Who is this for?
There was a time when cannabis was smoked in secret, in joints. Today, it's bought in shops and it isn't smoked at all—it's "vaped." A vaporizer doesn't actually create smoke. Instead, it heats up material to the temperature just before combustion and releases active compounds for you to inhale without the carcinogens and tar of regular smoke.
If you're completely new to cannabis, a portable vaporizer feels like something you can bring to a dinner party along with a bottle of wine. Compared to smoking, using 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 medical marijuana for symptom relief, portable vaporizers offer additional benefits over the alternatives. A vaporizer that works with ground material (i.e., cannabis flowers) offers the ability to reproduce dosages by way of precision temperature controls. Their effects are easier to control than with edibles, and the material they use is more universally available than vaporizers that use concentrates such as extracts or oils.
How we picked and tested
The vapes we tested, clockwise from bottom left: Grenco Science G Pen Elite, Vapium Summit, Kandypens K-Vape Micro DX, Grenco Science G Pro, Firefly 2, Pax 2, Crafty, Arizer Air. (Zippo lighter for scale.)
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. That meant finding the right blend of features such as heating type, size and style, controls, and overall design. We searched for convection heating, which transfers heat through the air and is generally preferred for better flavor without the risk of combustion, but kept in mind that conduction heat, transferred between two solids, can still do the job at a much lower price.
Our research also helped convince us that $200 was a crucial price threshold for less experienced users—but we didn't consider the cheap, plastic models associated with the pen-style category. (In practice, we've found these sub-$100 models to be so unsatisfying that they make smoking seem like a better option.)
In downtown Los Angeles one Friday afternoon, we hosted a panel of five medical marijuana patients, all with different experience levels, to test our eight finalists and debate every aspect or flaw—for over five hours—before settling on our favorites.
At about 4¼ inches long and 1¼ inches in diameter, the Elite is smallest of any vaporizer we tested except for the PAX 2.
Although the perfect portable vaporizer doesn't exist, the Grenco Science G Pen Elite comes close. It delivers on key features we look for in a portable vaporizer: foremost, vapor quality good enough that you'd never think of smoking instead, along with pocketable size, universal Micro-USB charging, acceptable battery life, and easy cleaning and reloading with minimal disassembly. Plus, the device has features you rarely see in the under-$200 price range, such as a digital display for battery life and precision temperature control. In a test of our eight finalists among a group of Los Angeles Wirecutter contributors with a range of vaporizer familiarity, the Elite impressed everyone with its straightforward controls, attractive design, rich finish, and pleasant flavors. While its vapor quality can't compare to models costing twice as much, it was the one our testers said they would be most likely to buy for themselves.
For reliable vapor but less intuitive controls
The Summit has a boxy design but has nice touches such as a magnetized oven cover attached with a short lanyard.
Vapium Summit, priced similarly to the G Pen Elite, is a solid runner-up if our pick is out of stock. We prefer the Elite's additional convection heating and ceramic chamber, but the Summit's full-conduction metal chamber reliably produced a respectable vapor with good consistency and a warm, cooked flavor. The LED status lights display one of its eight temperature settings and change color to show the battery status—it's readable, but not quite as intuitive as our pick. The Summit's metal airway isn't as easy to clean as our top pick's, but the Summit does share the convenient inclusion of Micro-USB charging.
For great vapor and a no-frills design
The Arizer Air is seven inches long with the glass mouthpiece, and not exactly inconspicuous.
If you care more about vapor quality than portability, the best unit in this price range is the Arizer Air—it produced thick, flavorful vapor at a good temperature right out of the box, but the vapor is the only positive. The Arizer is bigger than our pick, with a flashlightlike metal-cylinder design that wouldn't fit in most pockets. That's topped by a two-inch glass mouthpiece that doesn't look as subtle, feel as durable, or stay as clean as mouthpieces on other models we recommend. Two color-coded lights for temperature status and battery life made for the least intuitive interface of any vaporizer we tried. The Air recharges from a dedicated charge cord to a DC-in port (unlike our pick's more convenient Micro-USB port).
A premium pick at a premium price
The Crafty's twists off to reveal the chamber underneath.
The Elite, Summit, and Air are all in roughly the same price range, but if you can spend a lot more, the Storz & Bickel Crafty, which produces cool vapor with complex flavors every time, is a good choice. This was formerly our top pick—it's still an excellent vaporizer, but newer products get results that will please most people at prices that are more than $100 less. The Crafty is bigger than the Elite, and while it can fit in some pockets, it's more like a small smartphone than a large BIC lighter. The finned design and slim mouthpiece are eye-catching (which may or may not be a good thing). It also uses app-based controls that will have you searching for your smartphone just to check your vaporizer's battery status—a feature that doesn't add much and is inconvenient compared to the simple display and controls of the G Pen Elite. The Crafty is clearly the best vapor you'll find in a pocketable package, but the drawbacks don't quite justify the higher cost.
This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.