Dana works as a nurse in one of the retirement homes in Colorado Springs. She knows for sure what the elderly really want and need: our love, care and attention. Dana is also a loving wife and mother of three boys.
Last updated: January 14, 2022
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There are millions of wheelchair models on the market, so choosing the best can be tricky. It is important to choose a wheelchair that meets your requirements and is easy for you to use. So, we’ve taken on the challenge to find the best manual wheelchairs on the market today.
In our quest, we’ve not only looked at features such as seat width and weight capacity, which will determine if you can comfortably fit and safely use the chair, but other features. We’ve looked at the wheels, which will determine if you can use the chair outdoors as well as inside your home and the frame, which will influence the durability of the chair. We also examined features such as foldable and adjustable headrests, footrests and armrests which will ensure that you can sit comfortably with adequate support.
More features: 13 in width folded, 6-in and 1-in caster wheels, 18×16 in seat width, polyurethane tires, left-hand breaking mechanism, hand breaks
The Karman LT-980 is a competitively priced, lightweight wheelchair. It has an 18 inch seat, fixed armrests, folding backrest and seat and swinging, removable footrest. This creates a highly adjustable chair that can be tailored to your specific preferences. You can even adjust the seat height and angle.
This is a great choice of chair if you live or travel in an area that is not completely flat. There are optional anti tippers that can be added to the chair with a pin release mechanism for ease of convenience. There are also soft touch brakes to ensure your safety and comfort.
Why is it special?
What we liked about this chair is that although it is lightweight, it feels very sturdy and safe. The braking mechanism is located on the left hand side, within easy reach of the person sitting in the chair. There are handbrakes on the wheels, so you can activate them if you feel concerned about rolling. This helps you to feel secure even if the ground is not completely flat, so you don’t need to be concerned about inclines as you’re moving around.
What are the flaws?
What could use work is the footrest. Although it does swing out for easy entry and exit of the chair, they are not adjustable. This means that if you are taller than average, you may be forced to sit with your knees above hip level, which can be uncomfortable and inappropriate if you have hip issues. It would be far better, if like the seat, the footrests could be height adjusted to find the perfect position for your specific height.
Everest & Jennings is one of the most recognized names in both powered and manual wheelchairs. In fact, this company invented the folding wheelchair and today this manufacturer offers a complete product line of wheelchairs and accessories. The Everest & Jennings Advantage is a reclining wheelchair with a higher back and full support, removable neck support. This can be adjusted to suit your specific needs.
This chair is a great option for those who have a heavier body weight. The model is available in a variety of seat widths, with those up to 20 inch supporting up to 300 pounds, while the 22 inch seat width can support up to 450 pounds.
What are our favorite features?
What we liked most about this wheelchair is the flexibility and adjustability. The chair fully reclines from a 90 degree upright angle to an almost flat (170 degree) angle. You can also remove and adjust the headrest to ensure that your head and neck is cradled for ultimate support. You can also ensure that your feet remain safely off the ground with the elevating legrests that can also be adjusted or removed without needing any tools.
What could be better?
What could use work is the armrests. There are some complaints about the armrests feeling a little flimsy and coming off the chair, which is obviously a potential area of concern. However, this may be due to the wheelchair being a little on the wide side. If you have non standard doors that are a little narrow, there is a risk that you could bang the armrests and eventually, this will lead to damage.
Warranty: 5-year limited on frame; 1-year limited on components
More features: heavy duty inner liner, composite footplates, 16×16 in seat dimensions
The Invacare Tracer SX5 is an affordable, yet solid manual wheelchair that has a variety of size options and additional extras including anti tippers that allow you to adapt the chair to perfectly suit your needs. There are also two armrest length options that can be flipped back to give the user more room.
This is the best all terrain manual wheelchair if you need the flexibility for different leg positions. The footrests are available in different materials with or without heel loops. However, what is really great about them is that they offer three forms of leg elevation.
What are its best features?
What we liked about this chair is its customization potential. There are options to design the chair format to suit the specific needs of the user. This versatility makes this chair a jack of all trades that can suit any needs. Whether you want to adjust the footrests, adjust the armrests or add optional extras, you can create a chair that fits you perfectly for proper fit and comfort.
What could be improved?
One potential negative is that this customization does come at a cost and the chair is certainly not the most inexpensive option on the market. There are some complaints that while the chair is good, it is not great quality. There are other chairs available that offer similar quality and features for a slightly cheaper price. So, if you’re looking for a chair for long term care, you want to compare to other models with this feature set before making your final purchase decision.
Warranty: lifetime limited on frame, 1-year limited on components
More features: removable arms, elevating leg rests, nylon upholstery, 16×18 in set width
The Medline Lightweight wheelchair has a simplistic design that not only enhances its usability but aids transport. The chair features mag wheels that are made from cast iron and magnesium to improve heat conduction and reduce brake failure risk. These wheels are also longer lasting and easier to steer. While the main frame is made of steel for stability.
