March 3, 2021

Guide To Top Rated Manual Wheelchairs in the Market

Written by: Iris Tabangcora, M.D.
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Gone were the days when the only difference among wheelchairs were sizes, modified to suit the user’s individual measurements. Through advancement in research and technology, a wheelchair can pretty much be tailored to anyone’s needs and lifestyle: accessories, chair options, a whole lot of other customizations.

Wheelchair selection nowadays is pretty much scouring through a seemingly endless wardrobe: you find several you like, try them and find them uncomfortable or way beyond the budget, and you go on with your next pick until you find the one that best matches you. That’s how vast the market is for wheelchairs in both online and brick-in-mortar stores out there. It can be quite exhausting, especially for first-timers, who mostly have no idea about features to look for in order to get the best value out of their money. But finding a top-rated wheelchair that delivers its intended use shouldn’t have to be a blind search. The key is to know what to consider during the selection process.

A wheelchair isn’t just a mobility tool; it’s a highly personal device that should be chosen with care and precision. This guide was written to show you just how to choose a wheelchair best made for you or your loved ones.

 

Quick Table of the Best Manual Wheelchair of Our Choice

Click Here for a more detailed product description


Why Wheelchair Selection is a Serious Business

The initial reaction would be to “just go grab the first one that you see, it’s just a wheelchair.” After all, aren’t all wheelchairs alike and serve the same functions? One can’t be really different from the other, right? It doesn’t require rocket science to figure out which one to get. Actually, this line of thinking spells danger and shouldn’t be encouraged among patients, friends, and family members. This defeats the basic premise of effective use of technology, which is to deliver tools without spending for its intended service excessively. It should save you money on a long-term basis while still enjoying its optimum function.

Choosing the wheelchair that matches you is essential. It can’t be overemphasized how it significantly impacts a person’s daily activities, social interaction, finances, and roles in the long run. For instance, wheelchairs are long proven to increase mobility. One might say that this is an obvious and overstated answer. But on the grand scheme of things, this provided assistance in mobility enables one to participate in sports and other recreational activities, expands the opportunity to find employment, and makes it possible to have social interactions around the neighborhood and nearby communities. Simply put, the proper selection of a wheelchair improves health and quality of life among its users. Moreover, the wheelchair becomes part of the self and is deeply embedded with the user’s self-image. 

This is why wheelchair selection requires both clinical and technical considerations. It’s a process that should be undertaken in collaboration with a medical professional to enhance one’s knowledge to provide for an optimal choice for the user. 


Factors to Consider During Wheelchair Selection

In this guide, we have divided these factors into two: clinical and technical factors. The clinical factors take into account the importance of proper wheelchair prescription, wherein users are educated, with the help of a medical professional, on the products available to arrive at an informed decision. The choices would have to meet the demands of the different aspects of the user’s life at home, work, and recreation in conjunction with the user’s extent of dependence mobility-wise.

On the other hand, technical factors pertain to the ergonomics of the wheelchair as a mobility assistance tool. This highlights comfort achieved through proper seating selection and meeting other needs through a whole lot of customization. More than anything, this factor is concerned whether the assisted mobility afforded by the wheelchair is effective and sustainable for the user. Can the user comfortably sit on it while doing his job? Do they get bruises when certain body parts are in prolonged contact with the wheelchair? Is it easy to maneuver? These are just some of the questions considered by the technical aspect of wheelchair selection.


Clinical Factors

The most important thing to remember here is that wheelchairs are highly-personal, both for newly injured and experienced users. It should fit the user’s needs, and not the other way around. Therefore, user’s active participation is essential.

If not handled well, negative perceptions like having the wheelchair as a constant reminder of disability rather than an extension of functionality might be an issue.

Here are the clinical factors that should be taken into consideration prior to selection process:

  • Demographics: age, height, weight
  • Clinical condition: extent of disability, prognosis, other medical conditions
  • User’s preference (e.g. design/color) and mobility needs (self-maneuvered vs with assistance)
  • Setting of use (indoor vs outdoor)
  • User’s acceptance (i.e. the psychological aspect of it which is often neglected)

The key here is to determine the needs and personal profile of the users to find the options available to meet these needs. This requires close communication and regular follow-up with the user and the key decision makers.


Technical Factors

The performance of the wheelchair is primarily based on the user’s position in it. The relationship between client’s body against the hand rims, seat, and foot pedals is related to the following technical factors of the wheelchair:

  • Seat width (e.g. too narrow will result to soft tissue compression and too wide one will lead to instability and reduced accessibility especially in narrow passageways
  • Seat height, depth, angle/inclination
  • Arm- and footrests
  • Cushion weight, thickness, and frictional properties
  • Maintenance and durability
  • Portability of the wheelchair
  • Cost and user’s purchasing capacity

 

The Best Manual Wheelchairs on Our List

Scouring the Metro or sweeping the vast expanse of the World Wide Web for the best lightweight wheelchair reviews may not be the most efficient use of your time and energy, so here’s hoping this quick list should do the trick.


