After considering 35 vaporizers, testing 13, interviewing expert reviewers, digging through enthusiast forums, and using several models for more than a year, the Grenco Science G Pen Elite is the best portable vaporizer for most people. It delivers key features we wanted in a portable vaporizer—foremost, vapor quality good enough that you’d never think of smoking instead—along with a reasonable price, good battery life, convenient charging, smooth draws, and quick heat-up times.
This is the second year in a row we’ve found the Elite to be the best vaporizer for the money. The Elite has features you rarely see in the under-$200 price category, like combination convection and conduction heating, a digital display for battery life and precision temperature control. We’ve twice convened a group of Los Angeles Wirecutter contributors to test the best models, and both times the Elite was a crowd-pleaser—in the most recent test, a year-old Elite that saw regular use and minimal cleaning performed just as well as a brand new one out of the box. As our expert sources and testers agree, the quality of the Elite far surpasses the cheapest vaporizers on the market, and even though premium competitors can cost twice as much, most people won’t get double the value out of them.
The Vapium Summit+ Strain Hunters Edition is a strong alternative to the Elite. It’s just as effective and reliable, and the battery is better, but the Summit+ lacks the Elite’s easy digital controls and numeric temperature display. The Summit+ isn’t as easy to clean as the simple mouthpiece on the Elite, but it allows large pulls that are easy to inhale. Other minor distinctions of the Summit+ over others we tried include a rugged, waterproof design and a handy onboard stir stick.
The Grasshopper produces effective vapor faster than our other picks, with nearly instant convection heating, simple tactile temperature controls, and a clever penlike design. But it lacks the Elite’s informative display, the battery life is shorter than that of our other picks, and its proprietary charger is not as convenient. The pocketable size and inconspicuous design make it the most easily portable of our picks, and a lifetime warranty is a reassuring detail, as earlier versions of the Grasshopper had some reliability issues.
Over the course of 40 hours of research into specifications, outside reviews, and enthusiast forums, we’ve considered nearly three dozen portable vaporizers. We used the input of 380 survey respondents to narrow our criteria and chose the most promising models to be tested by user panels. For two years in a row, we’ve convened a panel of California volunteers with varying levels of knowledge of vaporizers to give us feedback before decided on our top picks.
Aside from enthusiasts comments on popular vaporizer forums, we also checked in with two of the top professional vaporizer reviewers: Bud, the reviewer at The Vape Critic, and Buzz, the man behind the curtain at VaporizerWizard.com. Both of them have tested and reviewed dozens of models over the years, and they gave us their takes on recent improvements to portable vaporizers, performance trends, and insight into their own favorites.
This is my second year covering vaporizers for The Wirecutter, stepping away from my normal coverage of batteries, electrical products, and even personal finance. In a former job, I worked for a company that manufactured e-cigarette liquids, and though I wasn’t involved in hardware design, the exposure gave me a good understanding of the trade-offs necessary to make a good device. Before I began writing about vaporizers for dry herb, I smoked it for too many years, and I’ve used vaporizers almost exclusively since finding out just how good they can be.
If you’re completely new to cannabis or have been a casual user in the past, a vaporizer is a great way to avoid the byproducts of combustion, and the drug culture associations carried by joints, psychedelic pipes, and dorm room bongs. A portable vaporizer, dressed in a sleek and discreet housing, feels like something you can bring to a dinner party along with a bottle of wine. Compared with smoking, a vaporizer will give you a cleaner taste, less lingering odor, and more efficient use of your material.
If you’re a patient looking to use medical marijuana for symptom relief, portable vaporizers offer additional benefits. While edibles also offer a high without combustion, dosage can be tricky and consuming too much can be debilitating. A vaporizer that works with ground material—i.e., cannabis flowers—can reproduce dosages with precision temperature controls. The effects are easy to control, and the material is easier to find than concentrates like extracts or oils.
To be clear, we’re not saying that a vaporizer eliminates all the harmful effects of cannabis use, but research points to harm reduction compared with smoking. We have more details in the Health and legal section.
We set out to find a reliable, pleasing vaporizer that was easy to use and didn’t cost more than a casual user could rationalize. We looked for a product that could deliver the best vapor quality for the price while offering strong battery life, intuitive usability, and a device that’s easy to draw on, simple to clean, and quick to heat up (without causing a scorching hot mouthpiece).
