So you’re on the search for an all-terrain wheelchair! Whether you want to hike the local trails, compete in obstacle course races, or are simply looking for something a bit more outdoor-friendly than your current chair, an all-terrain wheelchair may be the best tool for the job. Now you just have to select one! Where to start?

The two main categories of all-terrain wheelchairs are of course manual chairs and electric chairs. The third category, which we’ll call retrofits, uses third-party attachments (some motorized, some not) to enhance the capabilities of your manual wheelchair.

Because none of these categories can work best for every rider out there, it is important to weigh the pros and cons of each option. Read on to learn more about which all-terrain wheelchair might be right for you, and always feel free to call GRIT at 877-345-4748 to discuss.

Electric All-Terrain Wheelchairs (The Pros)

First, a fully electric all-terrain wheelchair has the ability to operate in almost all conditions. They may move you slowly, but they will move you through the tough stuff.

Second, fully electric chairs also require minimal physical exertion and range of motion to operate. They can go as far as their batteries allow. These chairs help folks get outside when manual chairs are not an option.

Third, by providing the power of one, two, or more batteries, full power chairs help their riders move independently (without the assistance of a pusher). This can be particularly attractive for heavier riders or any who want to travel without assistance.

Electric All-Terrain Wheelchairs (The Cons)

Power chairs are phenomenal pieces of technology, but they are not perfect for every rider. The very qualities that make them useful are also the reasons some may steer away from them (pun intended).

For example, relying on battery power is great…until your battery runs out. Powerchair users have to be cognizant of their available power supply, and also be aware of the risk of electrical shorts or malfunctions in other components that can be seriously problematic.

Electric all-terrain chairs are also huge pieces of equipment. They often weigh hundreds of pounds and cannot be transported without specialized vans, lifts, or trailers. This increases the total cost of ownership, too. The large form factor of powered all-terrain wheelchairs means getting them “unstuck” (or worse, flipped back upright) can take multiple people, which can be an issue if a rider is out by themselves.

Maintenance of an electronic, all-terrain wheelchair often requires a trip to a specialty rep, which means getting ahold of a specialty rep, which—isn’t always as easy as anyone would like. The components in these chairs are big, heavy, and expensive, which means long wait times and tough financial burdens. Even if money isn’t an issue for a particular user, repairing these chairs can mean many-week delays.

Retrofits: E-Assist and Manual (The Pros)

Retrofits refer to attachments you can add to your manual wheelchair to expand its functionality. These attachments may just be an extension arm with a wheel; they may also feature a battery that can turn your manual chair into an e-assisted device. We’ll discuss both options below.

Adding an electronic retrofit arm/wheel to your chair will of course mean less pushing required from you! Some folks have their e-assist running all the time; others choose to have it engage only in particularly tricky areas (this functionality also varies by manufacturer). This can help you go farther than ever before, while still retaining the familiarity of your everyday wheelchair. Many e-assist options also come with impressive features such as automatic hill brakes, too.

A non-powered retrofit (sometimes called a freewheel) adds stability to a standard manual wheelchair and aims to prevent the small casters of your chair from digging into loose terrain. Non-powered retrofits are often very affordable options.

Retrofits (both e-assisted and manual) allow you to preserve the transportability of your current manual chair.

Retrofitting your current chair also helps limit the number of chair-to-chair transfers you’ll have to do on a given day. An ideal retrofit should allow you to enjoy various terrains and adventures without having to transfer into different devices.

For more information on retrofits, click here: (CLICK HERE).

All-Terrain Wheelchairs: Electric, E-Assist, or Manual? - Outdoor

Retrofits: E-Assist and Manual (The Cons)

Although retrofits may seem convenient, “too good to be true” can certainly apply. The big issue is the outright cost of e-assist options. There’s no way around it: They are expensive and can cost as much as a full all-terrain chair (i.e., thousands of dollars).

Non-powered retrofits are a good way to minimize cost, but you of course lose the benefits offered by an electronic boost.

