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Guides & Tips

Best Wheelchairs For Easy Mobility

Whether you are searching for electric, manual or lightweight, keep mobile with these high-quality products.

by

Guides & Tips

Best Wheelchairs For Easy Mobility

Whether you are searching for electric, manual or lightweight, keep mobile with these high-quality products.

by PITeam

by PITeam

In basic terms, a "wheelchair" is precisely as it sounds. It is a purpose-built chair equipped with two or more specialized wheels that allow an individual with impaired mobility to move from place to place. But modern wheelchairs can do so much more for their users than this basic formula would imply. Indeed, wheelchairs today are hailed for their ability to maintain a user’s freedom to move on their own terms.

hAow to select best electric wheelchair

Even though most modern wheelchair models are productive, it can still be challenging to pick out a model that is best for your needs and your budget.

This review should help you address a large portion of that research in one convenient location, from information on the types of wheelchairs to detailed reviews of the top wheelchair models across the board.

A new world of movement-based opportunity awaits you, so don’t wait another day before picking out your next manual or electric wheelchair.

Types of Wheelchairs

  • Manual Wheelchairs
    Manual wheelchairs require, as their name implies, some type of physical input to move from place to place. These come in two primary forms. Self-propelled models feature two large side wheels with space for a user to grip and push the wheel forward. Companion-propelled models feature four smaller wheels and handles on the frame's rear for a second individual to use to push the chair forward.
  • Electric/Powered Wheelchairs
    Electric wheelchairs (also known as powered wheelchairs or powerchairs) eliminate most of the need for physical interaction to urge a user forward. Instead, most modern powerchairs use a battery-powered drivetrain with simplified, accessible controls to allow a user to move from place to place without assistance or the need for physical strength.
  • Bariatric Wheelchairs
    Bariatric wheelchairs are a special subclass of both manual and electric wheelchairs that are designed to meet the mobility needs of obese patients. As such, most models include a larger-than-average seat and a reinforced frame to provide stability and reliability during day to day use. In turn, these models often feature the absolute highest weight capacity among all wheelchairs.
  • Pediatric Wheelchairs
    As their name implies, pediatric wheelchairs are a unique wheelchair subclass tailormade to meet the mobility needs of young people (namely, children). Often, pediatric wheelchairs differ from standard wheelchairs based upon their seat size and level of comfort, both of which are engineered to align with smaller body types. Also, many pediatric wheelchairs include some degree of portability to accommodate a child’s on-to-go lifestyle.
  • Lightweight Wheelchairs
    Lightweight wheelchairs often take the same general form as a standard manual wheelchair, save for their use of thin metals throughout their frame. This can substantially cut down on the chair's overall weight and save a manual wheelchair user a great deal of effort, in turn.
  • Folding Wheelchairs
    Folding wheelchairs are among the most portable due to their ability to compress down on individual folding joints. This allows a user or their family member to easily store the chair when they are using a mode of transportation that is unfriendly to its regular use (such as an airplane).
  • Ergonomic Wheelchairs
    Ergonomic wheelchairs are a recent innovation in seat design that allows a wheelchair user to use their chair in daily life with suffering from discomfort. In most cases, an ergonomic wheelchairs seat and backrest have been reengineered to remain breathable and form-fitting for the user’s body shape.
  • Sports Wheelchairs
    Sports wheelchairs are a unique type of manual wheelchair designed to maximize a user’s ability to participate in organized sports. Though precise architecture designs will vary from sport to sport, popular models are often optimized for speed and agility.
  • All Terrain/Beach Wheelchair
    All-terrain and beach wheelchairs are a purpose-built chair type that has been optimized for movement away from paved surfaces. Such optimizations can come in a variety of forms, including the installation of shock absorbers throughout the chair’s frame as well as the use of more durable materials throughout the frame and wheels.
  • Transport Wheelchair
    "Transport wheelchairs" typically refer to any manual wheelchair with rear-mounted handles that are designed to allow a secondary individual to push the chair and user from place to place. Though these are typically used in medical settings, some users choose to make use of such a chair when traveling over extended distances.

