Even the best vapes, e-cigs, heated tobacco products or loose-leaf vaporisers can't be declared fully safe. However, the evidence so far suggests they are safer than smoking tobacco or loose leaves. That's not saying much, admittedly, but it's a step forward, and vaping can also be a good way to give up smoking cigarettes. The best vapes fit into three main categories. There are slim cartridge-based vape models made by big legacy tobacco brands, aimed at people trying to give up smoking cigarettes. And then there are those vapes aimed at a slightly more underground culture, which involves people who either vape because they like the flavour and the huge plumes of vapour they create, and those who have discovered the joys of herbal loose-leaf puffing without the excessive smell and the higher level of impurities associated with roll-ups.
There are also some heated tobacco products – Philip Morris' iQOS and the new Ploom X from Japan Tobacco International, for instance – that the manufacturers insist are not vapes… But for simplicity's sake, that's what we're going to call them.
Certainly, one obvious use of vapes, e-cigs, vaporisers, or whatever you choose to call them, is as part of a process of giving up smoking entirely. However, we're starting from the assumption that you're here because you actively like vaping. Because the best vapes are not only cigarette replacements, they are WAY RAD. As the video at the bottom of this page amply demonstrates.
Vaping: what you need to know
Why you can trust T3 Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
To answer this very question, I have penned a feature entitled, logically enough, Interested in vaping? Here's everything you need to know. It covers topics such as 'is vaping safe?' and 'what is a vape?' as well as more advanced topics relating to vaping, e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. You can scroll down to the bottom of this buying guide to find a somewhat shorter version of it, if you are in a hurry.
The best vapes you can buy in 2023
If you find that e-liquid vaporisers ultimately fail to emulate both the taste and experience of real tobacco, then consider the IQOS Iluma, a brand new and very excellent tobacco-heating alternative from Marlboro man, Philip Morris.
Like the existing IQOS 3 Duo and its stablemates, the Iluma uses proprietary tobacco sticks that resemble filtered cigarettes in all but length – they are just under two inches long. These specially formulated mini Marlboro-like tobacco sticks are sold under the brand name TEREA and they work in a completely different way to the current range of HEETS, which you can still buy in almost every shop that sells tobacco and vapes.
Where HEETS hardware products are equipped with a slim pointed silver blade that pierces and then heats up the tobacco to the magic 350˚C whereupon it starts to create a vapour-like ‘smoke’ – real cigarettes burn at around 800˚C – the new Iluma system uses electromagnetic induction, just like your best induction hob. As good as the HEETS system is, the problem with it is that, after ‘smoking’ a few sticks a lot of oily tobacco residue ends up coating the blade, affecting the quality of subsequent puffs in the process. In short, HEETS products need regular cleaning and this has been the system’s biggest, albeit, surmountable issue.
That is no longer the case with the Iluma because each TEREA stick is fitted with Smartcore Induction in the form of a sliver of ferrous metal that runs the entire length – about 1cm – of the tobacco core. When you pop in a TEREA stick, the induction process kicks in and, just like water that boils in an induction-ready pot, it heats the tobacco to 350˚C without creating any mess at all. Aside from never ever having to clean the stick chamber – the end of each tobacco stick is also sealed – the biggest bonus is that the level of vaporised tobacco ‘smoke’ remains consistent through every puff. This is groundbreaking stuff, dude.
In order to ‘smoke’ a TEREA stick, you simply put the filter tip to your lips and draw. The effect is remarkably similar to that of a traditional cigarette: it produces the same amount of ‘smoke’ (in this instance a quick dissolving vapour) and it provides the exact same nicotine grip in the throat. Similarly, taste, sensation and satisfaction levels are all much closer to that of a conventional cigarette than ever before. If you want to avoid most of the worst chemicals – including tar – associated with burning tobacco, the IQOS Iluma is arguably your best bet even though the packaging on all TEREA sticks still warns that ‘this tobacco product damages your health and is addictive’.
There are ten TEREA flavours available in the UK and I’ve tried most of them. Each TEREA variety is classified in three ways – Mild, Regular and Bold – and there are three main flavour profiles – Classic, Menthol and Aromatic. To be honest, there’s not much difference in flavour between one blend and the next but I can certainly detect their different strengths by the amount of grip and raspiness in the throat.
