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How We Decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds—we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

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Best Wheelchairs

Though electric wheelchairs offer tremendous advantages for those with long-term mobility issues, a self-propelled wheelchair is a better option in terms of cost and portability for many. For example, a person recovering from a broken leg has only a short-term need for assistance; buying a self-propelled wheelchair could actually be more cost-effective than renting one in this scenario.

Our five finalists are very much general-purpose wheelchairs. (Specialized equipment should always be discussed with a qualified medical practitioner before a purchase is made!) That being said, the following five contenders offer terrific value, and for many people, they provide a solution that's affordable, practical, and flexible:

Products we considered

  • Karman
    S-305 Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair
  • Drive Medical
    Cruiser III
  • Drive Medical
    Blue Streak Wheelchair
  • Medline
    K4 Lightweight Wheelchair
  • Karman
    LT-980 Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair

Denise has a background in healthcare and physical therapy. She also has the unique experience of raising three boys. Through the years, she has coached her sons and many of their friends through their share of childhood health problems and accidents. When not helping others recover from their injuries, you may find Denise working in her garden or reading.

Denise  |  Health Care Professional


Size, Weight & Construction

People come in a variety of sizes, and not all self-propelled wheelchairs are built to cope with heavier occupants. In this section, we look at the vital basics that affect each chair's suitability.

Features & Options

Although appearance might be similar, wheelchair makers offer a range of options that differentiate their products. In this part of our ratings, we look at everything from detachable armrests to anti-bacterial upholstery.

Comfort & Practicality

It's one thing to be strong and supportive; it's another to be comfortable. We provide feedback from real users so you get a better understanding of what each wheelchair is like in the real world.


Buying a cheap wheelchair can be more economical than renting one, even in the short term. But if you need something for longer, do you have to pay top dollar? In this part of our review, we analyze the cost and value of each model.

Customization is an important feature to consider when shopping for a manual or powered wheelchair. Seat height is just one of many adjustments required for maximum comfort.

Health Care Professional

Size, Weight, & Construction

Self Transport Folding Wheelchair with Footrests

Available in seven sizes, many options on the MedMobile Self Transport Folding Wheelchair relate to different arm and leg rest types. There are three choices of seat width: 16, 18, and 20 inches. Seat depth is 16 inches, and the height of the seat from the floor is 19 inches. The MedMobile wheelchair is largely constructed from steel, which makes it robust (it will support 250 pounds) but not light. At around 50 pounds, some owners think it's a bit heavy.

Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair with Flip Back Detachable Desk Arms

In an effort to make a product that fits the majority of users, most manufacturers build to a fairly similar set of sizes. It's no surprise, then, that the Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair offers 16-, 18-, and 20-inch seat widths and a common depth of 16 inches. Seat height is a fraction taller than the MedMobile at 19.5 inches, but it supports the same amount of weight: 250 pounds. The Drive Medical wheelchair is made primarily of steel, so it's definitely strong. At 46 pounds, though, it's no lightweight.

Medline K1 Basic Wheelchair, 18" Wide, Desk-Length Arms, Elevating Legrests

Like the MedMobile, the Medline K1 Basic Elevating chair's size options have mostly to do with arm and leg rests. In terms of seat dimensions, there are 16- and 18-inch width options, but there is no 20-inch width available on this model. Seat depth is 16 inches and height is 20 inches. Thanks to dual axle hemi-height adjustment, however, it can be lowered to around 18 inches, allowing users to propel the wheelchair with their feet. The Medline K1 is made of strong steel and can hold a person of up to 300 pounds, but the chair itself is noticeably lighter than some competitors at just 40 pounds.

Invacare LightWeight Tracer EX2 Wheelchair 20" with SwingawayFootrest

The Invacare LightWeight Tracer EX2 Wheelchair offers just a single seat size: 20 inches wide and 16 inches deep. Like the Medline, it's a dual-axle, hemi-height model, this time with a variability of between 19.5 and 17.5 inches from seat to floor. The frame is made of steel, but thanks to the use of composites, it weighs only 39 pounds. This weight reduction doesn't mean it lacks support, though; the Invacare is rated to carry up to 250 pounds.

Karman 29 pounds S-305 Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair Pearl Silver

The Karman Healthcare S-305 Wheelchair is available with a seat width of 16 or 18 inches. Interestingly, it offers an unusual depth of 17 inches. The manufacturer doesn't use the "hemi-height" description that's common with competitors, but the seat can be conveniently adjusted to 18, 19, or 20 inches from the floor. The frame is constructed of aircraft-grade aluminum and weighs just 29 pounds; Karman calls this their "ultra-lightweight" range. Even though it's a lightweight chair, the Karman S-305 can carry the industry-standard weight of 250 pounds.

