Guide to Portable Vaporizers
Portable vaporizers for dry herbs allow for use without requiring access to a fixed power source. Most portable vaporizers are battery operated and require that the battery be charged before use. However, there are other models of portable vaporizers which operate by burning butane for a heat source and require no electricity. Portable vaporizers allow for more freedom and are the preferred type of vaporizer for on-the-go or outdoor activities, such as camping, concerts, or for any event during which an outlet is not readily accessible.
Due to their smaller size, portable vaporizers generally do not produce as much vapor as their desktop counterparts. However, the greater versatility that comes with portable vaporizers makes it the ideal choice for many consumers.
The concept of portable vaporization predates the release of products specifically designed and sold as portable vaporizers. A flame from a lighter or butane torch could be held to an improvised chamber that housed the herb, which was then heated to the point of vaporization but still below the point of combustion. The first product designed and marketed as a portable herb vaporizer was created by Eagle Bill Amato, a Cherokee medicine man who is credited as popularizing vaporization through demonstrations at events promoting cannabis use. Released in 1994, his vaporizer, named the Shake and Vape, was a glass pipe with an herb chamber on top of a bulb, to which a flame was applied. The heated air in the bulb would then vaporize the herb in the chamber, making it the first convection-style portable vaporizer.
The first electronic vaporizer was the Vapir, released in 2000 by Air2. The Vapir was a plug-in vaporizer that could connect to a battery pack attachment, allowing for portable vaporization. The Vapir was also the first conduction-style portable vaporizer and the first to allow for digital temperature control, reducing the risk of combustion associated with butane vaporizers. The unit was not commercially successful, but it did lay the groundwork for digital models to be released in its wake. Air2 rebranded themselves as Vapir and changed the name of their original model to the Vapir Classic. They would go on to release the first commercially successful electronic vaporizer, the Vapir NO2, in 2008.
The first widely marketed and commercially successful non-electric portable vaporizer was released in 2002. Called the Vapor Genie, it operated on the same principle as the Shake and Vape with an external lighter providing the heat source. The heat from the flame passed through a ceramic filter, which sufficiently lowered the heat to vaporizing temperature. Like the Shake and Vape, it is considered a convection style vaporizer. The Vapor Genie is still manufactured and sold to this day.
In 2008, an Irish company called Oglesby & Butler released the Iolite, the first self-contained butane vaporizer that did not require an external lighter to operate. The unit contained a reservoir for the butane and an ignition switch would open a valve to the reservoir and ignite the butane. The unit also had a temperature monitor that would automatically cut off the flow of butane once the proper temperature was reached.
The Magic Flight Launch Box was released in 2009 and was immediately popular due to its size and price. It was a relatively inexpensive and extremely durable battery operated vaporizer that was made in the USA. The battery was removable and shaped like a standard AA battery, and the whole device could fit in the palm of a hand, providing extremely discreet use. The Launch Box remains a popular choice for vaporizing enthusiasts to this day.
In the early 2010s, Atmos released the Raw, later rebranded as the Rx, which popularized the pen-style of vaporizers on the market. Modeled after battery operated e-cigarettes, the small, sleek design of the Raw spawned many imitators and created an explosion of similar products in what became an extremely competitive market. Although now considered obsolete, the design influence of the Raw can still be seen to this day, and it remains one of the most popular brands of pen vaporizers.
Since the proliferation of pen vaporizers, the market has only continued to expand, with new styles and brands constantly being offered. In 2011, Arizer Tech offered the first high-end portable vaporizer called the Arizer Solo, featuring a much larger herb chamber than any electronic vaporizer on the market at the time. Storz & Bickel, the company which manufactures the extremely well-known Volcano vaporizer, entered the portable market with the Crafty and Mighty in 2014, which have since become the premiere brands of portable vaporizers. Other major portable dry herb vaporizer brands include Cloud Vapez, Grenco Science, Pax, and the Sidekick by 7th Floor.
Battery Operated Portable Vaporizers
Most portable vaporizers utilize a rechargeable lithium ion battery as a power source. Power is drained from the battery during use when the unit is not plugged into a power source. Once the battery charge is sufficiently low, the unit will cease functioning and must be recharged. While many vaporizers have batteries that are self-contained, others have removable batteries that can be easily replaced. Battery life, voltage, and milliamperage all vary amongst models, although these technical specifications are usually only relevant for vaporizers with removable batteries, the specifications for which must match any replacements.
