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Buyer's Guide: Selecting the Right Transport Chair

Introduction

A transport chair can be beneficial to have if you struggle with walking and need full-body support. However, purchasing one can get confusing, especially when a standard wheelchair is also an option. This guide will help you determine if a transport chair is the best option for you, and if so, how to find one that meets your unique needs. 

Selecting the right wheelchair

What is a Transport Chair?

Transport chairs are mobility devices that support your full body weight to relieve pain and prevent injury, similar to wheelchairs. Transport chairs in particular, however, are a more lightweight and portable option and are designed to be propelled by an attendant or companion. Because of this, they are primarily used for short periods, such as while traveling or running errands. 

Do I need a cane?

Who Should Use a Transport Chair?

To determine if a transport chair is right for you, first consider how often you will need full-body support. If you can still walk with a rollator or walker but cannot walk long distances or tire easily while walking, a transport chair could be beneficial.

Because transport chairs cannot be self-propelled, they are usually not the best option for those who always need full-body support and may not have someone to propel them. Wheelchairs are a better option for those users, but it can be useful to have a transport chair in addition to a wheelchair. This gives you an alternative that's easy to fold and lift while traveling or on a day out.

To summarize, transport chairs may benefit those: 

  • Who cannot propel themselves
  • Who have trouble walking or are unable to walk
  • Who tire easily while walking or cannot walk long distances
  • In need of a wheelchair on a part-time or temporary basis
Transformer chair checklist

Transport Chairs vs. Wheelchairs

If you are still unsure whether a transport chair or wheelchair is the best option for you, consider each mobility aid's pros and cons:  

Transport ChairsWheelchairs
Pros:
- Lightweight
- Foldable and portable
- Smaller and easier to maneuver through narrow passageways
- Provides full-body support when necessary
- Often less expensive

Pros:
- Can be self-propelled for independent mobility
- Made of more heavy-duty materials
- Provides long-term full-body support
- Large rear tires provide more stability over uneven terrain

Cons:
- Cannot be self-propelled
- Best used only for short periods of time
- Smaller wheels and lighter frame offer less stability

Cons:
- Bulkier and heavier
- Can be hard to maneuver, especially through narrow passageways
- Can be more expensive

If you think it would be best to have both options but can't purchase or store two chairs, you might also consider a transformer wheelchair. These hybrid devices have the large back wheels of a standard, self-propelled wheelchair, but those wheels can easily remove with a "quick release" function. This transforms the device into a transport chair, revealing smaller back wheels and making the chair lighter and more portable.

Transformer wheelchairs can be a significant economic option for full-time wheelchair users who may prefer a transport chair for travel and short trips out of the house. 

Transport Chair vs Wheelchair

What to Consider

After you've decided on purchasing a transport chair, there are a few factors you will want to consider so that you find the best one for you.

Transport Chair Size

Size

Transport chairs typically come in three sizes: narrow (16"-17" wide seat), medium (18" to 20" wide seat), and wide (22" + wide seat).

  • Narrow (16" to 17" wide seat)
  • Medium (18" to 20" wide seat
  • Wide (22"+ wide seat)

Choosing the right size for you is crucial because you will want a comfortable chair that supports you well and is easy to maneuver through passageways.

To find the best size, first, measure your backside's width when sitting on a flat surface. Add an inch or two to this measurement to ensure comfortable seating. This will give you a good idea of the size and seat width to look for.

Next, measure the narrowest passageway you will be using your transport chair in. You'll want the overall width of the chair you choose to be at least an inch or two less than this measurement so that you can safely and easily maneuver through the passageway.  

Transport Chair Weight Capacity

Weight Capacity

It's incredibly crucial that your transport chair can support your weight to be used safely. The weight capacity of your transport chair will usually vary by chair size. Most narrow chairs can support 120 pounds and under. Meanwhile, medium transport chairs support between 120 and 300 pounds. Wider, heavy-duty transport chairs can support anywhere between 300 and 500 pounds. Always check the product's weight capacity before purchasing to ensure that it will be safe for you.

Transport Chair Weight

Weight

While most transport chairs are considered "lightweight," the exact overall weight varies from chair to chair. Standard transport chairs weigh around 20 pounds, but some ultra-lightweight chairs can be as little as 15 pounds, and chairs with more features can weigh up to 35 pounds. Because transport chairs are intended to be a portable alternative to wheelchairs, you'll want to purchase one that will be easy for you or your companion to lift when needed.