Benefits of Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs are imbued with a wide variety of benefits, not least among them being their assistive ability to increase an individual's mobility. In a broader sense, many wheelchairs provide a user with independence and dignity, both of which are essential for living an enriching life.


Purchasing a High-Quality Wheelchair

Clinical Needs

At a bare minimum, a wheelchair should be selected based upon the intended user's clinical needs. This includes taking into account lifestyle goals, present physical condition, and expected frequency of use. Wheelchairs are often categorized and recommended by medical authorities based upon these specifications, so a prospective buyer should differentiate models based upon these key criteria above all else.

Weight Capacity or Maximum Safe Working Limit (SWL)

All wheelchairs include a listed weight capacity (often communicated as a “maximum safe working limit” or SWL). This indicates the maximum amount of weight (from the user) that the given model is rated to safely hold without risking structural damage. The SWL should always be observed to prevent accidental injury.

Dimensions & Living Environment

A chair's physical dimensions can have a noteworthy impact on its ability to interact with a built environment, both in and out of the home. Prospective wheelchair buyers should always measure their routine locations before investing a particular model in preventing physical barriers from limiting their freedom of movement.

Design

Apart from wheelchair type, wheelchairs are often categorized based upon their structural design elements. This includes the drive wheel configuration (front, middle, and rear) as well the material makeup of the wheel itself (solid, inflated, etc.). The “best” wheelchair design is generally up to the individual user and their personal mobility goals.

Battery Range & Speed

Battery range in a powerchair describes how far a given model can travel on a single battery charge. Though this is often measured in miles, some listings describe the powerchair’s battery life in hours of use. In some instances, some listings will also include a unit’s top speed or variable speed settings when describing the unit’s battery reliability.

Storage, Portability, and Adjustability

Ideally, your chosen wheelchair will be optimally adjustable to fit your changing needs for comfort and structural support. This should include maneuverability, often described in listings as a turn radius. Also, many wheelchair users look for features within a model that allow it to be stored in a compact form when it is not in use.

Additional Features/Accessories

Wheelchairs today may feature a wide variety of add-on features or accessories designed to improve the overall user experience. At a basic level, this may include armrests, footrests, or specialized braking mechanisms. However, more advanced powerchairs may supplement their user's mobility through tilting or reclining mechanisms.

Insurance Coverage, Price, and Warranty

Wheelchairs (especially their powered variants) are particularly expensive, requiring most to seek insurance coverage for their new mobility device. Some public and private healthcare plans only cover specific models, so you should always complete necessary research into these requirements before pursuing this cost-saving measure.

Also, you should always invest in a model with a viable warranty to waylay future costs due to unexpected decreased in durability or usability.


11 Best Wheelchairs Reviewed

1. Karman Healthcare S-115

Our Top Pick

Chair Weight

25 lbs

Travel Speed

Manual

Seat Height

19 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

250 lbs

Key Feature

Ergonomic Hand Rim

Warranty

1-year warranty

For all-around use, the Karman Healthcare S-115 is certainly among the best wheelchairs on the market today. This model is built with ergonomics in mind, both in its operation and in its support. This can be seen in its implementation a unique hand rim system, as well as its use of an S-Shape seating system that is designed to accommodate the body's natural curves.

For a manual wheelchair, this model is also surprisingly durable and resistant. This is especially the case across the seating portion, where the majority of the functional wear is likely to occur. The Karman Healthcare S-115 provides reliability in this domain through its implementation of a proprietary anti-bacterial upholstery material that blocks both stains and odors.

Pros

  • Proprietary anti-bacterial upholstery prevents odors, stains, and deterioration
  • Ergonomic hand rim provides added comfort and flexibility in use
  • S-Shape seating system accommodates the body's natural curves

Cons

  • Few onboard safety features

2. Medline

Lightweight Wheelchair for Transport

Chair Weight

23.5 lbs

Travel Speed

Manual

Seat Height

19 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

300 lbs

Key Feature

Loop-lock handbrakes

Warranty

Lifetime

This Medline model is among the best lightweight transport wheelchair out there right now, hands down. With a 23.5 lbs. chair weight, you might expect this model to be flimsy all over. But in fact, this model’s multi-layer reinforced upholstery seat, and powder-coated aluminum frame can hold up to 300 lbs. without bending or warping.

