheels that ensure noise reduction and durability
- Leg rests swing away or can be entirely removed for added convenience
- Armrests have comfortable padding for optimal support
- Auality design and materials that hold well over time
- Comes with a seatbelt that keeps the user in place for extra safety
- Tires are made of plastic and are fairly slippery; this makes it difficult to lock the brakes properly
- The rear wheels are quite large and only move in one direction; this makes it harder to maneuver on an unpaved surface
3. Karman 29 Pounds Ergonomic Wheelchair
Karman’s new 29 Pounds Wheelchair was designed specifically to maximize comfort. The ergonomic S-shape contours and accommodates the body’s natural curves and is not only useful for increased support, but also to relieve back pain. It helps release pressure from common areas that are affected by prolonged sitting. Over time, this model can reduce your loved one’s risk of developing scoliosis and pressure ulcers. It is comfortable and light, but not wobbly.
A useful feature of this model involves its flip-back arms. These are hinged at the rear end of the seat frame and offer a smart solution to side sitting. The user can release a latch that quickly moves them out of the way. This ensures that your family member can easily get close to a desk or table, but also guarantees convenient sliding transfer. The main advantage of this type of support is that the arms are always within reach, as they remain connected to the wheelchair. The innovative arm tube model also facilitates movement and minimizes the tendency to make forceful motions that might lead to injury. Users report that they are great for preventing muscle tightness and tension.
The seat height can be customized between 18 and 20 inches so that your loved one feels cozy and safe. Karman’s model is also more comfortable for the caregiver – the rims and high push bar allow a sturdy grip and make it easier to propel the wheelchair. The wheels are also angled properly for easy rolling. Moreover, the footrests swing under the chair, not only to the side, which makes it easier and safer when they need to be taken out of the way.
- Lightweight (only 29lbs) and very comfortable
- Quick release wheels that ensure fast transportation
- Adjustable height and ergonomic shape that improves posture and prevents wounds
- Sturdy brakes that hold very well
- Fold down back support that allows the chair to be stored in a small space
- Ergonomic hand rims that offer increased flexibility
- Removable back cushion and seat that is anti-bacterial and easy to clean
- If the chair is lowered, the casters that come with it cannot be used together as they no longer fit
- The manufacturer does not stock replacement parts, which makes it very difficult to find some that fit this model
- The manual does not cover assembly or adjustments, only safety issues and how to operate
4. Medline Lightweight and User-Friendly Wheelchair
Medline User-Friendly Wheelchair combines resourceful design with simplicity to ensure safe and smooth transportation. This is one of the most straightforward models on the market. It’s convenient and requires minimal maintenance. The brand prioritizes ease of use, making this lightweight chair a good choice if your loved one is looking for something simple and comfortable. It is made of sturdy, high-quality materials for increased durability. The seat height is adjustable (with a 2-inch modification available) and the elevating leg rests can be removed without much effort. There are also flat-free tires that prevent leaks or punctures and provide constant protection.
This model features mag wheels. Made from cast aluminum, magnesium or a combination of both, they allow better heat conduction and reduce the risk of brake failure. They are also easier to steer and last longer than standard parts because the alloy protects them against rust and corrosion. The main frame is made of steel to ensure stability. There are multiple seat widths to choose from, including 16, 18 and 20 inches. Additionally, the arms flip back when needed so that your loved one can stay at the dinner table without any discomfort.
A shortcoming of this model is that the leg rests swing back, but not at a full 180-degree angle. This means that the parts might get in the way when trying to fit the wheelchair through a regular door. Moreover, users report that the brake on the left side is very close to the chair frame. Bear in mind that this makes it easy for your finger to get caught and mashed between the two. The full kit includes a removable nylon cover that is comfortable, easy to clean and more breathable than other fabrics like vinyl.
- Smart design that requires little maintenance
- Simple and quick to assemble
- Comfortable and easy to maneuver
- Holds up to 300lbs
- Increased longevity, sturdy frame and mag wheels
- Does not have a tilt bar for going over bumps
- The leg supports are inward-oriented and slippery
- Does not feature a seatbelt to secure the user
- Does not come with built-in cushion or anti-rolling protection (but there is space to attach it)
5. NOVA Transport Wheelchair 400lbs Weight Capacity
This model was designed specifically for heavier users. It is extra wide with a 22-inch surface and it holds up to 400lbs (traditional wheelchairs have a weight capacity of 300lbs or under). It features locking hand brakes that allow your loved one to keep their hands on the wheels at all times.
They help reduce fatigue and they do not only guarantee more efficient stops, but also stabilize the wheelchair for performing everyday tasks. The chair was built in such a way that it is easier for the caregiver to control the speed and direction. Moreover, the footrests feature heel loops and a non-skid plate that keep the user’s feet in place.