Transport Chair Wheel Size

Wheel Size

All transport chairs have smaller wheels than wheelchairs, but their wheel sizes can vary. Consider how often you'll be using your transport chair outdoors or on uneven terrain. If the answer is "regularly" or "fairly often," a chair with larger 12" wheels will be easier to use. If you think you'll only use your transport chair indoors or on level outdoor paths, you'll be fine using smaller 8" wheels.

Frequency of Use

Frequency of Use

How often will you use your transport chair? If you think you'll use it regularly, you might want to purchase one that's more expensive and has more customizable features to ensure your comfort. However, if your transport chair won't be your primary mobility aid, an inexpensive one can work just fine.

Outdoor Use
Rollator Transport Chair

If you won't be using your transport chair often (i.e., your primary mobility aid is a rollator), consider a rollator transport chair rather than buy two mobility aids. These are rollators that quickly transform into transport chairs to sit down and be pushed by someone else if necessary. These can also be useful if you are receiving surgery and will only need a transport chair in the early stages of recovery before transitioning to a rollator.

Outdoor Use
Transformer Wheelchair

As mentioned in the transport chairs vs. wheelchairs section, if your primary mobility device is a wheelchair and you'll occasionally use a transport chair, consider a transformer wheelchair rather than buy each aid separately.

Travel Frequency

Frequency of Travel

Also consider how often you will be traveling with your transport chair, whether by plane, train, or car. If you'll be taking it with you outside of the home on a somewhat regular basis, portability is an essential factor to consider. You will, at the very least, want an easily foldable transport chair. Other great travel options include chairs that can be folded to fit into a bag or can quickly disassemble.

Ability to fold

Ability to Fold

Today, most transport chairs on the market can fold, but you'll want to confirm this before purchasing. Even if you don't plan on traveling with it, it can be useful to have a foldable transport chair to be stored out of the way when not in use. If you're often on-the-go, you might also want to check how easily it folds too.

Transport Chair Materials: Steel vs Aluminum

Materials

Typically, transport chairs are made of either steel or aluminum. The right material for you will largely depend on your budget and any accommodations you need your wheelchair to provide.

Steel is inexpensive and able to hold more weight than aluminum, making it an excellent material option for bariatric users or anyone shopping on a budget. However, steel is heavier than aluminum, so these transport chairs may be more challenging to travel with. If you are looking for a transport chair that is easiest to maneuver and transport, aluminum is the best option. However, aluminum transport chairs can be more expensive than steel and may have a lower weight capacity.  

Legrests

Legrests

There are two types of legrests: swing-away footrests and elevating legrests. Since transport chairs are designed only for short periods, most come equipped with swing-away footrests. These footrests rotate to make it easier to get into and out of the chair. However, your legs stay in one position with your knees comfortably bent while in the chair. Depending on the chair, these may be removable and elevating legrests may be available to purchase if needed. Elevating legrests allow you to position your legs to the most comfortable angle.

Renting vs Buying

Once you've chosen the right transport chair for your needs, it's time to decide: Should I rent or buy my transport chair?

Renting is a popular option among users, especially those who only need a transport chair for a short amount of time. If you only need a transport chair for a special event or vacation or while recovering from an injury or surgery, renting is likely the better option.

It can also be expensive to maintain and repair a transport chair you own. Renting a transport chair saves you from this stress, as rental companies usually cover the cost of maintaining it.

However, rental costs can quickly add up and become expensive. If you need a transport chair for an extended period, it's wise to use that money to invest in purchasing one of your own. This way, you own it, can use it whenever you want, and can even sell it and make some money back if the time comes where you no longer need it.

One thing you might consider is trying both options. Trying both can be especially helpful for those who are unsure whether they've found the right transport chair and don't want to commit to buying one yet. Renting allows you to try out different types and sizes of chairs before purchasing the one that feels best for you.  

Will Medicare Pay for a Transport Chair?

Medicare can cover a transport chair, but to be covered, the use of one should be deemed medically necessary. To determine whether your condition necessitates using a transport chair under Medicare guidelines, consult with your doctor. They can decide if it is the best option for you and provide Medicare with a written assessment.

That said, Medicare does not usually cover the entire cost of the transport chair. Medicare will typically cover 80 percent of the approved cost, while you will be responsible for the other 20 percent.  

About the Author

Stephanie Schwarten is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelors degree in Professional Writing. She specializes in content marketing as well as both developmental and copy editing. 

About Carex Health Brands

Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.

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