Another risk of retrofits is compatibility with your current chair. If the retrofit doesn’t attach securely or reliably, you risk having to do an in-field repair. The advantage of buying a full all-terrain chair dedicated to the adventure at hand is that you’ll know the chair and its accessories are compatible with each other. The “one size fits all” retrofit attachments aren’t always perfect.

For e-assisted retrofits, you are also at the mercy of battery life. Without sufficient charge, you’re left pulling the heavy attachment along for the ride, and the solution can very easily become the problem.

The all-terrain capability of retrofits is one of the most frustrating downsides. They often aren’t as “all-terrain” as would be preferred (the casters can still dig into softer terrains, the retrofit wheel itself may not be suited for the terrains, and the wheel may not stay securely on the chair).

Moreover, your propulsion method is likely the same as it was pre-retrofit—the inefficient, hands-on-push-rims motion can still be exhausting, even with an extra wheel attached. A dedicated all-terrain chair will allow a more ergonomic motion that will help you power through tough terrains.

Manual All-Terrain Wheelchairs (The Pros)

Lastly, we’ll discuss manual all-terrain wheelchairs, like the GRIT Freedom Chair. These chairs are not limited by battery life, are easily transported, and are often less expensive than other options out there. They will go as far as you can and won’t stop until you want them to.

Being battery-free makes manual chairs much lighter than their powered counterparts. A power wheelchair can weigh anywhere from 150-400 pounds (or more), whereas a manual chair typically weighs 50 or fewer pounds. This means less weight to push while riding, but also less weight to transport, to lift into vehicles, and to move in all instances.

GRIT Freedom Chairs are made from easily sourced bicycle parts. The big win here is in regular maintenance, which is a reality for any chair being regularly used in tough offroad environments. Using parts stocked at local bike shops means maintenance and repairs are inexpensive and quick, so you can get back on the trail sooner. Gone are the days of waiting weeks or months for replacement parts, or even waiting just as long for a local rep to call you back to help you troubleshoot.

Accessorizing is also much simpler with a manual chair. Attachments like steering pegs, assistance handles, side guards, and camera mounts can usually be added anytime. Electric chairs may be more difficult and expensive to modify. The accessories available for dedicated all-terrain manual chairs will also cater to off-road adventuring, too, so they’ll more likely solve the real-world problems you may encounter.

Dedicated, manual, all-terrain wheelchairs are designed to be the most versatile wheelchairs available. Unlike a retrofit, which can offer just some of the benefits of all-terrain mobility, a dedicated all-terrain chair will be manufactured for that purpose. Roll through the grass at the park, ride over the roots and rocks, plow through the snow—it’s what the chair is designed to do!

Finally, manual all-terrain chairs offer the health and wellness benefits of a fantastic workout. You become the motor, the brakes, and the steering wheel, and the cardiovascular benefits of wheeling are unavoidable. Whether combatting a degenerative muscular disease, regaining range of motion after an injury, or just looking to give your lungs and upper body some exercise, manual is the way to go to keep your body strong and fit. Click here for more: (CLICK HERE).

All-Terrain Wheelchairs: Electric, E-Assist, or Manual? -  The Cons requires strength and range of motion that can be prohibitive.
Requires strength and range of motion that can be prohibitive.

Manual All-Terrain Wheelchairs (The Cons)

Manual all-terrain wheelchairs are great, but they simply aren’t an option for everyone. Pumping a manual chair over any terrain is physically demanding, and requires strength and range of motion that can be prohibitive.

By design, manual chairs often have lower weight capacities than full-electric chairs. Most manual chairs are rated for 250-300 pounds, so riders beyond these thresholds may be better suited for powered options.

Because manual chairs are designed for easy transport and propulsion, some high-weight accessories may not be feasible. For example, continuous tracks can be effective in deep sand, but they require a massive amount of force to propel and are extremely heavy. Use of this kind of accessory usually requires a full-power chair that can cost and weigh far more than a manual chair.

Do You Have More Questions?

If you’re still not sure which kind of chair would be best for you, we’re happy to chat! While the GRIT team can speak most fluently about the Freedom Chair, we want to help get you and your loved ones outside and would be glad to connect.

Get your questions answered →