While we don't exactly endorse even the best vapes, e-cigs, heated tobacco products or loose-leaf vaporisers, the evidence so far shows they are safer than smoking tobacco or loose leaves – not saying much, admittedly.
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, 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 here that you're intending to vape because you like it. Because the best vapes are not only cigarette replacements, they are WAY RAD. As this video amply demonstrates.
Vaping: what you need to know
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.
For those who use refillable vapes, we also have a great guide to e-liquids and our favourite flavours
The best vapes we’ve tried
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. The Osmall comes with just one empty cartridge but they’re readily available to buy online at around £6 a pair. 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. Where the Renova Zero has to be filled via a plastic bottle with a special spout, this model can accept pretty much any third-party e-liquid bottle and that means not having to decant your favourite e-liquid first. A major bonus in our book.
Available in a range of eight rather dull 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.
And if you’re on the lookout for a decent e-liquid to fill it with, mosey on over to our e-liquid guide and nab yourself some new tantalising flavours.
If you find that e-liquid vaporisers ultimately fail to emulate both the taste and experience of real cigarettes, then consider this excellent tobacco-heating alternative from Marlboro man, Philip Morris.
The IQOS 3 Duo uses proprietary HEETS (tobacco sticks that resemble filtered cigarettes in all but length). These specially formulated mini Marlboros are pushed, filter up, into a small handheld battery unit that heats the tobacco to 350 degrees – real cigarettes burn at around 800 degrees.
In order to ‘smoke’ a HEETS 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 roughly 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.
You should get about 15 puffs or six minutes out of each HEETS stick before the heating element turns off and the unit emits a warning buzz. The IQOS 3 Duo has to be used with the provided pocket charger to function correctly: whenever you’ve finished puffing, simply drop the mouth unit into the charger and it’ll be topped up in about four minutes. If you’re looking for a decent alternative to standard cigarettes, the IQOS system might just be the thing.
• Read our full IQOS 3 Duo review
Very 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.
Designed in France – but of course – this stylish vape pen is one of the most elegant models around and a doddle to use. Simply press in a pre-filled cartridge (called a Bo Cap), put your lips around the mouthpiece and suck like a limpet. That’s it. No buttons to press and no fluids to pour.
Bo produces some brilliant e-liquid flavours (21 in all) in both 8mg and 16mg nicotine configurations at around £6.50 for two capsules. I’ve tested quite a few flavours and my favourites are Orange Soda, American Tobacco, Blonde Tobacco, Ice Mango, Raspberry Wafer and Watermelon Ice.
Granted the Bo One isn’t the biggest cloud chucker in the pack, but if you’re looking for something discreet yet stylish, and with a good few flavours at your disposal, you could do a lot worse than this classy and reasonably-priced vape stick. Bo, selector!
The Zero is the predecessor to our number one vape pen, the Vaporesso Osmall. Like the Osmall, this one comes with an empty cartridge that you fill with your favourite e-liquid flavour. However, because the filler port’s one-way valve only accepts the nozzle of Vaporesso’s supplied e-liquid bottle, it means decanting the contents from the third-party bottle first and that’s a bit of a hassle.
Nevertheless, it still deserves a decent spot in this list because we love the look and feel of the smooth zinc alloy casing which is much nicer than the winning Osmall. You can also alter the device’s wattage by pressing the same button three times. Wattage adjustment supposedly affects the general volume of vapour though it must be said that this writer failed to detect any major differences between the three settings.
Like the Osmall, this one produces surprisingly large plumes of vapour – we’re talking serious plumes, dude, serious plumes. Moreover, each cartridge is equipped with a high-quality, long-lasting ceramic coil that produces one of the smoothest, most satisfying puffing experiences in Vapeland.
The Zero also features dry hit protection that shuts down the coil when it’s time for a refill. This not only prevents damaging the coil but it also stops you getting a foul lungful of burnt vapour – a common anomaly with cotton-coil vaporisers.
