The best portable vaporizer

Just in time for 4/20.

Mark Smirniotis/Wirecutter

By Mark Smirniotis

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Over the last three years, we've considered 46 vaporizers and tested 19, interviewed expert reviewers, and dug through enthusiast forums, and we recommend the AirVape X as best portable vaporizer for most people. It's easier to use than any of the competition, whether loading it, adjusting temperatures, or cleaning it. Its smooth vapor provided tasty flavors that had us reaching for it again and again.

Who this is for

You don't need to be chasing clouds to find a vaporizer that's effective. You'll know it when you feel it. Video: Kyle Fitzgerald

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. Compared with smoking, a vaporizer will give you a cleaner taste, less lingering odor, and more efficient use of your material. It also allows you to reproduce dosages with precise temperature controls in a way other consumption methods can't.

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 it. We have more details in the health and legal section of our full guide.

How we picked and tested

Every model we tried got a full charge before testing, which can get a little disorganized. Photo: Mark Smirniotis

We set out to find a reliable, satisfying vaporizer that was easy to use and didn't cost more than a casual user could rationalize. The best vaporizers make the experience a treat from start to finish. They're easy to use, have pleasing vapor, are easy to clean, and have attractive and functional designs that lend themselves to portability.

In previous years, we asked two different panels of testers try out 13 models to get an idea of how people with different comfort levels and cannabis experience think about vaporizers and the experience that goes along with them. When we decided to test six new models this year, we took their feedback into account and kept track of which vaporizers met the criteria we lay out in our full guide. For consistency, each vaporizer was fully charged, cleaned, and packed with flavorful flowers, all evenly ground with one of our favorite grinders, the Kannastör GR8TR V2.

Our pick: AirVape X

Photo: Mark Smirniotis

We like the AirVape X because it's easy to use, from the first time you load it to the first time you clean it, while still offering rich vapor with notes of whatever delicious flavor your flowers have in store. Small, thoughtful touches—like the magnetic lid, standby timer, and funnel-like chamber that's easier to load without spilling than others—stood out in our testing and had us reaching for the X even after our tests were done.

The X's vapor was smooth and full and better than anything else in the price range. Neither the vapor nor the mouthpiece ever got uncomfortably hot, though the top portion around the heating chamber came pretty close. The X has a flat, stylish body with a display showing the temperature, battery gauge, and standby timer. When it's time to charge the device, the X has a Micro-USB input and will go from empty to full in a little over an hour.

Runner-up: Grenco Science G Pen Elite

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

If our top pick is out of stock, and you just can't wait, the Grenco Science G Pen Elite is our runner-up (this was previously our top pick). We still think the Elite is a nice vaporizer overall, with simple controls, vapor that our testers enjoyed, and a sleek design that's portable and functional. But our top pick has improved on all those points, from being easier to load and easier to clean, to offering a fuller-flavor vapor than the Elite's. For a slightly lower price, the Elite still has similar battery life, convenient Micro-USB charging, and satisfying vapor that makes it a good value, but it's less impressive than the AirVape X.

Budget pick: Xmax Starry

Photo: Mark Smirniotis

If you're on a budget or not ready to commit to our to picks, the Xmax Starry (Planet of the Vapes edition) is a great option, and in several years of updating this guide, it's the lowest-priced vaporizer we've ever recommended. It has a lot of the features we like in our other picks, including intuitive digital controls, an easy-to-load chamber behind a magnetic mouthpiece, and convenient charging with any Micro-USB cable and charger. But as a budget pick, it loses out on vapor quality compared with our other picks'—it lacks flavor and adds a harsher feel—but it is far better than that of other options in its price range, which tend to taste like burned popcorn, and are usually not much more appealing than smoking. One other drawback relative to the other picks is the plastic straw on the mouthpiece, which is an extra thing to clean.

Also great: Stainless Grasshopper

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

If you're looking to add a second vaporizer to your routine and want the most portable and inconspicuous vaporizer around, the Stainless 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 for over more than a year of use, 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 looked at. Instead of using digital buttons, activation and temperature are both managed with honest-to-goodness tactile controls. And because the chamber is right underneath the front-end mouthpiece, the Grasshopper doesn't have much to clean. However, its metal tip gets incredibly hot during use—you'll need the included silicone mouthpiece. Plus, the Grasshopper lacks the onboard temperature displays of our picks, and its battery life isn't quite as impressive.

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