This model's oversized rear wheels are also worth emphasizing given that they can effortlessly tackle uneven surfaces without jolting the user. Caregivers can also trust this model to provide their loved one with added security as they travel along by way of its unique loop-lock handbrakes. Taken together, few transport wheelchairs can compare to this model when it comes to overall quality.

Pros

  • Oversized rear wheels ideal for rolling over uneven surfaces
  • Loop-lock handbrakes provide added control for caregiver
  • Nylon upholstery seat is both breathable and durable

Cons

  • Front fork architecture creates front end imbalances

3. Drive Medical

Best Cheap Manual Wheelchair

Chair Weight

41.2 lbs

Travel Speed

Manual

Seat Height

18 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

250 lbs

Key Feature

Elevating leg rest and swing-away leg rest options

Warranty

3-year limited

Current users agree that the Drive Medical Blue Streak is among the very best manual wheelchairs for everyday use. Their enjoyment of this mobility assistance device likely derives from its core functionalities, which includes a push-to-lock function that adds security when the chair is at rest. Prospective users may also enjoy the fact this model includes options for elevating leg rests or swing-away leg rests.

While comparing models, you’re likely to notice this model's sleek blue exterior immediately. But this colorful paint job is for more than just aesthetics. In fact, that crisp blue coating shows that this model makes use of a powder steel frame that can resist chipping and cracks for the long-term.

Pros

  • Can be purchased with elevating leg rests, or swing-away leg rests
  • Powdered steel frame is resilient to cracks and chipping
  • Wheels include push-to-lock functionality for added safety

Cons

  • Rims and spokes are a bit flimsy

4. Forcemech Voyager R2

Best Folding Power Wheelchair

Chair Weight

43 lbs

Travel Speed

4 mph

Seat Height

20 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

265 lbs

Key Feature

Shock-absorption springs

Warranty

Not Listed

Though some have called the Forcemech Voyager R2 one of the best portable folding power wheelchairs, there's fairly solid agreement that this model truly shines for its internal electronics. One prime example is its intelligent electromagnetic brake system, which provides a great deal of stability while the user travels up or downhill.

This model’s dual lithium-ion LiFePO4 batteries are also remarkable because they enable the chair to travel up to 16 miles on a single charge. Finally, this matter provides control where it matters most. As such, it features a detachable all-direction joystick-style controller that can be placed in a variety of positions to meet a user's access needs.

Pros

  • Front end shock absorbers provide stability across the entire chair
  • Dual lithium-ion LiFePO4 batteries allow for up to 16 miles of travel
  • Intelligent electromagnetic brake provides added safety when traveling on inclines

Cons

  • Can take practice to learn to fold up properly

5. Fields Outdoor Supplies

Best All Terrain/Beach Wheelchair

Chair Weight

48 lbs

Travel Speed

Manual

Seat Height

20 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

250 lbs

Key Feature

Healthcare-grade PVC frame

Warranty

30-day return policy

Though it may not look like it at first, this particular manual model from Fields Outdoor really is the best all-terrain or beach wheelchair you can find. This model was built with its intended use in mind because it makes use of a healthcare-grade PVC frame that both resists saltwater and is easy to clean. This model’s mesh seat is similarly resilient and can sustain use in a beachside environment without taking on mildew.

Speaking of the beach, this wheelchair won’t get hung up when you hit the sand. That’s because it makes use of a full set of 12" balloon tires that effortlessly tread through the dunes without kicking up a bothersome debris cloud. Don’t expect to use this wheelchair anywhere else, though, because its extra-wide architecture makes it unable to fit through most door frames.

