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The Vaporizer Buyer’s Guide: 4 Things to Consider

February 18, 2014

As the cannabis industry grows, more and more ingestion methods pop up with increasing quality and product diversity. One of them is vaping, which has gained popularity over the years. If you’re thinking of purchasing a vaporizer, there are four important considerations to keep in mind. Fortunately, we’ve highlighted them below to help you make a more informed purchasing decision. Good luck!

Flower vs. Concentrate

Cannabis flower vs. concentrate

This is probably the number one question you’ll want to ask yourself: “Do I want to refill with cannabis flower or concentrate?” If you enjoy smoking and are planning on splitting time between your vaporizer and, say, rolling papers, you will probably want a vaporizer that takes loose leaf so you don’t have to purchase both flower and concentrates. If you are planning on ditching smoking for vaporizing (perhaps due to health concerns associated with smoking), you can commit full-time to concentrates unabashedly.

From an economic standpoint, the two are different beasts. Concentrate cartridges run at about $40 a pop and provide anywhere from 100 to 200 pulls from the pen, whereas flower vapes operate by the traditional “bowl” system: the chamber is comparable to an average-sized bowl, with the cost of filling dependent upon the cannabis strain, quality, provider, etc.

Keep in mind that in terms of strain selection, in today’s market, flowers offer a much greater variety than concentrates. So if you’re a connoisseur of sorts, a loose leaf vaporizer will still provide you with that exploration/experience. However, market growth is expected to be vast and fast, so the future is bright for concentrate fans.

Efficiency

Cannabis smoke

Didn’t think you’d ever need to recall the difference between conduction and convection, did you? Turns out Chem 101 was useful for, if nothing else, making an informed loose leaf vaporizer purchase. Conduction and convection describe heat transfer: conduction is motionless (think metal against metal), whereas convection requires liquid or gas to move the energy (think steam).

A good example of a conduction vaporizer is the Pax by Ploom, which uses a metal chamber to heat ground flower. Alternatively, the Firefly is a convection vaporizer that heats the flower with hot air. Convective vaporizers are — in theory — more efficient; conductive heating (using a metal chamber) is often uneven (flower touching the chamber walls will receive more heat than flower in the center of the chamber) and inefficient (they heat continuously, even when you aren’t inhaling, which can waste flower).

Depending on how tightly you pack the conduction vape chamber, you may have to stir the flower after a couple pulls to achieve even heating. However, this point is moot if you’re going with concentrates, which have already eliminated the need to decarboxylate (or “activate”) the cannabinoids. If environmental stewardship is of importance, loose leaf vapes are clearly superior with less plastic waste and without the chemical extraction process.

Convenience

Time vs. charge

This comes down to how you want to use your vaporizer. If it’s a quick, on-the-go, one-two puff you prefer, concentrates make a lot of sense: there is no heating time, and vape pens are usually small and inconspicuous. Alternatively, if you’re looking to hold group sessions or only vape at home, a loose leaf flower vape that requires heating time makes a lot of sense.

Preparing the device is an important consideration: for loose leaf vaporizers, the chamber must be loaded before every use with ground flower (don’t forget your grinder), and the vape should be cleaned regularly. Concentrates can go either way: some take screw-in, disposable cartridges while others require loading (that can be messy), although refills are needed infrequently.

Battery life and recharge time are also important considerations; battery-run loose leaf vaporizers have an on-off switch and continuously drain power while they’re on, with a charge life comparable to a laptop. Alternatively, most vape pens do not have an on-off switch and only use power when you are vaping, reducing the frequency of recharging.

Along those same lines, if portability isn’t a factor, an entire subset of plug-in, stationary vaporizers become viable options.

Experience

Happy vs. cerebral

This one is for the connoisseurs. If the experience of smoking is a great joy for you, it’s likely you have a large interest in the taste and smell of the plant. Each vaporizer on the market today comes with an added unavoidable taste and smell that will factor into your experience. As with smoking methods, trial and error is the best method for finding the vape that fits your palate, but in general, loose leaf vapes provide a stronger taste than concentrates.

