There is one major problem for wheelchair users that many people don’t realize until they already have a chair. Transporting it!
Some wheelchairs are heavy. This makes them difficult to lift and load. Especially for users with older caregivers or spouses who are responsible for that duty. Others are too big or bulky to fit into the trunk of an average sedan or small car.
Anyone who needs a wheelchair at home is going to need one while traveling or on vacation, right? Some people can walk fine at home but need a portable wheelchair for longer distances.
The best wheelchairs for travel are small and lightweight so they are easy to load, lift, and manage as you go about your journey. Plus, they should be durable enough to withstand the abuse of constant folding, unfolding, and stowing.
So, in this guide, I’m going to show you what your travel wheelchair options are and teach you what to look for. Plus, as a custom wheelchair specialist at a home medical equipment company, I am going to share some of my favorites with you.
Types of Wheelchairs
You can find several different types of wheelchairs for travel, be it for yourself or someone you love. The two prominent categories are electric/powered and manual. My reviews later on cover good choices for both.
Manual wheelchairs either get self-propelled by the user or are just pushed by someone accompanying the rider (aka a transport wheelchair).
They’re pretty simple to use, and they’re very similar to the wheelchairs you can borrow at many places. Manual travel wheelchairs often mean keeping a smaller profile and easier transportation during a trip.
Powered wheelchairs have electric batteries so they can run on their own if they have a sufficient charge. They can also be self-powered by the user if they need or want to.
Power Chairs vs Manual Wheelchairs: The Pros and Cons
In deciding between lightweight power and manual chair options, you need to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each one.
Manual Wheelchair Pros:
Manual Wheelchair Cons:
Power Wheelchair Pros:
Powered Wheelchair Cons:
Best Travel Wheelchair Buying Guide
Not all wheelchairs are the same, so it can be hard to know what to look for in a good travel wheelchair. Here is a checklist you can use to “roll your way” through the analysis.
- Lightweight: Travel wheelchairs have to be light enough that they can be easily moved in and out of cars, buses, and other modes of transportation all throughout your trip. Make sure you choose a lightweight wheelchair that folds quickly and easily.
- Durability: Users love travel wheelchairs for their weight, function, and size. However, you need to be sure that any travel wheelchair you get is sturdy enough while you’re on the road.
- Simplicity: Travel wheelchairs need to be simple to set up, collapse, and generally use while you’re out and about. Test your wheelchair for this before your trip, and hopefully while you’re still in a money-back guarantee or return period.
- Comfort: If you or someone you love is going to be using a travel wheelchair every single day of a trip, then they need to be comfortable while in it. Otherwise, the vacation can quickly be ruined. Seating is paramount here, especially in regard to width, depth, and back support.
- Cushioning: This is sometimes added to travel wheelchairs to assist with support, stability, and comfort. Preventative cushions are good for extended use, positioning cushions improve posture and navigation, while gel cushions generally add more comfort.
- Chair Height: This is different from seat height, as it is how tall the entire travel wheelchair is. This will impact how simply or quickly the wheelchair can be stored in vehicles, folded down, maneuvered, and transported around.
- Chair Weight: Powered wheelchairs usually weigh more, but most wheelchairs will range from as light as 19 pounds to as much as 65 pounds or more, based on specific features and accessories.
- Armrests: Flip-up or removable armrests make transfers and transportation much easier. When in position, they should provide support and comfort.
- Leg Rests: These are also supposed to provide comfort and support to the user. The primary thing to look for is leg rests that can swing away or be adjusted since this influences the transferability of that wheelchair.
The Best Travel Wheelchairs
Without further adieu, it’s time to review 7 of the best travel wheelchairs. These reviews include both folding, lightweight power chairs, and lightweight folding manual options.
Each one selected has a description you can read, plus a shortlist of the pros and cons of the model.
One of the most portable wheelchairs on the planet
Quick-release wheels pop off to make it easier to lift
Back folds down so that the chair is easier to load
Includes 1″ back and seat cushion for comfort
Lifetime frame warranty
Sizing is limited so it won’t fit everyone
Seat Width: 18″ | Product Weight: 13.5 lbs (without wheels) | Weight Capacity: 220 lbs
I am including this at the top of my list of travel wheelchairs because it is the lightest and easiest-to-transport standard wheelchair you will find.
The total weight of the chair is 19 lbs if you leave the rear wheels on. But, if you pop them off with the quick-release button, the weight goes down to 13.5 lbs. Nearly anyone can handle loading that weight into the trunk of the car.
It also folds down into a very small, easy-to-lift package that is only 28″ x 26″ x 6″. So, it’s going to fit in even the smallest vehicles. You can even get an optional carry bag to make transportation even easier.
