Portable or Desktop Vaporizer: How to Choose

Person holding an apple in one hand, a donut in the other.

So you've decided to get a dry herb vaporizer and take advantage of a healthier method of consuming cannabis. Great plan! It'll save you money too, because dry herb vaporizers are more efficient at getting THC and CBD out of bud, so your supply will last longer.

The next decision you're going to have to make is whether to go with a portable or desktop vaporizer. There are pros and cons to each vape style, so it's good to get an overview of your options.

What are Portable and Desktop Vaporizers?

Let's quickly go over the basics of dry herb vapes. Vaporization is much easier on the lungs than combustion methods like smoking; medical users are often especially interested in avoiding smoke.

Vaporization in both portable and desktop vaporizers operates on the same basic principle. A quality vape of either type will have precise temperature control, letting you choose the exact temperature so you can find the best setting for your session.

To use a vaporizer, first you grind up and place dry herbs in an oven or chamber and heat them. Once the herbs get hot enough, vapor is released.

As you might imagine, portable units are way smaller than desktops, and you can carry them around with you wherever you go. Most people choose to go with a portable vaporizer, simply for the versatility: they're made to fit in your pocket but you can always use them at home too. Also, the price is usually cheaper than desktop vaporizers.

Desktop vapes tend to be more powerful and have top performance, but are designed for home use. These units usually need to plug into a wall outlet to work. Because they're powered by more than just a battery, they're bigger, making it easy to share with a group.

 

Dry herb vape with pre-loadable ovens by Furna

How portable vaporizers work: temperature control and vapor

Most portable vaporizers out there operate using what's called conduction heating. When a vaporizer uses conduction heating, the chamber with the cannabis inside directly touches the heating element. When you set the temperature, the element heats up the herb in the oven.

When you take a hit on a vaporizer, the vapor travels up the vapor path through the body of the device, and up into the mouthpiece. This is called direct draw inhalation.

Since portable vapes are small, you'll get almost all the active ingredients and flavor of the cannabis, with little of the vapor dissipating along the way.

 

Person looking through binoculars.

What to look for in a portable vaporizer

There are a number of features you'll want in a portable dry herb vaporizer. For most users, vapor quality is the number one priority. You want vapor production that can give you potent, consistent sessions over the long term. The hits should taste great and go down smooth.

You also want high quality parts that let you control the temperature to ensure the most efficient use of your dry herbs. And you want components that won't add metallic flavors to your vapor - you want to enjoy the tasty flavor of the strain!

The other features you're looking for are all related to convenience, but convenience is huge when it comes to portable vapes. Nothing's worse than when your vaporizer runs out of batteries just as you're about to enjoy a vaping session in the great outdoors. Fast heat up times, long battery life, fast charge times: these are all things that might not seem hugely important now, but if you're missing them, it'll quickly become aggravating with long-term use.

In short, you want reliable performance, which is fair to expect from a modern vape.

What are the best portable vaporizers?

There's a big range of devices out there, so it can be tough to filter through all the manufacturers. Some portable vaporizers that consistently get top reviews include the Pax 3, the DaVinci IQ 2, the Furna, and the Mighty (by Storz and Bickel, who also make the Crafty).

The Furna has a few features that help it rise above the pack in terms of portability. It uses swappable ovens, which lets you pack multiple ovens full of herb before leaving the house. When one oven is finished you can instantly swap it for another. This way you can avoid having to reload in an inconvenient or windy location, and lets you be more discreet.

Furna also has ovens for cannabis concentrate available, and they're swappable too. Usually, dry herb vaporizers can't vaporize concentrates. Well, some have inserts available to allow them to vape concentrates, but aren’t as convenient, and can easily get messy if you're not careful.

Vaporizers that are marketed as dry herb vape pens are generally not worth considering. Most produce vapor quality and taste that doesn't compare with a quality portable vaporizer with temperature control. They're sometimes slightly more compact, but the tradeoffs are definitely not worth it.

If you decide to look into a pen anyways, pay careful attention to reviews and be skeptical of an overly positive review. Keep in mind that most them are oil vape pens, and that style of pen is made for use with oils and concentrates like butane hash oil. Oil vape pens aren't dry herb vaporizers at all, and are designed only for vaping oils.

 

A desk with a notebook, pen, and coffee on it.

 

What is a Desktop Vaporizer?

As implied by the name, a desktop vaporizer is a vape made for use in the home. Most desktop vapes need to be plugged into a wall outlet to function and don't have a battery.

Although this really restricts where you can use a desktop vape, desktop vaporizers do have some advantages compared with portables.

