Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular in recent years, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. In order to vaporize cannabis concentrates it requires quite a bit of heat, something that you’re not going to be able to do with a lighter alone.
The only source of heat that can get your pipe hot enough to dab is a blowtorch, and for many of us (especially the less coordinated among us) that’s frankly just a bit too extreme. Ending up with third-degree burns doesn’t sound like our idea of fun at all, and we’re not even touching on the fact that hauling around dab rig and a blowtorch is neither easy nor discreet.
Vape pens — much like e-cigarettes — have sprung up as an answer to this problem (along with a myriad of other portable vaporizers), and have become quite popular as a method to dab on the go. They fit in your pocket, deliver long life without the need for recharging, and you can’t burn yourself with them (well, usually). There are hundreds of choices though, and unfortunately that means there are a lot of crappy vapes sharing shelf space with worthwhile ones. So, to help you out, we’ve waded through the maze of choices here. Read on to find out which ones you should be considering.
The best: Kandypens Elite
Why should you buy this: Consistent performance and a recent price cut keeps last year’s top pick at the top.
Who’s it for: Concentrate connoisseurs looking for discreteness and power
How much will it cost: $60
Why we picked the Kandypens Elite:
When the Elite debuted in 2017, it was one of KandyPens’ top-of-the-line pens. It also came with an equally top-of-the-line price at $140, though. Now nearly two years old, it’s about $80 cheaper, and that is too good of a deal to pass up.
The Elite ships with two different coils, one ceramic-lined with a ceramic plate heater at the bottom, and the other one quartz-lined with dual quartz rods. Vapor production is superb, especially with the quartz atomizer, and four different heat settings make very efficient use of concentrate and wax. Whereas we experienced harsh hits with many of the pens we tried, the Elite (and the ceramic coil especially) was smooth as butter.
We were also very pleased with battery life, which was above average when compared to other concentrate pens. The four-level heating options allowed us to dial in our experience to find the sweet spot, which can differ based on the concentrate type and even the experience you’re after.
To date, we haven’t found another traditional pen this year that offers similar performance, so the Elite still sits at the top of the list. One word of caution though: we’ve found with extended use that the coils do lose performance over time and/or stop working, so expect to have to replace the coils about once a year to keep your Elite working well.
The best for beginners: Dr. Dabber Aurora
Why should you buy this: The Aurora kit gives you everything you need to get started
Who’s it for: Newbies to concentrates
How much will it cost: $100
Why we picked the Dr. Dabber Aurora:
Dabbing can be a little intimidating for even the seasoned cannabis user: it really is a totally different world. For those looking for a solid place to start, the Aurora is as simple as it gets. Instead of threaded pieces that screw together, everything on this rig is magnetic. You can literally switch between coils within seconds. The mouthpiece (it comes with two: a traditional rounded one and a fluted version) isn’t magnetic, but is nonetheless easily removable and interchangeable.
One of our biggest gripes with the Kandypens Elite is the fact that you need to unscrew the battery then attach it to a USB dongle whenever you want to recharge. The Aurora Kit comes with an desk magnetic charger that you only need to lay the device in. That’s way more convenient.
You also get three different atomizers versus the Elite’s two, all with quartz dishes: one with dual quartz rods, another with dual ceramic rods, and finally a ceramic halo heater. While we generally found the hits to be noticeably less smooth than the Elite, the ease of use and coil options are great. You’ll also get a dab tool and a silicone concentrate container too, which is always useful.
The best-designed: Dipper
Why should you buy this: Dipstick Vapes’ sleekly designed Dipper is more than just a vape pen
Who’s it for: Heavy concentrate and social users
How much will it cost: $115
Why we picked the Dipper:
When we first received the Dipper from Dipstick Vapes, we figured its convertibility between a pen and dab straw would be more gimmicky, and it would likely only do one or the other well. We’re happy to report that we were completely wrong.
The cap of the device is removable, allowing you to switch between a vapor tip atomizer and a quartz crystal atomizer for dab straw use. To use it as a traditional pen, you just screw the quartz atomizer tip in, load your concentrate, replace the cap, and choose between any of three heat settings. In social situations however, the vapor tip atomizer might work better. All you do there is flip the cap to the bottom of the device, screw the tip in, and use the tip to directly dab right from your concentrate container.
Either method works well, with surprisingly smooth hits from each, in line with our experiences with the Elite. The straw might work better for those that might find cleaning out the atomizers after use a pain, and at the higher heat settings with a little practice was producing some pretty heavy clouds.
It comes in a host of colors, including a new limited release “ocean blue,” of which Dipstick Vapes is donating 5% of sales to ocean conservation charities. We’d recommend considering the $140 starter pack, which adds three extra replacement atomizers (one vapor tip – you get one additional in the standard box already – and two quartz crystal tips), a glass concentrate container, and dab mat.
The best for pre-filled concentrates: Pax Era
Why should you buy this: No mess with pre-filled pods, and it provides app control and great battery life — all for just 30 bucks.
