Walking Aids Buying Guide
Types of Walking Aids
Walking frames are generally intended to provide support and reassurance when making journeys outside. They can be an effective replacement for walking sticks as they provide support to both arms. They can be and often are used indoors but this is generally restricted due to the size of most domestic doorways.
Tri Wheel Walkers
Tri wheel walkers have a swiveling front wheel and two fixed rear wheels – one on each corner. The frame has handle bars for you to hold and to use to push the frame forwards as you walk. As the frame is completely wheeled, there is no need to lift any part of the frame to move forwards – you just need to push.
Virtually all tri wheel walkers can be folded for transport or storage. Whilst the folding mechanism can differ by model, it is normally operated by releasing a locking mechanism near the front of the frame. This allows the handle bars and the rear wheels to be closed together significantly reducing the width of the frame. This can be very useful where, for example, you want to be able to go on the bus or need to be able to put the frame in the boot of a car.
Four Wheel Walkers or Rollators
These differ from the tri wheel walkers in that they have 4 wheels. Generally the 2 front castors will swivel to enable the frame to turn, whilst the rear 2 are fixed for stability. Four wheel walkers usually incorporate a seat between the handle bars which can be extremely useful if you need to rest during your journey. Four wheel walkers tend to be wider and less manoeuvrable than tri wheel walkers but provide greater stability and are less likely to tip over.
There are two types of braking mechanism – loop brakes or pressure brakes.
Loop brakes are the most common type and operate in a similar way to the brakes on a bicycle. The brake is applied through squeezing a looped shaped lever mounted on each handlebar. This lever applies a brake to the wheel which slows down. Most types of loop brake also have a built in handbrake facility, whereby you push the loop down and it locks in place. Ideal for keeping your walker stationary when you need both hands free, for example to post a letter.
This type of braking mechanism is the most intuitive to use and by far the most popular amongst Clearwell customers. However, the only problem that can arise is if you find it difficult or painful to apply the lever. This can be the case if you have arthritic hands for example.
Pressure brakes use a spring loaded mechanism which pushes a rubber ferrule in to contact with the floor when you apply weight or pressure to the handle bars. The weight applied pushes the back of the frame down and the friction of the rubber contact with the floor slows the frame. The tension of the spring and hence the force needed to apply the brake can be adjusted.
Pressure brakes tend to be more suitable if you have painful hands and you don’t place a lot of weight on to the frame. With pressure brakes, a tri wheel walker takes on the characteristics of a Zimmer frame where you need to shift your weight off the frame to move forwards.
If you are planning to use a walking frame for independent journeys, perhaps to the local shops, you might want to consider whether you need a seat to enable you to stop and rest during the journey. Most of the four wheel walkers and some tri wheel walkers incorporate seats to enable you to take short rests during your journey.
On four wheel walkers, the seats are located in the space between the handle bars and are usually hinged and have a small bag or basket underneath. The seat then forms a lid for the bag or basket.
There is only one type of tri wheel walker which has a seat fitted to the frame - Triumph made by Uniscan. This particular walking frame has a seat which is stored upright against the right hand side of the frame. When you need the seat you pull it upwards and across the frame until attaches to the other side providing a seat. This design maximizes the space you have to walk with the frame. Where the walking frame incorporates a seat you must ensure that there are locking or pressure brakes fitted such that when you are sitting down the frame will not move.
The key size attributes to think about are the height of the frame and handlebars, the height of the seat (if there is one) and the overall width of the frame.
Most walking frames are height adjustable by moving the handlebars up and down. This provides a range of hand heights for you to choose from. The standard walkers tend to have a height range of about 5 inches. Some of the more expensive brands such as Uniscan provide a wider range of handlebar heights by varying the overall height of the frame.
The seat height tends to be fixed for most types of standard four wheel walkers. Again some of the more expensive walking frames have the function to either vary the seat of the height or to specify a different seat height at the point of ordering. However, this should be only really be necessary where you are either extremely tall or short. Please see below for measuring your ideal seat height.
Single or Double Wheels
This is really a question of stability and confidence. Single wheels are adequate for most people’s needs and everyday use. If you feel you want additional stability, dual wheels are more stable as they have more contact with the ground.