Karman Healthcare's S-305 Ergonomic Manual Wheelchair is constructed of aircraft-grade aluminum and weighs just 29 pounds, yet it can support the industry-standard weight of 250 pounds.

Features & Options

Self Transport Folding Wheelchair with Footrests, Solid Castors

Self-propelled wheelchairs often come with a selection of different leg and armrests, and the MedMobile wheelchair seems to cater to just about every preference. There are full-length or desk-length arms (both are detachable), swing-away legs, and elevating leg rests (also detachable). The seat is fairly basic nylon, though it's easy to find a cushion to fit if you want one. The solid tires are described as "soft-grip," meaning they don't slide or spin. A few owners thought the tires came off the rims rather easily, and some said that they could mark flooring, but only a small percentage reported these problems.

Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair with Flip Back Detachable Desk Arms

If you want something a bit brighter than the standard wheelchair, the blue frame on the Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair might appeal to you. Whether it does or not, the clever flip-back arms should; they're quite convenient because you don't have to remove them. Unfortunately, the only arm choice is "desk-length." (Owners do, however, have a choice of either elevating or swinging away their legs.) The seat material is nylon, and there's a useful pocket on the back of the chair. The Drive Medical chair runs on solid rubber tires that appear similar to those on the MedMobile, but they don't attract the same criticisms.

Medline K1 Basic Wheelchair, 18" Wide, Desk-Length Arms, Elevating Legrests

The Medline wheelchair gives you a full range of options, including desk-length or full-length arms and elevating or swing-away legs. Other than that, however, it offers little of note. The seat and back are made of nylon. As with most manual wheelchairs, it can be folded; legs and arms come off for easier transportation, too. The manufacturer refers to the tires as "flat-free," but being solid, that's a bit of a given.

Invacare LightWeight Tracer EX2 Wheelchair 20" with SwingawayFootrest

As with the Drive Medical model, the Invacare Tracer EX2 Wheelchair has only one set of arms (the desk-length type) as standard. Likewise, there are only swing-away legs. Others components are available, and Invacare's own 9000 Series models has interchangeable parts, but each represents an extra cost. Indeed, a little caution is needed, because most of the pictures we've seen of this product include add-ons that cost extra. For example, the seat material is nylon, but photos often depict a cushion (which would cost more). Extended lever brakes are also sometimes pictured, but these cost more than the baseline price. The Invacare's tires are solid and quite substantial – a plus for both comfort and durability.

Karman 29 pounds S-305 Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair Pearl Silver

There's nothing extraordinary about the swing-away legs on the Karman wheelchair (although the footrests are nice and large). However, the armrests are quite different from any of our other finalists. They're about as long as desk-length versions, but they're more like the arms you'd enjoy on a good office chair. They're ergonomically shaped, and though Karman calls them "fixed," they are adjustable for height and flip back to improve wheelchair access. The chair's contours are comfortable and help reduce problems like pressure ulcers. The padded seat is anti-bacterial, stain-resistant, and washable. The tires are solid with a tread pattern that reduces friction while giving directional stability. Karman's attention to detail is underlined by hand rims that have been sculpted for comfort and grip quality.

The Bissell Big Green Deep Cleaning machine makes use of rotating "DirtLifter PowerBrushes" that, when used with Bissell's cleaning formula, can eradicate even the toughest of pet stains.

Comfort & Practicality

Self Transport Folding Wheelchair with Footrests, Solid Castors 

A basic wheelchair like the MedMobile might be cheap, but it still ought to be comfortable. After all, there's a lot of competition at this price point! For the most part, owners seem very satisfied with the chair. It's supportive and sturdy, and enough width options are provided for the vast majority of users. A few people felt that the arms would benefit from more padding, and a handful of taller riders thought the back was a bit low. If you plan on lifting this chair in and out of a car, there's no doubt that it's a bit heavy. (Most cheap wheelchairs are.) The main complaint concerns the wheelchair's odor; a number of owners find the initial "smell" to be very unpleasant. The odor dissipates in a matter of days, but that's not so good if you want to use it right away. Having said that, this is a very popular model with many owners who have nothing but good things to say about it.

Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair with Flip Back Detachable Desk Arms

The self-propelled Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair shares a lot in common with the MedMobile. Unfortunately, the many positive attributes of this chair are soured by a few negatives. In general, owners think it's a good chair that's relatively comfortable and easy to steer. Sadly, it seems to suffer from quality control issues. Plenty of people are delighted with theirs, but those who aren't reported a range of problems: cracked covers on the armrests, difficult-to-lock brakes, various loose components. It seems that if you get a good one, you'll be very satisfied – but there are a few "not so good" ones around.

Medline K1 Basic Wheelchair, 18" Wide, Desk-Length Arms, Elevating Legrests

Many owners are complimentary of the Medline K1 Wheelchair; those who describe themselves as "short" and "ample" find it particularly comfortable. (This includes one owner who admitted that he exceeded the chair's stated weight limit of 300 pounds.) A number of owners agree that it's made well, but several were displeased by a strong rubber odor that, in some cases, took several weeks to wear off. Most users seem to be those recovering from temporary conditions such as fractures or problems with tendonitis. The consensus seems to be that it's great for that kind of work and has all the features that are necessary, but perhaps it doesn't have the component durability required for long-term use.

Invacare LightWeight Tracer EX2 Wheelchair 20" with SwingawayFootrest

Although Invacare calls the Tracer EX2 Wheelchair "lightweight," that term seems to be a bit subjective. Lots of owners agree that it is indeed lightweight, but a few have said they find the description misleading. In general, owners say this is a maneuverable chair that's easy to fold and transport, but there is one consistent complaint: the seat back stretches too much, and it sags. This is not a difficult problem to fix, but it's a problem that shouldn't really be occurring in the first place. The other thing that has caused some confusion is the fact that the Tracer EX2 arrives in two boxes. Several owners thought this meant it would need major assembly. In fact, only the foot rests are in the second package.

Karman 29 pounds S-305 Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair Pearl Silver

When it comes to comfort and ease of use, the Karman Healthcare S-305 chair ticks all the right boxes. Seldom do we see such a high level of customer satisfaction! Indeed, complaints are just about non-existent. It's undeniably light; it folds and unfolds with little effort; it's sturdy, well-built, and easily portable. The included cushions receive lots of praise; several people have bought an extra set. One or two owners did say the "S" seat shape took a while to get used to. Once acclimated, however, even those who spend most of the day in their wheelchair find it comfortable. The only minor negative was that detaching the optional quick-release wheels can be a little tricky. This is a feature that most competitors don't offer, and many users don't even bother with it.

MedMobile's Self Transport Folding Wheelchair is affordable, supportive, and sturdy.


Self Transport Folding Wheelchair with Footrests, Solid Castors

With a current price of just $130, it's no surprise that the MedMobile wheelchair is tremendously popular. Many buyers are people recovering from fractures or surgery. They look at the cost of renting a wheelchair, then at the price of buying the MedMobile, and it's a no-brainer. This isn't just a cheap wheelchair to use and throw away, though. It's built to last, and while it may not be made to the highest specifications, it offers a range of options to suit different owners. A few tall people didn't like the seat back height, and some initially found the smell unpleasant, but at such a low price, the value is tough to beat.

Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair with Flip Back Detachable Desk Arms

The price of the Drive Medical Blue Streak Wheelchair, at $104, is similar to that of the MedMobile. The question is whether there's any substantial difference between the two. The Drive Medical has a nice blue finish that some prefer, but that's a personal choice. It doesn't offer quite the range of arm and leg choices that the MedMobile does, but the swing-back arms are clever. The Drive Medical's weight, at 46 pounds, is very similar to that of the MedMobile. The only problem with this wheelchair seems to be quality. It may be a minority of cases, but several owners have been frustrated by breakages and the need for tightening/refitting.

Medline K1 Basic Wheelchair, 18" Wide, Desk-Length Arms, Elevating Legrests

At $349, the Medline is another cheap wheelchair that's very much in competition with the MedMobile and Drive Medical. In terms of structural rigidity, the Medline offers a maximum load capacity that's higher than any other wheelchair in our ratings. It offers a good range of leg and arm options, but no more than the Drive Medical and MedMobile. It is 10 pounds lighter than the MedMobile, but weight is very subjective, and it's not truly a "light" chair. Seat height is adjustable, which could be important for some potential buyers. On the down side, there have been reports of an unpleasant rubber odor that doesn't wear off for a while, and a few owners thought the component quality could be improved. Nevertheless, the Medline K1 Basic Elevating Wheelchair a very competitive option among our shortlist of best wheelchairs.