Further, the smell of flower that has already been vaped is potent and often objectionable, meaning you’ll want to empty your loose leaf chamber shortly after each use, which is not a concern for concentrates. Lastly, many people covet the headiness that comes with smoking. Vaping, aligning with the cleaner method it is, produces lighter effects. This can be good or bad depending on what you’re looking for — for some this means clearer effects; for others it means weaker effects.

Are there any vaporizers you’ve grown to love and would like to recommend? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

photo credit: mattystevenson via photopin cc

  • John Arevalo

    I have both a flower vape pipe and a cartridge set-up. The flower vape is tastier and has a bigger “kick”, The cartridges are extremely convenient and they provide their own very “heady” and cleaner feeling high. Cartridges have become more popular and more strains are being offered. One interesting side effect I’ve noticed since I switched from smoking to vaping; regular smoking now tastes terrible to me. The tar is way more evident.

    • SpudAdaven

      When you say ‘cleaner’ what do you mean? Less ‘high’ confusion or ? Over 40 years ago when I did a lot of LSD I liked the ‘cleaner’ high that you could get from liquid (purer, then) which was a lot of hallucination but not a lot of confusion that you got from tablet/blotter/etc. that was usually stepped on with speed or something else. So, I’m asking if ‘cleaner’ means less mental confusion associated with the psychoactive high. Thanks.

      • HighDee

        I’m guessing “cleaner” meant less abrasive. I don’t think he meant anything about the high, just taste.

  • Michelle N. Matlock

    I just purchase the vuber nova that is for both flower and concentrates. It’s pretty awesom

    • Deke Cloyd

      I very much agree. I have a Nova as well and am very pleased. I highly recommend Vuber to anyone looking for convenience and performance at a modest price.

    • Sean C Brown

      PAX 3 is out and you can do Flower and concentrate

  • Chris Jones

    I own Pax2, Volcano, Crafty and the Firefly2. I like them all, but Firefly2 by far delivers the fastest, cleanest, and the most flavorful vapor…

    • StonerBliss

      I am torn between the Pax2 and the Firefly2. So many good things have been said about the FF2. Only cons are the draw resistance and the fact that you have to stir material every few draws….Can you expand on this since you have the FF2. Price is also cheaper on the PAX2 which is attractive me personally….Need help deciding……I know they are two separate things completely, if you had to choose between the 2 tell me which you would pick and why….

  • HealthyRips

    The FORCE vaporizer is 100% convection – it is like a fast Crafty. Just as much vapor – heats up in 30 seconds. $149 ~ HealthyRips.com

  • Kim Qitqat Brechtel

    I am looking to purchase my first vape. I have a friend who has the Mighty and she did a whole lot of research before getting it. I want one that is durable, efficient and portable and not over $200. I like the G-elite and da Buddah…..anyone with the pros and cons. I will mostly be dealing with flower and dry herb but would like one that is flexible and I know that eliminates the G-elite……
    any one with info……

    • Deke Cloyd

      I highly recommend checking out Vuber. I have 4 of their vape units and love them. My favorite is the Nova. In my opinion, it is the best today for the money. Very well made.

    • HighDee

      I researched and finally decided on an Arizer Extreme Q and I have been very happy with it. Around $129 You can’t find a better vape for less. Good luck!

  • Panete

    I’ve had an iolite original, a vapor tower and an arizer solo.
    The iolite produces decent vapor but the butane smell and the difficulty of cleaning it properly delegated it to the storage room. The vapor tower is awesome in general but it has to be plugged in and the temperature control feels a bit too hit and miss. The solo is by far my favorite, easy to clean, very portable (although a lil bulky – there is a smaller version but has roughly half the battery life), fast heating and long battery life. I highly recommend it.

  • Kim Elkins

    I just got my ok for medical use and was wonder what is the better portable vaporizer? I’m completely lost with so many out there. Can anyone help with their experiences. Thank for any help you give.

    • Jimmy

      There really is no “better”portable .BUT a very good portable is Flowermate v5os. Mid $70’s price.with plenty good taste and long lasting batteries. Also x maxx starry. $100- 120. A replaceable battery. But smells a bit more then fm’s.

