If and when the time comes for a mobility device, the last thing you want is a heavy, clunky wheelchair that is hard to push and travel with.
But, did you know that wheelchairs come in all shapes and sizes… and weights too!
There are many factors that affect the weight of a wheelchair and it is very important to understand these options before buying a lightweight foldable wheelchair. Some of these things you can control. But, many you cannot.
As someone who works with wheelchairs every day, I put together this buying guide to help you choose the best lightweight wheelchair for you.
Lightweight Folding Wheelchair Reviews
Karman 24 pounds LT-980 Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair
- Weighs only 24 lb without footrests / 27 lb with footrests
- Can be self-propelled or pushed by caregiver
- Only available in 18″ W x 16″ D
- Arms flip back, back folds down, and leg rests are swing away and detachable
- Elevating leg rests are available
- Adjustable seat to floor height
- Colors: Black, Burgundy, or Silver
- Weight Capacity 250 lbs
At a weight of only 24 lbs, this chair is the best foldable lightweight wheelchair for most people. This chair will be much easier for caregivers to load into a car. It will also be easier for the user to propel themselves.
The seat to floor height is even adjustable for someone who needs to move the chair with their feet or for shorter people who have trouble getting in and out of a wheelchair.
It comes in several color choices and is also available with elevating legrests for users who have issues with edema or swelling of their legs.
A drawback to this chair though is that it is only available in 18″ W X 16″ D seat size. While this will fit the majority of users, heavier or taller people may not fit in it very well.
Drive Medical Cruiser III Lightweight Wheelchair
The Karman 802 series is one of the more lightweight options, especially in the sub $200 wheelchair market. Like most of the wheelchairs, I have reviewed here, it folds up easily in a neat, clean package that is easy to load. It will also fit in nearly any trunk or vehicle.
Reviews of the product are mixed on the internet. However, I have seen, touched, and felt this wheelchair in person and it seems to be solidly built. But, it isn’t for everyone. It has a weight capacity of 250 lbs and really should only be used by the average sized person under 225 lbs.
Drive Medical Cruiser III Lightweight Wheelchair
For a budget option, the Drive Medical Cruiser III offers a lot. It is one of the lightest weight folding wheelchairs in the $100 price category.
For example, an 18″ wide chair weighs only 36 lb (without footrests). Available seat widths are 16″, 18″ and 20″ to accommodate a wide range of users.
Other options are your choice of footrests: standard swing away or elevating style. The chair folds with or without the footrests being removed and is only 12 ” wide when folded. This makes it easy to take with you and will fit in most vehicle trunks.
Lightweight Transport Chairs to Consider
Transport chairs are also worth considering for people who need a lightweight wheelchair. It does depend on the needs of the user, however.
Some people need a wheelchair they can move themselves and some do not. Transport chairs need someone to operate the chair because there are no large wheels.
Size for size, transport wheelchairs are usually lighter than standard chairs. Check out this article for more differences between a wheelchair and transport chair.
Medline Ultralight Transport Wheelchair
If you need a super lightweight folding wheelchair for getting back and forth to doctor or shopping trips, this is the one. It is extremely lightweight at only 15 lbs. It folds up into an easy to transport package – even the back folds down and the leg rests flip back for easy storage.
Medline even includes a cup holder and seat belt which are extras on most chairs. Keep in mind, though, this is a transport chair which means the user must be pushed. It has small wheels only – no big wheel in the back for the user to self-propel.
Also, because of the small wheels, it will not do very well on rough terrain like gravel driveways or yards that are not smooth.
- Weighs just 15 lbs!
- Cannot be self-propelled. Must be pushed by caregivers
- Swingaway legrests
- Easily folds into a small package
- Includes a cup holder and seatbelt
- Colors: Black, Blue, Silver, Red
- Weight Capacity 300 lbs
Drive Medical Aluminum Transport Chair
This lightweight transport wheelchair from Drive Medical is a great choice for the budget shoppers. You can usually buy one for $100.00 or less.
With a total weight of 19 lbs and an easy folding mechanism, you can take it almost anywhere. Note that Drive makes several models of transport chairs so if you want a lightweight version, choose one made from aluminum rather than steel.
- Weighs 19 lb
- Folds up easily and simple to transport
- Back folds down
- Includes lightweight upholstery and seatbelt
- Colors: Red, Blue, Black, Silver
- Weight Capacity: 300 lbs
A Caution About Wheelchair Weights
Be very careful when you read weight statistics for wheelchairs. Some wheelchair manufacturers play games with this number. Always read the fine print of the wheelchair specification used to determine the weight. I have seen weights reported that did not include any arms or footrests. Sometimes, the weight reported is a size of wheelchair that most people would not actually use, like a 14″ wide chair.
What Makes a Wheelchair Heavy?
There are a lot of parts that go into making a wheelchair. The combination of all these pieces contributes to the heaviness of the chair. Choosing only the options you need goes a long way to making a wheelchair lighter.
The type of metal that a wheelchair is made from is a major part of the heaviness of a wheelchair. Most wheelchairs are made of steel and aluminum.
Wheelchair manufacturers use different grades of these materials to make a lighter weight wheelchair. For example, they test different diameter tubes and thicknesses for wheelchairs. It all gets very complicated sometimes.