Although we much prefer the design and feel of this model, the awkward filling method means it loses out to its stablemate. A fine vape pen nonetheless.
A sealed cartridge system like this is great for beginners and those who just want to vape without the rigmarole of having to fill a chamber with messy e-liquid. With this model you simply swap cartridges whenever you want to change flavours. There’s no need to change the heating coil either because it’s built into the cartridge.
The RipStick is super slim and uses draw activation technology so there are no buttons to press. Also, the e-liquid used in the RipStick is free from Benzoic acid, an ingredient used in modern nicotine salts to create the beloved throat hit. Instead, it uses a tobacco-free synthetic nicotine called NicTech that is said to provide higher satisfaction without it feeling like you’re having your throat ripped to threads. The result is a smoother, more satisfying puff.
Given that this vape stick is a fraction the size of a complex sub-OHM model, in our test it produced an amazing amount of vapour. RipTide has also got the draw resistance dialled to perfection – ie not so stiff that you need to pucker your cheeks and not too loose to make it feel like you’re breathing air. RipStick pods come in just six flavours and two nicotine strengths: 12mg and 20mg.
If you’re after cartridge-based vape system that’s keenly priced and easy to use, step right this way.
If you’re after a longer-lasting battery and deeper nicotine satisfaction and flavour than the winning Vaporesso Osmall or earlier Renova Zero, consider this cracking refillable model which comes with two coil chambers: a 0.8 Ohm MESH coil for enhanced flavour and a 1.2 Ohm coil for those who prefer using the mouth-to-lung technique. It’s also available in a wide range of colours.
The Extra is completely buttonless so all you need to do is put your lips to the mouthpiece and puff – the coil is automatically activated to deliver huge clouds of vapour. This model feels slightly larger in the pocket than the Osmall and Zero but then its 900mAh battery should provide a full day’s vaping. It’s refillable chamber also holds more e-liquid.
We’re big fans of Vaporesso’s fuss-free vape range and this is another fine model that’s most certainly worth considering.
If you prefer to draw on loose leaf products rather than e-liquid, then this model from Utillian is another worthy proposition. The Utillian 620 is perfectly suited to puffing on the go and will accept any nicotine-free herbal blend, including the naughty variety, natch.
Herbal vaporisers are usually bigger than e-liquid models but this one is just the right size for pocket-sized portability. It couldn’t be easier to use: pull off the tactile magnetic mouthpiece, fill the 0.2 gram chamber with your favourite blend, and tap the large button five times to activate the heater. The Utillian 620’s two temperature buttons offer precise temperature control from 320 to 428°F (160-220°C) and you can easily see what temperature it’s set at by looking at the excellent backlit LCD screen on top. The 2300mAh battery meanwhile provides up to an hour of use on each charge and that’s pretty good for a herbal model. The magnetic stir tool tucked away at the bottom of the unit is an extra nice touch.
It has to be said that herbal vaporisers like the Utillian 620 don’t produce that much vapour – usually just faint wisps unless you adopt the mouth-to-lung technique – but they have no problem imparting flavour. If used with the naughty stuff, you can also expect a full effect without a lingering smell.
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.
Ripple is a type of sealed disposable ‘holistic’ vaporiser that uses a combination of plant extracts like ginseng, chamomile and valerian root and various essential oils instead of the usual concoction of nicotine, vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol. The brainchild of a brother and sister team, Ripple is apparently a much safer method of vaping that is completely non addictive because there’s no nicotine involved.
The Ripple looks like any other stick-type vaporiser on the market, the main difference being that it’s disposable and ready charged out of the box. To activate it you simply put your lips around its tip and suck, for want of a better phrase. According to the blurb, each Ripple is good for about 500 puffs (the makers suggest between 10 and 20 puffs per day ‘for maximum benefit’, whatever that may be).
