How to decide which vaporizer is right for you
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To find the perfect vaporizer for your needs, ask yourself these questions before you buy. The answers will narrow down your choices so picking one isn't overwhelming.
WHAT'S YOUR BUDGET?
This is probably the biggest deciding factor, because almost everything else is a matter of personal choice. Vaporizer prices vary from under $50 for a small, battery-operated vape pen similar to an e-cigarette, to over $500 for a high-powered desktop vape.
Know how much you can afford to spend, but don't break the bank. No matter how much research you do before you buy, there's a chance that the first vape you select won't make you happy and you'll want to try a second one.
PORTABLE OR DESKTOP?
If you vape on-the-go or plan to transport your vape frequently, portable is the way to go. Desktop vapes can be a bit bulky and a pain to move around. Plus, virtually all desktop units must be plugged in to work. As a rule, portable vapes are more affordable than desktop vapes as well.
Desktop vaporizers, on the other hand, generally deliver a stronger, more sustained draw and they're usually more durable than handheld vapes. A high-quality stationary piece can deliver years of trouble-free use with minimal maintenance.
FLOWERS, EXTRACTS OR BOTH?
Some units will only vaporize dried flowers. Others will only vape concentrates. If you want to use both and don't want to buy two pieces, look for a combination kit that can accommodate both substances. Some products come this way straight out of the box while others require additional accessories.
Always double check what kind of substance you can use with a vaporizer before buying. It's easy to get carried away by a low price tag, cool features, or an elegant design. If you're not careful, you'll be disappointed when you discover you have nothing on hand to use with it.
WHAT KIND OF MATERIALS?
Vaping is supposed to be healthier than smoking, but that may not be the case if your new piece is made from unsafe materials that release toxic chemicals when exposed to heat. Be especially cautious of any vape with plastic parts located near the heating unit. When exposed to heat, some plastics can release BPA or other gases that can harm the human body.
Some metals aren't as heat-resistant as you would think. At high temperatures, they can oxidize and mix carcinogens with the vapor.
Avoid products made of plastic, aluminum, or metal alloys. Ceramics, glass, medical-grade stainless steel, and grade 1 or 2 titanium are considered safe. Of course, you should also make sure that your vaporizer is made by a trusted brand so you can more or less believe the information they provide about their product.
CONVECTION OR CONDUCTION?
Here's where it starts to get a little technical. Vaporizers heat material in two very different ways. Each one has pros and cons, and the one you pick is mostly down to personal preference.
With conduction heating, the heating element actually touches the material you're vaping, sometimes causing a mild form of combustion.
Conduction vapes are usually more affordable, and proponents swear that they get a richer flavor from this type of unit. However, conduction is much more likely to burn your plant matter. That makes conduction vapes more of a hybrid choice somewhere in the middle between smoking and true vaping.
Convection vapes are more expensive on average, but they create real vapor by forcing hot air around the material, melting resin off of dried herb or melting extracts, then creating steam. The flavor is milder, and even people who rarely smoke can easily inhale deeply without coughing. It's a very smooth experience that's undeniably different from smoking.
If you're vaping dried buds, the difference can be easily seen when emptying the chamber that holds your herb. Waste product from a conduction vape will be noticeably darker and drier than it was prior to a vape session. Used weed that comes out of a convection vape looks almost the same as it did coming out of the grinder. It should still be green, although duller, and a little fluffy.
If you vape concentrates, you won't have much left over to compare and you'll notice the difference less while vaping.
DO YOU WANT TO CONTROL YOUR TEMPERATURE?
If you want to keep things simple, you can go with a plug-and-play vape that's pre-set to a temperature somewhere between 356–392°F or 180–200°C. The automatic setting will vaporize your weed without any input from you. Just turn it on and let it do it's thing. There's nothing wrong with that and it can keep your costs down.
However, the ability to control the temperature allows you to start off with the heat on the low end to get the best flavor from your dried herb. Then, as the vapor's potency diminishes, you can turn the dial up to squeeze the last little bit of THC from the buds.
If your piece can be used with both concentrates and flowers, temperature controls are especially important. Most extracts require higher temperatures for effective vaporization.
Most vaporizers are electrical devices, just like your computer or smartphone. That means you need to think about warranties, customer service, and reliability before you buy.
Pick a reputable company that stands behind their product and honors their guarantees. Check out online reviews, paying special attention to user forums. If you see a lot of people reporting they had problems with their vape inside the warranty period without a satisfactory resolution, think twice before you buy that item. Also, take all positive reviews with a grain of salt.
As vaporizers become more popular and more expensive, inexpensive knockoffs are flooding the market. If you see a deal that's too good to be true, do your due diligence to make sure you're getting a legitimate product.