This is a great option for new users. Wheelchairs can be a little daunting for new users, particularly when they have a complicated design. However, the Medline Lightweight is straightforward and easy to use. You can easily adjust the seat height and removing the leg rests is simple. You also don’t have to worry about tire punctures or leaks, as the model features flat free tires.
What makes it special?
What we liked about this chair is how comfortable and easy it is to maneuver. While the frame and wheels are sturdy and durable, yet the chair is quick to assemble and requires very little maintenance. Despite this, the chair can hold up to 300 pounds, which makes it suitable for most users, particularly if you have concerns about how to use the chair and transport it.
What cons did we find?
One area that needs work is the leg rest design. While it swings back it is not at a complete 180 degree angle. This means that they can get in the way when you’re trying to fit the chair through a door. Also, the brake is quite close to the frame of the chair, so it is possible to trap your fingers if you’re not careful.
More features: 20×16 in seat width, flip-back padded armrests, swing-away footrests, push-to-lock wheels, rubber tires
The Drive Medical Blue Streak is a durable, low maintenance wheelchair with larger, specialized wheels to make it simpler to turn with less effort. This innovative chair makes it easy for the user to move around on their own easily and provides less steering effort from any caregiver. Additionally, the back foot paddle reduces impact if you’re moving over uneven surfaces.
This is the best manual wheelchair for outdoor use for those who are prone to feeling uncomfortable due to overheating. The upholstery has a synthetic porous fabric for improved insulation and breathability. This promotes proper ventilation and airflow, so you are unlikely to feel hot and sweaty sitting in the chair even on a warm day. Since this can be particularly troublesome for those with limited movement, this is a nice feature.
What makes it stand out?
What we liked most about this chair is that it is easy to store and transport. To collapse the chair, all you need to do is push the two sides together. There is a push to lock feature to ensure safety. The only thing you need to watch for is the claw piece that joins the bar on the bottom of the handle. This needs to remain attached or it can impede folding and unfolding.
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
One area for improvement is the armrest supports. These are positioned on hard plastic that could be vulnerable to damage with heavier users or frequent use. While it is possible to purchase replacement sets, it is an annoyance that could be corrected with a little manufacturer’s attention. The supports are covered by the warranty, but unfortunate timing could leave you needing to pay out for replacement sets.
Warranty: limited lifetime on frame, 1-year limited on components
More features: 16×16 in seat dimensions, 24 in urethane tires, 160-degree recline, push-to-lock wheels
The ProBasics Standard Reclining Wheelchair has a full back with headrest support that allows the user to recline from 90 degrees to 160 degrees. The chair is available in a variety of seat widths and the arms are completely removable. The model also features mag style wheels that are set back on the frame to reduce the risk of tipping.
This is one of the best manual wheelchairs for larger users. The chair has solid front rubber wheels, easy push to lock wheel locks, anti-tippers and pneumatic pistons that provide support for up to 300 pounds of body weight. The wider seat models can support up to 400 pounds.
What makes it special?
What we loved about this model is that it is highly adjustable and configurable. In addition to the variety of seat width options, the elevating padded leg rests with composite footplates can be adjusted without any tools. You can also easily remove the padded armrests. Whether you want to sit up or take a nap, you can recline to find your most comfortable position.
What cons did we find?
One area that could use some work is the back support. A backrest could take the pressure off the back resting against the steel tubes in the back of the chair. if you’re sitting in the chair for an extended period, the pressure from these tubes can start to irritate. This means that you may need to use pillows and cushions to remove the pressure.
Warranty: 1-year limited on frame, 6 months on components
More features: aluminum alloy frame, 16×18 in seat dimensions, padded armrests, carry handles, handle breaks
As the name suggests, the Featherweight wheelchair is a very lightweight model that is made with durable components yet only weighs 13.5 pounds. The chair is made with lighter and stronger new materials, which provide strength without heft. This makes it easier to lift the chair into a vehicle or generally move it around.
This is an ideal chair for lighter users. This is the best lightweight manual wheelchair but it does have a fairly low maximum weight capacity compared to other chairs on our list. It can support a body weight of up to 250 pounds, so larger users will not be safe using the chair.
What are its best features?
What we loved most about this chair is how it can fold quickly and easily into a very compact form. Unfolding the chair takes only a minute, making it very fast and simple to fold up when not in use or to transport. This is a great feature for those with limited space or who need to frequently travel by car. There are also integrated brakes that lock for the ultimate security and safety.
What could be improved?
The potential downside to this chair is that while it is a premium product, it does have a premium price tag. The manufacturer claims that the materials are brand new and offer strength and lightweight characteristics, but this does come at a cost. So, you’ll need to be prepared for a higher price tag than many other models on the market, but it is well worth the additional cost.
Things to Consider
There are approximately 2.7 million wheelchair users in the USA, so with such a large market, it is no wonder that there are hundreds of different wheelchair models. Unfortunately, this can make choosing the best manual wheelchairs feel a little overwhelming. So, here we’ve compiled a buying guide with answers to frequently asked questions to help you make your final purchase decision.
