There are two main types of wheelchairs that exist: manual and power. Manual wheelchairs are self-propelled or pushed by a caregiver, whereas power wheelchairs are motorized. Manual wheelchairs often cost less and require less maintenance than power wheelchairs. They tend to be lighter in weight so they are also easier to transport. While power wheelchairs are easier to use, manual wheelchairs have the benefit of allowing users to build and maintain their upper body strength.
When selecting a manual wheelchair, keep in mind the size of the person using it. You don't want to choose a chair that is too small, resulting in discomfort to the user. Specifications to look at include seat width, seat depth, seat height, armrest height, back rest height, and back width. How easily transportable it is should also be taken into consideration. Some wheelchairs are foldable, which can save space during travel. Self-propelled wheelchairs have larger rear wheels so that users can push themselves, but this is not the case with wheelchairs intended to be pushed by a caregiver.
Most Lightweight: Medline Lightweight Transport Adult Folding Wheelchair
The Medline Lightweight Transport Adult Folding Wheelchair weighs just 23.5 pounds but it can support weights of up to 300 pounds. The overall wheelchair size is 24.5 inches wide by 22 inches deep by 37 inches high. The seat size measures 19 inches wide by 16 inches deep. This wheelchair's rear wheels measure just 12-inches, so it is not intended for use as a self-propelling wheelchair. The back folds down for travel and storage. The upholstery is breathable nylon. Some users may appreciate adding a cushion to this wheelchair for comfort. Medline offers a Lifetime Warranty on the wheelchair frame and 1-year warranty on all other parts.
Runner Up: Karman Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair LT-980
The Karman Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair is a self-propelled wheelchair weighs in at just 24 pounds and has a 250-pound weight capacity. The overall height is 38 inches. The seat is 18 inches wide and 16 inches deep. The back height is 19 inches and the seat height is 18-19 inches. The backrest and seat both can be folded. When folded, it measures 29 inches by 28 inches by 13 inches. The swing away removable footrest helps to simplify transfers. The armrest is not adjustable though comes with wide cushioned arm pads to facilitate user comfort. The height of the footrests is adjustable and heel loops make resting users' feet on the foot rests more pleasant and relaxed.
Most Comfortable: Karman S-305 Ergonomic Wheelchair
The Karman S-305 Ergonomic Wheelchair is a lighter weight 29-pound self-propelled wheelchair. It offers a number of adjustable features for customization. The seat height is adjustable to 18, 19, or 20 inches. The seat width is 18 inches by 17 inches deep, and this chair's weight capacity is 250 pounds. The included seat and back cushion make this chair very comfortable and is constructed out of machine washable anti-bacterial fabric. The backrest and seat can fold for transport and storage, with the folded width measuring 12 inches. The foot rest can also swing away or be removed for easy transfer in and out of the chair. Karman offers a Limited Lifetime Frame Warranty and 1 Year Parts Warranty (excluding tires/tubes, upholstery/pads, and handle grips).
A Wheelchair with a Higher Weight Limit: Drive Medical Cruiser III
The Drive Medical Cruiser III is a self-propelled wheelchair that is available with seat widths measuring 16, 18, and 20 inches. The weight limit for the 16 and 18-inch seats is 300 pounds. The weight limit for the 20-inch seat model is 350 pounds. This chair measures 25 inches tall with a seat-to-floor height of 17.5 to 19.5 inches. The seat depth is adjustable from 16 to 18 inches. The wheelchair itself weighs 35 to 38 pounds, depending on the chosen seat width. The wheel locks are push-to-lock style. Some reviewers noted that the wheel locks didn't always seem to hold. The arms are a removable flip-back design, and the armrests are padded. The seat to armrest height is 8 inches. The front caster wheels are capable of being adjusted in 3 positions. Rear wheels measure 24 inches.
A Great Under $200 Wheelchair: Invacare Tracer2 EX2
The Invacare Tracer2 EX2 wheelchair is a budget-friendly manual wheelchair. It has an overall height of 35.88 inches and back height of 16 inches. The sweat width measures 20 inches and the seat depth measures 16 inches. It can hold users weighing up to 250 pounds. The chair itself weighs 36 pounds. Rear wheels measure 24 inches. There is a foot rest but no leg rest. The rear wheels are made of urethane however the chair does not feel the most stable off pavement according to reviewers. The dual axel positions enables repositioning of the seat-to-floor heights.
Our favorite lightweight wheelchair is the Medline Lightweight Transport Adult Folding Wheelchair, which weighs just 23.5 pounds. This is the only specifically caregiver-propelled wheelchair that we've recommended in our guide. The loop lock handles are very convenient to caregivers, and it is easy to maneuver, fold, and get in and out of cars. The Karman Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair is our top choice self-propelled manual wheelchair. The Karman S-305 Ergonomic Wheelchair definitely wins for comfort and the ability to make so many adjustments, however it lost points when it came to price. The Driver Medical Cruiser also got good reviews overall. Finally, the Invacare Tracer is another good lightweight wheelchair choice that easily folds for travel.