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  1. The Green Review

    PAX Dry Herb Vaporizer: Elegant Simplicity

    PAX Dry Herb Vaporizer: Elegant Simplicity At $199 for a simple tube with a noticable lack of buttons, displays, and space-aged design features, what exactly am I getting for my money? The PAX, itself, is a simple, elegant, tube that looks and feels like it could have come from the designers of 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA (the place our iPhones and iPads are designed). The exterior column is a single wrap of metal with a discreet light on the front and a tiny screw on the back. The width, depth, and curvature is just right for holding in the curve of my cadet medium-large fingers. Resting in my fingers, about 1" of the top is sticking out. The PAX comes in black (the most discreet option), silver, blue, green, and purple. The three colors are deep, not the pastel or candy shades found on other devices. I chose the green because it's just plain nice to look at and, as it's nearly the shade of my local soccer team's primary color, the second most discreet color choice in Portland. Standing on the shelf, it's nice to look at and people who didn't know would be more likely to think it some sort of mp3 player. The bottom of the unit is a magnetic cap for the heating chamber. The magnets concerned me at first, but they hold tight. I've never felt it was going to come off in use, yet it's the easiest opening method I've found. The top of the unit is a spring loaded mouthpiece. Operating a bit like a ball point pen, one click pops the mouthpiece out and another locks it back in. The multi-function mouthpiece is also the on/off switch. When the mouthpiece is extended, the unit is on. Also in the box are a power cord, charging base, and cleaning kit. Using the PAX When I left the vape store, I thought the full usage cycle of the PAX was this: 1. Charge 2. Load 3. Heat 4. Vape 5. Clean Charge Charging is a bit awkward. If you close the mouthpiece and look inside the tube, you will see a couple metal connections. To charge, plug the base into the wall and set the PAX upside down on the charging base. The light on the front of the unit tells you it's charging and turns green when it's done. Why is this awkward? For one, there's no possibility of using the unit while it's on the charger. For a recreational device, that might not be as big an issue. As a medical device, realizing the battery is dead and having to wait to medicate can be a real pain. Literally. Fortunately, battery life is good. I normally put the PAX on the charger at night, after using it for two or three extended sessions. As long as I do this, I don't have a problem. But when I forget, it gets tricky. Shaking the PAX gives you a green/yellow/red level indicator but, since you have to stop and shake to see it, it's easy to forget until it flashes red and just stops working. The bigger issue with charging upside down is related to cleaning issues that we'll get to later. Load Loading the PAX couldn't be more simple. A fine grind is preferable (though don't powderize it if you're using a coffee grinder; I use a RAW joint grinder). When you remove the heating chamber cap, you will see a metal chamber inside the plastic housing. I like to pour in my ground herbs until they're just above the top of the chamber, lightly tamp them in, and put the cap back on. If you look at the inside of the cap, you will see a slightly rounded surface that seals the heating chamber. It works to further press the herbs into place. Heat Click the moutpiece up and the light starts pulsing purple. That means it's heating. When it's hot, the light turns green. That's all there is to it…until you read the advanced directions. When I bought the PAX, the store owner demonstrated it to me pretty much as above. Charge. Load. Heat. Vape. Clean. And, out of the box, that's all you ever have to do. But, if you open the instruction manual, you will find a few more secrets. That mouthpiece is more than a mouthpiece. As noted earlier, it's also the on/off switch. If you pull it out (while extended, just pull it straight up; there's a notch on one side you can use to hook a fingernail), the heat turns off and you'll see a hidden button pulsing white. That button offers temperature control. By default, the machine is set to medium heat which is just fine for most people. One click of that button turns the light from orange to red. Another drops it down to low. PAX doesn't offer exact temperatures, but it is a significant difference from one setting to the next. Vaping temperature isn't just about comfort, but about the cannabinoid ratio. Different elements are released at different temperatures. Generally speaking, lower temperatures lend themselves more toward "head highs." Higher temperatures lend themselves to "body highs." I vape on the low temperature because that's what my condition requires, but I have bumped it up to high a couple times. It's hot. It only takes a few good draws to turn those freshly ground herbs into toasty ABV and the mouthpiece got a little warm, but so did my body. Vape This is the easiest unit to vape that I have tried. The oblong mouthpiece is a more natural shape than a round tube and creates a more gentle draw. I don't have to think so hard about how hard I'm drawing in order to create the perfect vapor; the unit has somehow done this for me. Repeat until you've had enough. For me, that means repeat until the unit is too hot to handle. It does get warm, but you'll be well medicated by the time it gets hot. Rumor has it the PAX doesn't put out visible vapor. That rumor just isn't true. The PAX does put out far less vapor than other methods and devices I have used to vaporize herbs or concentrates. The amount of released vapor is affected by moisture content of the material, vape temperature, and even how you hold the vapor before letting it go. With dry herbs, on low