The 400lbs Transport Wheelchair is foldable and convenient. It’s easy to store and move around for travel use. The lightweight aluminum frame allows you to lift and transfer it without much trouble. Additionally, it combines intelligent design with powerful brakes, which makes it a reliable choice for transportation over bumpy surfaces and slopes.
NOVA also has excellent customer service – their team is professional and quick to solve any issue. Users report that the manufacturer is very responsive to provide replacement parts. You should bear in mind that this model is more suitable for smooth surfaces. It might be best to avoid it for rougher or uneven terrain like cobblestones. An element that might be inconvenient for the user involves the footrests. The latter hang only on a double pin and have to be removed before storing the wheelchair. Otherwise they fall off or flop when the chair is picked up from storage.
- Smart design, large rear wheels and strong brakes
- Lightweight and easy to maneuver
- Extra wide seat, holds up to 400lbs
- Comes with a seatbelt for added safety
- Features flip-up arms for easy access to tables
- Swing-away footrests that can be adjusted
- Brake handles at the rear of the chair feature small orange reflectors
- Footrests do not lock and fall off when the chair is lifted
- Handles do not fold completely for easier storage
- Some users report the seat is lower than expected with standard models
6. Drive Medical Silver Sport 2 Wheelchair
This wheelchair offers a little extra in terms of variety than other models on the market. It comes at an affordable price and provides multiple leg support options to make your loved one more comfortable.
You can choose from a wide array of foot riggings and arm styles, including 90-degree footrests, adjustable angle footplates and elevating leg rests that can be customized for different heights. It is made of high-quality materials that ensure increased durability and it features padded arms with push-to-lock functionality.
Drive Medical Silver Sport 2 Wheelchair is foldable and easy to transfer and store. The frame is made of steel and coated with powder to prevent corrosion and rust. It also has a silver vein finish that makes it low-maintenance and elegant. The tires are made from urethane to ensure resistance to chemicals and deterioration.
Other benefits of this material include reduced noise levels during transfer and floor protection for indoor use. The chair is covered with embossed nylon that is breathable, prevents sweating and can be cleaned without much effort. The composite wheels guarantee smooth transition over most types of surfaces.
A drawback to this model is that the original levers are fairly short and make it difficult to lock the brakes. A solution to this would be to order extensions.
- Well-built, compact and convenient
- Wide range of arm styles and leg riggings to choose from
- Comes fully assembled
- Firm and long-lasting upholstery
- Full package includes a multi-wrench to keep everything fixed and secure
- The back of the chair has a pouch attached for storing personal items
- Does not have a built-in cushion (need to buy one separately)
- The wheels have a fairly weak grip which may cause occasional sliding
- Some users report the brakes do not hold well on rougher terrain
7. ProBasics Aluminum Transport Wheelchair
ProBasics offers one of the most comfortable and convenient options on the market. Low cost and long-lasting, this model has small dimensions and overall weight for user-friendly steering. It features back release hinges that make it easy to fold, store and pack during travel. The enlarged 12-inch wheels guarantee smooth transition over rugged terrain and high performance on all types of surfaces. Portable and secure, this is a reliable choice if your loved one requires a wheelchair daily or very frequently. It can be folded flat within only a few seconds and can be carried without much effort.
The brakes can be easily activated through a simple push-to-lock system for added security. The caregiver can also use the hand brakes to stabilize the wheelchair when the patient exits or sits down. They are also advantageous on uneven terrain as they prevent rolling. ProBasics Aluminum Transport Wheelchair features sturdy composite footplates and heel loops that provide strong support and keep the user’s feet from sliding backwards on the leg riggings. In addition, these are useful for patients with limited strength in their lower extremities.
The full package includes a customizable seatbelt that can be adjusted to fit your loved one’s size. An issue with this item is that the seat is attached through rubber clips and not welded into the wheelchair’s frame. This means that it can sometimes become displaced and wobble.
- Lightweight, comfortable and convenient
- Padded footrests that quickly swing away for easy access
- Flared handles that offer a solid, ergonomic grip
- Nylon upholstery that is breathable and easy to clean
- Foot pads can also be folded up
- Holds up to 300lbs
- Low cost
- The front wheels are slightly smaller than expected with regular models and might get caught up in cracks
- Limited independence; requires the help of a caregiver to function optimally
- Some users report that the seat is not wide enough for a heavier person
8. Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair
Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair is a low-maintenance option that lasts longer than traditional models. Its innovative space-preserving design ensures that your loved one can move around easily on their own. It also features specialized, larger wheels that are simpler to turn and require less effort from the caregiver for steering. Moreover, there is a back foot paddle that reduces impact when going over uneven surfaces like curbs and obstacles. For added convenience, the arms are removable to help your loved one sit comfortably at the table or desk.