Many of our 380 survey respondents were looking for a good vaporizer for less than $200. When we conducted that survey in early 2016, that field was pretty slim, but the landscape is changing, as Bud at The Vape Critic and Buzz at The Vaporizer Wizard confirmed in interviews. Bud told us, “You’re definitely right about the sub-$200 market heating up in the last year, there’s a bunch of good portable vapes now in that price range.” Buzz agreed, noting that he also likes some under-$150 models (some of which are in our competition). But once you get down toward $100, it’s time to get skeptical. We understand the allure of the cheapest models, but with thin, acrid vapor, premature failure, and no warranty or customer support, we’ve found vaporizers less than $100 to be so unsatisfying that they make smoking seem like a better option.
Of course, if you pay more than the $200 price that we were focused on, there’s plenty to love. Enthusiasts have a long-standing appreciation for premium devices like the Storz & Bickel products we cover among The competition—and while these models do offer thicker and cooler vapors, the big news in this product category is that you no longer need to make a $400 commitment to get good enough vapor quality.
By “good enough” we mean minor flaws that don’t ruin the experience. For example, cheap models tend to taste plasticky or harsh, and some deliver vapor that is uncomfortably hot—we looked for a product to deliver vapor at an acceptably warm temperature. Ideally, you taste clean, intricate flavors, and the worst you should be able to say about flavor is that it’s a little bland—if it tastes bad, there’s something very wrong with the product. We did not prioritize visibly bigger clouds of vapor, because they may not even represent increased efficacy anyway. In fact, Mark Williams, the cofounder behind the popular Firefly and Firefly 2, said in an interview that the cloudier the vapor you exhale, the more active compounds you might be wasting. We decided to judge inhalations based on the feel and flavor, and have noticed that even with thin inhales, some vaporizers still deliver tasty hits and plenty of active compounds.
Vapor quality can depend on the design of the heating element—either convection or conduction. Reviewers tend to prefer convection, which heats the oven evenly with a blast of hot air, versus conduction, which transfers heat between solid surfaces and can burn material pushed up against the hot wall. But the distinction matters less as technology improves. First, newer hybrid designs blur the distinction—they pass hot air through the chamber (like a convection model) but simultaneously heat up the walls (like a conduction model). Second, advances in battery technology have improved the pros and diminished the cons on both sides of the debate.
Battery life is a key detail, because no matter how a vaporizer heats up, it takes a lot of power to do it. We wanted a vaporizer that could last a minimum of two sessions, so you’re not constantly running for a charger. We also wanted to see an onboard battery gauge—not normally something worth mentioning on a gadget, but a requirement here because on some vaporizers, the only accurate battery gauge appears via an annoying and time-consuming smartphone app. These vaporizers are supposed to be portable, so we wanted the charging setup to be a universal standard like Micro-USB or USB-C, and not a special cradle or anything too delicate to be moved around while charging. We expected reasonably quick recharge times, which everything delivered, so that proved not to be a major factor.
We wanted easy usability and an intuitive design, because buying a first vaporizer and using it as a novice can be a little intimidating. Clean displays and status lights ease confusion, and turning a vaporizer on or adjusting temperature shouldn’t require multiple trips to the instruction manual. If we got stumped about how to best pack a device, we figured there’s a good chance it was too complicated. Moving from smoking to vaporizing is an adjustment, but that doesn’t mean there needs to be a learning curve, too.
Once it’s packed and powered up, a good portable vaporizer lets you take an easy, smooth, long inhale without too much effort, but a bad one will be like sucking a triple-thick milkshake through a coffee-stirring straw. This is one of those areas where good enough is good enough in a budget vaporizer—as long as we don’t noticeably strain, we won’t dismiss an otherwise good vaporizer for not having the best draw. How a vaporizer is engineered dictates how easy the draw is, but some lightly used vaporizers can get clogged with resins pretty quickly. We wanted a vaporizer that could handle a little bit of neglect and still do its job. Wiping down or clearing a vaporizer out is part of the process—even glass pipes need a good cleaning every now and then—but few people have the time and patience to field-strip and disinfect half a dozen pieces every couple of weeks.
Quick heat-up times are a detail we considered more of a perk than a requirement. The slowest vaporizers are generally ready in less than a minute, and the speediest are hot in just a few seconds, which is at best a minor advantage. Likewise, while the best vaporizers’ mouthpieces remained comfortable on our lips, some did get uncomfortably hot. Most included some kind of accessory (like a silicone cap) to protect against a too-hot mouthpiece, so this was rarely a disqualifying factor.