Safety Advice for Manual Wheelchair Use
If you’re using a manual wheelchair for the first time, there is some safety advice
Trusted SourceWheelchair related injuries treated in US emergency departmentsTo characterize the trend of wheelchair related injuries over time, and describe the demographics and characteristics of wheelchair users’ injuries by age group.
Firstly, always be sure to lock the brakes before you get in or out of the chair. You should also lift the footplates and check the removable armrests are secure.
Don’t pull back on things when you’re sitting in the chair. Doors and other objects could suddenly release, putting you at risk of tipping backward
Trusted SourceWheelchair FallsFUNCTIONAL REHABILITATION: WHEELCHAIR SKILLS: WHEELCHAIR FALLS
Don’t load the back of your chair. While it may be convenient to put bags of groceries or other items on the back of your chair, this also increases the risk of tipping.
Watch for steep inclines: steep slopes or inclines will increase the chances of losing control, which could cause you to tip over.
Wear gloves: If you’re using the chair by yourself, ensure that you wear gloves to protect your hands from scrapes and bruises as you’re propelling yourself.
How to Pick the Best Manual Wheelchair
When you start shopping for a new wheelchair, it can be difficult to narrow down your choices, so here are some features you should consider.
All wheelchairs have a weight capacity and it is important to take note of the maximum capacity to ensure that you can safely use the chair. Most chairs have a 300 pound capacity, but there are models such as the Featherweight that only have a capacity of 250 pounds. If you are on the heavier side, there are models like the Everest & Jennings Advantage that can support up to 450 pounds.
Stoppers and Brakes
The stoppers and brake systems are crucial on a manual wheelchair. Even if you are sitting still, there is still a risk of rolling if the surface is not perfectly even. So, it is important that the brakes are easy to reach and lock into place. Most brake levers are on the left-hand side, but some have nice touches such as padded handles that make them more comfortable to use.
It is crucial that you have the dexterity and strength to lock and unlock the brakes or you will struggle to use the chair on your own.
One of the common features we discussed in our list of the best manual wheelchairs is the seat width. Most models are available in a variety of seat widths, so it is important that you choose the right size for you. However, the biggest chair is not always the best option, as you may struggle to fit through doors, tighter hallways and other spaces. A good rule of thumb is to allow two inches beyond your body width to allow for winter clothing.
Before you make your final purchase decision, check the overall dimensions of the chair to ensure that you can comfortably fit and move around your home in your chair.
The heavier the manual wheelchair, the more difficult it will be to push it yourself. The overall weight will also make it harder to pick up and put into a car trunk or vehicle.
If you have a smaller frame or lack strength, you may want to look for a very lightweight model. However, if you have sufficient upper body strength, this should not be a problem for you.
You should consider wheel types that can be used on various types of terrain and withstand harsh weather conditions
Many wheelchairs have innovative wheels that enhance functionality and performance. Some models have mag wheels that are made of a composite that improves heat conduction and reduces the risk of brake failure. These types of wheels are also easier to steer and tend to be long lasting.
Durability and warranty
Obviously, you’ll be relying on your wheelchair, so it is important that it is durable enough to last with regular use. Most manufacturers support their products with a warranty that showcases confidence in their own products. So, if you want assurance of durability, look for a chair that has a decent warranty that will allow years of hassle-free use.
The price of wheelchairs can vary a great deal. If you opt for a chair with more bells and whistles, this is likely to be reflected in the price. Additionally, chairs made with more specialist materials, such as the Featherweight, tend to have a more premium price tag.
While price should not be the primary deciding factor, you will need to consider your budget and shop for chairs in this price range. Fortunately, there are great chair options to suit all budgets.
Most manual wheelchairs fold for ease of storage. If you’re planning on storing your chair for any length of time, be sure to cover it with a protective, weather proof cover. This should be in a clean, dry place out of direct sunlight. It is also a good idea to store the chair tucked out of the way, so it does not become a trip hazard.
The best manual wheelchairs for outdoors have larger wheels that can better handle rougher terrain and uneven surfaces. For example, the Drive Medical Blue Streak has larger wheels for easier maneuvering.
This will depend on the senior’s body size, strength and requirements. Generally, seniors tend to prefer a lightweight chair that is easier to move, but they may need a heavier chair if they have a larger frame. We recommend Featherweight Wheelchair as an optimal model.
As you can see, there are some fantastic manual wheelchair models on the market. From the great value Medline Lightweight wheelchair with its simplistic design that makes it easy to steer and use to the Everett & Jennings Advantage, which is extremely flexible and can support up to 450 pounds depending on the seat size.
However, the top pick for the best manual wheelchairs has to be our editor’s choice, the Karman LT-980. This is a lightweight and competitively priced chair that can be adjusted to suit your specific needs and preferences. The brakes are within easy reach and it feels safe and sturdy. You can also add anti-tippers to increase security particularly if you live or travel in an area that is not perfectly flat. Just remember that the best manual wheelchairs will be suited to your preferences and requirements, so be sure to consult our buying guide before you make your final purchase decision.
Wheelchair related injuries treated in US emergency departments
To characterize the trend of wheelchair related injuries over time, and describe the demographics and characteristics of wheelchair users’ injuries by age group.