This model is lightweight and practical. It is easy to transport and store: just push the two sides together and the wheelchair is made compact and ready for transfer. It is one of the least expensive options on the market, it’s very comfortable and it doesn’t make you sweat as much as other standard chairs. It features calf straps for added security and a push-to-lock mechanism. The upholstery includes a synthetic porous fabric that offers more breathability and insulation than vinyl. It also promotes proper airflow and ventilation.
Some users report an issue with folding and unfolding the wheelchair after a few uses. This inconvenience may be due to the “claw” piece that joins the tube coming down from the handle with the bottom part of the seat. If you encounter this issue, make sure that the piece is not dislodged from the bar (preventing motion such as folding) and re-attach it to the chair.
Another shortcoming of this model is that the armrests are positioned on a hard plastic support. Due to the material, these can easily crack or become damaged, especially if you use the chair frequently or the patient is heavier. A solution to this would be to replace the sets. However, only the first one is under warranty and additional purchases can cost up to $30 each without transport.
- Convenient, easy to lift and transfer
- Low cost and very comfortable
- Elevated leg rests with adjustable height for optimal support
- The back of the chair features a handy pocket for storing personal belongings
- Intelligent design that offers more independence than regular chairs
- The front wheels are slightly smaller than traditional ones and can slip into cracks
- The back folds in a different position than with regular chairs and might not fit properly in car trunks
- The wheels have hard rubber and reduced traction
- The tool for adjusting the pedals is difficult to use and requires some strength
9. NOVA Lightweight Transport Chair
This is a basic model than is most suited for hospital visits, at-home use or during travel. It features locking hand brakes that guarantee steady transportation even on bumpy roads. The functional design makes it simple to use and easy to fold. At an affordable rate, NOVA’s transport chair doesn’t require much maintenance. There are also large 12-inch rear wheels that ensure effortless propulsion, and padded upholstery to prevent tear and stretching.
NOVA’s product has a solid build, breathable fabric and flip-up arms that provide easy access. It closes and opens quickly and fits well under most tables. What is unique about this model is that it pretty much carries itself. If using indoors or on a smooth surface, the wheelchair easily glides with little to no effort from the caregiver or patient. The aluminum frame is also lighter than steel bases and much more convenient during travel.
In addition, there are two sets of traditional brakes that can be operated both by the user and the caregiver. The main issue with this chair is that it has a poor ergonomic design and might be uncomfortable for some users. This makes it a good choice for transportation, but not ideal for prolonged periods of sitting.
- Simple and reliable design that makes it very user-friendly
- Lightweight, convenient for quick transportation and travel
- Features heel loops and sturdy foot plates for added comfort and security
- Full kit includes a seatbelt with a plastic clip
- Holds up to 300lbs
- The height of the handles is not adjustable (for the person pushing the chair)
- Package does not include an instruction manual
- Seat depth is quite small in comparison to that of a traditional wheelchair
- Does not come with a cushion
10. Drive Medical Lightweight Steel Transport Wheelchair
This model is a smart choice if you value both durability and convenience. It has a solid steel framework that guarantees increased longevity and better protection. It also offers more stability and is a more budget-friendly option that is easier to maintain. A steel alternative usually means that there is a lower strength-to-weight ratio and that the chair will be slightly more difficult to fold and store than its aluminum counterpart.
However, Drive Medical strives to offer the best of both worlds – the reliability and sturdiness of a steel base, as well as the maneuverability and convenience of a lightweight wheelchair.
Users report that this model is easier to steer than standard ones due to its unique design, but also more convenient for indoor use. It features swing-away footrests that ensure quick access to tables and desks (or can be entirely removed when needed). The backrest folds flat and the chair’s sides can be pushed together for storage or transfer. It is covered in breathable nylon that prevents sweating and is simple to clean.
Each rear wheel has a break and the footrests can be placed flat against the base, without having to be removed. In this way, they do not stick out of the wheelchair when it is not being used.
The front wheels also pivot for easy turns and navigation through standard doors. This wheelchair is the least expensive model currently on the market. But keep in mind that it is not ideal for transportation over bumpy roads with cracks in them due to the small size of the wheels.
- Lighter than most models, but also more long-lasting
- One of the least expensive models on the market
- Features cushioned armrests for a soft feel and maximized support
- Footrests swing away for added convenience
- Comes with a safety belt
- Takes up very little space when folded
- Comes fully assembled
- Does not have any hand brakes
- The padding on the armrests is made from a plastic base which may crack after repeated use
- The brakes cannot be activated by the user (only by the caretaker)
- Limited independence (requires a person to push the wheelchair for optimal use)
- The seatbelt is quite long and the length cannot be adjusted
11. Drive Medical Ultra Lightweight Transport Wheelchair
This is a lightweight, compact model that is easy to lift and transport. It features 8-inch rear casters and 6-inch front casters to prevent unwanted wheelchair breakdown and guarantee simpler maneuver. The swing-away footrests reduce pressure on the user’s legs and lower back. This is a smart addition because it ensures that swelling doesn’t occur over time, and also prevents varicose veins and blood clots from forming. Their height is adjustable to make your loved one feel comfortable at all times. Additionally, the back folds so that the unit is compact enough to store in a car trunk or a smaller space.