This writer gave afew a whirl and while I can’t say any of them made me feel noticeably more relaxed – or controlled my urge for another nicotine hit – they all tasted extremely pleasant, and without the raspiness associated with normal vaporisers. They also produced a surprisingly large volume of vapour.
Whether the Ripple will make any major, er, ripples on the market is a moot point but hats off to the developers for entering the market from such a fresh angle.
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
Despite some extra onboard tech, the Vaporesso Podstick can’t quite match the brilliant Renova Zero model (reviewed above) for both practicality and design. While still small enough for a loose trouser pocket, it’s bulky pen-like shape and size isn’t as comfortable a fit for a tight jeans pocket and it doesn’t feel as tactile in the hand. Also, it doesn’t come with the automatic draw feature of the Zero. Instead, you need to press a button on the side to activate the atomiser. You will also need to remember to switch it off after each vaping session.
Like the Zero, the PodStick uses a removable e-liquid container (or pod) that can be filled with your blend of choice. Simply slide the mouthpiece back to expose the filler port and use the supplied dropper to fill the reservoir. The package includes two different pods: a 1.3 ohm CCEL for those who prefer extra draw resistance and the mouth to lung method; and a 0.6 ohm Meshed pod for fans of the direct-to-lung inhalation technique. You can also change the power output in three stages: the lowest ‘red’ setting is best for those who want a weaker hit and less vapour, ‘blue’ produces marginally more vapour and a little more grip in the throat, while ‘red’ is for those who require a full-bodied hit with maximum vapour production.
Unfortunately, the hit from the PodStick feels quite a bit harsher on the throat than the Renova Zero, even when using the same e-liquid on the lowest ‘red’ setting. Bear that in mind if you’re moving over from a low-nicotine cigarette.
If you’re after a standard stick-style model that offers a variety of strengths settings and the wherewithal to engage in two methods of vaping, then steam right in. But if all you want to do is vape in the most basic and simplest way, we’d advise you make a bee-line for the Osmall or Renova Zero instead.
This cartridge-based product resembles the Bo in many ways, including size, shape and the way its e-liquid cartridges are inserted.
The ultra-slim Logic Compact measures a shade over 10cm in length and features magnetic e-liquid cartridges that literally snap into place. Logic has clearly thought long and hard about the Compact’s functions and as a result, both draw resistance and the mouthpiece itself are perfectly configured to provide an intensely satisfying and very smooth vaping experience.
There are no pesky buttons to press either and the amount of vapour it produces is surprising voluminous for such a small cartridge-based model.
Despite a general paucity of flavours and nicotine strengths, the Logic Compact is definitely worth a punt, especially given the current low price of the basic Starter Kit.
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.
If herbal puffing is your bag, consider putting your lips round this feature-filled loose-leaf vaporiser designed by former Apple employee Mark Williams.
In the arena of vaping products, the Firefly 2 is a fine thing to behold and is comprised of a borosilicate glass vapour path and herb bowl that accepts both dry herbs and wax concentrates. Touch sensor activation, dynamic convection heating tech and lightweight magnesium alloy construction add classy functionality.
The Firefly 2 heats up in seconds and comes with six preset temperatures accessed via a free iOS and Android app. Users have nothing but praise for this model and this writer is inclined to agree.
Is vaping bad for you?
It’s all a bit up in the air at the moment but according to recent 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.
- Keep an eye out for vaping deals during Amazon Prime Day
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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 atomizer 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: sealed cartridge models.
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.
Vaporisers and e-liquids are available through online outlets and in most high streets and corner shops.
What is the best vape pen?
There are all sorts of vapes in this guide but our overall favourite is the refillable cartridge-based Vaporesso Osmall. This might not be to the taste of cloud-chasing extremists due to its ease of use and lack of resemblance to something from the Star Wars cantina scene, but it is currently the best you can get. However, for those seeking a genuine alternative to standard cigarettes, there's nothing more suitable on the market right now than the IQOS system, which uses proper tobacco that is heated rather than burned.