The big difference between a lightweight and an ultra-lightweight wheelchair comes down to weight.
Although a “lightweight” chair does weigh less than a conventional chair, many people would still consider this type of chair to be too heavy.
Some lightweight models weigh 30 to 40 pounds, and that’s before you attach the rigging or leg rests.
Meanwhile, ultra-lightweight wheelchairs typically weigh under 25 pounds.
Some define an ultra-lightweight chair as being under 19 lbs.
It’s also possible to find models that weigh in at less than 15 pounds.
Both lightweight and ultra-lightweight wheelchairs can feature aluminum frames.
Aluminum is a considerably lighter-weight metal, especially when compared to steel.
Some ultra-lightweight models feature titanium frames.
Although titanium weighs a lot less than other metals, it also tends to command a higher price point.
Folding vs. Rigid Frame
One thing to look for when choosing an ultra-lightweight wheelchair is whether the chair has a folding frame or a rigid frame.
There are pros and cons to both options.
People often assume that folding frames are easier to transport than rigid frames since you collapse the chair and stash it away in a car.
But a rigid frame ultra-light wheelchair often comes apart easily for transport.
Plus, rigid frame styles typically have a simple design that makes it easy to stow them in a car or trunk for travel.
Another benefit of choosing a rigid frame model over a folding frame wheelchair is that rigid frames provide a smoother ride.
Since they don’t fold down, there are fewer moving parts, which means there’s less jostling on the road.
Additionally, the designers of rigid frame chairs often create them with movement and sport in mind.
Folding chairs aren’t without their benefits, the main one being that you can collapse them for quick storage.
They also tend to have features such as armrests and leg rests, which you might not find on a rigid frame ultra-lightweight chair.
A wheelchair’s comfort largely depends on how well it fits a person.
A wheelchair that’s too small can cause skin problems, while a wheelchair that’s too large can cause the hips to roll inward, putting strain and pressure on the legs.
Before you invest in a wheelchair, it’s a good idea to measure the person’s seat width who will use it.
To do that, measure across the widest part of a person’s thighs while they are sitting.
Add one inch to the measurement to allow room for the chair’s fabric.
If you’re going to give the person any cushioning while in the chair, add the thickness of the cushions to your measurement too.
There aren’t unlimited options for wheelchair seat width unless you are going with a custom-made model.
Seat width of 18 inches tends to be the most common, although you can find models with 16-inch and 19-inch widths as well.
Seat depth is another consideration when picking out a wheelchair.
When the seat is too deep, its edge will press into the back of the knees, creating circulation problems.
A seat that’s too shallow strains the legs, as they don’t have enough surface support.
To find the right seat depth, measure your loved one from the back of the knees to the back of the buttocks while they are sitting down.
You’ll then want to subtract 2.5 inches from your measurement to allow room for the seat cushion and fabric.
Regarding seat height, wheelchairs often come in three sizes: Hemi, standard and tall.
A hemi seat height is usually about 17.5 inches off the ground.
It’s the most appropriate height for people under 5 feet, 5 inches tall.
A standard seat height is usually 20.5 inches off the ground and is ideal for people between 5 feet, 5 inches tall, and 6 feet, 2 inches tall.
People over 6 feet, 2 inches, often benefit from a tall seat, usually 21.5 inches off the ground.
To see if the seat is the right height, have your loved one sit in the chair.
Their feet should touch the ground but shouldn’t drag.
If the feet dangle in the air, the chair is too tall, and it won’t be easy to get into and out of it.
Ultra-Lightweight Wheelchair Features
Size and frame style aside, there are a few additional features to look for in an ultra-lightweight wheelchair.
Fixed vs. Removable Armrests.
Removable armrests can make it easier for you to help your loved one into and out of the chair, but they can get lost.
Some models offer flip-back armrests, which swing out of the way but remain attached to the chair.
Full or Desk Length Armrests.
Full-length armrests are bigger and provide more support, but desk-length armrests allow people to roll their chairs under a table.
Swing-away or Elevating Leg Rests.
Many ultra-light wheelchairs come with swing-away leg rests as standard.
But you have the option of upgrading to elevating leg rests, which allow you to lift the legs and help minimize swelling or circulation issues.
Although many ultra-light models have large rear wheels that enable a person to propel the chair while sitting in it, some models have smaller wheels and need someone else to push them.