1) Karman VIP-515-18 Foldable Tilt in Space

 

For anyone who has limited mobility access at home, work, or during travel, lightweight manual wheelchairs offer an all-around option to transfer from one place to another. With this easy to assemble manual wheelchair, little to no setting up is needed so your energy is spent on more important things like helping the user sit comfortably in it.

The Karman VIP-515 Series takes things up a notch with its revolutionary tilt chair design that helps to redistribute pressure to the lower back. This is an especially nifty trick for wheelchairs that recline since it effectively prevents pressure sores as well as skin breakdown—the tilt range of 0-35 degrees shifts the user’s weight and center of gravity for the ultimate pressure relief. This is clinically relevant because pressure sores add discomfort and pose significant medical cost once it progresses to later stages and got infected. This tilt chair design makes it possible to be used long-term without higher risk of complications from tissue compression.

Made from ultra-lightweight T-6 aircraft-grade aluminum, the VIP-515 series frame makes for a total of a mere 38 pounds, so it might just be the lightest travel wheelchair that fits the budget just right. This scores a great deal on portability scale since it makes transferring hassle-free, such as when riding cars.

The Karman tilt-in-space wheelchair also features a swingable footrest with height adjustable armrests, because why shouldn’t affordable wheelchairs be just as comfortable? This adjustment customization is important because some disability progress over time and the wheelchair should adjust to the user (e.g. when the user is now less able to hold back while sitting), the pressure shouldn’t sit on the user’s arms. Swing in and away footrest is a convenient feature and not to mention, safe.

Top it all off with the aegis permanently bonded barrier upholstery and it can easily knock competitors out of the park when it comes to keeping odors, stains, and bacteria at bay.


2) Strongback Mobility Excursion Lightweight Foldable Wheelchair

 

 

Another good option for a lightweight manual wheelchair is this one. One of its best selling points is its back seat’s curved frame. Thus, this is of particular helpful use to those who need environmental cues to prevent slouching. This feature is where this ergonomic lightweight folding wheelchair truly shines, because while other lightweight travel wheelchair options neglect healthy posture in favour of all the bells and whistles, the Strongback Mobility promotes good back posture by conforming to the natural contours of a healthy spine. The perfectly positioned lumbar curve keeps the user from slouching forward, potentially aggravating present condition leading to permanent disability and acute neurologic complications, which is a medical emergency.

With its uniquely positioned seat angle that aligns the pelvis, this ultra-lightweight wheelchair boosts user stability and weighs in at only 19-26 lbs. It may just be the lightest travel wheelchair that you can easily stash away into the trunk of your car when you need to be on the go. When the user finds himself needing to transfer from one location to another quite often, this is a good option to consider.

Despite being a lightweight manual wheelchair, it still makes for an impressive powerhouse of a unit with its heavy-duty 300-pound weight capacity. This feature for wide size range accommodation is another reason why you should consider this wheelchair. It also holds its own in rougher terrain for outdoor use with its 12-inch rear wheels; plus, the swing away detachable footrests can keep users from tripping, ensuring safety. One is ensured to enjoy outdoor activities as the wheelchair is built for the active lifestyle!

The Strongback Mobility is a pretty good candidate for the top spot in most manual wheelchair reviews out there, but some users have complained about the rubber covers of the wheel axle falling off when hit. The self-propelling version of this wheelchair is also not the best option for the more vertically challenged, as shorter users may have a more difficult time propelling after each stroke.


3) Hi-Fortune 21lbs Lightweight Medical Manual Wheelchair

 

Top handbrakes for foldable wheelchairs aren’t always the top-of-mind feature most people look for when browsing through manual wheelchair reviews, but they make for more convenient maneuverability whether self-propelled or assisted. Rear and hand brakes are also installed to help the assistant to maneuver the wheelchair better and safer.

At a mere 21 lbs. total weight, the Hi-Fortune foldable wheelchair features a magnesium alloy frame with a quick-release hinge for traveling. Coupled with padded armrests and swing-away leg rests, this ultra-lightweight wheelchair boasts of a weight capacity of 220lbs. Its simplicity does not compromise its function and it’s a good option for those who do not need intensive and/or specialized customization for their mobility needs.

A handful of users have complained about the seat being too narrow at 17.5”, so if you’re looking for a wider seat clearance, you’ll be better off looking elsewhere.


4) Medline Ultralight Transport Wheelchair

 

 

Looking for an ultralight wheelchair which is great for transfers and storage? This one might be just the right option for you! Accommodating a wide range of sizes, the Medline Ultralight Transport Wheelchair supports an ideal 300 lbs. weight capacity. A good wheelchair for users who are on the heavier side shouldn’t have to be bulky in order for it to be functional! This is good use of engineering technology here.

Since it makes a good wheelchair for outdoor activities, it makes it one of the most practical affordable wheelchairs for eating out or taking a stroll through the neighborhood. Notice the added cup holder feature on one of its armrests? That’s top-rated, creative functionality right there.