Frankly you could pick any one of the three menthol blends and be happy with it. However, I prefer the taste of natural tobacco and, for me, the two winners here are Amber and Teak. Amber is a clear favourite right now and closest to a Marlboro Gold – smooth-ish, flavoursome and with a decent kick that isn’t too harsh on the throat. Teak is similar in flavour but it feels a little more raspy on the throat. Still nice, though. I’m not so sure about Yellow because I find it too harsh even though it’s supposed to be the mildest. The other two Classic tobacco flavours – Sienna and Russet – are too strong for my liking but each to their own. I should add at this juncture that heat-not-burn products can generally be quite aggressive on the throat when compared to normal cigarettes, but you do get used to it. That said, I would still like to see some weaker TEREA blends that emulate a mild cigarette more realistically – something like a Silk Cut Blue. You should get about 20 puffs or six minutes out of each TEREA stick before the heating element turns off and the unit emits a haptic warning buzz.
THE IQOS ILUMA is available in three variants: the ultra posh IQOS Iluma Prime with automatic stick detection, a TEREA wand that will accommodate two sticks in succession and a fancy faux-leather pocket charger; the IQOS Iluma with pocket charger (very similar design to the current IQOS Duo); and the IQOS Iluma One, an all-in-one design that provides 20 consecutive uses.
If you’re looking for a very decent alternative to standard cigarettes, the IQOS Iluma system is far and away the best option right now.
• Read our full review of the earlier IQOS 3 Duo which is still on sale
Where the average cartridge-based vaporiser uses sealed factory-filled pods that you throw in the bin when empty, this one uses refillable magnetic 2ml cartridges that can be used for at least ten refills before they need replacing. This opens up a whole new world of e-liquid flavours and VG/PG mixes that conventional sealed cartridge-based systems simply cannot match. Like all cartridge-based models, it also means you can swap flavours at will simply by removing one cartridge and popping in another. All you have to do is buy an e-liquid flavour of your choice and strength, and fill the cartridge via its redesigned side-mounted filling port.
Despite the body being made of cheap ribbed plastic rather than the much nicer smooth metal used in construction of the Renova Zero (reviewed below), the Osmall nabs our number one spot because its pod-filling system is better designed and less messy to fill.
Available in a range of nine colours and measuring just 8cm x 3cm, the budget-priced Osmall is an absolute cinch to use – since there are no on/off or draw activation buttons on board, you simply put lips to the mouthpiece and draw, baby, draw.
If you’re in the market for a discreet but extremely simple vaporiser that delivers a constantly smooth hit replete with mammoth amounts of vapour (really, this thing rocks on the plume front), then look no further than this little pocket titan. A new version – Osmall 2 – will be available soon.
Herbal vaporisers are almost always much more expensive to buy than even the most premium e-liquid models, with prices shooting as high as £300 and above for the most sought-after variants, many of which are too large to fit comfortably into a trouser pocket. The new Tronian Milatron bucks the trend by being not only one of the most affordable high-end loose leaf models currently on the market but also one of the smallest.
There’s nothing mystifyingly technical about the Milatron – you simply twist the mouthpiece to open, load your herb of choice into the wide 0.22g anodised aluminium heating chamber (ensuring it’s packed in loosely), fire it up by pressing the main button five times and then set your preferred operating temperature on the OLED display by using the two little arrow keys. Amazingly, this little titan heats up in under 30 seconds which is faster than much of the competition.
The Milatron uses hybrid convection to heat herbs by evenly warming both the bottom and sides of the chamber and it provides a wider temperature range than most – between 160˚C to 240˚C, with 200˚C to 220˚C being considered an ideal vaping range for most herbs where both flavour and vapour visibility increase.
The Tronian Milatron is an excellent addition to the loose-leaf vape arena – it’s relatively cheap to buy, it’s an absolute breeze to use, it offers just the right amount of customisation without being mind-numbingly complicated and it’s eminently portable. A clean sweep, in other words.
Heated tobacco sticks are arguably the most organic and authentic alternatives to genuine cigarettes. Like the IQOS Iluma system we review above, the Ploom X from Japan Tobacco International – makers of Winston and Camel cigarettes, among others – emulates the main characteristics of a real cigarette, namely the sight of smoke (or in this case vapour), a proper tobacco taste and a nicotine grip in the throat. Since the tobacco is heated rather than burnt, heated tobacco products are said to be less harmful than standard cigarettes.
The Ploom X device feels tactile in the hand though it’s more cumbersome to hold when having a puff and not quite as pleasing to use as the much slimmer IQOS system. On the plus side, a full charge of the Ploom X unit will provide 20 sessions worth of puffing power.