We conducted side-by-side testing to measure these metrics and also discuss details that proved to be totally subjective. Once we found our top models, we brought them in for a spirited user panel in downtown Los Angeles in the spring of 2016. We got input from total novices and experienced vaporizer users, taking notes about each device’s construction, design, usability, temperature control, vapor production, power management, or cleaning. We reconvened in 2017 to test new models, compare them with our picks, and also see how well our old units were holding up after a year of use.
After a full year of use, the Grenco Science G Pen Elite is still the best all-around portable vaporizer for the money. Its vapor production is satisfying and effective, with a quick heat-up time and clean flavor. As a gadget, it has more intuitive and clearer controls than competitors’ products, and it’s one of the smallest and most attractive designs we saw. It shares several features with the best vaporizers in the test: a convenient charging setup, solid battery life, smooth draws, and easy cleaning.
The Elite produced vapor at a quality level that surprised all of our testers given its small stature and price. In his review, Bud at The Vape Critic said, “The ceramic oven really helps with the improved taste from this new model, and at low to medium temperatures it’s able to give you a nice pure flavor with no harshness.” Compared with others at the same price, we found the flavors to be clean and well-rounded, coming through on a slightly warm vapor with a medium draw resistance. This is a totally different beast than the plasticky taste of the lower-end, generic G Pro or other sub-$100 vaporizers. And even though the Elite won’t produce the voluminous clouds of $400 models, it comes close, and most important, it’s satisfying—after a couple of weeks, it will ruin you on the ashy, burnt taste of pipes for good.
Battery life is acceptable on most portable vaporizers, and all the devices we tested had enough power to keep a single person happy for a good while or satisfy a group of three or four at once. The Elite is rated to last for 12 to 15 “activations” on a full charge—you should be able to get three or more sessions in before needing to plug it back in. That’s a fair trade-off between size and battery life, and shouldn’t leave you scrambling for power. (At the extremes, our bulkier runner-up pick, the Summit+, has a beastly battery that can handle five or more sessions, while the slimmer Grasshopper vaporizer that we liked is good for two.)
Recharging the Elite is convenient. It works with any Micro-USB cord and port, which is common to Android phones and e-readers, and it works on the go with a USB battery pack or any random USB charger you might have around. This is far easier than vaporizers that require a special dock, like the Pax and Firefly, or those that require a special DC charging cord, like the Arizer Air. On ease of use, this is a close call with the Summit+, our runner-up, which has upgraded to the newer USB-C connection, and it’s a better option than the Grasshopper, our Also great, which uses a proprietary charger.
We like that the Elite’s simple display doesn’t require any deciphering; it just shows you what you need to know and looks good doing it. The monochrome OLED display shows a four-segment battery meter and the current temperature (Fahrenheit by default, with a Celsius option) from 200 °F to 428 °F. Set a target temp with onboard up/down arrows, and the display then flips back to the current temperature, steadily ticking off the degrees until it hits the sweet spot. (The best temperature depends on a range of factors and personal preference, but 380°F is a good starting point if you’re not sure.) Most other devices don’t give you this much information or a display that’s this easy to interpret—the Arizer Air uses color-coded LEDs, while the Summit uses four LEDs with two brightnesses to indicate how hot things are getting. The Elite display is clear but not so bright that it’s distracting in a dark room, and it doesn’t require a smartphone app to set up of check battery life, like the Firefly 2 or the Crafty.
The design of the G Pen Elite is attractive and intuitive, with swoopy lines, flush buttons, and a recessed display that’s pleasant to use. At about 4¼ inches long and 1¼ inches in diameter, the Elite is the smallest of any vaporizer we tested except for the Pax 2. It will fit in small pockets, but not tight ones like the thinner Grasshopper vaporizer can manage. We think the Elite’s subtle looks work next a to a smartphone, Roku remote, or in a gadget bag.
None of the tested models took all that long to heat up—this is measured in seconds, not minutes, and the Elite was one of the faster ones. Though Buzz at Vaporizer Wizard agrees there are some flaws in the Elite, he told us that the quick heat-up time kept it in regular rotation in his personal collection. In our experience, the display registered 365 °F after 24 seconds and the unit hit the best vapor after another 10. That’s a hair faster than the Summit+ (around 40 seconds), and much faster than the Crafty (a minute and a half) or the Arizer Air (over two minutes). The Elite’s instantly changing temperature display tells you exactly how it’s heating up—an advantage over competitors that leave you in the dark until a ready-light or alert signals they’re ready.