Steel or Aluminium Frame
Most of the standard and heavy duty frames are made from steel tubing. This provides a very strong construction but can be heavy to lift and push. A frame made from Aluminium will be lighter than an equivalent steel frame by approximately 20-30%. This has obvious advantages in lifting and manoeuvring the frame.
There are a variety of handgrips available. Some are ergonomically shaped to spread pressure across the palm. This can provide relief if you place significant weight on to the frame.
Shopping Baskets & Bags
There are a variety of types of baskets or bags that can be attached to a standard walking frame. Vinyl bags are very popular and are available for both three and four wheel walkers. They are usually attached with poppers around the frame and can be purchased with the frame or as an optional extra. The great benefit of a vinyl bag is that the frame can be folded with the bag attached – as long as it is empty!
Some frames are designed with special attachments so that a larger detachable shopping bag can be carried easily. This can be useful where you want to do a larger shop and carry your shopping home safely.
These are available for both three and some four wheel walkers and can enable the walking frame to transport food and drink. The tray for the three wheel walker is generally combined with a wire basket and sits on the front of the frame. Please note that with this accessory fitted it is not possible to fold tri wheel walker frames. Uniscan offer a tray designed for their four wheel walkers that can be folded out of the way when not in use. It is possible to use the seat on a standard four wheel walking frame to carry a tray as long as the tray is secured to the frame in some way but care should be taken.
Walking Stick or Crutch Holder
Often forgotten but very useful, a walking stick holder keeps your stick with you and at hand whenever you need to venture away from the frame. The more expensive walking frames tend to incorporate walking stick holders as a standard feature. It is generally available as an optional extra for most of the standard frames and can be fitted prior to despatch.
Assessing the Correct Size
The height of the handlebars of the walking frame is important to maintaining a good posture when using the frame. If the height is set too low then you may find that you stoop when walking. If the handles are set too high, the frame will not give the support you need and may be difficult to control.
The ideal height is for the handles to be at the same level as your wrist bones when you are stood in a relaxed manner with your hands by your side with the elbows slightly bent. Don’t forget to wear your normal outside shoes when you take the measurement. If the height measured is not exactly available (the adjustments are normally in 1” increments), the next closest height notch should be chosen.
The seat height should be chosen to be comfortable when sitting in a ‘perching’ style. This should be higher than the seat height you would normally have for an armchair, as you will only be sitting for short periods of time. The amount of additional increase should be anywhere between 4” and 6” higher than the normal seat height suitable for you. Please see our Seating buying guide for guidance on measuring seat heights.
These are specially adapted trolleys which provide additional confidence when walking and assist with carrying things around the home. They are designed to be pushed in front of you as you walk and typically have four swivel castors making them extremely easy to manoeuvre. The trolley is usually gripped with angled hand grips on each side or by a bar which runs along the back of the frame.
These trolleys tend to have two shelves for carrying food, drinks and other items. The bottom shelf is set forward to give additional space for your legs when walking. However, it must be noted that these trolleys do not have any brakes on the castors. Therefore, this type of trolley would not be suitable where you need a lot of support or place a lot of weight on to the trolley.
Most metal frame trolleys are height adjustable which tends to be via telescopic legs. To assess the right height you should use the same process outlined above.
If you need a lot of support and place considerable weight on to the frame, then a Zimmer frame may be more suitable. The rubber ferrules make the frame more controllable and will provide greater support. Please see our Zimmer frame buying guide for further information.
There are a range of shopping trolleys available which are designed to be pushed in front of you. These generally have four swivel castors and a large capacity shopping bag which will provide plenty of room for your shopping. Some trolleys have height adjustable arms making them better suited to providing the support of a wheeled walking frame. However, in general they should be thought of as an easy way to transport your shopping rather than a frame to provide support as you walk. There are shopping trolleys available with seats which can be of great benefit when you are out and about. These designs use either the top of the shopping trolley for the seat or have a separate fold out chair from the back of the trolley.
We hope that this Walking Aids Buying Guide has been helpful in providing you with information on how to choose the right walking aid for your needs. Discover our full range of Walking Aids here.