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Over 50 cannabis and vaping authors and contributors
September 14, 2023
11 min to read

Weed Carts vs Dab Pens and Wax Pens: The Ultimate Comparison

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Hayley Heidelbaugh

There are lots of ways to vape cannabis oil. Anyone, even beginners, can individualize their experience with cannabis products commonly available. Weed carts and dab pens are two of the most popular device types, and both can be used to vape delta 9 or delta 8 THC, or CBD.

Whether someone prefers vape carts or wax pens comes down to personal preference. We’re all seeking different levels of convenience, potency, and flavor. Some of us vape for the sole purpose of getting high, while for others, this is secondary or even undesirable.

Knowing what to expect from each device can help you make the best decision for your own vaping needs. Here’s what you need to know about carts, dab pens, and wax pens.

Dab vs cart: there’s a big difference

Whether you’re new to vaping weed or a cannabis expert, the terminology around vaping can be difficult to juggle. The problem gets worse when terms are used incorrectly.

Which raises the question, are dab pens (or “dab carts”) and carts the same?

Let’s clear up a common misconception. While dab pens and wax pens are the same device, these are not identical to THC or CBD carts. Cannabis vape carts are not used to dab concentrates, or mimic a dab rig.

In fact,  although the term is often used when describing cannabis or THC carts, there is no such thing as a dab cart. Dabbing refers exclusively to heating semi-solid concentrates, like wax and shatter, at high temperatures to produce vapor, and carts use runny, honey-like oil.

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Wax pen vs dab pen: different terms, same device

The terms wax pen and dab pen describe the same devices. In either case, they’re used to vape potent concentrates of the user’s choice, including wax, live resin, or shatter.

Each of these terms refers to a unique quality of the device. “Dab pen” references the function and effects, which are comparable to a dab rig. Like a dab rig, these devices heat concentrates—"dabs”—at high temperatures. They can provide a quick, strong high, especially compared to a standard vape pen with a 510 thread battery.

“Wax pen” is more self-explanatory. Although you can substitute a concentrate of choice, wax is one of the most common and widely accessible.

What is a vape pen?

Vape pens come in many shapes and sizes, but their core function remains the same. A cart, which contains the cannabis oil, is attached to a battery. This battery gives your device’s coil and atomizer the power to heat and vaporize the oil. Vapor is inhaled through the cart’s mouthpiece.

510 thread batteries and carts

Carts and batteries are often sold individually, giving users the freedom to mix and match as desired. The closest we have to a universal vape battery is 510 thread, which works with nearly all commercial carts, except those made with proprietary connections like the PAX Era.

Disposable weed vapes

Disposable vapes are perfect if you’d rather alleviate the hassle entirely. These vape pens come pre-filled with liquid, and a battery already built in. Depending on the product, you likely won’t need to charge the battery before use. Inhaling through the mouthpiece is enough to activate the coil and create vapor. When it’s empty, you just recycle or dispose of the battery.

Benefits of carts and vape pens

Before we compare and contrast, let’s cover a few major pros of vape carts.

Your standard cart or vape pen offers:

  • Convenience and portability—it’s effortless to vape on the go
  • Discretion
  • Minimal smell
  • Long-lasting oil, without frequent refilling
  • Countless high-potency options (such as distillates)
  • Disposable pens, in particular, are beneficial if simplicity is your number one priority—or if you’re worried about losing your device. Not only do you get to skip reloading, you don’t need to worry about hooking your cart up to a battery. In the world of vaping, that’s as quick and simple as it gets.

    What is a wax pen?

    Wax pens, also known as dab pens, are a convenient substitute for a dab rig. These devices are ideal for those wanting to vape potent THC or CBD concentrates.

    Unlike a traditional dab rig, wax pens are portable and simple to use. The concentrate is added to the pen’s chamber, where the coil heats it. Vapor is produced by the atomizer and inhaled through the mouthpiece, all with the press of a button.

    While the process is similar to a vape pen, there are key distinctions. For instance, the vaping temperature is significantly higher in a wax pen, between 315 and 700 degrees Fahrenheit. If your device allows voltage adjustments, start around 4.0 volts and work up from there.

    There is some upkeep that users will need to stay on top of, regardless of overall convenience. Wax and other concentrates can get messy, and the chamber needs to be cleaned out on a regular basis. Unlike most vape pens, a wax pen’s chamber is reloaded after use, rather than replaced by an entirely new cart. Most have replaceable coils, which need to be swapped eventually.