Pros

  • Healthcare-grade PVC frame will not corrode in saltwater or sand
  • Mildew resistant mesh seat does not become uncomfortable in seaside environment
  • 12" balloon tires roll easily over sand

Cons

  • Too wide to go through regular doorways

6. Porto Mobility Ranger

Best Electric Wheelchair

Chair Weight

59 lbs

Travel Speed

5 mph

Seat Height

21.6 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

265 lbs

Key Feature

Built-in USB charger

Warranty

5 years for frame, 1 year for motor and joystick controller, 6 months for battery

On a list of only the best electric wheelchair, you’d have to expect the Porto Mobility Ranger to find a comfortable spot among the top three options. That's because this model puts reliable performance above all else. It uses long-lasting batteries that both provide a 13-mile range and won't degrade after a few months of continuous use. You'll even be able to use the built-in USB port to charge your devices off of this battery!

This model doesn’t shortchange its users when it comes to durability and stability, either, given that its aluminum-alloy frame weighs in at a manageable 59 lbs. While that may feel bulky, users of this chair won’t even notice the extra weight given how efficiently this model dual 400w motors convert battery power into torque in its 13 inch rear wheels.

Pros

  • 13-mile driving range represents an improvement on previous models
  • Aluminum-alloy frame can be easily folded up and stored in carrying bag
  • Includes manual mode switch allows flexibility in operational mode

Cons

  • Seat is rather thin

7. NOVA

Best Bariatric Wheelchair

Chair Weight

27.75 lbs

Travel Speed

Manual

Seat Height

20 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

400 lbs

Key Feature

“Feather Touch” locking hand brakes

Warranty

Lifetime

When the clinical needs call for it, no other wheelchair type will substitute for the very best bariatric wheelchair. Luckily, you’ll find that right here in the NOVA Bariatric Transport Chair. All users of this chair will find comfort in its core setup, which includes an extra-wide seat and swing-away footrests. Even the padded desk arms make it easy to rise from and sit down in this chair.

With a 400 lbs. weight capacity, you might expect this model to be made of thick, heavy steel. But as it turns out, the NOVA features a lightweight aluminum frame that can be folded up and lifted without straining one’s self. Users of this chair will always be able to maintain their control on inclines and uneven surfaces with this model’s “Feather Touch” locking hand brakes, as well.

Pros

  • Lightweight aluminum frame can be folded up and lifted without hassle
  • Extra-wide seat and swing away footrests add comfort for all users
  • “Feather Touch” locking hand brakes add speed control and stability on inclines and bumpy terrains

Cons

  • Begins to squeak after some use

8. Karman S-305

Best Wheelchair for Elderly People

Chair Weight

29 lbs

Travel Speed

Manual

Seat Height

Adjustable (18", 19", 20”)

Maximum Weight Capacity

250 lbs

Key Feature

Ergonomic, adjustable armrests

Warranty

1-year

Adults who are looking for the best wheelchair for their elderly parents will find their most desirable option here in the Karman 29. This model only weighs 29 lbs., making it easy to navigate over considerable distances under one’s own power. This ideal degree of maneuverability can be attributed primarily to this model’s durable aircraft-grade aluminum frame.

This model will also ensure that all users receive the most comfortable transportation experience feasible with a hand-powered movement assistance device. This can be seen in this model's use of an S-shape seating system, and ergonomic armrests (which can additionally be adjusted to fit the user's posture).

Pros

  • Armrests are designed to support elbows comfortably and can be adjusted to fit user's height
  • Aircraft-grade aluminum frame is durable, yet easy to manipulate over long distances
  • S-shape seating system reduces risk of developing pressure ulcers and scoliosis in everyday users

Cons

  • Tends to pull a bit to the right

9. Innuovo N5513A

Top of the range

Chair Weight

50 lbs

Travel Speed

3.7 mph

Seat Height

19.7 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

265 lbs

Key Feature

Dual battery slots

Warranty

Not listed

If you’re going to get the best power wheelchair for outdoor use, then it had better be FDA approved. The Innuovo N5513A carries this certification and more, including two separate battery slots. Each slot’s battery can be charged separately and used together to take the user up to 12.5 miles at 3.7 mph before needing another recharge.

