The modern wheelchair provides the wheelchair user tremendous mobility and independence. This ability transfers into more opportunities for solo business and pleasure travel. Sometimes these trips require carrying a fair amount of luggage and gear.
The problem arises when wheelchair users attempt to apply able-bodied luggage systems such as rolling suitcases to wheelchair travel, or alternatively carry a large backpack on their back. Only small suitcases are able to balance on the wheelchair user’s lap, and towing a large rolling suitcase risks a backward fall. A wheelchair user needs significant trunk control to handle the weight of a heavily loaded backpack. So what do you do when you have a lot of stuff to carry combined with a maneuverable but “tippy” wheelchair?
I am a T5 paraplegic. When I travel and need to bring a “lot of stuff”, I use a six-bag system. Six bags may sound like too many, but there is a method to the madness.
- One small pouch contains all wheelchair-related tools and supplies such as a spare inner tube, tire irons, Allen wrenches, lights, etc.
- I use my everyday knapsack for carrying keys, glasses, and other personal items.
- I use a medium-sized cylindrical duffel bag for clothes and/or gear.
- I use a rectangular bag with compartments for clothes and/or gear.
- I use a medium-sized backpack for more clothes and/or gear.
- I use a large hockey duffel bag for the consolidation of airline baggage.
For airline travel, in order not to exceed the fifty-pound weight limit for a checked bag, I would put 25lbs in the Cylindrical Bag, 25 lbs in Rectangular Bag, and the remainder in the Backpack as a Carry-On as necessary. The Knapsack becomes the Personal-Item.
When I am on the move, I use the following setup:
- The Pouch hangs under my seat.
- The Everyday Knapsack goes on the back of my wheelchair.
- The Cylindrical Duffel bag is placed on my feet and fastened securely to the front of my wheelchair.
- The Rectangular Bag goes on the Cylindrical Duffel and my knees.
- The Backpack goes on the back of my wheelchair over the Knapsack.
- The Large Duffel bag is stored in any one of the other bags as most convenient.
The benefit of this multi-bag carrying method is that the Center of Gravity of the wheelchair is not dramatically changed. This means that I am still able to pop and maintain wheelies for rough terrain and jump down curbs as needed. Since the Rectangular Bag is not pressed up against my chest, I am able to lean forward for going up ramps and other inclines. On a side note, if a bag that I am carrying on my lap restricts my forward lean, I have found that going up backward works very well.
In the event I was traveling from place to place with all my luggage and gear (i.e. backpacking through Europe) I would consolidate to a front Cylindrical Duffel, a rear Backpack, the under seat Pouch, and use a front Fanny Pack for items that need to be readily available such as money, phone, and camera. Valuables such as Passport and Cash go in a Hanging Pouch under my shirt for added security.
For those that don’t feel that their feet make a stable enough platform to support the Cylindrical Bag, there are commercially available Folding Forks designed for that specific purpose.
In summary, bungee cords and duffel bags beat hard suitcases for wheelchair traveling almost every time.