Smoking is out. Vaping is in. As we continue to prioritize the health of our lungs, herbal vaporizers have sprung onto the scene as a new way to get your fix without inhaling carcinogen-laden smoke. While tabletop vaporizers have long dominated this market, handheld vaporizers continue to get smaller, lighter, and more powerful.
For 2018, we’ve now had the opportunity to put several new herbal vaporizers through our rigorous testing program, and new entrants are giving market leaders like the Pax and Firefly a run for their money. In fact, one of these new entrants was good enough to knock the Pax 3 from the top spot it held in our previous list. What are the best vaporizers? Read on and find out.
Dr. Dabber Switch
Why should you buy this: Fully featured, powerful, and a great value.
Product card: With huge bong/dab rig-like clouds at higher heat settings, the Switch handles both flower and concentrates masterfully.
Who’s it for: Cannabis connoisseurs that demand flavor, performance, and efficiency.
How much will it cost: $400
Why we picked the Dr Dabber Switch:
When we received the Switch from Dr. Dabber, we were initially taken aback by its size. Make no mistake, this thing is massive: fully assembled it measures over a foot tall and four inches wide at the base. But harping on its large size seems irrelevant when you actually use it – the performance of the Switch is going to blow you away.
Instead of the traditional convection and conduction heating of the vaporizers on our list, the Switch uses induction. This heats the cups – one for wax and concentrates, another for flower – evenly, resulting in some of the most efficient use of cannabis we’ve seen yet.
A bubbler attachment further filters the vapor to give you clean and smooth hits, and at the highest three settings (there’s five total) for either flower or concentrates you’re going to get great vapor production. A special self-cleaning function lessens the need for you to clean your rig with isopropyl alcohol after every use.
But why is this thing such a monstrosity? A lot of its size is due to a large battery. Much of the base is comprised of a lithium-ion battery that Dr. Dabber claims can last up to 150 uses. While we did not get that kind of performance (we made heavy use of the battery-intensive self-cleaning function), we can say the average number of uses was in the dozens every time over the two or so months we’ve been testing it. No other device we’ve tested has had that kind of battery life.
We’ll be honest: at $400, it is certainly at or near the high end of portable (read: no need to plug in) vapes. However, in the two or so years we’ve done these roundups now, we cannot point to an equal to the Dr. Dabber Switch.
Haze Square Pro
The best of both worlds
Why should you buy this: We loved the Dual V3. This is its bigger and badder brother.
Product card: With four chambers, this makes for a great vape for sharing with friends.
Who’s it for: Those looking for a vaporizer that does both flower and concentrate well.
How much will it cost: $190
Why we picked the Square Pro:
Haze Technologies makes some hefty portable vapes, and the Square Pro is no exception. But like the Dual V3, we love the performance, and the fact you can now store up to four different pods of concentrates and flower in any combination you like.
While the on-demand heating system takes a bit of getting used to, and you have to use the vape with the fire button side of the vape facing down so the pods heat right, once it works, it works. Haze even has dabbled in giving you app control to customize the heating temperatures, although we would have preferred a mobile app over the desktop PC app that Haze has created.
Still, there’s not many vapes out there that have been able to successfully pull off a dual use vape, so this right now stands as one of our favorites and recommendations, and four chambers is just insane, not to mention a debut price below $200. We just wish they’d come out with a more svelte vape.
Zeus Arc GT
The best vaporizer for flavor
Why should you buy this: The flavor of your dry herb and flower comes through like no other vape.
Product card: Slow heat up times, but the flavor and vapor production makes it worth it.
Who’s it for: Flavor chasers who want a solid performing vape.
How much will it cost: $230
Why we picked the Arc GT:
Those Canadians sure can make a great vape, and with cannabis legal now in the Great White North, the Zeus Arc GT is our top choice for flavor chasers not only in Canada but elsewhere too. What makes the Arc GT different is the use of an all gold chamber and vapor path, something that is unusual for portable vapes.
Zeus claims the all gold vapor path has a lot to do with its ability to produce great flavor, but we’d venture to guess that it also has a lot to do with why the Arc GT takes so damn long to heat up. Based on our tests so far, the GT takes about twice as long to get to the correct temperature as any of the other vapes on our list. While we’d complain about it normally with any other vape, here it seems like it is worth it.