Many modern portable vaporizers are equipped with micro USB charging cables that can be plugged into a computer’s USB port or into a wall outlet with the use of an A/C adapter. Other units, particularly larger or high end units, have power cords that are custom fit to the brand. Many of these manufacturers also offer car adapters so that a unit can be charged on the go. Another option for mobile charging is the use of a power bank, which is a device that stores an electric charge for the purposes of providing power to other devices. Most power banks utilize a USB charging port, so they will only be compatible with vaporizers that use a USB charging cable.
Types Of Heating Elements
Like most desktop vaporizers, portable vaporizers operate using one of two different heating methods: conduction and convection. Conduction-style heating elements transfer heat by having the hot components of the vaporizer make direct contact with the dry herbs. Most portable vaporizers utilize a conduction heating element.
Conduction heating elements can be further broken down into two types: heating coils and heating chambers. Vaporizers with heating coils contain a small metal coil that glows red-hot when activated. As the temperature of a red-hot material is over 750°F (399°C), well above the combustion temperature for dry herbs, heating coils have the tendency to scorch or burn the herb instead of truly vaporizing. For this reason, many portable vaporizers that utilize a heating coil come with glass or ceramic screens that are placed over the coil in order to separate the herb from the heating element. The loss in heat transferred through the screen onto the herb places the temperature closer to the optimum vaporization range.
Portable vaporizers that utilize a heating coil are usually pen-styled vaporizers, so named because of the size and shape of the unit. These vaporizers were one of the first types of portable vaporizer to be popularized on the market and are so small that heating coils were the only feasible style of heating element at the time. They allow for individual components, such as the heating element and the battery, to detach from one another and be replaced individually. However, since their original release, new and better technology for portable vaporizers has been designed and made available, and the heating coil has since become obsolete. Some pen vaporizers have been redesigned to be formatted with the other style of conduction heating element, the heating chamber.
Portable vaporizers with a heating chamber utilize a glass, ceramic, or metal bowl that is situated near the heating element. The heating element is an interior component of the vaporizer that, under normal use, is not accessible to the user. It most often consists of a series of metal coils through which electricity passes, producing heat. The heat is then transferred from the heating element to the heating chamber due to its close proximity. Similar to the ceramic screen used in vaporizers with heating coils, the transfer of energy from the heating element to the chamber results in a loss of heat that places the temperature in the range of vaporization. The greater surface area of a heating chamber also allows for more even dispersal of heat and provides more precise temperature control. Because of this, vaporizers that utilize a heating chamber are often referred to as “true vaporizers.”
A small number of portable vaporizers provide convection-style heating, which means that the dry herbs do not come in direct contact with the heat source. Instead, the heating element superheats the air within the chamber when activated, and the hot air is manually drawn over the herbs by the user. Because of the fluid nature of the hot air, convection-style heating elements generally provide a more even distribution of heat than conduction-style heating elements. However, they are also more prone to heat loss, as the heat that vaporizes the herb has been carried away from the heat source.
Whether conduction-styled or convection-styled, the vast majority of portable vaporizers require the user to manually draw the vapor from the heating chamber, as opposed to the rarely seen forced air method, which utilizes a fan to pump the vapor from the chamber and is more closely associated with desktop units that use a balloon bag to collect the vapor.
Amongst electronic portable vaporizers, there are various methods for controlling the temperature. Many larger portable vaporizers for dry herbs have a digital display that allows for precise control by selecting the exact desired temperature. Others allow the user to toggle through different preset heat ranges. Vaporizers with heating coils have one heat setting which is activated by holding down the power button, but the heat level can be manipulated by intermittently releasing the button. A select few portable vaporizers have batteries that are manually inserted into the unit by the user, and temperature is controlled by how long the battery makes connection with the heating element. These types of portable vaporizers generally require more vaporizing experience, as the user must learn the proper amount of time to insert the battery in order to reach their desired temperature.
Many vaporizers also feature a locking mechanism that is activated by rapidly pressing the power button 3 – 5 times in succession, depending on the unit. This feature is intended to prevent accidental activation of the heating element during transport. The device will not function until it is unlocked by pressing power button an additional 3 – 5 times.