New brands and models of vaporizer are coming out all the time, but these are the main types you'll have to choose from:
If you live near a cannabis dispensary that sells them, prefilled cartridges are a great way to try vaping. They're inexpensive and come in a variety of strengths, flavors, and configurations.
The cartridge is filled with concentrate, usually an oil but sometimes wax, that sits on top of a battery. You can buy a disposable, single-use vape with an integrated battery and cartridge that can't be recharged for $20 or less, or you can spend a little more to get a rechargeable battery that screws onto new cartridges.
Prefilled cartridge vapes take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. They detail strength and expected effect right on the label and come in both traditional and high-CBD formulas. Some come with a button to push when you're ready to use them; others light up automatically when you inhale for a more natural look and feel.
REFILLABLE PEN VAPES
Pen vapes are made up of two main parts: a rechargeable battery and the heating unit. When assembled, they look very similar to a wide pen. Most are cigar-sized. They can be found at many different price points, but plenty are available at $50 or less. Because they're so affordable, warranties aren't usually an issue and many companies only provide "dead on arrival" replacements.
If you smoke mostly dried herb, you may want to steer clear of pen vapes. Some of these products advertise that they are designed specifically for dried herb, but they just don't seem to have the power necessary to melt the resin from the buds without scorching them. Others don't seem to do much of anything. However, they work great for all forms of concentrate.
With pen vaporizers, you use a dab tool to place a tiny amount of extract on top of the coil. You push a button to heat the coil, vapor forms in a chamber, and you gently inhale. This is obviously conduction heat. If the unit does not do a complete burn, your coil will soon be covered in a sticky residue that you'll have to eventually clean unless you replace the coil.
Coils are the most important part of a pen vape, so look for high quality here. Titanium is pretty good, but ceramic gives the cleanest burn and is considered the healthiest option.
HANDHELD OR PORTABLE VAPORIZERS
Portable vaporizers combine the convenience of a pen vape with the power of a desktop unit. Reliable models start at around $150 and go up to over $300. Most are powered by strong, rechargeable batteries, but some use butane as a heat source.
The Crafty by Storz and Bickel is one of today's most popular portable vapes. It's small enough to slip into your pocket and has plenty of power to use with dried weed, but it will also vape concentrates. The unit itself only has one button on it, and you control most of the features with an app. It heats up by conduction, but once it reaches the temperature you've set, convection heat takes over. Frequent use will run down the battery quickly, but the Crafty can be easily charged almost anywhere with a micro-USB cable; and pass-through use works as long as you don't let the battery strength fall below 20%.
Coming in right behind the Crafty in popularity is the PAX 3. This upgraded model now has a concentrate insert so you can use it for more than dried herbs. Like the Crafty, you can control temperatures and most other features with an app—including changing the color of the on-board lights—so that PAX 3 itself maintains an elegant, streamlined appearance. When the PAX 3 is fully discharged, it'll take about 100 minutes to charge the battery. That'll get you about 100 minutes of use.
STATIONARY OR DESKTOP VAPORIZERS
If you usually vape at home, you can't go wrong with a desktop vaporizer, as long as it fits within your budget. Prices are going down as new models are released, but they're still the most expensive option.
The Volcano by Storz & Bickel is a German-made vaporizer that's so good, most of the Dutch coffeeshops have them set up for their customers to use. This is a sturdy unit that uses convection heat, can be used with either dried buds or concentrates, and comes with a 3-year warranty. It needs very little maintenance other than replacing the balloons that capture the vapor, and there are plenty of reviews stating 10 years or more of fairly trouble-free use. Prices range from just under $500 for the classic version to nearly $700 for the digital model.
If the Volcano is out of your price range, have a look at the Arizer Extreme. It's less than half the price, also uses a balloon system to catch the vapor, but has a few improvements. The remote control may seem unnecessary, but the whip attachment will come in handy if your last bag pops in the middle of a session. While the Volcano uses a mesh disc for concentrates, the Arizer comes with a glass "aromatherapy" dish that works like a nail on a standard oil rig. That alone makes this unit worth a look.
If you don't care for the Volcano's bag system, you can opt for the Vapexhale EVO. This is another convection unit with a 3-year warranty, but the starter kit comes with your choice of glass accessory to make it more like a bong. Prices start at $375.
There's little debate that vaping is a healthier, more pleasurable experience for most cannabis users—as long as you choose a product that works well. However, choosing the right one is not a simple endeavor.
Take your time, do your research, and ask a lot of questions once you narrow down your choices. It might seem like a lot of work, but finding the right vaporizer for your needs will be well worth it in the end.