But, there are other things to love about this chair too. First, you get a seat and back cushion that are an upgrade over standard wheelchair upholstery. Second, the wheel locks are more robust than many of the Featherweight wheelchair’s competitors.
Finally, there are hand brakes on the back of the chair for the caregiver to use.
The only drawback is the limited 18″ seat size and 220 lbs weight capacity. But, a heavier-duty version is coming soon. Click here for a sneak peak!
Here is a quick video demonstration from Joseph, the designer of the chair. Take a look and then head over to 800wheelchair.com to learn more.
Slips through even narrow doors
One of the lightest wheelchairs available right now
Caregiver-friendly hand brakes
Suggested for smaller and mid-sized individuals, not larger folks
Tires are sometimes hard to remove
Seat Width: 16″, 18″ | Product Weight: 19.8 lbs | Weight Capacity: 220 lbs
If your priorities are transportation and storage, then take a close look at the Karman Ergo wheelchair. It’s as strong as it is portable, and it does well in both categories.
The frame is only 14.5 pounds with a total weight of just under 20 pounds, so you can take it almost anywhere. It folds up easily and the wheels are removable to make it easier to carry too.
Here’s what I love about the Karman Ergo chairs: the seat frame has small curvatures that match the curves of your seating surface (aka booty). The S-shaped seating prevents unwanted pressure, promoting better posture.
If you are in your wheelchair for long periods of time, you’ll feel a noticeable difference.
For users with caregivers, companion brakes help engage the brakes without having to bend down.
This chair is available in 2 formats: a transport chair with small wheels that must be pushed by a caregiver AND a self-propelled model that the user can move themselves with.
Seat Width: 19″ | Overall Width: 24.5″
Larger wheels improve performance outdoors
Will fit in all kinds of vehicles
Fold down back for simple storage
Slips through doorways easily
Brake levers are difficult at first
Footrests can be tricky to install
Seat Width: 18″ | Product Weight: 23.5 lbs | Weight Capacity: 300 lbs
For seniors who don’t push themselves in their wheelchairs and have caregivers, I really like this transport chair from Medline.
It is a really good choice too for someone who needs a comfortable lightweight wheelchair for narrow doorways. Safety is also a top priority, given the loop-lock handbrakes and attached seat belt.
The handbrakes on the back are easier for caregivers to operate and keep the chair in control at all times. The larger wheels on the back give a smoother ride over obstacles or rougher surfaces.
The seat is made of nylon and is breathable, comfortable, and cleans with a quick wipe down. Plus, you can adjust the footrest as well.
Sturdy aluminum framing comes in red or blue. In either color, it has a powder coating to prevent rust and other deterioration.
Seat Width: 17″ | Overall Width: 21.5″
Seat Width: 19″ | Overall Width: 23.5″
Seat Widths: 17″, 19″ | Product Weight: 26 lbs | Weight Capacity: 250 lbs
The steel frame of this one provides durability and stability, giving this chair a long service life. This does make it a bit heavier than some of the other chairs but it is still manageable for most people at 26 lbs total weight.
The leg rests are both swing-away and removable to make getting in and out of it safer. Cushioned armrests and an included seat belt round out the features. You get a choice of seat sizes too.
This wheelchair is a good choice for people who need a chair for occasional local travel that is inexpensive but made well too.
Heavy Duty Travel Chair for Larger Users
Increased weight capacity for larger folks
Heavy-duty but lightweight aluminum frame
Flip back desk-length arms for getting close to tables
Larger wheels for a smoother ride
Seat depth is a bit short
May be a bit wide to use in smaller homes
Seat Widths: 24″ | Product Weight: 31 lbs | Weight Capacity: 400 lbs
The problem with heavy-duty wheelchairs is that they are often heavy. This is because extra parts are required for them to support extra weight. The added weight can make them difficult to travel with.
But, the Graham Field (E&J) bariatric transport chair is lightweight and durable too. It is designed to support larger people with a 24″ wide seat and a 400 lb weight capacity. And, the total weight of the chair is just 31 lbs. That’s a weight most people can handle.
One potential drawback to watch for is that the overall width of this chair is 30.25 inches. So, it may not maneuver well in smaller homes. But, if you just use it out in the community it will work just fine. The frame folds easily and fits into most vehicle trunks
While you are out, you can roll yourself to any table thanks to the flip-up desk-length arms.
Extremely lightweight and easy to fold for travel
Back folds down for easy loading even in small cars
Goes 11 miles between charges
Folds in one piece – no disassembly required
Smaller wheels might give a bumpy ride so keep it on smooth surfaces
Seat Width: 18″ | Product Weight: 33 lbs | Weight Capacity: 250 lbs
If you prefer or need a power chair but think portability is a problem, take a look at the Featherweight Power Chair.
It weighs only 33 lbs and folds into one piece making it extremely easy to transport! Most portable power chairs and scooters have to be disassembled into multiple pieces.
