Selecting a wheelchair is a complex process, with the ideal chair one that fits you and your lifestyle, rather than you adapting to it.
The correct choice of wheelchair impacts type and frequency of use, daily comfort, manoeuvrability, injury risk, durability and cost.
Why is weight important?
Weight is often a central choice, as a lightweight frame can increase the range of distance and terrains, while offering greater protection from the strains of regular wheelchair use. They are also easier to transport or store, particularly if lifted regularly. However, weight should be balanced with other features, particularly those affecting propulsion and manoeuvrability as an inefficient or poorly fitting wheelchair could create additional difficulties. Both lightweight and ultra-lightweight wheelchairs are common, though there are important features that influence this choice.
What causes weight difference?
Materials and adjustability are defining differences between ranges. Standard wheelchairs are commonly steel, weighing 15kg+ and are sometimes foldable but with limited adjustability beyond size. Lightweight wheelchairs are made of aluminum or steel alloys, weigh 13-16kg, are often foldable and offer adjustable features, such as removable armrests.
Ultralightweight wheelchairs weigh 6-14kg and are often made of aero-grade aluminum, with a high strength to weight ratio so they are not only lighter but last significantly longer, therefore more cost effective and easier to maintain. In addition, ultralightweight chairs are often highly customizable to the individual, with additional adjustable features that add to the sustainability of the wheelchair.
The features of wheelchairs are numerous and choosing the correct one for you is important for comfort and usability. Consider the features that matter most to you, when you will use it and how often it needs to be stored/transported, in addition to any custom needs. Look at the optional and adjustable features on each model to make selections that are bespoke to you and have the potential to change with your needs. Additional accessories may add weight, so identifying a unit that is highly adjustable and customizable may reduce the additional cost or weight of further accessories.
A key choice may be a rigid versus folding frame or a combination of both, which are often available in ultralightweight wheelchairs, whereas lightweight models are often foldable. Rigid frames are the lightest, most robust and efficient, but won’t fold down in the middle. A folding frame is more transportable but may be slightly heavier and have some limitations in driving performance, impacting comfort for very regular or prolonged use. You should also consider ease of the folding mechanism, both in complexity and force required. There are advantages to each type of frame, which should be balanced with the other features of the wheelchair, such as adjustable backrests/armrests/handles, quick release features or even adjustable wheel positions. Removable features can also reduce the weight for lifting or storage.
The ideal wheelchair is customized to the individual, can accommodate changes, and is durable and as lightweight as possible. These features are central to the design of ultralightweight wheelchairs and studies show that properly configured ultralightweight wheelchairs increase levels of function, reduce secondary complications, last longer and are more cost effective than standard wheelchair models.
The Kuschall Ultralight Wheelchair is a great example that meets the recommendations of providing a highly adjustable and configurable wheelchair, while minimizing weight. It offers a foldable but rigid front frame, giving the stability of many fully rigid models while also providing an easy fold system. Features include adjustable tension/hinged backrest, adjustable armrests/footrest/push handles, plus carbon clothes guards and modulated brakes. The aluminum frame and light upholstery gives a complete weight of 10.1kg, reduced to 7.2kg for transport with its quick release removable features.