How to Choose an All-Terrain Wheelchair
From sizing, to functionality, to safety, to price, to so much more, there is a lot to consider when searching for an all-terrain wheelchair. The GRIT team wants to help. After all, this process should be really exciting! Selecting the right all-terrain wheelchair is the first step to new adventures, new opportunities, and—maybe most important of all—more time out of the house and into the great outdoors.
Below, we’ll talk about some key features and considerations for all-terrain wheelchairs. No matter what product you select, we want you to feel confident when choosing your next wheelchair for outdoors and off-road.
Safety is one of the most important things to consider when finding the right all-terrain wheelchair. Being unable to trust yourself and your equipment during an adventure can make a huge difference; this is often a big reason folks search for off-road wheelchairs in the first place!
In all-terrain wheelchairs, safety should be integral to any product’s design. Outdoor adventuring lends itself to tricky terrains and environments, so you’ll want a chair designed to keep you safe and powering forward. The wheelchair’s design should incorporate features that protect the rider, such as:
- Balance over uneven surfaces
- A seatbelt and the ability to add your own strapping
- Hill-hold capabilities
- Reliable parking brakes
- All-terrain wheels
- Optional features like chest harnesses, foot straps, and anti-tip bar
Independence and Assistance
Additionally, a well-made all-terrain wheelchair will give its riders the choice between independence and assistance. Because these off-road wheelchairs will take you to tougher terrains, you may need a little help from your friends—your chair should make this teamwork easy for both you and anyone assisting. This can take the form of tow-ropes, push handles at the rear of the chair, and the option for multiple assistants to participate if desired.
A close second to safety is performance! Whether your goals include hiking up mountains, going fishing, or enjoying rides through the park with your grandkids, your all-terrain wheelchair needs to be up for the job at hand.
Depending on your level of ability and your particular adventure goals, a big element of performance may be the decision between a motorized or a manual chair. If a power chair is the best way to get you outside, go for it—this is the best option for many. If a manual chair is an option, however, the advantages include a lower price tag, no reliance on charging or power, and easier transportation. If you do go manual, make sure to select a chair that allows someone to assist you—with the right setup on a manual chair, two people can work together to enjoy some seriously impressive outings.
The performance of an all-terrain chair will only increase as your own performance increases. As you grow stronger, more familiar with the device, and fluent in the realities of using your new equipment, you and your chair will be able to do more and more. Choose a wheelchair for all terrains that you can use easily and often, as that will get you to your adventure goals, sooner.
Some all-terrain wheelchairs are built specifically for one kind of terrain (e.g. the beach) but perform awfully others (e.g., the forest, the snow, the grass). These hyper-specialized devices are phenomenal in that single environment, but we think the best all-terrain wheelchairs are those that can navigate... all terrains!
It isn’t uncommon for conditions to change when being active outdoors. For example, rain can turn the gravel trail you were riding on into a wet, muddy track. Or, maybe you want to take your chair over the boardwalk, through the sand, and down to the water, and then pack it up into your car for a trail hike the next day. For circumstances like these, it is good to have an all-terrain wheelchair that can support shifts in conditions and activities.
An all-terrain wheelchair that’s versatile gives you the ability to be versatile, too. Get a chair that can go with you anywhere.
Payment and Funding
Purchasing adaptive sports equipment costs time and money—often, quite a bit of both. The price range for this kind of product fluctuates drastically, so it is important to find one that fits in your budget while still being able to get the job done.
Some folks can afford their all-terrain wheelchairs outright. Many can’t. So, it is important to select an all-terrain wheelchair company that can help you as much or as little as you need. Is there a payment plan option? Are there loan options? Are there full or partial grants you could use? When you’ve found a chair that seems like a good fit, get on the phone and speak with them. Are they willing to help you find a way to afford the product?
Adaptive sports companies should try to get as many people outside as possible; if they make a high-value item, they should be prepared to help people and not keep them stuck behind a paywall. We encourage you to reach out to company representatives and ask about their available payment options, it could be a dealmaker.
But have you considered the lifetime cost (in time and money) of that product? Are you going to be calling the manufacturer over and over again for custom replacement parts, spending gobs of money on repairs, and staring at a broken piece of equipment you can’t use?
Rough and constant use of any product will cause natural wear and tear (e.g., think about cars or mountain bikes), but repairs should be straightforward, quick, and not outlandishly expensive.
Getting a new wheel on your all-terrain wheelchair, for example, should be quick and easy, but some manufacturers will make you wait weeks for a replacement caster. It can often take a miracle to even get in contact with a representative. Select an all-terrain wheelchair that boasts intuitive, easy-to-maintain products and a reliable customer success team. When you need help, you should be able to get it—it’s as simple as that.
What good is an all-terrain wheelchair you can’t take to different terrains? Most people aren’t lucky enough to have a trailhead in their backyard, so you’re going to need to be able to load up your chair, your supplies, and get out there!
Your all-terrain wheelchair should be able to fold or disassemble without much effort. The device should also be able to fit into most car trunks, so you aren’t hindered from being able to really venture into new territory. Most folks aren’t willing or interested in buying a separate trailer for their all-terrain wheelchair. Even if you are able to afford a trailer, it means having to get it set up before every ride, which can be a big hassle.
More than just aesthetics, customizations and accessories can help make your all-terrain wheelchair uniquely yours. You should be able to improve the comfort and practicality of your chair with accessories and customizations offered by the manufacturer.
A big part of this is being able to understand the different options that are available to you. Call the company you’re researching and ask them about the different packages.
Speaking with a representative before buying the chair could save you some trouble down the line. They’ll work with you to decide what model and accessories suit your needs, so you can focus on enjoying your new all-terrain wheelchair as soon as it arrives. And, if you do want to add some extra flare (handlebar wraps, stickers, flags, spoke covers, etc.), you chair should make that possible, too.
Since all-terrain wheelchairs are most often used in addition to standard chairs, it is important to consider how you’re going to transfer in and out of both. Ask the manufacturer of the chair to show you videos of other riders getting in and out of their chairs. Or, come on down to Beyond the Pavement and ask the riders themselves!
More Questions? Call Us!
We hope to have covered some of the big topics and questions, but you likely have some more that need answers! For help with your search, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-345-4748.
Updated October 13, 2021; originally posted November 10, 2020.