For all the men out there it’s time to get some advice from your female friends who have had a lifelong affair with bags. Bags have different uses, you need a small one for a night out for your cellphone, purse and lipstick; a large one for carrying books or a laptop; and a specialist “monster bag” for your weekly grocery shopping.

Women often have several bags, each suitable for a different occasion – Okay, some women have a bag for every outfit as well.

It is necessary to decide what the purpose of your bag is first. Bags with separators or pockets will help you find things easily, otherwise whatever you want always lurks at the bottom of the bag. Pockets on the outside of the bag are good for phones and wallets and some of the larger bags even have pockets for water bottles. Padding in the pockets is important as to protect glasses, your phone or camera while padding on the inside of the bag can protect laptops, iPads etc.

You should also choose a bag that is suitable for the part of the wheelchair or walker which is in reach.

  • Pouches just slot between you and the armrest (or on a strap around your neck).
  • Saddlebags fit over the armrest or walker frame.
  • Backpacks behind the backrest.
  • Smaller packs that fit to the footrest frame, walker side or even on a crutch.
  • Front bags sit just behind your legs and may attach underneath the wheelchair seat or strap across the footrests.

Roho stocks a combination cushion cover with a drop in front pouch that hangs behind your legs. Cargo nets or web cradles attach to the bottom horizontal bars and rear bars. They may have a pouch, but are usually a simple mesh “shelf” used for storage like you see on a pram or pushchair. Make sure the bag is suitable for you and your type of chair (manual or power), many bags fit both types and walkers, but there are specialist bags for each. It is important to consider:

  • The width of your chair and the width of the bag. Wide chairs need wide bags or bags with longer straps and narrow chairs need smaller bags.
  • How it will fixing to the chair/walker/scooter, especially regarding chairs with no push handles.
  • Shoulder straps so your friend or attendant can shoulder some of the load.
  • Choose bags with wide openings, tags or D rings for easy opening, and consider if you want open access (no fastenings) or bags that close with studs, clips or zips.
  • Big bags on the back of a wheelchair can make it prone to tilting if they are heavy, so be wary when climbing curbs and steps. Remember the larger the bag the more you can pack in it and the more your wheelchair weighs - the more you have to push! Bag colours are usually grey or black and made of nylon, although it is possible to get leather and fashionable colours. Potential problems with bags:
  • Smaller pouches - often don’t hold very much, you may not even be able to store your sunglasses. Some smaller bags got poor reviews for falling apart.
  •  Backpacks - make sure the bag doesn’t rub against the wheels as this really limits the lifespan to about two months.
  • Under seat bags may get dirty if you are on dirt roads or if it rains a lot.
  • The zippers often break - so look for strong zips.
  • Leather bags can look cool, but the straps can stretch and break if they are not reinforced as they are heavier than nylon bags.
  •  Front bags are more secure from pickpocketers but you may have difficulty reaching them if your trunk control is poor.

Cargo nets have the same problem. Of course you are not restricted to “wheelchair bags”. Parents with young children seem to pack an entire room in a bag just to pop out to visit grandma, so they know a lot about packing bags and having easy access (imperative when there is a squalling child). Have a look at some of the baby bags available and don’t be put off by the term ‘nappy bag’, many of them are available in adult colours and you don’t have to opt for cartoon characters! A waist bag or belt (nylon or cloth pouches worn around the waist) can be modified to serve as a seat pouch and if you are feeling creative you can even make your own bag. You can get a clip for your chair’s frame and use any bag with a handle, D ring or loop. What’s in the bag?

Other than the standard keys, wallet and cellphone some other handy items could include:

  • Bungee cord for holding the chair in the boot of a vehicle.
  • Extra stump socks for travelling by air or changing climate.
  • First aid kit: band-aids, basic medications, antibiotics and an energy bar.
  • Toitetries: Hand wipes, gel, sunscreen or lip balm. If you are going on a trip, do a wheelchair maintenance check first and carry a wheelchair toolkit in your bag. Toolkits are useful when travelling abroad as you may not be able to get all the tools you need. Note that toolkits may not be allowed in hand luggage on some airlines, so check their hand luggage restrictions. If you are a DIY nut, your toolkit may include: a Swiss Army knife or other multi-purpose tool. This can function as an all-in-one toolkit as it can include screwdrivers, scissors, knife blades, files, pliers, and tweezers. Opening it up can be tricky even for those with normal hand function. If you don’t fancy one of these, then look for needle nose pliersor a screwdriver with multiple detachable heads and a set of Allen keys for bolts.

Other useful items for your toolkit include:

  •  Cable ties for temporary replacement of lost screws.
  •  Nuts, bolts and washers.
  •  Duct tape for emergency seat and back repairs.
  •  Self-adhesive velcro for seating quick fix, and attaching broken bits.
  •  A patch kit to fix flat tyres or replacement tyre tubes/airless tyre inserts.
  •  Pump to fill the patched tyre with air.

Travel tips from inveterate travel “rollers” includes:

  • Use lightweight luggage with non-slip materials to help it stay on your lap.
  • Big comfortable handles for easy lifting.
  • Front flap pockets are essential for travel docs, etc.
  • Large pull zippers.
  • Small luggage that can go on your lap
  • Standard luggage with wheels are tricky to fit on the back of a wheelchair.
  • Big packs can tip you over if they are heavy.
  • Try a multi-bag system so bags go on the front, back and sides of the chair to create balance. When does your bag become luggage?
  • There is some variation per airline and cabin class in what you allowed to take on board, so we have just looked at the SAA limits for economy class travel:
  • Maximum weight is 8kg
  • Maximum dimensions: Length 56cm, Width 36cm, Height 23cm. This is the average size of a sports bag/holdall/duffle-bag/ backpack and small trolley bag. SAA’s list of restrictions for hand luggage exclude: large tools e.g: pliers, wrenches, scissors with pointed tips, knives and screwdrivers.

So your toolkit will have to go in your checked in baggage. Where can I buy my bag?
Firstly, contact your local wheelchair supplier.

They can generally give you advice, make up a bag to your specifications, or order one for you.

You can also browse online to pick up ideas and even buy online, we would like to encourage you to go to your local luggage or sports shop to check that the bag can fit your wheelchair and that you can undo all the catches and zips.

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