Who’s it for: Right now, only residents in 13 U.S. states
How much will it cost: $30 (often free with pod purchases as a dispensary special)
Why we picked the Pax Era:
The Pax Era is gaining steam as pod vaporizers become more popular. In fact, if you think the Era looks awfully familiar, you’re right. Pax is the company behind JUUL, and no, your JUUL can’t use Era pods just in case you’re wondering. In any case, the Era is now available in 13 medical and recreational states as of December 2018, which is to our knowledge the widest availability of any of the THC pod contenders.
The price of $30 is insane for what you get, and you can often get it for free with the purchase of Pax Era pods at participating dispensaries. We recommend picking it up because it has one thing that no other pod system has — an app. It’s the same one used for the Pax 2 and 3, so there’s no new app to install.
You can fine tune heat settings anywhere between 520 to 790 degrees to find your sweet spot and do a host of other cool things (nearly everything you can do with the Pax believe it or not). It’s rechargeable, and the pod system is mess free, although some pods have occasionally leaked. We’ll blame this more on the grower side than Pax, however.
A word on those pods: they contain a half-gram of either live resin or budder, considered by most the two most ‘pure’ forms of concentrate as far as flavor goes. Cost is generally about 10-20% higher than prefilled 510 or 710 atomizer cartridges from our searches – but you’re paying for the convenience and the capability to fine-tune just about everything.
We plan to finally be able to test this device thanks to recent availability in the state where our reviewers are located, alongside several other contenders in the space. Look for our review in 2019.
The best of both worlds: Prohibited 5th Degree
Why should you buy this: Prohibited’s 5th Degree vaporizer started out as an average vaporizer. It isn’t anymore.
Who’s it for: Those who want an extremely versatile device
How much will it cost: $200+
Why we picked the Prohibited 5th Degree:
When we first reviewed the Prohbited In the 5th Degree vaporizer last summer for its debut, it was a middle-of-the-road vaporizer with an equally middle-of-the-road price. This is not to say it didn’t perform well: it just seemed pedestrian compared to the other vaporizers we’ve tested.
What we did like is the magnetic cartridge idea, and we did take notice that the magnetic connectors seemed to have different etchings in them. We now understand why: there was more built into this little vaporizer than we knew. This apparently tells the vaporizer unit itself how to operate based on the attachment used.
Two new accessories have appeared since our first tests, including a $60 dab straw attachment which allows you to directly dab your concentrates a la the Dipper, and also a $100 full dab rig setup with bubbler, stand, and three different e-nail options including titanium, ceramic and quartz. For $360 you have just about anything you need for just about any form of inhalable cannabis. That’s not a bad deal at all.
The E-Rig setup is our favorite, and performs as well as most dab rigs, minus all the glass and the blowtorch. They also give you a handy case so you can carry everything with you discreetly wherever you might be headed. Yes, this is a lot of money to throw down for a vaporizer, but it’s pretty much what you’d spend for everything anyway if you were doing it the old-fashioned way.
No, it doesn’t have fancy app control, nor is it going to produce the most massive clouds. But we’ll be damned if there’s anything this complete on the market right now, and even though it’s not exactly a “pen,” we think it has earned a spot on this list.
How we test
For each vaporizer, we run down the specs and noteworthy features. No beating around the bush here — we get right to it and explain what makes a particular vape noteworthy from the competition. Does it have a unique design? Is it more modifiable than most? The standard specs/features we go over include:
- Battery size / charging style
- Chamber/reservoir volume
- Heating element type
- Min/max temperature settings
- Connectivity options
Design and Vapor Quality
After the specs, we dive into an honest assessment of the device’s design. Can it fit in a pocket, or will you need to throw it in your bag? How does it feel in your hand? How does it feel in your mouth? Is it comfortable to hold and take a drag from? Is the button hard to find?
Then we turn to the good stuff: the vapor. What kind of temperature settings does the unit have? How accurate are they? Is the vapor smooth, or harsh? Weak, or flavorful? Does it just taste burnt? There’s no truly objective way to relay this information, so we’ve put together a special testing system that helps us land on a more rounded opinion.
Part one is a vapor comparison performed with a reference vaporizer. We puff on both devices interchangeably and take note of the differences. This side-by-side test helps us tease out the review vape’s strengths and weaknesses and gives us a base for comparison.
Part two is a visual test, where we take a good, long drag from the device in question, then exhale it in front of a plain background. We’ll put together a short, looping video of this, so you can see the thickness, color, and consistency of the exhaled vapor.
Battery Life and Maintenance
Over the course of our testing process, we keep a close watch on how long the device’s battery lasts, and let you know how our findings align with the specs listed on the box. Nobody wants to charge their vape every day (that’s what the iPhone is for, right?), so we’ll be honest with you about how long you can puff before it dies.
For higher-end vapes, we’ll also provide some notes on repairability. No matter how nice your vape might be, there’s a good chance it’ll stop working properly for some reason or another after you’ve used it for long enough. If you’re using a cheaper vape it’s easier to buy a new one; if you spent over $100, DIY repairs will be a better option. So for the more expensive vapes we test, we’ll assess how difficult it is to clean or replace parts that are most likely to break/malfunction after prolonged use.
Finally, we bring you a TL;DR blurb. We summarize the whole test experience and plainly state our opinion. Here’s what’s cool, here’s what sucks, and here’s why you should or shouldn’t buy it. In a nutshell: Is it perfect for puffing?
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