Cleaning the Elite is easy, but in fairness, an Elite that saw regular use for a year—and was never cleaned past a wipe with a paper towel or the included brush—performed about as well as a brand new unit we brought to our test panel. Because the oven is right behind the removable mouthpiece, there’s no long air path to clean out with pipe cleaners, like with the Pax 2 or Summit+. Buzz notes that shorter air paths can often lead to harsher vapor, but without a long air path model for comparison, most people will simply appreciate the easy-to-clean style. When you do take it apart, it’s simple and sturdy, without the delicate or fussy mouthpiece parts we saw on the Crafty or the Arizer Air. If you do find the mouthpiece is clogged with resin and gunk, just remove it and soak it in isopropyl alcohol, then wipe it down.The Elite’s cleaning process is about the same as that on the Grasshopper, and only the Firefly 2 is easier to clean. The Elite’s mouthpiece, made of silicone, metal, and a small piece of polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) plastic, hasn’t absorbed odors in the year we’ve been using one.
The Elite’s ceramic chamber is 0.11 cubic inch, which can fit anywhere from 0.25 gram to 0.75 gram depending on how tightly it’s packed. The Vape Critic noted that while he doesn’t normally like a chamber this large on a portable model, “You don’t have to pack it full and tight to get good performance, it’ll still work very well with a loose pack of just ~.25g.” The high sides of the Elite’s chamber act like a funnel so it’s about as easy to fill as any other model we tested. Even with taller sides, many vaporizers, including the Elite, might be a challenge to fill if you’re trying to treat an ailment that hinders fine motor controls. Every manufacturer has specific recommendations about how to fill the chamber, but the Elite is pretty forgiving. We found a little more coarsely ground material relatively well-packed yielded the best results. For us, the Elite usually lasted through 11 activations before needing to be repacked, which was average compared with others its size. Bigger draws will mean fewer activations.
Since the Elite’s initial launch, Grenco has announced a pair of special edition versions and a slew of new accessories. Both feature a patterned vaporizer instead of the standard black, and a few accessories related to the collaborators, streetwear brand Badwood and artist Phil Frost. There’s no real need to spend the extra $50 for these special editions, but if you like the style, the extra included accessories help justify the price.
One accessory, the silicone sleeve, is practically a necessity. If you notice that your Elite gets too warm for comfort, the simple silicone sleeve will cool things back down. It’s a must-have for sensitive lips. We wouldn’t order one without it.
Given everything else we love about the Elite, we’re willing to forgive that the vapor is only good, not great. Even though Bud and our test panel were happy with it, Buzz at Vaporizer Wizard told us the vapor of the Elite is one of his least favorite parts, and thinks it often comes across as bland. If you’ve used a $400 portable vaporizer or any large desktop model, the vapor from the Elite might be disappointing by comparison—but even if you won’t be clouding up the room, the Elite is effective, and far tastier and more pleasant than smoking.
The vapor in the Elite is also warmer than in the premium devices, but we didn’t mind much because it comes off as pleasing rather than uncomfortable. Still, the short draw path means that the mouthpiece is close enough to the heat that it can get warm, too. It’s not prohibitively hot like the Pax 2, but it’s hot enough that some people may not like it. Because the Elite has medium draw resistance, you’ll want to take long, slow inhales on the device.
The hybrid heating design could be seen as a flaw. Though the Elite is designed as a convection vaporizer, the heating-element placement and ceramic chamber use conductive heat as well. Grenco Science confirmed this when we asked for clarification about the heating design: “It’s a combination of both. Conduction through embedded ceramic heating coil and convection via airflow from bottom of ceramic chamber.” We didn’t find the combination to be a problem in testing, so we feel good about recommending this product for most people. Buzz at Vaporizer Wizard initially pointed out the discrepancy to us and in his review says, “The entire ceramic chamber is heated so it will be heating the herbs from all sides while the herb is in constant contact with the heat. Now this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just that the vapor quality isn’t top notch like you’d get from the Firefly 2.” Ultimately, if you’re seeking pure convection, you should probably look for a larger, more expensive unit or consider one of our other picks, the Grasshopper. But Buzz also gave the Elite a favorable score of 8.9/10, so don’t let the hybrid heating style deter you from an otherwise solid choice.