The 8-inch rear wheels make for easier control when moving forward and reversing, and the 19-inch seat width can accommodate wider users in comfort and style.

Still, while the ultra-lightweight wheelchair does make good on its promise of portability, some users have complained about it being too light to a fault, sacrificing stability in the process. A few have also raised concerns on parts breaking off and other durability issues, and some aren’t fans of the fact that it can’t be self-propelled. True enough, this is disadvantageous for users who live alone, working, and are after outdoor activities.

Prolonged use and longer trips aren’t recommended, as the wheels don’t support stress reduction on street bumps. But if you’re simply looking for something to get you from Point A to Point B during a short amount of time, then the Medline Ultralight Transport Wheelchair is your best bet.


5)
Drive Medical SSP16RBDFA

 

As varied as wheelchair options are, you can’t go wrong with a reclining wheelchair that allows for infinite adjustments of up to 180 degrees. The hydraulic reclining mechanism of the Drive Medical wheelchair keeps flexibility at an optimum level, with comfortable arm support extensions even while the chair is in a reclined position.

While other wheelchairs that recline may cut back on extra features, the Drive Medical wheelchair spares no expense with its high-quality headrest extension and cushioned head immobilizer. The carbon steel frame ensures durability and has a sleek, sophisticated finish. It also includes nylon upholstery that is undeniably easy to maintain. The perfect icing to the cake comes in the form of its rear anti-tippers and along with the mag-style wheels ensures the utmost safety to prevent any untoward accidents.

Due to the materials used in manufacturing, it is not the most lightweight travel wheelchair out there at 62 lbs. The overall product weight may be a turn-off for instances when portability trumps comfort during shorter trips. It does come decked to the nines with plastic footplates and 8-inch front caster wheels that gives a smooth ride ideal for long-term use.

While it supports a good weight capacity of 300 lbs., the seat width and depth is only 16 inches, so it’s not the most optimal choice for wider users. 

Drive Medical is also one of the big players when it comes to long-lasting medical equipment, so durability shouldn't be that much of a concern if you decide to invest on this one.


Conclusion

Proper wheelchair selection is a process that should be encouraged among users, both old and new. It requires some Science in it, as we tend to fit the user to the wheelchair, instead of it being the other way around. It’s a highly-personalized process and should require active participation from users and key decision-makers. Bear in mind the clinical and technical factors mentioned in this list when you’re on the lookout for top rated wheelchairs in the market.

Durability and portability should be given emphasis because it will dictate the extent of maintenance in the long run. As much as structure is concerned, the frame style can mean a world of difference when you’re looking for portability over stability, while a rigid frame can give you the added durability when you’re not looking to travel a lot, anyway. Both frame styles will still have lightweight variants as well as high-quality material made from carbon fiber for some added strength.

When it comes to overall comfort, the best wheelchair brands can also offer proper suspension to reduce vibrations from the road you’re on. Customizable suspension can effectively deflect the high impact energy that the smaller wheels in front inevitably bump into. While the traction on the road may not seem like a big deal at first glance, an uncomfortable ride on everyday surfaces can take a toll on the user especially when the front casters aren’t designed to help reduce the spinal compression whenever there are curb drops.

The weight is an obvious factor, but when it comes to the best quality wheelchair, size does matter. It’s important for the user to take note of the exact measurements of the seat’s height, width, and depth.

While some models can have adjustable specs, these added features can also add up to a heftier final price tag. Be sure to check the weight capacity of the reclining wheelchair as well, while keeping in mind that bigger weight capacities may mean heavier units, and heavier wheelchairs may be a challenge to self-propel or for a caregiver to maneuver.

Overall, the top rated wheelchairs will always be perfect for one and disappointing for another. Size, weight, customization, comfort, and specific needs will all vary, as will personal tastes when it comes to colours, material, and other aesthetically pleasing visual elements of design. Plus, just when you think you’ve found The One, it may not be the best choice that fits your budget at the time, because while wheelchairs are good investments, it doesn’t help if you need to break the bank just to get your hands on the best one.

The bottom line is that you should never rush your purchase and that you should do due diligence when looking for the best lightweight wheelchair reviews. After all, a good wheelchair should make you or your loved one’s life easier and more convenient, and if it can successfully do that for you, then it’ll be worth every penny.


Reference

  1. Gianini, M. et.al. 1992. Choosing a Wheelchair System. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development. Department of Veterans Affairs.
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Brian_Dudgeon/publication/306012544_Wheelchair_Selection/links/57aa04c208ae7a6420bcbad3/Wheelchair-Selection.pdf
Article written by Iris Tabangcora, M.D.
Iris is a Philippine-based physician currently training in Emergency Medicine. She has been writing for various health websites for the last 10 years. Also a Nursing degree holder, she has spent her energy in educating nursing students on Research and Pharmacology. Her interests lie in medical education, research, and public health.

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