What exactly is a dry herb vaporizer?
A dry herb vaporizer is an electronic device that heats and produces vapor from dried plant material. Dry herb is placed into the heating chamber/oven and rather than combusting the material (as in the case of traditional smoking) – it is vaporized to precise temperatures up to as high as 400F.
Dry Herb is typically vaporized at 370F-390F which is the sweet spot where all the cannabinoids and terpenes are perfectly heated, and THC is released. The vapor produced by this process is then inhaled through a mouthpiece.
Portables and Desktop Vapes
Dry Herb Vapes can be sub-categorized in several ways, depending on their heating methods, size, and whether they’re session or on-demand vaporizers. But the main categories they’ll fall into are whether they are Portable or Desktop devices.
Just like the name suggests, Portable Vaporizers are battery-powered vapes that are made to be brought around, and will most likely fit in your pocket or a bag. However, it is a pretty wide spectrum – there are portables that fall on the larger side of things, just like the Arizer Solo 2. Then there are devices small enough to conceal within the palm of your hand – much like the DaVinci Miqro. Portables are definitely the more popular option especially since you can vape as you go, and there are far fewer restrictions regarding where you can take them.
The opposite is true of Desktop Vaporizers, which require access to an electrical outlet to function. The Volcano, which was actually the device that started it all – was the first desktop vaporizer and the first commercially available device in 2000.
Since desktop vapes need to be plugged in, they have a lot more power available to them and are always much larger devices. They also feature inhalation methods that are unique to them such as balloon bags or whips. They definitely result in more potent and powerful sessions when compared to desktop, but it comes at a high $$$ cost and portability.
Types of Portable Vaporizers
Session Vaporizers make up roughly 90% of all the portable vaporizers on the market at the moment – and using one somewhat follows the same basic principles as lighting up (sans the actual flame) – you light up, and go till it’s used up. In a session vaporizer’s case; simply load the oven (with well-ground material), turn on the vape, select your desired temperature, and inhale the vapor until the material in the oven is used up/cashed.
On-Demand vaporizers do exactly what they’re named after – allow you to simply take a hit whenever you want, instead of vaping all of the material in a single session. Have as much or as little as you want, and then turn the device off – this is possible since the heating elements on these devices cool down just as fast as they heat up.
Obviously, On-Demand vaporizers seem like it has the upper hand here, and to some extent – it does. You have the option to vape as you please, and even microdose. But there really are only a handful of devices that have this ability, such as the Firefly 2+ (Plus).
Session Vaporizers on the other hand have become more flexible by including features that allow for microdosing. Take, for example, the DaVinci IQC which has a zirconia pearl that reduces the oven size, and 3rd generation devices such as the Zeus Arc GTS come with pods that may be popped into the oven at either full or half capacity.
Vaping notably produces a more pronounced flavor than just smoking. By vaporizing dry herb to controlled temperatures, you get to savor the individual terpenes aka “flavor molecules”. Terpenes are sensitive to heat, so during combustion, they burn away. Vaping, on the other hand, works to optimize their effects, allowing you to better savor your herb and taste the subtle nuances of each strain.
It is worth noting, however, that not all vaporizers heat dry herbs the same way. There are currently 3 main heating methods you’ll find on any vaporizer, plus a few others in development.
Conduction heating is the most common of all heating methods. In a nutshell, conduction heating is when the dried material comes into direct contact with the heating element – much like your everyday kitchen oven. They’re typically easier to use, more consistent, and inexpensive compared to other heaters. The downside, however, is that the heating element doesn’t cool down as quickly. So your herb continues to “cook” in-between draws – resulting in a dwindling flavor profile as you go through a session.
With this heating method, the herb doesn’t come into contact with the heating element at all. Instead, hot air moves in and around the herb in order to vaporize it. Convection ovens heat up slightly slower than conduction ovens, yet they cool down much quicker- which is why it’s the most common heating method amongst on-demand vaporizers. Convection heating results in a somewhat more nuanced flavor and lighter vapor.
Between all three main heating methods, hybrid heating is the “gold standard”. It was invented by powerhouse brand Storz & Bickel and was first used on the Volcano Hybrid, and is now the heating method on both their premium portables, the Mighty+ (Plus) and Crafty+ (Plus). Hybrid Heating combines both conduction and convection heating to achieve rich-tasting, well-balanced, and dense vapor.
The various compounds and terpenes are released at different temperatures and all dry herb vaporizers will keep a consistent temperature throughout the entire session. This also makes it much easier for those who use the dry herb for its medicinal effects, since it produces predictable and consistent results. So whether you’re after more flavorful or denser vapor – all you have to do is find the right temperature that suits you best.
Temperature control amongst devices somewhat varies – some vapes like the Utillian 722 will have a number of pre-set temperatures, while others like the G-Pen Elite 2 will be more flexible and allow you to select any temperature within its range. Finding that temperature sweet spot will take a bit of time, but once you do – it’ll be smooth sailing from then on out.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s always best to start at the lower end of your vaporizer’s temperature range and then work your way up as you get more comfortable with vaping.
Pro-Tip: A “low temperature” in dry herb vaping is somewhere between 350°F and 370°F. At lower temperatures, you tend to get more flavor and less dense vapor. Higher temperatures provide the opposite, you get thicker vapor and less flavor. Slowly ramp up the temperature at each new session until you find the setting or range that gives you the best flavor.
Cleaning and Maintenance
After several uses, you’ll observe that your vaporizer will start to need a little TLC. Keeping your device clean and free of debris is paramount to making sure it functions at its best. Thankfully, cleaning isn’t a hard thing to do, but it may be cumbersome, especially with those that have a lot of removable parts. Best to pick a device that you’re sure you can clean as regularly as you can.
The best time to clean the oven is while it is still warm before the residue cools down and hardens. Simply swipe a cotton swab dipped in ISO alcohol in and around the oven. The same is true for the mouthpiece, though you should definitely check the vaporizer manual and follow the instructions before cleaning the oven or mouthpiece yourself.