The flush-set buttons contribute to the slick design aesthetic and will be a plus for most people. However, when you consider that they’re also on the small side, they could be hard for some people with conditions or disabilities that limit dexterity. One other minor button annoyance: Turning on the device requires pressing the power button five times. Presumably this is so it won’t accidentally fire up in a pocket or a bag, but in practice, it means we’ve always powered it on by mashing the button until it lights up.
Last, counterfeits can be an issue. In our interview, Buzz warned us: “The Elite is very heavily knocked off so I often see complaints of melted plastic and other issues arising from knockoff eBay/Amazon Elites.” We link directly to the manufacturer’s store in our guide. Be sure whoever you order from is also a trusted source, and beware of any unbelievable discounts. If anything does go wrong, US-based phone support is available from 8 to 5 Pacific. But Grenco Science will only support genuine devices.
The number one reason to get the Vapium Summit+ Strain Hunters Edition instead of our top pick is the incredible battery life. Since almost tripling the battery capacity in 2016, the Summit+ can regularly stay powered for five or more sessions at around 390 °F. The controls aren’t quite as intuitive as the Elite’s though, and once it gets dirty, it takes a little more effort to clean. Side by side, it is a very different device than our top pick, but it still reliably creates pleasant vapor at an affordable price.
Because temperature settings and draw can have a big impact on battery life, we didn’t do detailed battery tests. But after Vapium told us that the new Summit+ increased battery capacity from 1,100 mAh to 3,300 mAh, we compared them under similar conditions. While the original Summit’s battery disappointed us on occasion, the Summit+ almost never runs down, lasting a handful of sessions before needing to be recharged. Even when attempting to run it down deliberately, testers gave up after a dozen heating cycles, with the indicator at just under half full and not budging.
When we first tried the original Summit, we liked the consistent and reasonably thick vapor quality, and the upgraded Summit+ continues to be just as reliable in this regard. The Strain Hunters edition has an improved airway, which should help address Buzz’s comment that he’d like to see a Summit with less draw resistance. It took about 40 seconds to heat up and was sometimes slightly “cooked,” but the flavor avoided comparisons to burnt popcorn—or worse, burnt plastic—like the K-Vape and basic G Pro models we tried. Though the mouthpiece itself is plastic, the conduction-based metal heating chamber leads to an all-metal airway that keeps things tasting cleaner. Because it’s metal and conduction-based, it works best when fully packed and you’ll need that onboard stir stick about midway through to keep it heating evenly and avoid singeing the edges.
The Summit+ distinguishes itself with its (arguably less sexy) rugged design, which Vapium markets as an adventure accessory—it even includes a dry bag in the box so you can bring it with you in wetter weather. One of our experts, Buzz, told us that the water resistance and ruggedness are some of his favorite aspects: “As someone who loves to vape on a hike or bike ride, and always brings a vape when I go skiing, those are both really nice features.” The covered Micro-USB charging port on the older version has been updated to USB-C, and a braided charging cable is included in case you don’t have one yet. There are also some thoughtful touches on the vaporizer itself that show the company’s attention to detail. The magnetic cover is attached by a small lanyard so that it doesn’t get lost, and a hidden stir stick—useful for mixing up material as well as emptying bits stuck in the oven—can be pulled out of the main body like a rabbit out of a hat. Though the status lights can be a little hard to decipher, the Summit+ will also give you a friendly little vibrate to let you know it’s ready to go, or when it’s powering down—handy if your eyes aren’t on it or if it’s in your pocket.
As is common in less expensive devices, the interface relies on color-coded LEDs instead of an actual display screen. In this case, there are two brightness levels for each of four LEDs, totaling eight temperature steps. The arrow buttons cycle through them, and the power button serves as on/activate/off. Turning on the device, or activating the heating sequence when it’s already on, will illuminate some of the four white lights to show battery strength. If you want more precise temperature controls, bust out your smartphone and pull up the free app that will let you tweak settings over a Bluetooth connection. We’ve found app-based controls to be a pain when they’re the sole means of control, but secondary to the on-device controls, they’re a fine addition. That said, we honestly haven’t used the app controls even once after confirming that they are there and that they work.