Ploom X’s tobacco sticks are sold under the brand name EVO and they are quite a bit longer than those from IQOS. At this juncture I should add that it takes a while to acclimatise to heated tobacco products. In fact the first few puffs you take may cause you to cough and this is the single most disappointing thing about them, and indeed many vaporisers in general. The secret with standard vaporisers is to select a product with the lowest nicotine level – but that’s something that’s seemingly not possible with heated tobacco products.
There are ten blends in the EVO range of tobacco sticks – two tobacco, three menthols, three fruit and menthol and three flavour capsules. These are incorporated in the filter which you press to break, releasing an extra boost of flavour, mostly in the form of a fake fruity taste like most standard vaporisers. Not my cup of tea, if I’m honest. After sampling all nine flavour profiles, I still never nailed the key differences between the menthol blends – they all tasted much the same – though the Green Option was more spearmint flavoured and the most agreeable.
It was a relief when I finally hit the standard tobacco blends, of which there are just two – Amber and Bronze. Amber is easiest on the throat but Bronze has the richest and boldest flavour at the expense of a very strong grip on the throat.
After a lot of experimentation, I’ve managed to find a happy medium with IQOS TEREA Amber and Teak blends – they're still grippy but not aggressively so – but I haven’t yet found an equivalent ‘weaker’ blend in Ploom X’s EVO range of tobacco sticks. While I can certainly taste the tobacco, I can’t inhale most of the blends without coughing. However, I should add that I did rope in another person during the test and she didn’t cough once, so please don’t take my own experience to heart.
Like the IQOS system, you can also buy a host of impressive accessories for the Ploom X, including an effeminate Fabric Carry Case – available in four colours – that holds the device and a packet of Evo sticks, a choice of magnetic snap-on front panels in eight colours, an EVO Stick Tray to hold spent sticks and a very handy car vent-mounted holder for the device so you don’t have to rummage around while driving.
Should you buy a Ploom X? Given the low sub-£20 asking price for the unit and just £4.50 for a packet of 20 EVO sticks, I don’t see any reason not to give it a try. Just be aware that EVO sticks are stronger on the throat than the smoother IQOS TEREA range.
Few countries allow the use of wacky baccy but, in those countries and states where marijuana has been legalised or decriminalised, many users have moved over from smoking paper joints to putting their pot into a vaporiser designed for loose-leaf vaping. Instead of a coil heating up an oily liquid like most vaporisers, it heats up herbs to below ignition point, releasing the fumes as a vapour rather than carcinogenic smoke. I should add that loose-leaf vape devices are also just as well suited to vaporising standard herbs (cloves, hops, mullien, passion flower, etc), which is how they’re advertised in most countries. But everyone knows that that isn’t what the majority of puffers are using them for. Just watch some YouTube reviews for further proof.
Now it has to said that filling a loose-leaf vaporiser with crushed herbs of any kind is not an easy undertaking, especially when you’re out and about. In fact you’re likely to lose some of your stash to the wind or the floor as you grapple with the act of trying to fill a tiny heating pot without the whole world looking on. Well, a company called Zeus has come up with an ingenious pod-filling system that makes life a whole lot easier.
The main part of the Zeus Arc GTS Hub is the Arc GTS vaporiser itself, which can be bought separately if required. It is, for this writer, one of the very best herbal vaporisers currently on the market. Designed in Germany where they know how to produce high-end gear, the Zeus Arc GTS is equipped with GoldSink technology. In other words, the conductor and whole vapour path is coated in gold, which we all know is one of the most reliable conductors of heat. The result is increased conduction and therefore bigger plumes of vapour than arguably any other model around. This is a major coup because most herbal vaporisers don’t produce that much vapour. As an aded bonus it also features haptic feedback for improved functionality.
The Arc GTS is very easy to use. Simply fill the small gold chamber with herb, select your preferred temperature in three increments from 185˚C to a potent 225˚C and start puffing. Its haptic feedback will let you know when the conductor has reached optimum temperature. You should get about 90 minutes use out of the 3,500mAh battery and you can easily see how much juice is left by simply shaking the device.
