Vaporizers and vape pens have opened up a variety of new cannabis experiences. Depending on your priorities during a session, one might be a better fit than the other.
So, how do you know if a vape pen or portable vaporizer would better suit your needs? The key is understanding the characteristics of each type of device, and also exploring the relative similarities and differences. Below is our guide to vape pens and portable vaporizers.
Defining vape pens and portable vaporizers
A vape pen is named for its long and slender design, similar in size and weight to a pen. The device is typically made up of a battery, which powers a heating element that turns the cannabis oil into vapor. A single button on the vape pen controls temperature, typically limited to one or a small handful of temperature settings. Some models employ pre-filled cartridges or pods that are interchangeable, while other vape pens come pre-filled as a disposable all-in-one. The mouthpiece is generally attached to the cartridge or pod.
Portable vaporizers are generally more powerful than their vape pen counterparts, and a lot of that is attributed to the larger size. These units are typically comprised of an oven, a vapor pathway, and a mouthpiece. Portable vaporizers typically use conduction heating, which heats materials in the oven on contact, or convection heating, which uses circulating hot air to create vapor. Many portable vaporizers boast advanced functionality, either accessible through the control panel or a companion app.
It’s not just the designs that make a difference. Features and capabilities vary widely between vape pens and portable vaporizers, and even within each category. These differences will be significant factors in deciding which type of device is right for you, especially when stacked up against the similarities. Below we go through each.
Vape Pen and Portable Vaporizer Differences
Difference #1: Product Compatibility
The first question you should ask yourself when selecting any vaporizer is “what type of cannabis does it work with?” Most portable vaporizers work with dry herb or concentrates, whereas vape pens tend to support cannabis oil.
Portable vaporizers typically have oven or chamber where you prep and load the cannabis flower or concentrates manually. Cartridge or pod vape pens work exclusively with pre-filled oils cartridges that screw in or pods that click into the compatible battery.
With the above setup, this means that vape pens and vaporizers are not compatible with the same types of cannabis material. This makes it especially important to check before you buy.
Difference #2: Temperature settings
Another key consideration when selecting a vaporizer is understanding whether it offer different temperature settings and, if so, how many.
Vape pens tend to be more simplistic in their design: many are programmed to only support a single temperature, while others offer general low, medium, and high settings. Vape pens also tend to have a one-button functionality, where pressing the button turns the device on and off, changes temperature, and begins the heating process.
If you’re after a more customizable temperature setting, portable vaporizers are more likely to offer what you need. There are many portable vaporizers on the market that only offer four pre-set temperature settings, but others still allow you to set temperature down to the precise degree.
Difference #3: Maintenance
Finally, one of the biggest differences between vape pens and portable vaporizers is the degree of maintenance required. Vape pens are usually very simple and require little to no maintenance. Pod vapes and cartridge vapes merely need to be switched out when the cannabis oil is depleted. Beyond checking the battery to ensure nothing is blocking the contacts, there is little maintenance involved with these types of vape pens.
Portable vaporizers tend to require more care than vape pens. They need to be cleaned after every few uses and many come with accessories designed for maintenance. Portable vaporizers require regularly cleaning of the oven, vapor path and mouthpiece, requiring the product to disassembled. Cleaning your vape pen means ensuring there is no residue in the oven, blocking the vapor path, or obstructing the mouthpiece.
Vape Pen and Portable Vaporizer Similarities
For all their differences, there are some similarities between vape pens and portable vaporizers. These similarities contribute to the popularity of both types of devices, making them easy to use devices that are perfect for discreet use.
Similarity #1: Portability
Vape pens and portable vaporizers all tend to be compact in design, with the largest weighing about 7oz and standing just about 5″ tall. Many are significantly smaller and can be easily slipped into a pocket or bag. This makes them a go-to choice over the larger desktop vaporizers that are available on the market.
Similarity #2: Discretion
In addition to their impressive mobility, vape pens and portable vaporizers are perfect for discreet use. These devices can be used in a way that minimizes vapor production, smell, and visibility. Most vape pens and portable vaporizers can fit in the palm of your hand and won’t draw attention. You can also typically keep your vapor clouds small and unnoticeable by only heating your cannabis material to a low temperature level and in short draws.
Similarity #3: Ease of Use
Finally, vape pens and portable vaporizers are relatively easy to learn how to use. In a short time, even a new device will become familiar. Typically vape pens and portable vaporizers have a simple control system. Many employ a single button, while some have just two or three. Others, like the PAX Era, have no buttons at all but will heat up instantly when a pod is inserted.
What to Consider When Buying One
When choosing your vaporizer or vape pen, it’s important to keep in mind your top priorities. If a high vapor quality, customizability, and versatility are your chief concerns, portable vaporizers are likely more your speed. If you prefer simplicity and a very low level of maintenance, vape pens might be better suited for you. Each type of device offers a great deal of mobility and discretion, but there is plenty of variation between individual models as well, so it’s important to do your homework.
It’s not uncommon that a cannabis enthusiast keeps both a portable vaporizer and vape pen on hand for different circumstances. Just because you prefer one type of vape session to another doesn’t mean you can’t switch things up. After all, variety is the spice of life. Experiment with different types of vaporizers to find out what your personal preferences are, and they will guide you well when choosing the vaporizer that is best for you.