The cleaning routine isn’t quite simple as with the Elite, as evidenced by the included accessories. You’ll need the pipe cleaners to clear the ⅛-inch metal airway tube on occasion, and that will be more effective if done with isopropyl alcohol. Both of our other picks, the Elite and the Grasshopper, put the chamber right below the mouthpiece, eliminating the need for this more thorough type of cleaning. The oven on the Summit+ needs a cleaning on occasion too, and the screen at the bottom should be pulled out and replaced once it gets sufficiently gunked up. The plastic mouthpiece tip is the only non-metal part of the airway, and an alcohol wipe should clean that out without a problem as well. It’s a standard routine for a vaporizer, but one that most people are likely to put off as long as possible. Overall, the Summit+ is a reliable device with incredible battery life, but our top pick is a little easier to use and care for, and a little nicer looking to boot.
If you’re looking for the most portable and inconspicuous vaporizer around, or want something handy that has a nearly instant heat-up time, the Grasshopper is the right choice. It offers a unique combination of a fun, practical design with convection-quality vapor in slim housing. Early models earned a reputation for reliability issues, but those bugs are ironed out, and the company backs each unit with a lifetime warranty, just in case. Our Grasshopper worked flawlessly over the course of a few months, and consistently delivered vapor that was flavorful, had a satisfying feel, and was effectively potent.
The pen-shaped device is a departure from a lot of the vaporizers we look at. Instead of digital buttons, activation and temperature are both managed with honest-to-goodness tactile controls. To turn the heating element on or off, just click the back of the device like you would any retractable pen. Around the clicker is a rotating, five-step knob that controls the temperature. That’s about it. The LEDs toward the other end are blue when ready, red when heating, and blinking red when the battery is low.
To charge the battery, the Grasshopper has an inductive and magnetic charging cord that connects around the clicker and plugs into any standard USB charger. Because the cord is proprietary and a little pricey ($35), it’s not our favorite charging setup, but it does allow you to charge from a USB battery pack in your bag, or with any friend’s USB charger. The custom lithium battery is removeable and two are included in the box, so you can bring a spare if you’re worried about battery life—which is a bit of a weakness here. We’d plan for a full battery to last one to two session’s, or oven’s worth, and consider any extra power a bonus. That makes it a great device for someone who mostly uses it solo, but can be a bit of a strain if you plan on sharing with a group.
The Vaporizer Wizard and The Vape Critic both give the Grasshopper high marks overall, with the former commenting, “The chamber is huge for the size of the unit. I was able to get up to 0.3 grams with a tight pack and a normal grind.” Everyone praised the impressive four-second heat-up time after you push the clicky button. Another comment everyone made was on the number one flaw: The metal tip gets incredibly hot during use. The Grasshopper ships with a silicone mouthpiece cover, and we consider this to be a requirement for day-to-day use (a solution not offered on the Pax 2, the mouthpiece of which also gets too hot). Hopper Labs has been working on a so-called Performance Front-end that helps to cool it down and works with water pipes, but we didn’t have a chance to try it. Because the chamber is right underneath the front-end mouthpiece, there isn’t much to clean on the Grasshopper, another perk for anyone who is likely to put off the chore.
We know that the Grasshopper has had reliability problems and shipping delays, and we have a feeling a few horror stories will show up in our own comments. But our positive experiences with the device led us to dig a little bit into the problems and talk to our experts about the feedback they’ve heard. “The reliability is the big topic with the Grasshopper isn’t it?” Buzz told us when asking about his experience. “Even as Grasshopper sales/shipping volume has gone up, the overall problems I am hearing about continue to drop.” Bud backed this up separately saying, “For a while there I was getting complaints about them on a regular basis, but that has slowed down a lot lately.” Most major forums and threads, including /r/GrassHopperVape, have seen complaints cool off about both product failures and shipping times. As of publication, the stainless steel Grasshopper was shipping immediately.
Before making the Grasshopper a pick, we also asked Hopper Labs directly about the changes and growing pains they’ve experienced. Company cofounder Trevor Vita told us that, in the beginning “we didn’t have a large team with a lot of consumer product experience. This certainly led to some really good things, but there were also some lessons to be learned.” As for product or part failures, we were told, “[We’re] always standing behind our lifetime warranty. Some of our early adopters have been through a few devices and seen the improvements. Others are on their original devices. The number of warranted units is a small percentage, and becoming even lower with our newest units.” Obviously, cleaning a device and sending it back for repair is annoying, but Hopper Labs says right now its turnaround time is two to four days once it has received a problem unit. We think the risks are pretty minimal for a device with so many upsides, especially as a second vaporizer, but if you try a Grasshopper out in 2017 and have problems, feel free to give us feedback about it at email@example.com.