      • scrimm

        Ive been off the cigarettes for three years, after 28 years. At the same time, I stopped smoking anything else too, – I thought it would maximize my chance of quitting tobacco – so its been three years.

        Started smoking 😉 again about three week ago. enjoyed it, but the taste of tobacco in my smokes is repulsive to me now.
        Never used a baker/vaper. Not for anything other than regular E-juice.
        My first one, Entry level. Just ordered a Airistech Lativa, only cost me 21quid ($29). ….what do you recon about that please pal?
        In the context of it being my first experience with a baker/vaper?

        I would appreciate any/all opinion. And Many Thanks 🙂
        & sorry about the edits

    • Paul Wieland

      If you can afford it, go for the ‘Mighty Medical’ (or the ordinary ‘Mighty’). They are quite pricey, but imho unbeatable in terms of vapour quality, subtleness of flavours and efficiency. Also, you can adjust the temperature in single degree (C) steps. 1 charge lasts for ca 3 full bowls.
      I tried quite a few others before, but this is the one!

  • Réal Guy

    « We’d love to hear your thoughts! »

    All right, there’s just no way i could ignore such an open invitation!…

    « …convection requires liquid or gas to move the energy… »

    Indeed, there’s no arguing there. Then lets see how that energy varies as a function of the liquid or gas which i came to tag the “Release/Transport Agent”.

    For many years i was seriously involved into some long (and radical…) customization of VaporGenie’s patented pipe, mainly because that vaporist tool ain’t relying just on “Hot Dry Air” alone: it’s a most significant departure from the vast majority of devices emulating the venerable Volcano, Arizer, etc., as a matter of fact!

    In a butane-operated VG pipe as mine there’s more than Hot Dry Air in my Release/Transport Agent: clean burning butane transforms into super-hot inlet water and carbonic gas, and hence i figured long ago this was effectively carrying more energy. In other words my Release/Transport Agent is more “potent” than that of a typical electric device. Hence the word “potentialization” i’ve associated to it and which the Volcano/Arizer (etc.) are all missing…

    That aspect differentiating a butane-operated pipe from what i came to call “Hot Dry Air Ovenizers” eventually turned out to be most crucial for me as this finally proves to be my last option besides having to abstain – again (…), i believe:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/a5ff34d8b26867d6569765f0735042ca3e0bea53a77baf560c0b72103e284168.png

    Pay close attention to the flexible PVC Tubing Extension on the left, with a clear oily/sticky section near its Mating Junction while the rest seems foggy past my cotton swab: it’s because part of the moisture gets gradually absorbed by the internal surface as condensation takes places, which conveniently provides a visual hint that promotes self-awareness, as a bonus on top of having improved eye-contact watching a flame’s tip(s).

    My different Release/Transport Agent appears to give an edge, another being the exploration of what i refer to as “Micro-Bursting”, which is an alternate consumption method & ritual meant to avoid over-heating by relying on brief but intense heating bursts (for a “time-compressed” experience)…

    The shorter the heat pulse the better, otherwise hesitations occur which eventually lead to operator errors… So it appears a “Potentialized” heat pulse can be made shorter which in turn allows me to move to power (dual!) flames without much risk to burn the sphere’s wood. Which also reduces excess exposure to heat (or “baking”) in a bowl, because its load cools down almost as fast as it was heated up: e.g. seconds instead of minutes. Consequently it’s not just a tastier spectum opened to appreciation, the fact that i can easily forget about my VG pipe without a fear to waste its precious bowl sort of promotes “conservation”, the opposite effect of leaving an herb in some ovenizing cavity for the duration of a long “session”… This later scenario implies that while other people focuss on a balloon or else, for minutes (!), i’m quite likely to think of other things than paraphernalia promoting abuse. As a result i can proudly bragg around this is a “Weapon of Mass Seduction”!