setting, using a double-clutch draw method that ensures as much vape as possible is taken in by my lungs, the visible vapor is less than I have seen with any other method. Clean Between uses, all you have to do is dump out the ABV. Sometimes a little bit sticks to the inside of the chamber cover, but it brushes right off with a finger. Upending the ABV with a little shake dumps out the rest. No tools necessary. If a little piece gets stuck, a puff of air is enough to dislodge it. It's the easiest vaporizer to empty that I've used. The unit needs a more thorough cleaning every four or five uses or every four or five days, depending on how you use it (more on this a little later). The PAX comes with a cleaning kit and detailed instructions. Remove the mouthpiece and chamber cap. Moisten a pipe cleaner with an alcohol wipe and clean the vapor path. A little spot cleaning of the other two parts and you're done. For extra credit, drop the chamber screen into a shallow dish of isopropyl and use that iso with the pipe cleaner to clean the exterior of the mouthpiece, cover, and unit. The Shadow Side The PAX is an amazing device, but the Sweet Baby Jesus Descended from on High, it is not. The PAX does come with some annoyances. Some are just just that - annoyances. Some might be a little more significant depending on how you utilize the PAX in your daily routine. All are the shadow sides of the really great features above. Let's start with an annoyance. The PAX has an internal accellerometer. That's the little rattle you hear when you shake the unit. It tells when you're shaking and displays the remaining battery life and is also used to turn the unit off when not in use. Overall, I love the motion-based cut-off. With a timer, your session either gets cut off before you're done or you leave your unit sitting around baking itself. A timer is a good backup system against leaving it running for hours, but not all that practical. The motion sensor is practical. When I set the unit down, it knows I'm not vaping, displays a blue light, and goes into standby mode. In standby mode, the chamber stops heating, but all I have to do is pick the unit back up and the motion sensor tells it to turn back on. The light switches to green or purple to let me know if it's still hot or needs to warm back up. If I'm sitting in bed and set the unit on my nightstand between draws, the standby system works great. If I'm taking regular draws, it doesn't cool down enough to be noticable, but when I set it down and get caught up in whatever else I'm doing, it shuts itself down. Where I sometimes get frustrated with this feature is when I turn it on in the morning and set it on my stand while I get dressed. If I take too long, it goes into standby and cools down. It almost needs to be held while heating up. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to heat. The bigger issues relate to the mouthpiece. To keep the design so simple, parts have to do multiple things. Clicking on the mouthpiece to power on/off means the vapor path and the power switch are now connected. Residue from the vaped oils further complicates this. Oils run more easily when warm. If your unit is still warm from use and you turn it upside down, oils are going to migrate toward the mouthpiece. When oils deposit near the mouthpiece and then cool, the moving parts can get stuck. If you let it get bad enough and the mouthpiece sticks in the closed position, your only option is to send it in for repair. There are two things you can do to keep the mouthpiece mechanism clear: keep the unit upright as much as possible and definitely when warm, and clean according to the manufacturer's specifications. Keeping the unit upright isn't as easy as it sounds. Do you remember how the unit charges? Upside down on the charging base. The base does snap on well enough you can stand the PAX upright and place the charging base on top, but you will want to find some way to help prop the whole thing up. Or, you can just wait until the unit is completely cool to charge. The real issue is travel. This is a portable vaporizer and many of us are going to use it for its portability. If you only use it at home and work and can keep it standing upright everywhere you go, then you won't need to worry about it so much. But, if it goes in a pocket so you can keep it with you during the day, it becomes a challenge. My cargo pants have a pocket-within-a-pocket that's sized just right to keep it upright…until I sit down and what was once vertical is now horizontal. My only solution so far has been to be a little careful about it when the unit is warm and accept that some of those oils are going to make it into my pocket. Not enough to ruin anything, but enough to notice a thin film on my fingers and everything in that pocket. My advice is to clean well and clean often. If you feel any stick in the mouthpiece mechanism, it's time to clean. The PAX is going to require a little more attention than lesser units, but high-end items are always this way. A BMW is going to need more servicing than a Corolla, but look what you're getting out of all those precision parts. A Precision Tool The PAX is not a luxury item. That is, you aren't buying it for the name. You aren't buying it for the looks. You aren't buying it to impress the people around you with a status symbol that doesn't do anything different than its mundane cousins. The PAX is a precision tool. The PAX name is solid, the looks are impressive, and people who know will recognize you own a quality dry herb vaporizer. They know this because it works and it works well. Where other vaporizers required two or three loads to fully medicate, the efficiency of the PAX medicate me completely with a single load. The PAX medicates quickly, efficiently, and discreetly, saving me time, medicine, and headaches. This is the only portable, dry herb vaporizer you need, unless you want to try out Ploom's recently released PAX2.