We removed the Storz & Bickel Crafty, which was previously our upgrade pick. Like its even larger sibling, the Mighty, the Crafty is still a great product. It produces clean, cool, tasty, voluminous clouds of vapor. Bud at The Vape Critic told us, “My #1 go-to when I leave home is still the Crafty believe it or not, but I’m on my fourth one because of defects so that turns some people off.” At over $300, of course it has advantages—and a Tesla Model S has advantages over a Honda Civic—but we don’t think most people need to spend that much to enjoy the experience of using a vaporizer. (Plus, the Crafty in particular offloads some basic controls as well as the battery gauge to an app. Unnecessary and annoying.)
The Boundless CF and CFX are newer models worth consideration, but both are pretty large compared with our picks. The design of both models is definitely inspired by the Storz & Bickel Mighty vaporizer—the Boundless models evoke the same feeling of sipping on an electric juice box. The plastics feel cheap, and a small magnet meant to keep the top portion in place fell out during the first use. The CFX unit swaps out the basic LED status lights of the CF for a nice, bright screen to digitally control the temperature. Both devices get good reviews from over at The Vape Critic, but we’re skeptical of the construction quality.
If you’re looking solely for vapor quality on a budget, the Arizer Air does a better job than the Boundless unit, albeit with the worst control scheme of any vaporizer we’ve tried. The Air was another alternate pick in a previous version of this guide. It’s still produces some of the best vapor that can be had for less than $200—if you don’t mind the glass mouthpiece, ugly design, confusing lights, and special DC charger. All those downsides make it inconvenient, and not the best for the most people.
We also tried the Gaia this year, Linx Vapor’s first foray into dry herb vaporizers, and it’s competent. For both features and performance, there are a lot of similarities to our top pick, the G Pen Elite: same OLED display to show temperature and battery levels, same single power button and up/down temperature control buttons, and it heats up as fast, about 25 seconds to 390 °F. Both models even retail for nearly the same price, but the G Pen Elite mostly keeps its top spot by being the better overall design in both looks and practicality. The Gaia is a black brick with a half-inch-long glass and metal mouthpiece that screws on and off, which is easy to lose, and needs to be covered by a cap when not in use to avoid damage. Plus, the screw-on design can get stuck if the threads are dirty. It’s not bad, but with standout options like the Elite, Summit+, and Grasshopper, a “not bad” design doesn’t stand out like it would a couple of years ago.
The Pax 2 might be the most well-known vaporizer we tested. The original Pax was one of the first portable vaporizers to pay any attention to presentation and simplicity, and it received a lot of attention in return. The Pax 2 is just as beautifully sculpted and about the same size as the G Pen Elite, but with the competition available, the Pax 2 feels like minimalist design taken too far. The single button for activating it, changing temperature, and turning it off is the mouthpiece itself. That might not be a real sanitation problem, but it’s still a somewhat gross setup when passing it around a test panel, or group of acquaintances. More important, the vapor quality and overall user experience from the Pax 2 just doesn’t hold up against the competition. The flavor and volume are both so-so, and the temperature of the mouthpiece gets way too hot compared with the relatively cool mouthpieces of our picks. The Pax 3 corrects most of these problems, with a cooler mouthpiece, better vapor production, and the ability to vaporize dry herbs or concentrates. But we’re sick of pulling out a smartphone app for the best controls, and a charging dock makes the device far less portable than a Micro-USB or USB-C port. The Pax 2 dropped in price after the Pax 3 came out, but it still costs more than our pick, and we don’t think either Pax offers enough benefits to be worth the added cost.
We’ve tried the Firefly 2 twice with mixed results. Even though the Firefly 2 has gotten rave reviews at The Cannabist, Engadget, and The Vape Critic, we don’t want to recommend it because it’s the only vaporizer we’ve found with a learning curve. The near-instant convection heating is impressive, but because the device is touch-activated—with some temperature controls available in a smartphone app—it takes some serious practice and finesse to get solid results. Mark Williams, cofounder of Firefly Labs, spoke at length with us about the developments and improvements engineering into the update to the original Firefly vaporizer. In addition to quick, convection heating and clever internal heating and control, it’s a classy design, too, that cleans to like-new condition in seconds. But with the Firefly 2’s price tag currently north of $300, we feel our picks offer a better value and a more satisfying experience for most people.