Not only is the flavor top notch, but the amount of vapor it produces almost from the first hit is pretty impressive. We also thought that we got a lot more out of our flower and dry herb material, not only in how much vapor it produced, but also the flavor of the particular strain seemed to stick around longer than other vapes – which makes it one of our favorites, if perhaps one of the top new vapes of 2018.
The best vaporizer for discreetness
Why should you buy this: A smaller version of the IQ, with the same great performance.
Product card: A smaller version of the popular IQ, without any decrease in performance
Who’s it for: Those looking for a flower vape with great performance at an equally great price.
How much will it cost: $150
Why we picked the MIQRO:
While we loved the original DaVinci IQ for its performance and best-in-class app, it’s large size and width made it a little unwieldy. DaVinci’s back in 2018 with a new smaller version of the IQ cleverly dubbed the MIQRO, which is about two-thirds the size. While you lose some of the LEDs on the front, and the MIQRO doesn’t have the oven or battery capacity of the IQ, there’s really not much else different.
The MIQRO’s size actually seems to help in getting a tighter seal around the top of the device when inhaling, making it much easier to get large clouds without the optional extended mouthpiece. The 18350 battery is removable (great for those of us who might be using this outdoors), and you can still adjust the pearl inside of the oven so you don’t need to use as much flower.
For those concerned with airpath, it is made out of zirconium ceramic and not metal. The great DaVinci app works just the same as it did with the IQ, and best of all the MIQRO does it at half the price.
Negatives weren’t too serious: we did notice that vapor was a fair deal hotter than the IQ, and battery life is less due to the fact that the MIQRO uses a smaller battery than its larger cousin. We wouldn’t recommend this for a long sesh with friends, but it seems perfect for discreet moments given its thinner profile and the ability to fit the entire device within your hand.
The best app-controlled vaporizer
Why should you buy this: It heats up fast, has a great design, and even better app.
Product card: Great vapor production, a top-notch app, and ten-year warranty keep the aging Pax 3 as one of our top picks.
Who’s it for: The techier herbal vaper
How much will it cost: $200
Why we picked the Pax 3:
The Pax 3 is one of those vapes that has seemingly been around forever. But a lot of its staying power has much to do with the fact its just that good. While the new DaVinci MIQRO may be our new best pick for discreetness, the Pax 3 still belongs on this list for its great app and even better performance.
The oven heats up in less than 20 seconds – half the time of the previous Pax – and it gets high marks for its solid vapor production. It also feels nice in the hand, and is easy to use even for the most novice of vapors – even though it might be a little tricky to load at first.
The app is also very easy to use, and if you are in a cannabis legal state, you might be able to pick up the Pax Era – the company’s proprietary pod cartridge system – and use the same app. Everything here seems just very well put together.
What really stands out to us is the device’s ten-year warranty, which should far outlast most owners use of the product. If you want to purchase something that will last you a long time right out of the gate, the Pax 3 is it. If you want to get the device cheaper ($200), you can spring for the device only option. Do note that you’ll lose the necessary parts for concentrate support, won’t have any replacement screens or tools to clean the device, and will have to pack the dry herb chamber completely full to use it.
Why’s that? The kit version comes with all this and a special oven lid that only requires you to fill the Pax 3 halfway. We strongly recommend you purchase the full kit.
Grenco GPen Elite
The best vaporizer for budget buyers
Why should you buy this: Grenco surprised us with a well-performing vape at a rock bottom price.
Product card: While there are many vapes better than the GPen Elite, it is at the top of its class for its price point.
Who’s it for: Dry herb and flower vapers who don’t need concentrate support.
How much will it cost: $120
Why we picked the GPen Elite:
We’ll admit that we were pretty darn skeptical that a $120 vape was going to amount to anything, but with a huge oven chamber and impressive vapor production, the GPen Elite has won our hearts. The device is very easy to use, heats up fairly quickly, and while vapor production is a bit lacking its sufficient for a vaporizer at this price.
Use after use the device was vaporizing flower correctly and thoroughly, which surprised us considering other cheaper vapes around this price range often overcook and burn the material, defeating the whole purpose of vaporization.
