Smoking is out, and 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.
Who’s it for: Those looking for a well-built and reliable device
How much will it cost: $275
Why we picked the Davinci IQ:
When we received the Davinci IQ late last year to test, we were skeptical of its claims of superiority in performance and customizability. But the IQ performed time and time again on par if not exceeding the Pax 3 in terms of vapor production. Coming in roughly at the same price as the Pax 3, it just feels like you’re getting more.
One of the biggest downsides to the Pax 3 is its on-device UI – even though the Davinci IQ looks similarly basic, you have the capability to change and know what the temperature your vape’s at directly from the device without looking at the companion app, which the Pax is forced to rely on.
It might be a bit wider than the Pax, but it is similarly discreet and has a nice matte metallic finish. Heat up times are on par with most devices, although at higher temperatures it seemed to take a bit longer than average to get to temperature, but not by much.
What puts it over the top is the IQ app, which is by far best in class. You can use the company’s four preset heating patterns or create and store one of your own. The app is modern and bug-free, and even stores statistics on your sessions, such as average temperature, average session time, and even counts how many times you use a specific heat setting.
It matches Pax with a ten year warranty, and while it doesn’t do concentrates, it is one of the best when it comes to dry herb and flower. At least for now, we have a new top dog when it comes to portable vaporizers, for sure.
The best of both worlds (Flower and Concentrates)
Haze Dual V3
Who’s it for: Those looking for a vaporizer that does both flower and concentrate well
How much will it cost: $250
Why we picked the Haze Dual V3:
Typically, portable vaporizers that try to do both flower and concentrate do one well and meh on the other. While the Haze Dual V3 is quite a bit wider than any vaporizer we’ve tested (we think it akin to the size of an overstuffed wallet), the bigger size allows for two independently heated chambers, and surprisingly solid performance for both.
Heating times from a cold start seemed to lag behind other devices we tested, however it heated flower well without burn at the two recommended lower settings, and concentrates were completely vaporized at the two recommend higher ones. The device did seem to noticeably slow down in heating with weak battery power, something we did not notice on either the Pax 3 or IQ.
Haze gives you a variety of options including conduction and convection screens (we found the conduction screens to work best), and canisters for concentrates and dry herb. You can even swap between a metal and glass mouthpiece which are included, but again we preferred one over the other – the glass seemed to result in better taste.
Worried about heat transfer between the two chambers? There is none – we can confirm that after repeated tests even at the highest temperatures on either chamber.
What prevents us from giving the Haze Dual V3 the win is the odd size, which isn’t necessarily portable. Other dual chamber devices have been able to do this in a much smaller package. Still, for $250 this is a hell of a device.
The best vaporizer for discreteness
Why should you buy this: It heats up fast, vapes great, and has a great design.
Who’s it for: Those looking for the best mix of value and function
How much will it cost: $250
Why we picked the Pax 3:
While the Davinci IQ may have knocked the Pax 3 out of the top spot, we still prefer the Pax 3 over any of our picks for discreetness – it’s even easier to conceal than the wider (but still small) IQ. It’s also got concentrate support too, although we found it performs way better with dry herb and flower instead. That said, it’s the same price as the Davinci IQ, so if you really need concentrate compatibility, this might be a better option.
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.
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.
Our full review: Pax 3 vaporizer review
The best vaporizer for budget buyers
Prohibited 5th Degree
Why should you buy this: If you can’t afford the Haze Dual V3, this is a good alternative.
Who’s it for: Those who need flexibility at a cheap price
How much will it cost: $200
Why we picked the Prohibited 5th Degree:
While the Kandypens Miva was our former budget choice, over time it’s quirkiness and operational issues – namely overheating — left us searching for a new recommendation. We’ve certainly found it with the 5th Degree, a vape from Prohibited.
Prohibited is a new brand from the same company that produces V2-branded vaporizers. The new brand aims to step things up a notch, while still keeping the device at a reasonable price. Better yet? It does both dry herb and concentrates.
While you’re not going to get as good results from the 5th Degree as our top recommendations, but we’re still impressed with both build quality and vapor production. It’s worth it if you just can’t swing the $250+ of the other models on this list, but keep in mind you do get what you pay for.
The best vaporizer for concentrates
Who’s it for: Concentrate connoisseurs looking for discreteness and power.
How much will it cost: $140
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. While it is pricey for a vaporizer pen that does wax and concentrates only, if this 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.