Now here’s the really clever bit. The second part of the Hub package comprises a large fist-sized plastic herb grinder and three boxes of tiny re-useable aluminium ArcPods with detachable lids. The modus operandi is simple – load your bulky herbs into the top of the grinder, pop an ArcPod into the bottom of it and twist the top around. Voila, all the herbs are ground and packed firmly into the pod with zero mess, just like a bean-to-cup espresso machine. Once you’ve filled a dozen or so ArcPods, simply take them along with you and, as and when required, drop a pod into the Zeus Arc GTS’s heat pot for a fuss-free hit. The Hub package also includes a plastic box with magnetic closures to store your pre-made pods and all the other gubbins.
This writer has tried quite a few herbal vaporisers to date – including the Firefly 2, Pax 3 and Crafty – and this is the best all-in-one package yet. The Arc GTS itself is extremely well crafted, a doddle to use and it delivers a smooth, full-bodied puff time after time. If you’re in the market for a high-end herbal vape system that just keeps on giving, then we suggest you give this one a whirl.
If you’re after a longer-lasting battery and deeper nicotine satisfaction and flavour than the winning Vaporesso Osmall, consider this cracking refillable model which comes with a host of jargon-related descriptions like Corex Inside, Double Top System and GTX Coil. I haven’t a clue what these technical descriptions mean, nor care, but what I do know is that this model is smooth on the throat and capable of producing more vapour than a cumulous nimbus. It doesn’t leak either.
The new Gen PT60 is designed for those who prefer using the mouth-to-lung technique so avoid it if all you want is a quick cigarette-like puff. Like most mods, you need to press a button to activate the coil and you can easily adjust its 5-60W output using the tiny LED screen for reference. If fettling with output isn’t your bag, the Vaporesso Gen PT60 also features a smart mode that automatically recommends the best wattage.
This model feels great in the hand and it’s small enough for a jeans pocket. It’s built-in 2500mAh battery, meanwhile, should provide a full day’s vaping.
This writer’s a big fan of Vaporesso’s fuss-free vape range and this is another fine model that’s most certainly worth considering.
This very large 14cm x 8cm dry herb vaporiser looks like a nuclear reactor so you can be sure it’ll attract a lot of attention, indeed perhaps a little too much attention should you elect to fill it with wacky baccy in a country that doesn’t allow that kind of thing.
The Mighty+ is comprised of a huge palm-sized Lithium Ion battery compartment, a large ceramic filling chamber and a swivelling mouthpiece. It heats dry leaves up to the default temperature of 180˚C (356°F) in just 60 seconds using a patented combination of convection and conduction that heats up herbs evenly without the need to stir them. You can easily adjust the temperature by tapping the up and down buttons. A triple tap of the on-off button increases temperature in 15˚ increments.
Discerning loose-leaf vapeurs swear by the Mighty+’s ability to produce an intense flavour that beats the pants off any other similarly-styled model on the market. And you don’t need to suck like a limpet to produce surprisingly large dollops of vapour because its draw strength is near perfect. It’s also one of the most intuitive loose-leaf vaporisers money can buy.
With a price of around £290, the Mighty+ isn’t cheap but if you want what is widely considered to be the best loose-leaf vaping experience on the market today, then this is the one for you.
Available in three colours, the lightweight Vype ePod is a conventional e-liquid vaporiser that uses disposable pre-sealed cartridges in six different flavours and two nicotine strengths (12 and 18mg).
The ePod is super simple to use because it doesn’t have any buttons on board. Simply drop in a disposable e-liquid cartridge (£6.50 for two) and draw. The ePod is certainly not left wanting in the meteorological department – this thing produces large volumes of rich, intensely-flavoured vapour.
However, it sometimes makes a bubbling noise on the first few draws and, worse, ejects a little e-liquid onto the mouthpiece which doesn’t taste remotely pleasant. This is a strange anomaly that affects some vaporisers from time to time and this writer has no idea why. Nevertheless, the Vype ePod is a decent enough entry into the vape stick market and one that should sell well given that the financial weight behind it is none other than British American Tobacco.
The PAX3 is about four inches tall and less than an inch in width, making it one of the smallest herbal vaporisers on the market. Rather uniquely, the PAX 3 accommodates both dry herb and concentrate (usually in the form of a wax) so discerning vape aficionados get the best of both worlds.
The onboard technology here is impressive, too. The main heating coil automatically activates as soon as you draw and offers four different heat levels that can be adjusted with the press of a button or, better still, using the accompanying iPhone/Android app.
Loose-leaf products like this don’t produce much vapour but aficionados love them because they produce the desired taste without the whiffy fumes.
Most popular vapes are either made by smaller, boutique brands or giant tobacco/cigarette companies seeking those sweet vape dollars. Juul is neither: it's a Silicon Valley startup valued at a not-unimpressive $40 billion.