Butane Portable Vaporizers
Butane portable vaporizers are usually self-contained units which contain a reservoir for butane fuel and a valve that is manually activated by the user. Activation of the valve also triggers an ignition source within the unit, which then ignites the butane flowing through the valve. The flame is contained within an insulated chamber to keep from accidentally burning the user. Some butane vaporizers require the use of a butane torch that is sold separately, as the unit is configured differently and doesn’t contain an internal heat source. With this type of butane vaporizer, the flame from the torch is held to a chamber that contains the dry herbs, producing the heat for vaporization.
Most butane vaporizers are considered conduction-style heating chambers. Although the dry herb does not make direct contact with the flame, the interior of the chamber gets hot and operates on the same principle as electronic conduction vaporizers. Butane vaporizers with convection-style heating elements work by using the flame to heat air in a contained space. The user then draws the hot air over a separate herb chamber.
Butane vaporizers are practical since they do not require access to a power source to recharge when depleted. Cans of butane fuel can be easily stored and transported to refill the reservoir when needed. However, due to the use of flame, butane vaporizers generally have one heat setting. Those that allow for heat manipulation, usually through the use of an external torch, require practice to consistently achieve the desired temperature range. Butane vaporizers also are ill-suited for elevations above 5000 ft. due to the lower air pressure, which creates difficulties in igniting the fuel. Naturally, care should be taken when transporting the butane fuel due to its extremely combustible nature. Avoid using butane vaporizers near open flames or other sources of heat.
Accessories And Attachments
Although they are smaller than desktop vaporizers, many portable vaporizers offer add-ons and attachments to enhance a user’s vaporizing experience. One of the most commonly offered accessories is a self-contained glass attachment for water filtration, commonly known as a bubbler, through which the vapor passes during use. The bubbler is constructed with interior glass pathways that allow the vapor to pass through without letting water out. Holes in the glass pathways called percolators facilitate heat transfer from the vapor to the water. This has the effect of cooling the vapor and provides a much smoother draw.
Other units have adapters that allow the vaporizer to be used through a water pipe, which provides a similarly smooth experience. These adapters are components that have one end that fits over the heating chamber. The other end is a conical fitting, either 14mm or 18mm, which fits into the water pipe. Filtration through a water pipe has a similar cooling effect as a bubbler attachment and allows for more vapors to be accumulated in a single use than could normally be possible.
As concentrates become have become more popular, many portable vaporizers come with concentrate attachments or canisters that fit inside the heating chamber. Other units also provide tanks for e-juice. It should be noted that these units are not specifically designed for such substances, and may not produce satisfactory results. Concentrates in particular are not ideal for portable herb vaporizers, as the units do not reach a high enough temperature to effectively atomize the substance. Using these substances without a canister specifically designed for the unit is ill-advised due to the potential of damaging the vaporizer.
There are several popular models of portable vaporizers on the market, each with their own positive attributes and drawbacks. Currently, the most popular high-end portable vaporizer is the Crafty by Storz & Bickel. Made in Germany, it features a durable construction and comes in a lightweight, discreet design. Its smaller size makes it a more popular choice than the Mighty, another portable vaporizer by Storz & Bickel that features digital temperature control. Each unit comes with a 2 year manufacturer warranty.
The Firefly is another popular high-end vaporizer that features convection heating and a 5-second heat-up time. Both features make it an attractive choice for vaporizing enthusiasts. The unit is also covered by a 2-year limited warranty. The Firefly operates with 6 preset temperature settings and features a glass vapor pathway.
For a time, the Pax was the most popular vaporizer on the market and is still the favored choice amongst many consumers. One of the most attractive features of the Pax is its 10-year manufacturer warranty. Combined with a metal frame and sleek size, plus a conduction-style heating chamber, the Pax is one of the premiere portable vaporizers available.
Vapir, the manufacturer of the first ever electronic portable vaporizer, has continued to release new models over the years. The NO2 is still a popular battery-operated portable vaporizer, less expensive than its high-end counterparts. Recently, Vapir has released the Prima, their new premiere model and best vaporizer to date. Featuring a compact design, high-quality construction, and a fast heat up time, the Prima is one of the best new models on the market.
Lastly amongst the premium vaporizer models, the SideKick is the first portable vaporizer release by 7th Floor, a manufacturer known for the high-quality Silver Surfer line of vaporizers and accessories. The SideKick has numerous advanced vaporizing features, including a vortex cooling system containing a coiled vapor pathway over 18 inches in length that provides the smoothest draw. It also includes a built-in stir system, plus digital temperature control, a hand-blown glass mouthpiece, and a wide-variety of customized accessories.