Invacare LightWeight Tracer EX2 Wheelchair 20" with SwingawayFootrest

Right now, the Invacare wheelchair costs $171. This price is sufficiently higher than that of some other shortlist competitors. At first, you might wonder why you're paying extra: only one seat width is offered, the weight rating isn't any higher than competitors, and the chair isn't noticeably lighter. Yes, seat height is adjustable, and many find that to be useful, but the Medline chair offers that benefit, too. The reason the Invacare costs more is its build quality and durability. Though some have experienced stretching with the fabric on the back, it's not a common problem. In all other areas, the Invacare is made very well. It's found in a number of nursing establishments, which should tell you a lot about its maneuverability, practicality, and durability.

Karman 29 pounds S-305 Ergonomic Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair Pearl Silver

The Karman Healthcare S-305 costs $659, which is a considerable amount more than the other models in our wheelchair review. If you're looking for a cheap wheelchair for short-term use, this probably isn't your ideal product. However, if you're looking for valuable, user-friendly features, a lightweight chair that's easy to maneuver, and exceptional comfort and durability, this is the one. Karman has a superb reputation for quality; the company's construction standards and attention to detail definitely shine through in this chair. As a result, owner satisfaction is off the charts!

Karman Healthcare has a superb reputation for quality, and their high standards shine through the S-305 Ergonomic Wheelchair. Owner satisfaction is off the charts!

Best of the Best

The best self-propelled wheelchair is the Karman Healthcare S-305. It's head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.

At first glance, this chair doesn't appear to offer quite the same range of arm and leg options as some other wheelchairs. That's a little deceptive, however, because the Karman has an adjustable, tilting version that does what all the others do combined! Seat widths are available in 16 or 18 inches, and the depth is an unusual 17 inches. That's because of the seat's innovative "S" shape, which is designed to relieve pressure and enhance comfort. The seat height is adjustable to 18, 19, or 20 inches off the floor.

The Karman Healthcare chair has a maximum weight capacity of 250 pounds – the industry standard – but the chair itself weighs an ultra-light 29 pounds. This is a testament to its structural strength, which comes by way of aircraft-grade aluminum and modern composites. The solid tires have a tread pattern that promotes directional stability and assists with maneuverability. Practical considerations extend to the shaping of the comfortable hand rims and the anti-bacterial/removable/washable seat cushion.

Karman's attention to detail has earned the company many devoted fans. It's hard to find owners who have anything negative to say about this chair. One or two said the seat took a bit of getting used to, but after that, comfort was excellent. A couple of people thought getting the optional quick-release wheels off was tricky, but most never found the need to even use this feature. A product that costs as much as the Karman usually attracts plenty of criticism. The fact that this wheelchair receives almost no negative comments tells you just how good it is, and that is why we proclaim it to be the Best of the Best.

Best of the Best
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The Karman Healthcare S-305's seat comes in an innovative "S" shape that is designed to relieve pressure and enhance comfort.

Best Bang for Your Buck

All of the budget-priced wheelchairs on our shortlist are very good, but the Best Bang for Your Buck comes from the MedMobile Self Transport Folding Wheelchair.

The Drive Medical, Medline, and Invacare chairs all come very close to winning this title. With its good performance and great price, however, it's tough to beat the MedMobile in terms of quality and value.

Owners have their choice of desk-length or full-length arms and elevating or swing-away leg rests. Seat width is available in 16-, 18-, and 20-inch increments. Thanks to its strong steel frame, the MedMobile can support a person of up to 250 pounds. There is a weight penalty for this robust frame; at 50 pounds, you wouldn't want to be lifting the MedMobile in and out of the trunk more often than necessary. (It should be noted that all other competitors in this price bracket present a similar challenge.)

Most owners find the MedMobile to be very comfortable and maneuverable, though some taller people say the back lacks support. A seat cushion is not included with this purchase, but it could be a good idea for those who want a little more padding. A fraction of owners believe the construction could be better, and a fair number of buyers were put off by the initial odor of the product. This odor typically dissipates after a week or so.

Individual complaints are always worth paying attention to, but fortunately, the negatives account for only a tiny percentage of the feedback this chair receives. The MedMobile Self Transport Folding Wheelchair is a popular item, and the majority of owners tend to focus on what an incredible value it is for the money. It may not be perfect, but for those with relatively short-term wheelchair needs, it's an excellent, affordable option.

Best Bang For Your Buck
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MedMobile's Self Transport Folding Wheelchair is an excellent, affordable option for those with short-term wheelchair needs.
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    Product Analyst
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    Senior Editor

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