Is it perfect? No, the mouthpiece seems to introduce a bit of a rubbery taste at times, tamping down the flavor of the material itself, but it’s not bad enough that it’s a deal killer. At this price, you’re going to have to accept some things that you wouldn’t find at higher price points. Also, the construction quality is also a step down from other vapes we’ve review.
That all said, we keep coming back to the price, which no one’s been able to beat in our tests so far.
The best vaporizer for concentrates
Who’s it for: Concentrate connoisseurs looking for discreteness and power.
How much will it cost: $60
Why we picked the Elite:
There are some of us who prefer concentrates and wax over flower and dry herb, but carrying around a rig is just way too obvious. Kandypens’ Elite takes the top spot for a concentrate pen for its overall solid performance and equally solid design and construction.
It also comes 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.
We were also very pleased with battery life, which was above average when compared to other concentrate pens. With a recent price cut, if concentrates is your preferred consumption method, you’d be foolish to not pick the Elite up.
The best vaporizer if price is no object
Why should you buy this: It has the best vapor production and is concentrate compatible
Who’s it for: Those who don’t mind spending a little extra
How much will it cost: $330
Why we picked the Firefly 2:
While the Davinci IQ was our top choice, we’d be remiss to not consider the Firefly 2 a worthy contender. The second generation model builds upon the original, and boasts an amazing heat up time of only five seconds. Out of charge? No fear there either: the Firefly 2 fully charges in just 45 minutes.
For those of us who prefer concentrates, you’ll need to choose the Firefly over the IQ at least if you don’t like the Haze Dual V3’s bulkiness. The Firefly 2’s quick heat-up times make this possible, and also make it a more all-around versatile device. Keep in mind though that it is larger than both the Pax and the IQ, so if size and discreteness are an issue, you might want to look elsewhere.
For the more tech-savvy, the Firefly 2 also comes with an official app for both iOS and Android that allows you to change temperature and various settings with a touch of a finger.
The best water filtration vaporizer
Why should you buy this: Water pipe, meet vaporizer.
Who’s it for: Those that want the cleanest possible hit
How much will it cost: $250
Why we picked the Hydrology9:
Okay, we’ll admit it. When Cloudious9 sent us its Hydrology9 water pipe/vaporizer hybrid, we laughed. “Who in their right mind would fall for some gimmicky vaporizer that looks like a high tech glass bong?” we mused. Well, the jokes on us.
The Hydrology9 works, and works well – providing the cleanest hit of any vaporizer we’ve ever tried. It works on the same premise as that old bong you had in your dorm room – filtering out impurities but still providing what you came for without the harsh cough. A large chamber makes it ideal for groups, and excellent battery life keeps it going for several sessions.
Is it somewhat gimmicky? A bit. The LED lighting that you can set to flash between colors might be a little sophomoric, and it does leak a little even with the ball bearing system they use to plug the draw hole up when its upside down for refilling. But this is a first-generation model, and if you can deal with some of the quirks is well worth the money: vapor production is some of the best of any vaporizer we’ve tried. Just don’t drop it, that’s still a party foul.
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?
Helpful terms to know
Flower: short-hand term used to describe the part of the tobacco or marijuana that you actually smoke (or in this case, vape). It’s the most common method of consumption.
Concentrate: Like it sounds, this is the concentrated form of tobacco or marijuana. Manufacturers produce concentrate by extracting the resins from the flower. This results in a much higher potency, so it’s always a good idea to start small. There are several different types: we suggest you go here to learn more.
Vaporizer: This is the term given to consumption devices that heat flower or concentrate until they turn into vapor. It’s generally accepted that this method puts far fewer carcinogens into your body that traditional methods, although it doesn’t eliminate risk.
Conduction vs. Convection: Two ways to heat up the flower or concentrate within your vaporizer. Conduction heats the outside walls of the oven to begin to vaporize your material, while convection heats up inside the chamber much like your cooking oven. Conduction allows for simple to use devices that heat up quickly, but at the risk of combusting the material. Convection negates the risk of combustion and allows for more accurate temperature control, but you’ll find these devices much more expensive and slow to heat up.