Portable vaporizers make some sacrifices in terms of power and bowl size in order to stay super-compact, and to keep battery life reasonable. Many desktop vaporizers are able to take advantage of the lack of size constraints. But they're also usually more expensive.

They tend to have bigger bowls, letting you have larger sessions. You also won't have to refill the chamber as often. Some desktops are also built with heavier, more durable materials. Because they can be larger, the buttons are usually larger too, which can make them a bit easier to operate for some people.

How desktop vaporizers work

Most desktop vaporizers work similarly to portables, but use convection heating instead of conduction heating. When using convection methods, the vaporizer will still heat dry herbs until vapor is produced. But with convection vaporizers, the chamber isn't in direct contact with a heating element.

Instead, the element heats air, and then as you take a hit, the hot air flows over the herbs, heating them to produce vapor.

Some desktops have accessories that can make it a little more convenient to use. Some have a whip, or a long tube, that you insert in between the mouthpiece and the bowl. This whip lets you sit or lie down a bit further from your vaporizer while using it. Like portable conduction vapes, a whip-style desktop is a direct draw method. But you lose some potency and flavor by having all the vapor travel through the tube.

The more common (and expensive) type of desktop vaporizer is known as a balloon-style device. These have internal fans and a forced air delivery system, and instead of taking hits on a mouthpiece to make the heat flow, the fan does it for you, and fills up a bag which is attached to the unit. Once the bag is full, you detach it and then inhale the vapor in the bag. Balloons are extra-convenient for group sharing. 

Some desktops, like the Volcano Hybrid or Arizer Extreme Q, can use both a whip and a forced air balloon system with a fan. But the difference between the units is huge: vapor quality from a Volcano balloon will be a lot better than an Extreme Q.

Person thinking with pen against their lips.

Are desktop vaporizers good? Pros and cons

For users who don't plan on vaping outside the home, a desktop vaporizer can be the best solution. Others might already have a portable vaporizer, and love vaping so much that they'd like to have the best of both worlds by getting a desktop vaporizer too.

Because of the larger bowl sizes, desktop vapes are easier to share with large groups. Especially balloon-style models, because they're so easy to use, even for total beginners. All they have to do is inhale from a bag! There's also no glass parts involved in passing around bags, so no chance of glass breaking. If your top priority is vaping sessions with larger groups of friends, you'll want to consider a desktop unit.

What is the best desktop vape?

A classic and well-known desktop vaporizer is the Volcano, made by Storz and Bickel. It debuted way back in 2003, but is probably still considered the best desktop device. There's also a more advanced version of the unit, called the Volcano Hybrid, which is more expensive but has a better display and an option to use a whip. But the price of these devices is steep, they're some of the most expensive vaporizers on the market. There's even a gold-plated volcano if you're feeling particularly extravagant.

Other popular desktop vaporizers include the Plenty vaporizer, Silver Surfer, Vapexhale, Da Buddha, and the Arizer Extreme Q. If you're interested in a vaporizer that can do dabs, Dr. Dabber is also worth looking at.

The Volcano Hybrid is probably the best desktop vaporizer out there. Although it is an impressive device, the price is definitely sky-high. Unless money is no object, you might want to consider a vaporizer that provides better value.

Is there such a thing as a portable desktop vaporizer?

I'm sure you could rig up a Volcano classic so that you can carry it to the park and use it there, although you'll need a large power source. A generator? A powerful battery pack for your back? We don't recommend trying this.

 

A person holding a trophy above their head.

Portable Vaporizers vs Desktop Vaporizers, Which is Best?

There's no easy answer to that question! There's a range of great devices in both categories, and convection and conduction heating styles can both produce awesome sessions. Finding the right fit totally depends on your needs and desires.

Desktop vapes are powerful, but take up space, and can be difficult to hide, if that's an issue for you. They're less versatile since they can only be used at home, but they can even feel inconvenient at home, you might find yourself wishing it was easier to move from room to room when using it.

If price is a top concern, you're probably going to want to go with a portable-style vaporizer. If vaping sessions with larger groups at home is your main goal, go for a desktop vape that can fill bags.

If portability and versatility is important to you, you'll want to take a long look at the Furna vaporizer and its oven-swapping capability. In a way, its oven swapping technology combines the best advantages of both desktops and portables, by letting you prepare your ovens in advance in a comfortable location without having to fumble with cleaning and reloading while you're on the go.

It can also vaporize cannabis concentrates using a specialized concentrate oven which is just as easy to load and swap. So if you're going with a portable vape, why not get as convenient and advanced as possible? Check out Furna now.

 

Vaporizer with dry herb and concentrate ovens by Furna