Transport Chairs vs Standard Wheelchairs – A Comparison

Transport wheelchairs and standard manual wheelchairs have similar uses for people with mobility problems. But there are some key differences like the wheel size, their weight, and how easy they are to transport. Learn more about these differences to decide which is the best for you.

man being pushed in a transport chair at the mall
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One of the unfortunate parts of getting older is that we lose muscle mass, and as a result, we often find that we are less mobile. It can become difficult to walk long distances, and those who suffer from additional joint pain may find that they are reliant on wheelchairs or other mobility products to get around.

There are many options for those who are looking to purchase wheelchairs today, and it can be tricky for the average person to figure out what they need, and what is worth spending the money on. I’m here to help you with this handy guide to transport chairs and wheelchairs, so that you can pick the products that best suit your needs.

Standard Manual Wheelchairs

standard manual wheelchair

Standard manual wheelchairs are quite common. These are used by people from all walks of life, whether they have been incapacitated through a physical injury, a short-term illness, or a longer-term disability. These wheelchairs offer people the chance to stay mobile and have a relatively normal life even while they’re not able to walk around.

They can be customized to suit different body types, and are available in sizes suitable for both adults and children. They’re easy to use, and are the most commonly suggested type for those who are struggling with mobility issues.

Standard manual wheelchairs tend to have very large rear wheels with hand rims. The user operates the wheelchair themselves by pushing on the hand rims. The size of the rear wheels means that you do not need a lot of force to move them, so as long as you have decent upper-body mobility this kind of chair will be a significant help when it comes to getting around independently.

The size of the rear wheels, however, means that storing these wheelchairs can be difficult. While they do fold up, they remain quite bulky even when collapsed. This means that friends and family members may not be able to stow the wheelchair in their car very easily unless they have bought a car with a large trunk or that has special wheelchair-accessible adaptations. The large wheels can also make these chairs difficult for homes with narrow doorways.

These chairs can be heavy, too. While there are modern, lightweight foldable wheelchairs for travel available they can be quite expensive. Basic wheelchairs can weigh around 40 lbs, so they are hard to lift in and out of a vehicle.

When to Choose a Standard Wheelchair

A standard wheelchair is the best wheelchair for people who are generally in good health and who have some strength in their upper bodies. If you have injuries in your arms, or a condition that is going to cause progressive loss of strength or mobility then this kind of wheelchair may not be the best choice for you.

Before you invest in a wheelchair, consider what you will be using it for, and how often you will need it. If you’re able to walk around at home without too much difficulty, but need a wheelchair to travel longer distances, then it may be that a bulky standard wheelchair is not a good idea. A transport chair could be a better option.

Standard wheelchairs are large, robust, and designed to be very comfortable, but they are not designed to be folded and unfolded repeatedly. Wheelchairs offer more features intended for those who will be sitting in them for a long time, and since there are more design options it’s easier to find one that perfectly suits your body type. You can even get them adapted based on other limitations that you are suffering from. Transport chairs are designed for short-term use, and are much more portable, but are limited in other ways.

Transport Chairs

transport chairs vs standard wheelchairs 1

Transport chairs look a lot like wheelchairs at first glance, but they are generally lighter, smaller, and fold more easily. This is why they are often though of as the best wheelchairs for travel. They are designed with portability in mind. They are able to accommodate similar weights to wheelchairs, but they are much easier to move around when folded up.

Transport chairs are designed to be used for short trips, and are aimed at people who are generally mobile but who struggle to walk long distances. They tend to have fewer features than wheelchairs, and are also less comfortable when used for long periods. The flip side of this is that they are also far less expensive.

Transport chairs have four small wheels, instead of two large rear wheels and two small front wheels. This means that the person who is using the wheelchair cannot propel themselves unaided. Transport chairs must be pushed by someone else (usually a caregiver or relative).

The good news is the person that pushes a transport chair does not need to be particularly strong or athletic. The chairs are very light. The reason they are light, however, is because they lack the padding and cushions of a standard wheelchair. This means that sitting in them for more than an hour or so at a time can feel uncomfortable. You can buy cushions or back supports that make the chair feel nicer to use, but it can be difficult to get the cushions to stay in place properly.

You can sometimes purchase add-ons such as clip-on storage, holders, etc that will make the chair nicer to use, but even with those add-ons a transport chair is unlikely to feel as ‘homey’ as a standard wheelchair.

Why Choose a Transport Chair

Transport chairs are a good choice for someone who can get around at home either unassisted, or with a walker, but who struggles to walk around at the mall or around town. They are useful for people who have a family member or caregiver who is available on a regular basis to assist the user by pushing the chair.

It’s important to remember that transport chairs cannot be propelled by the user, so even if you are generally mobile at home, if you don’t have someone who can push a chair for you whenever you need it, the large rear wheels of a standard wheelchair might be a good option.

Some people end up buying both types of wheelchairs, since transport chairs can be useful for short trips and excursions where you have friends and family with you, but you are unable to take a full-sized wheelchair because the car you are traveling in does not have space for it. If you have the budget to buy one of the best transport chairs as back-up for that scenario, trading some comfort for the extra portability might open up experiences that you might otherwise miss out on.

graphic comparing standard wheelchairs and transport chairs

In Conclusion

In the ideal world, nobody would need a transport chair or a wheelchair. Sadly, people do become incapacitated and mobility aids are important for helping those people stay active and allowing them to engage in their favorite pursuits. When you’re deciding what type of mobility aid to buy, you should consider the issues of independence, comfort, and portability.

Those who are lucky enough to be able to afford both types of chair may want to buy a robust wheelchair and a more portable, inexpensive backup transport chair. For others, the trade-offs can be more complicated.

About Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS® 365 Articles
Assistive Technology Professional, Custom Wheelchair Specialist, Medical Equipment Guru, Dad and Grandfather
I am a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not working as a custom wheelchair specialist at a regional home medical equipment company, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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