The Grenco Science G Pro is just one variation on the same device that’s also marketed as the K-Vape and the X Pen Pro. It’s the epitome of a generic vaporizer, with none of the nice touches that the Grenco G-Pen Elite offers. In fact, Grenco Science’s reputation has been marred by the inclusion of this cheaper device in the company’sr lineup. Shaped like a small flashlight, the G Pro’s plastic body matches its plastic mouthpiece. It also matches its taste: The vapor was thin and plasticky on every setting. The whole device is controlled by a single button and gives feedback with just a single light. It’s cheaper than the Elite, but it is an entry-level device that we think could turn off new users. If you’ve never had a vaporizer and this is the only one you can afford, you may actually be better off sticking with papers or a pipe until you can make an upgrade that’s worth the investment.
The Kandypens K-Vape Micro DX has a nice design and an interface similar to the G Pen Elite, but it falls short at actually producing vapor. Even with precision temperature settings and a digital display that we liked, we never found a temperature where the Micro DX could really shine at its main job. Instead, we were intermittently able to produce thin vapor with an acrid taste. Even when we fiddled with the temperature settings, the vapor production was unreliable and it almost always tasted a little of plastic.
Though some models can now take both concentrates and dry herbs, we didn’t consider this use. Liquids, waxes, dabs, and other variations have exploded in popularity now that they can be commercially produced in some areas. Fans of these concentrates appreciate the ease and efficiency, and medical marijuana patients can get fast-acting relief by using them instead of traditional ground cannabis. But if you don’t have a retail establishment nearby that stocks them, concentrates can be hard to find. And until safety standards catch up with production, the industry has struggled to ensure that pesticides don’t become more concentrated, too. For most people, we recommend sticking with the “flower vaporizers” that we cover here, and more experienced users can venture into the land of concentrates with some additional reading.
There’s no ignoring the downsides of vaporizers. While cannabis has long been considered safer than tobacco, that’s about as helpful as saying that spa treatments are safer than being on fire. And though state laws in the US have changed considerably in the past few years, federal law still prohibits any sale, use, or even possession of marijuana, if for questionable reasons.
Using a vaporizer, generally set between 370 °F and 410 °F, supposedly skips the nasties generated from joints and pipes, or even a toasty vaporizer set to anything over that. You need at least 356 °F to convert the naturally occurring acids in cannabis, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDa) into their active, neutral forms, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). (Say that five times fast.) Scientists think these are the two main compounds that will give the desired psychotropic and medical effects. Our science editor looked over the studies that compare joints or pipes to vaporizers, but keep in mind that there are not that many and all of them are performed by or funded by NORML. We’re not suggesting that their science is not sound, but there is a potential conflict of interest because NORML exists to promote the legalization of marijuana. That said, it found that 95 percent of the vapor coming through a Volcano vaporizer was either THC or CBN (another cannabinoid). The other 5 percent is a mixture of “one suspected cannabinoid relative, one suspected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), and caryophyllene.” A pipe spit out smoke that was 88 percent non-cannabinoids, including several known PAHs. A non NORML study) says that people who switched to smoking vapes said they had a decrease in their respiratory problems, but it only included 20 people. So is a vaporizer healthier? The literature answers with a resounding “maybe.”
Even though The Wirecutter has a guide on portable vaporizers, unprepared reporters flock to Colorado to write “first time” experience stories, and journalists cover the tax revenue and regulation in Washington state, the US is far from a legal free-for-all for cannabis consumers. In fact, it’s a mess. After all the ballot initiatives from the November 2016 elections go into effect, eight states will allow regulated use of recreational cannabis and 29 states have some sort of medical marijuana program. But that leaves a quarter of states—and the federal government—with criminal laws against possession, even in small amounts. Adding to this strange patchwork, the DOJ no longer has funding to go after the medical marijuana industry and a federal judge sided with a dispensary over the issue, but it’s unclear if DOJ officials will let that become the new status quo—and there’s no solid word on what the new administration and Attorney General will support or enforce. Even though more than 600,000 Americans were arrested for simple marijuana possession in 2015, 5.3 million Coloradans can walk into a shop and buy a joint. More broadly, Europe and the Americas have slowly seen pushes for medical exceptions and decriminalization, but much of the world still bans the substance outright. Portable vaporizers are legal up until you use them with an illegal substance. Then, they become paraphernalia and are subject to the corresponding laws in your jurisdiction.