In terms of beneficial components, this model also features a built-in seatbelt and anti-tipper mechanism. Taken together, this model’s maneuverability is among the very best because of its 35.5-inch turn radius and ability to climb 8-degree inclines without overexerting the motor and batteries.

Pros

  • Dual battery slots allow users to travel up to 12.5 miles on a single charge
  • Excellent maneuverability with 35.5-inch turn radius and ability to climb 8-degree inclines
  • Features built-in seatbelt and anti-tipper

Cons

  • Difficult to back up

10. Karman Ergonomic

Best ergonomic Wheelchair

Chair Weight

19.8 lbs

Travel Speed

Manual

Seat Height

18 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

220 lbs

Key Feature

Companion braking system

Warranty

Limited lifetime

How does an affordably priced model earn the title of “best lightweight wheelchair”? Simple! Be like the Karman Ergonomic and feature a T6 aluminum frame that weighs in at a remarkable 19.8 lbs. in total. This frame is reasonably durable, as well, and is capable of comfortably carrying users up to 220 lbs. in its ergonomic S-shape seating frame.

Along the same lines, this model provides its users with some practical comfort options, such as its inclusion of removable footrests. One feature caregivers will undoubtedly appreciate on the Karman Ergonomic is its companion brakes, which engage reliability without risking any slippage. These brakes don't wear down quickly, so this wheelchair will be safe to use for years after it is purchased.

Pros

  • T6 aluminum frame allows for exceptionally light overall weight at 19.8 lbs.
  • Companion brakes allow caretaker to engage brakes at will
  • Removable footrests provide additional comfort options

Cons

  • Difficult to remove and replace wheels

11. Drive Medical SSP20RBDDA Silver Sport

Best Reclining Wheelchair

Chair Weight

64 lbs

Travel Speed

Manual

Seat Height

20 inches

Maximum Weight Capacity

Not Listed

Key Feature

Hydraulic reclining mechanism

Warranty

3-years for frame and controller

The best reclining wheelchair is hard to find…or at least it would be hard to find if you had to search through every online mobility assistance device catalog on your own. Save yourself the search and invest in the Drive Medical SSP20RBDDA. This model is centered around a hydraulic reclining mechanism that allows for 180-degree adjustments without the need for almost any user input.

The rest of the Drive Medical SSP20RBDDA's features are impressive as well, including its use of a carbon steel frame. This frame, in particular, is surprisingly durable and easy to maintain, making it a major asset to those who find cleaning their chair to be a bothersome chore. Should a user need it, this model is also compatible with a cushioned head immobilizer.

Pros

  • Hydraulic reclining mechanism allows for 180-degree adjustments
  • Carbon steel frame is durable and easy to maintain
  • Cushioned head immobilizer provides added comfort

Cons

  • Armrests tend to fall apart in short order

How Wheelchairs Work

Manual

Manual wheelchairs operate through the user’s (or a secondary individual’s) physical effort. This can come from the user gripping and pushing on the large, side-mounted wheels or through a mobility assistant pushing the chair from rear-mounted handles. The user is often able to brake through a friction-based system mounted within arm’s reach.

Electric

Electric wheelchairs often operate on a battery, which powers a core motor that allows the users to control the chair's movement and braking from an armrest-mounted control scheme (often a joystick). These chairs require regular charging to operate reliability and may be more or less waterproof, depending on their architectural setup.

Power vs Manual Wheelchairs

how to make selection of best wheelchair

Power wheelchairs (powerchairs) and manual wheelchairs each have their own advantages based upon the user’s clinical needs and mobility goals.

Powerchairs, for example, require little physical effort to operate, while manual wheelchairs often allow for greater personal mobility when used with precision.

Also, manual wheelchairs can be used at any time, while powerchairs require regular charging to remain viable.


Wheel Types

  • Pneumatic 
    Like bike tires, these wheels feature an air-filled inner tube that is both lightweight and resilient for everyday use. Additionally, this wheel type is preferred by those using their wheelchair off-road or on a beach given their enhanced traction.
  • Foam Filled
    Some wheelchairs make use of solid wheels made up of a specialized foam material. Usually, this wheel type is prized for its ability never to go flat and thus, remain endlessly reliable.

