There are a number of features of wheeled walking frames that are worth considering when you are chosing which model is best for you. Our test reports include a list of which features is available on each model, and how well they function.
Three or four wheels?
The basic choice is between three- and four-wheeled walking frames.
Some people prefer three-wheeled walking frames because they look smaller and less obtrusive. They can also be a bit lighter and easier to steer in small places than some four-wheeled models. Most three-wheeled walking frames don't have seats.
However, many therapists advise against three-wheelers because they are easier to tip. It's also not always obvious if they have been properly unfolded, which can be risky if you don't notice in time. If you want a three-wheeler, go for one that has a supporting strut that locks into place automatically as you push the frame forwards, or that has an indicator that shows you clearly if it's not locked.
Walking frames fold up for storage and transport. Some are easier to fold than others, and some fold up smaller than others. Measurements of the folded frames are given in our test reports.
Some models can be difficult to fold or unfold. Because they cannot support you when you are folding them, there's a danger that you may overbalance. You can also trap your fingers.
Ask the shop to show you how the frame folds, and try it out a few times to make sure you can do it safely.
Check that you (or whoever will do it) can pick up the folded frame to put it away or get it into the back of a car.
Some walking frames will stay standing up when folded, and some have a clip or catch that holds them secure in the folded position. These features make them easier to use.
Most people hold and steer the walking frame with both hands, holding on to the frame or holding on to handles.
If your hands are stiff or painful, you can add forearm supports to some models. You should take professional advice if you're considering a forearm walker.
You may use your walking frame for long periods, and you'll be holding the handles all the time. It's important to make sure they're comfortable. Try out different hand grips in the shop, allowing enough time to really get a feel for them.
- Some walking frames have straight hand grips.
- Some are covered with padded tape, like on a bicycle.
- Soft foam grips are easy to hold and usually comfortable, as long as they're the right thickness for your hand. Try them out to see.
- Specially shaped hand grips - sometimes called ergonomic or anatomic grips - are meant to fit your hand more comfortably. Check that this is the case - they can actually be very uncomfortable if the moulding doesn't fit your hand closely.
All walking frames have brakes of one kind or another.
- Pressure brakes go on when you push down on the frame. They are easy to use because it's easy to use your weight to press down. They only stay on while you are pushing, so you can't lock the brakes if you want to stay put for a while. Make sure they are properly adjusted, otherwise they might come on when you're not expecting it.
- Hand brakes work by squeezing a lever like on a bicycle, or a strap. They can be used to slow you down as you are going along, and can be locked to keep the frame steady while you sit down or put things on the tray or basket.
- Lever brakes usually work with cables. Sometimes these are hidden inside the frame, which is better because then they can't get caught on things.
If you're choosing a walking frame with hand brakes, check that you can stretch your fingers far enough, and squeeze with enough force, to comfortably apply the brakes. You also need to be able to push the lever or strap down to lock the brakes. Some brake levers are shaped to make them easier. Try a selection in the shop.
Seats and backrests
All four-wheeled walking frames have seats. Very few three-wheelers do. Seats can be useful, especially on longer trips. They are meant for short rests, not sitting in for a long time. They are made of fabric, wood or plastic, and may be rigid or flexible. Some are padded and some have backrests.
- Try them out to find out what suits you, and take enough time to test for comfort.
- Check that the seat is the right height for you to sit comfortably, and high enough to let you sit down and get up easily. Some are adjustable, and some frames come in a range of sizes - so make sure you are trying the right one for you.
- Make sure the walking frame and seat are stable and that you can sit down and stand up safely.
- If you need back support, check it is at the right height to support you comfortably. A few backrests are adjustable.
Bags, baskets and trays
Many frames have a bag or basket. Some baskets sit at the front of the frame, but some can be a bit difficult to get at, especially when you're sitting down, as they're under the seat. Think about whether this is going to be important for you. If you're worried about things being stolen, look for a basket or bag that can be closed, or is harder to get at.
You might have to take the bag or basket off, or at least empty it, before you can fold the walking frame. If you're using the bag for shopping, and you know you're going to have to fold the walking frame to get it into the car, say, it's a good idea to put a shopping bag into the frame's bag first - then you can lift everything out in one go.
Many frames have a tray, which is useful for carrying things from room to room at home. Check that you can reach it easily (some are very low) and that it's firm enough, as some shake around a bit.
Standard or optional features include walking-stick holders, drink holders, oxygen-cylinder holders and parasols.
Some walking frames have 'kerb climbers'. These are small pedals attached to the rear wheels that are meant to make it easier to get up kerbs. We found that they didn't help much.
If you find the walking frame runs away from you, or if you're going to be using it on a slope, you can get one fitted with 'slow down' brakes on the back wheels. These will slow the frame down and make it easier to keep it under control. You can find out which frames have these in our test reports.
Last updated: February 2010