The 10 Best Folding Wheelchairs
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in October of 2016. Using a mobility device to negotiate uneven terrain and squeak through narrow passageways can be tricky enough, but there's also the challenge of finding somewhere to stow your ride when you're not in it. These folding wheelchairs offer lightweight designs and take up as little space as possible when you’re ready to store them, so they’ll fit in a closet or the trunk of your vehicle. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 02, 2020:
These folding wheelchairs prove highly useful for anyone who is frequently on the go and wants a model that’s easy to place in a trunk, bring up and down stairs, and so on. Joining the list today is the Medline Transport, a compact and lightweight choice that provides conveniences like a tight turning radius, full-length armrests, and easy to operate loop-style handbrakes. It’s also got large wheels and a rust-resistant, powder-coated frame. Also coming on board is the battery-powered Pride Mobility Jazzy Passport, which can go up to 3-1/2 miles per hour and conveniently comes with a mesh cupholder and three storage compartments situated underneath and behind the seat. And lefties need not worry, since the joystick can be set in either a right- or a left-handed orientation. It’s got rugged air-filled tires and does require some assembly, although it’s minimal. These two new additions replace the currently unavailable Foldawheel PW-1000XL as well as the Karman S-Ergo 305, which features a rather narrow seat and a number of plastic parts, which generally don't hold up as long as metal ones. Speaking of which, some users have reported that replacement parts are a bit hard to come by.
We’re still partial to the Forcemech Voyager R2, a bright yellow model that runs on lithium-ion batteries and can go for up to 16 miles per charge. It's equipped with amenities like rear reflective lights that help provide nighttime visibility and two efficient 200-watt brushless motors. The joystick can be detached easily for transport purposes. For some reliable transport wheelchairs, look to the Nova Lightweight Transport and the Nova Heavy-Duty Transport, which feature weight-bearing capacities of 300 and 400 pounds, respectively. Each has rugged 12-inch wheels and comes with both secondary wheel locks and removable anti-tippers for safety. Speaking of safety, always engage the brakes of a wheelchair before attempting to sit down or get up from it. As mentioned in our last update, children should not be permitted to play on wheelchairs, to avoid injury.
December 17, 2019:
When you’re at home, you may prefer a substantially heavy wheelchair for the convenient features and power it has to offer, but when you’re out and about, you might opt for a lighter model that’s easy to fold up and fit into the trunk of your car. Our selection here includes both simple, manual models as well as high-tech, electric wheelchairs.
A newcomer to our list is the Drive Medical Fly Lite, a simple-to-use choice that’s both lightweight and strong at the same time, featuring swing-away footrests with a height that can be adjusted without the use of tools. It comes with a seat belt for added safety, as well ass a handy carry pocket on the back to hold your personal belongings.
For an electric model, the Forcemech Voyager R2 is hard to beat. It’s got dual 200-watt brushless motors and is powered by lithium batteries that can provide a range of up to 16 miles on a full charge. It provides a smooth riding experience, thanks to its sturdy shock absorption springs. It’s equipped with a detachable joystick controller which might require a bit of a learning curve, but with some practice, you’ll become a pro. If there’s no battery power available, it can switch to a non-electric mode.
For a kids’ model that can be folded up easily and maneuvered into the trunk of your vehicle, check out the Wenzelite Wallaby Pediatric, which features a powder-coated steel frame and durable nylon upholstery. It’s WC19 bus transit approved, meaning it meets Federal standards as a safe device for transporting your child on a school bus – as long as you purchase the headrest extension and “H” harness that are sold separately by the manufacturer. Unlike some others, this one also features flip-back arms that enable it to be rolled right up to a school desk.
No matter which model you ultimately choose, always practice wheelchair safety by locking the brakes before you attempt to sit down or transfer out of the wheelchair. Never allow a child to play on a wheelchair or go for a ride on one. Also, be sure to have your wheelchair’s components checked regularly to ensure they’re all functioning properly and that necessary repairs can be made.
Quickie 2 Folding Wheelchair This highly customizable option lets you choose your preferred types of rear frame, footrest, footplate, and caster wheels, as well as the front and rear seat heights. There are also more than 28 colors and patterns to choose from – and you can mix and match your frame, caster, fork, and axle plate colors. This easy-to-use manual model is both ultra-light and easily foldable. sunrisemedical.com
The Air Hawk Extremely lightweight for a power model, The Air Hawk weighs only 41 pounds and folds up to fit into the trunk of any car with ease. This compact choice can even be taken on an airplane as carry-on luggage. It’s made of durable aircraft-quality aluminum alloy and has two high-performance hub motors and anti-tip wheels. Its battery backup ensures you’ll never end up having to wait for several hours away from home without a way to power it. Its state-of-the-art joystick allows you to navigate by using only one finger. discovermymobility.com
A Brief History Of Folding Wheelchairs
The same wheeled seats were used by the Chinese to transport heavy items, especially in work settings.