Then, you have to reassemble them when you get to your destination. But, the Featherweight Power Chair stays in one piece. It is even airline-approved.
It has the usual power wheelchair features too: it is joystick-operated and battery-powered. The top speed is 5 mph and it will go about 11 miles between charges. So, it’s powerful enough for a day of shopping.
Because of the limited seat width of 18″ and a weight capacity of 250 lbs, it isn’t going to fit everyone though. The smaller wheels will give a bit of a bumpy ride if you are off the beaten path.
But if a truly portable power wheelchair is what you need, here it is!
Seat Width: 18″ | Product Weight: 128 lbs (Heaviest Piece is 36 lbs) | Weight Capacity: 300 lbs
Pride has made the portable Go Chair power wheelchair for many years now and it has a great track record of reliability and durability.
The chair is portable but it is a bit of a process. The total chair weight is 128 pounds but it disassembles into 4 smaller pieces with the heaviest piece weighing 36 lbs.
Using Pride’s feather-touch disassemble process, you lift the seat off the base, then remove the battery compartment, and finally separate the base into 2 parts.
The process isn’t difficult but not everyone is going to be able to do it. See the video below for a demonstration of this.
The seat and armrests are comfortable enough for long days on the road. But, the speed is slower than some other portable power chairs at 3.7 mph (walking speed is 3 mph fyi) and the range is a bit smaller too – 8.7 miles between charges.
If you will be using it inside your home, it should fit through most doorways fine. The total overall width is only 22.5 inches. Not bad for a lightweight portable power chair!
Check out this video to learn more about the Pride Go Chair.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
The following questions and answers will hopefully help you determine the best travel wheelchair to buy.
What is a traveling wheelchair?
A traveling wheelchair is one that is easy to transport from place to place because it is lightweight, folds easily, and is much easier to handle than other chairs.
There are lightweight options for both power chairs and manual chairs alike. Use this guide to see the best options.
How do I choose a wheelchair for transportation?
The best wheelchairs for traveling are lightweight wheelchairs and folding wheelchairs. These two characteristics make them much easier to take along because they can be loaded and unloaded quickly and easily.
Lightweight transport wheelchairs are a popular travel wheelchair choice too if you have people travelling with you who will be able to push the chair for you.
Should I buy a power chair or a manual chair?
Because they fold and are lighter weight, manual wheelchairs are easier to take on airplanes or in and out of vehicles. They’re also cheaper, usually. Having said that, many powered models are also easy to move around.
Also, the battery power means the user or a companion doesn’t have to spend the whole trip getting exercise instead of enjoying themselves.
Do I even need a wheelchair?
If you can’t walk unassisted, or you only get a few steps before needing rest, then a travel wheelchair might be a good idea.
Even if you don’t regularly use a wheelchair at home, or even at all, but use a cane or walker, then you might want a travel wheelchair while you’re away from home.
How do I qualify for a wheelchair?
These aren’t CPAP machines. You can buy one without a prescription. However, it’s a good idea to go through your doctor. He or she can help you select a great model suited well for your current condition and circumstances.
Also, if you can get a qualification or a prescription, you might be eligible for certain medical programs or insurance coverage that pays for some or all of your wheelchairs, although just paying full price on the general retail market is always a possibility.
How long do wheelchairs last?
A typical lifespan for most wheelchairs is 2 to 3 years. Manual wheelchairs might last up to 5 years since they don’t have batteries and motors.
Just keep in mind that the more mileage/use a wheelchair gets, the sooner it will wear out. If you get a travel wheelchair that you only use when on the road, and don’t use at home, it can certainly last longer than these estimates.
How long do wheelchair batteries last?
Most wheelchair batteries, when in new condition and fully powered, should last more than 8 hours, giving the user 10 to 20 miles of coverage.
Battery use over time will make the condition decline, so the charge duration and range will reduce.
Many manufacturers suggest replacing power wheelchair batteries every 18 months, although depending on usage, you might do it as quickly as 6 months or as slowly as 2 years.
Whether you’re looking for something for yourself or someone you love, travel wheelchairs come in many different options these days.
Whether it’s a powered model that needs to be plugged in every day for easy travel or a manual model that’s lighter and cheaper, anyone constricted to a wheelchair can still get around and enjoy seeing the country or even the world.
If none of these options suit you – check out my list of the best rollator transport chairs. These handy products double as a rolling walker and a wheelchair!
Don’t forget to bring along your best wheelchair gloves with you to protect your hands from blisters and dirt!
For those who are in their senior years, it doesn’t mean age stops them or slows them down.
Some retirees might simply have not been able to travel before now, after years of hard work, so they can finally see the places they’ve always dreamed of going.
Hopefully, all this information makes the quality of life a better thing for you and yours.