Drive Medical Ultra Lightweight Transport Chair is useful if you or your caregiver have limited strength and cannot maneuver a heavier device. Or if you want a basic model with a lighter frame than traditional bases and more transfer convenience. These types of chairs are usually narrower than conventional ones, making it easier to fit through small doorways and tight hallways.
The product is made from a combination of aluminum and other sturdy materials that help it last longer. It also features a handy back release that allows you to quickly fold down the chair for storage. An issue you should consider before purchasing is that the footrests fall off when the chair is lifted up or folded. Ideally, they should be removed completely when you want to store the chair.
- Lightweight, easy to transfer
- Fast folding using a tiny clasp
- Back has a small pouch attached to it for personal items
- Full package includes seatbelt and limited lifetime warranty
- The rear wheels feature a locking mechanism for added security
- Holds up to 300lbs
- Low cost
- The front wheels are small in comparison to other models so the chair needs to be slightly tilted back when crossing uneven terrain or inclines
- There are no hand brakes so the caregiver has to bend down to activate and lock them
- Requires manual stabilization when seating the user
12. Karman Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Chair
This is the least heavy manual wheelchair on the market. Weighing only 19.8lbs, Karman’s product is very easy to move around and lift, even if the user has limited strength. The ingenious design and long-lasting metal work together to create a unique experience for users that maximizes comfort and convenience. The chair has an ergonomic, patented S shape frame that releases tension from key areas affected by prolonged sitting. This model also reduces the risk that your loved one will develop pressure ulcers or sores. Moreover, it corrects posture and promotes proper spinal alignment long-term.
Karman redefines mobility and provides increased range and flexibility, as well as faster and easier transfer. The companion brakes allow caretakers to readily access the brakes without having to crouch. Additionally, the lightweight chair features footrests and heel loops that keep the user secure and can be detached when needed.
The curved seat is comfortable without adding an extra cushion. Some of the disadvantages of this model – the weight capacity is only 220lbs, the tires can be fairly difficult to remove and the armrests are integrated into the wheelchair’s framework. The latter are also stationary (meaning they will not fit well under tables) and cannot be removed. On the plus side, the pads can be switched.
- Ultra lightweight and user-friendly
- Smart design and ergonomic shape for optimal comfort and support
- Features strong rear wheels with fixed axles
- Breathable upholstery that is anti-bacterial and easy to clean
- Does not require any assembly
- Features companion brakes, heel loops and limited lifetime warranty
- Quite small in size and not ideal for a heavier person
- Does not feature a rear anti-tipping device
- Wheels do not have quick release functionality
- Footrests cannot be adjusted
- Does not come with a seatbelt
- Weight capacity of only 220lbs
- High cost
13. Invacare Tracer 20”W Seat
This is a low-maintenance, affordable wheelchair that can be maneuvered without much effort. It features heavy-duty inner liners that offer added protection and last longer than expected with traditional models. They are also more suitable for heavy use and are resistant to solvents and corrosion. They offer more stability and ensure that the back and seat do not stretch out after repeated use.
The heel loops secure the feet and prevent them from sliding off, and the full-length arms have comfortable padding. They can be detached for easy access to desks and tables, but also for a more convenient transfer. Each side of the wheel features a sturdy locking mechanism. The chair comes fully assembled, except for the footrests which are easy to set up.
What makes Invacare’s product unique are the composite footrests. The latter have ergonomic benefits like promoting proper posture and good blood circulation, as well as reducing back strain and risk of injury. The footrests swing away so that the wheelchair fits comfortably under tables (they can be removed completely as well). The interior width of the seat is 20 inches, the tires have good traction and the chromed metal frame guarantees durability.
An issue with this model is that it does not feature a bar for easy tilting over thresholds and curbs. The caregiver has to push the handles to raise the chair and be able to maneuver it on uneven terrain.
- Sturdy construction that offers reliable support
- 14-gauge cross braces for increased longevity and optimal support
- Features quality inner liners, ergonomic footrests and removable arms with padding
- Elegant design with silver vein finish
- Soft vinyl upholstery that is easy to clean
- Quick to fold and store, low-maintenance
- The legs come with calf support
- Does not feature an in-built cushion (one can be bought separately)
- The foot pedals are height adjustable, but they cannot be elevated to accommodate different angles
- Tires are made of rigid plastic and may have a weaker grip
- Does not come with a safety belt
- Not as light as other models