Wheeled furniture has existed in China and Greece since at least the 6th century B.C.E., but it was not until three centuries later that wheeled seats were used to transport the disabled, according to records.
The same wheeled seats were used by the Chinese to transport heavy items, especially in work settings. Finally, around 525 C.E., wheeled chairs were designed specifically to move people.
In Europe, the first prominent wheeled chair was created by an unknown Spanish inventor for King Phillip II. This chair boasted support for both the arms and legs, but could not be propelled by the user. Instead, the chair required another person to push it.
The first self-propelling chair was created by a 22-year-old paraplegic watchmaker named Stephan Farffler in 1655. While it looked more like a tricycle than a modern wheelchair, the German's invention paved the way for future innovations, including the so-called Bath chair in 1760, and the rolling chair introduced on Atlantic City's boardwalk in 1887. Invalid tourists rented Atlantic City's rolling chairs, and enjoyed the mobility they provided. The rolling chairs were so successful they eventually became a status symbol, with many healthy tourists hiring the chairs and employing servants to push them along the boardwalk.
It wasn't until 1933 that the first truly modern wheelchair was invented by mechanical engineers Harry Jennings and Herbert Everest. The pair designed a lightweight and collapsible steel wheelchair. Everest, who broke his back in a mining accident and complained frequently about the bulky wheelchairs of his time, served as a test subject along the way. The company they founded, Everest and Jennings, went on to become the world's first mass-marketer of wheelchairs. Today's folding wheelchairs still lean heavily on the duo's original collapsible design. While materials are lighter and more durable now, the appearance of folding wheelchairs is largely the same.
The Basics Of Wheelchair Safety
Proper maintenance is an important step in the safe operation of a folding wheelchair. Not only will a properly maintained wheelchair last longer, but it is also less likely to malfunction and cause injury. See the final section in this guide for more on wheelchair maintenance.
If your chair has anti-tip bars or wheels, these should never be removed.
Another safety basic is remembering to lock the brakes before sitting down in, or getting up from the chair. If you fail to lock the brakes, the chair could roll away, and cause the user to fall. After locking the brakes, always lift the footplates before getting in or out of the chair to prevent tripping or snagging. Before getting in the chair, make certain any removable arm or leg supports are locked in place. Once seated, always secure the hip safety belt, even if you're not planning to go far.
If you're sitting in a non-powered wheelchair, you should also avoid pulling on doors, as they could suddenly release, sending you off balance, and potentially out of the chair. You could also tip over if too much weight is placed on the back of the chair, so be careful when transporting items in rear storage. If your chair has anti-tip bars or wheels, these should never be removed.
Children should be told to avoid playing with the wheelchair, and to stay away from its controls. Even giving them a simple ride could damage the chair or cause an accident.
Once you're moving, there are a number of safety considerations. First, lap covers and any other loose items should be kept away from wheel spokes, where they could tangle and cause the chair to tip or suddenly halt. If you plan to ride in the streets, it is wise to use a flag for added visibility. Similarly, if you ride at night, headlights and flashing tail lights should be used.
Be mindful of steep ground where you could easily lose balance, and when you're moving at higher speeds take note of any casters that flutter. This side to side movement indicates the caster should be replaced. It is advisable to avoid operating your wheelchair in the rain, as well.
The Value Of Wheelchair Maintenance
Regular wheelchair service includes cleaning the chair, securing screws and bolts, checking tire pressure, and replacing worn tires, cushions, pads, and positioning equipment.
Cleaning the chair is critical to preventing bacteria buildup and infections. Usually it is acceptable to wipe down the chair with a damp cloth, but detergents and other cleaners should be used for any spots not easily cleaned with a damp cloth.
These should be reported to a wheelchair maintenance professional or dealer, as they may compromise the structural integrity of your chair.
Many manufacturers suggest using a car wax on your chair's frame to extend the life of its surfaces and make it easier to clean.
You should keep a sharp tool on hand for removing any gunk from the casters and wheels. The axels and bearings are popular places for hair and thread to accumulate, and over time that can cause trouble and impede the rotation of the casters and wheels. It's best to use the tool regularly, rather than waiting for junk to accumulate. Keep this tool along with any wrenches and screwdrivers you need to maintain your chair in a toolkit. The easier it is to locate the tools necessary for maintenance, the more likely you will be to perform maintenance promptly.
It's essential that you regularly inspect the frame for damage, including bends, cracks and breaks. These should be reported to a wheelchair maintenance professional or dealer, as they may compromise the structural integrity of your chair.
Cushions should also be routinely examined, particularly those that regularly contact the body. Thinning cushions and exposed screws or other metal could cause serious injury over the course of several days or weeks of use.