Wheelchair Safety and Maintenance Guidelines

Maintaining your wheelchair effectively and efficiently is essential to keeping it safe for day to day use. As such, regular wheelchair users should make a habit of routinely running through a chair-specific safety checklist. These guidelines from the Missouri state government provides several fundamental checklists and reminders that are useful for both manual and powerchair users.


How to Fold a Wheelchair

Learning how to fold up your collapsible wheelchair is important, especially if you plan to travel away from your place of residence in an alternative form of transportation (such as an airplane or bus). You should always practice this process in advance to ensure that you can do it safely and efficiently on your own (if necessary). This guide will provide you some pointers that apply to the process of folding up and storing most collapsible wheelchair models.


Tips for Traveling with a Wheelchair

factor to be considered while buying wheel chair

When traveling with a wheelchair, you often need to take extra precautions to ensure that structural limitations do not impede your freedom of movement.

For example, when going anywhere new for the first time with your wheelchair, you should always leave yourself some extra commute time just in case the new location is sub-optimally equipped for accessibility.

Along the same lines, those looking to travel by air or by sea should always contact their travel provider in advance.

This is the best method to properly prepare for any unique transportation requirements imposed by the provider (such as the need to remove a powerchair battery while on a plane).


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between indoor and outdoor wheelchairs?

Indoor wheelchairs typically feature more compact form factors that are ideal for navigating tight indoor doorframes and corridors, as well as mark-free tires that won’t scuff up indoor floors. Outdoor wheelchairs, on the other hand, typically feature more sturdy, resilient frames as well as wheels optimized for traction.

How much does a wheelchair cost?

Wheelchair cost vary greatly based upon the chair's core operations. Standard manual wheelchairs tend to be the most affordable, while fully-fledged powerchairs tend to cost a premium. However, many mobility assistance devices like wheelchairs are covered under public or private insurance, allowing those in need of wheelchair access at an affordable price.

Is it essential to get fitted for a wheelchair?

Though it is not absolutely essential to be fitted for a wheelchair, the fitting process does allow a wheelchair provider to recommend and modify a default wheelchair model to meet a user's needs. As such, custom-fit chairs tend to be more comfortable and more practical when it comes to meeting the user's mobility goals.

What are the best wheelchair brands?

Today, there are a variety of trusted wheelchair brands. A list of these brands can be found here. Typically, a given brand’s quality when it comes to wheelchairs is dependent on what a user is looking for, be that cost efficiency, comfort, or durability.

Can I get a wheelchair on NHS?

The NHS provides wheelchairs and other mobility assistance at a variety of prices. The precise process for acquiring an NHS-certified wheelchair can be found on the NHS’ website.

Which wheelchairs are covered by Medicare or Insurance?

Precise coverage of wheelchairs will vary from one private insurance policy to another. Those looking to learn about their policy’s coverage parameters should contact their provider. However, up-to-date information on Medicare’s current wheelchair coverage can be found here.

Why are electric wheelchairs expensive? Do they come with accessories?

Generally speaking, electric wheelchairs are more expensive than their manual counterparts. This is often due to their inclusion of advanced technologies and electronics. Some models do also come with specialized accessories such as covers and ramps, adding to their overall cost.

What batteries are used in electric wheelchairs? How often do you have to replace the batteries for a power wheelchair?

The precise battery will vary from model to model. Some models use a wet-cell battery, while others use a gel-cell battery. In general, wet-cell batteries last the longest, both in terms of per-charge battery capacity and overall battery life. Gel-cell batteries tend to require more frequent replacement but are permitted on airplanes as a tradeoff.


Conclusion

Now that you know a great deal about the qualities that make up a high-performing wheelchair, you're almost entirely ready to invest in your future freedom of movement. If you're still indecisive, though, you'll likely find that the Karman Healthcare S-115 will meet your transportation needs. 

That model’s ergonomic handle is among the easiest to handle in its class, allowing even new wheelchair users to feel confident as they move about their home and community on their own terms.

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