In a Nutshell:
Karman LT-980 is a great, super lightweight wheelchair that would be of particular interest to air travelers. It is recommended for anyone weighing up to 250 pounds.
- Positive Impressions
- Likable Features
- Common Seat Size
- Comfort Consideration
- Limited Weight Capacity
- Restricted Seat Size Options
- One Size Fits All Issue
- Niche Appeal
Are you a frequent flier? Do you suffer from a mobility issue that sees you spending at least part of each day in a wheelchair? Have you been searching for a high-quality, lightweight chair you can afford to take with you when you fly?
If you answered yes to the questions above, then you’re going to like this Karman LT-980 review.
As a frequent flier, you’re probably all too familiar with the fact that airlines charge by weight. The more “stuff” you bring on trips with you, the more expensive it is to fly.
Given that, every pound matters. If you have an incredibly clunky, heavy wheelchair, it can be ruinously expensive to fly frequently.
Fortunately, there are a few companies out there that make great quality, lightweight wheelchairs.
Karman is one of those companies, and the LT-980 is a solid example of their work.
Having said that, we’ll be quick to note that this chair does have some limitations that may make it a nonstarter for you.
In the sections that follow, we’ll tell you everything the design team for this model got right, and we won’t pull any punches when describing the chair’s shortcomings and limitations. That way, you’ll have all the information you need to decide if this is the model you’ve been looking for.
If that sounds good to you, read on, and let’s take a closer look!
An Overview of the Karman LT-980 Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair
At first glance, you probably won’t believe the LT-980 wheelchair is as light as the company claims. It looks like just about every other conventionally designed chair on the market today.
The secret to the company’s success where making their chairs lighter is concerned stems from two things: One, they’re very good at shaving inches off the footprint of the chairs they make, and two, they utilize tubed aluminum in the construction of their wheelchair frames.
The effectiveness of that approach can plainly be seen here with this design. Before we say more than that in this section of our Karman LT-980 review, let’s take a quick look at this model by the numbers:
- Overall Product Dimensions: 26” (W) x 28” (D) x 37 to 38” (H)
- Seat Dimensions: 18” (W) x 16” (D)
- Chair Weight: 24 pounds
- Maximum Supported Weight: 250 pounds
With this model, the width and height are about average, but the company was really able to shave some serious inches off of the depth/length of the chair. At just 28” in that dimension, it’s one of the smallest/shortest in its class, and the scant weight is reflective of that.
Note the maximum supported weight, however. This is the one failing of Karman’s design techniques. While most of the chairs on the market today can support 300 pounds or more of user weight, many of Karman’s chairs don’t measure up in that regard.
If you weigh 250 pounds or less, naturally, this won’t be an issue for you, but if you happen to weigh more, then it’s not going to matter how much you love this model; it simply isn’t going to work for you.
That’s also true with the seat dimensions. Many companies offer their chairs in various seat sizes. This chair only has one seat size on offer, so you’ll want to take a quick measurement before committing to a purchase to be sure your measurements and the chair are a good match. Simply put, if your butt is wider than 18,” this chair isn’t going to work for you.
Adjustability and Comfort of LT-980
While some of the company’s chairs aren’t adjustable, the Karman LT-980 Ultra Lightweight wheelchair does well in this regard. It’s a Hemi-height chair, so there is some play in the seat height. Here, it can be adjusted to either 18” or 19” at your preference.
The swing-away leg rests are also length-adjustable. Those two features give you quite a lot of freedom in terms of customizing your ride for maximum comfort.
Comfort-wise, the chair isn’t bad, but there are better options available if you prioritize comfort.
The upholstery is sturdy nylon, which is breathable and quite acceptably comfortable for shorter periods of sitting.
Combine that with the padded armrests, and you won’t have any problems for 1-3 hours at a stretch.
Longer than that, though, the chair will start to be increasingly uncomfortable considering the lack of padding and calf pads.
Both of those issues can be remedied with third-party solutions. If you plan on using this chair for travel or sitting in it for extended periods, you’ll almost certainly want to make those investments.
Extras and Options
There are two main things to talk about here. The built-in safety belt and the storage pocket in the back!
We love seeing safety features included in wheelchairs. The more, the better, in our view, so we were excited to see the safety belt offered here as a standard feature. It would have been even better if the Karman LT-980-BD had also come with anti-tippers standard. If you want them, you’ll have to buy them separately from Karman (and we recommend them!)
Not many wheelchairs offer any sort of onboard storage in their base configurations, so the fact that this chair has a storage pocket is noteworthy.
It’s not huge, but the fact that it’s present at all, in any form, is definitely worth making a note of. Even so, you’ll probably want to invest in additional storage for the chair, especially if you travel with it or spend extended periods of time each day in it.
Additionally, be aware that Karman makes an assortment of optional equipment for their wheelchairs, which gives you the freedom and flexibility to customize to your heart’s content.
Portability & Ease of Use
With a smallish profile and a weight of just 24 pounds, this chair really shines in the areas of portability and ease of use.
When folded, the LT-980 is only 12.5” wide. Given its other dimensions and its light weight, it’s easy to fold it up and stash it in whatever trunk space you have available in your full-sized sedan. It’s even easier to store it in an SUV, hatchback, truck, or van. So if you have any of those, you’ll find storing the chair smooth sailing indeed.
As we mentioned, the chair’s light weight makes it an excellent fit for airline travel. Still, the standard provisos apply: Since each airline has different policies, you’ll want to contact whatever company you’re planning to fly with before you get to the airport to make sure there won’t be any problems or complications. That’s the last thing you want when you’re trying to get on the airplane!
On the ease of use front, this chair is amazing, again, with its smallish profile and light weight playing major roles.
Note, however, that the default wheels that come on this chair are optimized for indoor use. It will handle fine on flat, even outdoor surfaces like sidewalks and parking lots, but this isn’t a chair you want to take to the park or trail hopping. At least not without upgrading to wheels that are better suited to that!
Pros & Cons of Karman LT-980-BD
We really like this chair, but we note that it is somewhat narrowly targeted. There are two reasons for this conclusion—first, the modest weight limit. The LT-980 just won’t appeal to as big a segment of the market as models that support more weight.
Second, the lack of seat size options. While it is true that an 18” wide seat is the most commonly sold chair in the country, it’s also true that this isn’t a one size fits all world. If you have narrow hips, an 18” seat will be too big, which means your arms won’t rest on the armrests comfortably. If your hips are wider than that, then you won’t be able to sit in the chair at all, or if you can squeeze yourself in, you won’t be comfortable.
Taken together, those two things limit the appeal of this model, making it a fairly self-selecting chair.
Karman LT-980 Review Conclusion
This is a great little chair if your rear end is a good fit for the 18” seat and you weigh 250 pounds or less, especially if you travel frequently and if much of your travel is by air, where every pound matters.
For those users, this chair is highly recommended. For everyone else, not so much.
On that basis, we can only give this model a provisional recommendation overall here in our Karman LT-980 review. You may absolutely love it. Or, it may just not work for you at all.
References & Resources:
- Karman, Official Brand Website.
- Karman LT-980 Ultra Lightweight Wheelchair User Manual
- Manual Wheelchair Speed, Maneuverability, and Endurance and Community Access, ClinicalTrials.gov.
- Manual Wheelchair Stroke Characteristics During An Extended Period of Propulsion, Nature Portfolio.
- Effect of Wheelchair Design on Wheeled Mobility and Propulsion Efficiency in Less-Resourced Settings, Scielo.