The Juul product isn't technically speaking a vape or an e-cigarette, at least according to Juul. However, since the Juulpods that it uses contain e liquid – sorry, 'proprietary salt-based nicotine e-liquid formula, which is mixed under strict quality-controlled processes' that is vapourised so smokers can inhale it and get a cigarette-style nicotine hit, we are just going to go right ahead and call it a vape.
The Juul gives a smooth draw, and though there are only six flavours available, the Golden Tobacco and Mango Nectar pods are among the best-tasting we've tried. It's a very strong alternative to similar products from IQOS and Vype. I certainly found it preferable to Vype's new and much-hyped iSwitch.
• Juul vs Vype iSwitch and iSwitch Maxx head-to-head review
Is vaping bad for you?
It’s still all a bit up in the air at the moment but according to some reports, over 1,400 ‘unexplained’ cases of lung disease could be attributed to vaping. On the other hand, three quarters of those patients affected apparently reported that they had been using unregulated THC-based e-liquids (THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana).
Some medical institutions have also suggested that some fruit flavours may be to blame. As a result, the US Food and Drug Administration has already banned fruit and mint flavours in all sealed cartridge-based vaping systems, partly for the reasons above but also to dissuade kids from taking up vaping.
Until more conclusive evidence is put forward, and so long as you’re happy to take the risk in the meantime, we’d recommend sticking to well established e-liquid brands with high quality control – and perhaps forego the fruit flavours if you’re really not sure.
How we test vapes
There is only one way to test and review vapes and that's to use them. We rate them based on their ease of use, quantity and quality of vapour, and value for money, using our extensive knowledge of the market. We've been trying vapes practically since day 1, so we like to think we know categorically what a good vape is by now.
Want to know more? Discover how we test at T3.
What IS a vaporiser or vape pen, then?
Many smokers dread the thought of giving up or not being able to have a puff when they feel like it. Nicotine patches quell the urge to some degree but it's not an instant solution. Vaporisers and e-Cigarettes (their ciggie-shaped counterparts) are arguably the best options in this respect because they fulfil the two main prerequisites of a smoker: nicotine grip in the throat and the sight of smoke being exhaled.
The great thing about vaporisers is that the smoke being exhaled isn't actually smoke; it's nicotine-infused vapour (or steam) which evaporates in a flash leaving no nasty smells or residues in its wake. Okay, if you're a non-vaper, it does stink if you walk through a cloud of it, but your clothes won't smell of synthetic fruit afterwards, which is a step up from fags.
Many vapes use a screw-in atomiser that encompasses a heating coil and a transparent e-liquid chamber. To prepare, fill the chamber with e-liquid (there's a huge range of flavours and nicotine strengths to choose from, but more on that below), press the button a few times to turn it on, then press and hold the button while drawing on the mouthpiece.
Vaporisers produce far more vapour than e-cigarettes and ordinary ciggies. Indeed, most ‘cloud chasers’ tend to opt for customisable sub-ohm models that are capable of producing massive quantities of vapour from a single draw. However, many of the more highfalutin models are so ludicrously complicated you’d need a degree in electrical engineering to operate them. For that reason we've mostly omitted those models from this list and concentrated on the most popular type of vape for the majority of casual users.
Cartridge- or pod-based vapes are usually pen shaped, easy to pocket and very discreet. They also allow you to swop flavours instantly. However most manufacturers only provide a small handful of flavours and nicotine strengths which means there isn’t much choice. Nevertheless, some vape producers like Vaporesso have addressed this issue by creating a refillable pod-based system which allows you to choose your own strength and e-liquid flavour and swop cartridges at will.
For smokers looking for an accurate alternative to cigarettes and roll-ups, you can’t go wrong with the IQOS heat-not-burn tobacco system. This method uses real tobacco that is heated to 350˚C – well before the tobacco reaches burning point. IQOS TEREA sticks provide the same pleasures of a tobacco cigarette – ‘smoke’ or rather vapour, a nicotine grip in the throat and real tobacco taste – but without some of the associated nasty chemicals.
Finally, a new trend for 2023 appears to be a move towards disposable vaporisers that you throw away after a few days' use. Since they are all made of plastic, we are refraining from reviewing any disposables because they will all end up in a landfill at some point and that's a bad thing.
Vaporisers, e-liquids and IQOS tobacco sticks are available through online outlets and in most high streets, supermarkets and corner shops.