Aluminum chairs are typically lighter in weight. But, using a lighter weight material often sacrifices the overall strength of the wheelchair. For average sized people, this probably isn’t a big deal.
However, people who require a heavier duty wheelchair may need to go with a stainless steel chair Yes, it will be heavier but will be more sturdy too.
The size of a wheelchair makes a big difference in the weight. (It even affects the comfort too!)
Most standard wheelchairs come in one of 3 seat widths: 16″, 18″ or 20″. The seat width is the measurement between the arms of the wheelchair – not the overall width. The total width of a wheelchair is usually about 6″ more than the seat width.
As a general rule, a 20″ wide wheelchair will weigh more than an 18″. So, an 18″ wide wheelchair will also weigh more than a 16″. Basically, the wider the wheelchair is, the more metal is needed to make it.
To get the best lightweight wheelchair, measure across the hips of the user while seated on a firm surface like a dining room chair. Get the smallest width wheelchair that fits that hip measurement.
The size and type of the rear wheels also contribute to the overall weight of a wheelchair. Unfortunately though, for most standard out-of-the-box wheelchairs, the buyer doesn’t get a choice of wheel. You are kind of at the mercy of the manufacturer.
If you do have a choice, go with spoke wheels. Generally, spoke wheels are lighter than mag wheels although recent improvements to composite plastics have narrowed that gap. The drawback to spoke wheels, though, is that they may require more maintenance as spoke require periodic tightening.
4. Leg Rests
The style of leg rests also matter if you are looking for a lightweight chair. This is especially true if you need the chair to be lighter for pushing it. The good news is that most leg rests are removable and can be taken off when it comes time to lift them.
Standard swing away style legrests are the lightest option. Elevating leg rests are the heaviest style because they have more parts and support more weight. Many wheelchair manufacturers have switched over to plastic footplates which reduces the weight of their chairs.
5. Cross Brace
The cross brace is the x-shaped support piece under the wheelchair seat. This is the piece that moves when the wheelchair folds. It is the major support structure for the whole wheelchair. So, it is usually the heaviest part.
Heavy duty and bariatric chairs use often use 2 of these which explains why they weigh more. THey are also reinforced to make them heavier duty.
The style of arms is another factor in the weight of a wheelchair. Some arms have 2 or even 3 support posts which each add weight to the chair.
Sometimes, the arms are removable. Taking them off when lifting and loading the chair will make it easier to lift. Some people even take them off while using a wheelchair too. It just depends if the user needs the arms to rest on or to help support their upper body.
The type of upholstery on a wheelchair affects the overall weight of the wheelchair but to a lesser extent. We are probably talking a difference of ounces here. But, in general, nylon upholstery is lighter (and more durable!) than vinyl upholstery.
This may sound like common sense but people forget about this. Adding accessories adds weight to the wheelchair! Add-ons like oxygen tank holders and maybe even cupholders are important.
However, I had a lady call me one time and said she couldn’t push her chair because it was too heavy. When I went to her home to help her out, I found she had a backpack on each back cane that was full plus a purse hanging from the arm.
With most standard wheelchairs, the manufacturer makes most of these decisions. The best lightweight folding wheelchairs are ones that weigh less than 30 lbs with all accessories. Insurance companies also classify wheelchairs by their weight.
How to Buy a Wheelchair
Is buying a wheelchair is a new experience for you? Not really sure where to start? Here’s a quick tutorial on getting the right size when shopping for a basic wheelchair. Custom wheelchairs require many more measurements.
- Have the person using the chair sit on a firm surface like a dining room chair.
- Measure across their hips at the widest point. Standard wheelchair widths are 16″, 18″, and 20″. Choose the next size higher than your measurement here. Example: If your measurement is 17″, get an 18″ wide chair. If your measurement is 18″, you can get an 18″ but it will be snug. A 20″ chair will give more room but be wider overall.
- Get an accurate weight of the user. Make sure the weight capacity of the chair you choose is more than the patient’s weight.
- If the user will move themselves in the chair, you’ll want a wheelchair with
Summary and Final Recommendations
Lightweight folding wheelchairs have tremendous benefits for both wheelchair users and their caregivers. For the user, a lighter wheelchair is easier to propel and control around the house. For the caregiver, these chairs are easier to lift and load into the trunk of a car.
Unfortunately, the weight of a wheelchair is mainly controlled by the manufacturer of the chair. They choose the materials and the configuration of the chair. But the user can remove arms and footrests to make the chair lighter.
When shopping for a portable wheelchair, pay close attention to the weight of the chair. When comparing chairs for overall weight, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Some companies do not include accessories in the weight or only report the weight of smaller chairs.
If the user of the chair does not need to propel it themselves, go with one of the transport chair options. They are much lighter and smaller when folded. So, they are much, much easier to load and transport.
But, if the user needs to move the chair by themselves, go with the Karman Healthcare model. There are very few chairs in that price range that weigh as little as that one. Most users should have very little problem propelling that chair with either their arms or feet.
I’d also suggest getting a good pair of wheelchair gloves too!
I really hope this article has helped you find the best manual wheelchair for you and your needs. If you have any questions or other suggestions, please leave them in the comment section below and I’ll get right back to you!