    My customization experiments have been put in pictures on many forums since 2013, simply try this search to see more snapshots/illustrations, for example:

    [ https://www.google.ca/search?q=Egzoset+Lava+TinyPic&tbm=isch ]
    Google Search: Egzoset Lava TinyPic

    N.B.: It felt preferable to include “Lava” as a keyword because the whole concept was always meant to support “Bi-Energy”, where “B” stands for “butane” in “Plan-B” while “Plan-A” is for electro-magnetic Induction Heat offering less approximative “Micro-Dosage” for niche (Lava) applications. Etc., etc.

    And finally, there’s also a dedicated album available over there:

    [ https://plus.google.com/collection/AsJSIB ]

    Oh, and, euh… NO, i’m not here for any mercantile purpose one might imagine. Nothing to rent or sell here, zero. Nada! This is essentially addressed to those searching for a DIY challenge, to duplicate experiments and eventually share some of the fun back, ideally…

    Good day, have fun!!

    • Frank H

      I discovered vape in October. I drove from CA to AZ for the Southwestern Cannabis Conference. The border patrol checkpoints can be sketchy if you tote flowers, but no problem with vape cartridges. Vape is way more discreet than trying to load a pipe with flowers and hit on it discretely while on the road.

      My favorite dispensary hooked me up. I bought a Select Oil battery and a Select Oil Cartridge “Pineapple Kush” to check it out and compare the effects to using flowers in a bong. It worked beautifully! I went back to the dispensary and bought a few more cartridges before the drive.

      I have tried other brands of cartridges, and quickly found out that some are better than others. Select Oil is my go-to. Each variety provides the desired effect with 2 or 3 pulls. I recently tried “Purple Punch” from the Ascnd line by Kuvana. Very nice! Vape has become my preferred method for enjoying cannabis. There is no mess, no ash, no dirty bong to clean. and you can’t beat the convenience and discretion.

  • Maggie

    What about the Sigelei T200 to vape concentrates? I like the box.
    I would like to know what to set the watts and the ohms at?
    There is no temperature reading on the unit.
    My provider set it at 14w. and 1.5 ohm.
    Please reply.
    Thank you.

  • Santoria Rush

    My first vaporizer was Snoop Dog’s G-Pen. It’s very affordable and you get more than you would think for your money but that low cost comes at a price. Though it did help me transition for the long run that’s not a keeper. Maybe 2 months after the G-Pen I went for a Flowermate. It’s a California company and that should be everybody’s first vaporizer. In my opinion it’s the most affordable “good” vaporizer you can get your hands on. My Flowermate has been dropped 100 times and has been used religiously for years now. All I do, is make sure that it is properly cleaned. It has never let me down and I prefer it to the many, many vaporizers more expensively priced.

    • Jimmy

      I’m with u on the Flowermate. Highly overlooked. I mean if your dropping$200 on a portable. U might as well get 3 v5os
      And you’ve got gaping covered for yrs. A hell of a way to go.

  • Kimberlee Dick

    Im a medical patient, so I have tried a lot of vaporizers over the past yrs. I never seem to have much success with them (they have changed so much)but I now have a Divinci which uses herb and also concentrates. I was able to start using cartridge vapes within the past 6 months and I like them but have learned that they are all so different so you have to find which works for you. I havent used the concentrate bowls for the Divinci and would love to hear what people think etc THX

  • Frank Campbell

    Have tried various vape pens but find the vapor has a very strong, chemical taste. Experienced severe burning in my throat and windpipe, which I never did with conventional ground buds. Hear that vape cartridges contain propellants such as propylene glycol (PG), which may account for the irritation. Anyone have a recommendation how to chose the mildest vape cartridges.?

  • Karen Mayers

    I use the series 7 v2 pro. They not only have cartridges for loose leaf, they have them for wax and e cig liquid. You just have to
    switch cartridges which means you pull one out and put the other in.The first time I used it i felt like Peter pan, I was flying and pain free!! They come with a lifetime warranty and I have multiple sclerosis so I can’t count how many times I’ve dropped it. It’s a little more expensive 119.99 but the lifetime warranty alone makes it worth the price. You can choose between 3 different temperatures and has an auto shut off after about 3 minutes. The battery has a pretty long life. I can use it at least 4 times before it needs recharging. Tried the iolite. Was a waste of money because it stopped working after two months and repeated attempts to contact them went unanswered.