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    Types of dab pens and concentrates

    Depending on the product you pick up, it may be suited to a specific type of concentrate. Different kinds of dabs have different consistencies and may require more or less heat and airflow. Make sure to review the product description and any information provided by the manufacturer prior to loading a dab in a new device. (Concentrates that contain a lot of plant material, like kief and hash, are almost impossible to use in a dab pen).

    A few of the most common THC and CBD concentrates are as follows:

    Wax

    Other names for wax include crumble, frosting and budder. These concentrate varieties have a consistency on the softer side, particularly compared to materials like shatter. Waxes are produced with solvent-based extraction.
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    Shatter

    Shatter is also created via solvent-based extraction, but adjustments in the final stages lead to a vastly different texture and appearance. Shatter has a lower terpene content and less moisture than other concentrates, resulting in a glass or toffee-like appearance — almost as if it could “shatter” at any moment.

    Live resin

    Much like its liquid form, live resin concentrates feature a chemical makeup nearly identical to the original plant. Rather than drying and curing, live resin production begins with cannabis flower and leaves flash-frozen after harvesting.

    Terp sauce

    As suggested by the name, sauces have a thinner, more liquid consistency than other concentrates. The objective in sauce creation is to preserve the greatest possible terpene content. These compounds stand out due to their hearty flavor and hit on the palate. Another concentrate called diamonds is almost the opposite of terp sauce. It’s made from cannabinoid isolate, with the flavorful terpenes stripped away.

    Benefits of dab pens

    Several of the top wax pen perks are shared with carts, including:

    • Discretion
    • Portability and convenience
    • High potency, even greater than distillates
    • Nearly odorless vaping
    • The best dab pens are also more likely to feature built-in setting adjustments, including voltage.

      Unlike tabletop dab rigs, wax pens fit in your pocket and can be carried from place to place. They also don’t require water, which many full rigs need to produce palatable vapor.

      What do dab pens and carts have in common?

      As functionally distinct as dab pens and weed carts are from one another, they share some common ground.

      Carts and dab pens are portable and discreet

      Components and devices vary in size, but in general, all are compact and easy to carry around.

      In the case of dab pens, this is especially impressive. Remember, dab pens are designed to mimic dab rigs, which are large tabletop devices. If it weren’t for wax pens, dabbing would be anything but an on-the-go activity.

      Non-intoxicating CBD carts and dabs are an option

      You don’t need to get high to enjoy the benefits of hemp. CBD is the most popular and widely distributed cannabinoid without psychoactive properties.

      Fortunately, fans of CBD vapes aren’t forced to choose between dab pens and carts. Non-intoxicating CBD concentrates, and oil carts are both available to consumers.

      Wax pens and carts both require upkeep and correct storage

      No vaping device is immune to breaking, dirtying, or becoming clogged.

      If carts are stored incorrectly, the liquid could go bad, losing flavor and potency. Carts can also become clogged, making vapor production tenuous to impossible. While there are ways to fix clogged carts, really severe clogs, such as chamber flooding, can be a struggle for inexperienced users to fix.

      Similarly, failing to clean your dab pen between uses leads to residue buildup and clogging. Using the wrong concentrate for a particular dab pen is another potential pitfall.

      Wax, shatter, or terp sauce also need to be stored properly before they’re used in a pen. Consider investing in small containers made of silicone or glass (not plastic). Non-stick silicone is especially handy, as it cuts down on clean-up time between fills. In a bind, wrapping your dabs in parchment paper is a classic method for short-term storage.

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      What are the differences between dab pens and vape carts?

      Of course, to take your pick between vape carts and dab pens, you’ll need to account for what sets them apart.
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      Dab pens require additional cleaning

      While it’s wise to give your mouthpiece a wipe after vaping, or clean up excess oil when you swap out a cart, cleaning dab pens is more labor-intensive.

      Cannabis and hemp concentrates are thick and sticky. Not only can this make it challenging to handle without making a mess, but it also means reloading can be a tedious process. You’ll need to clean the device with isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab. Storage containers used to keep concentrates will also require routine cleanings.

      Dab pens lack disposable components

      Once they’ve vaped through all the oil in a cart, many users don’t think twice before disposing of the component. Yes, it’s important to check for leaks or excess oil, as this can build up and lead to clogs or reduced airflow. But as long as you’re sticking to routine maintenance, swapping out an old cart for a new one isn’t too involved.

      But unlike a disposable cart, the chamber of your dab pen is refillable and must be cleaned. Even if its coil can be replaced, you’re going to clean it a few dozen times before you change coils.

      Carts are less potent than concentrates

      Concentrates are created by removing the cannabis plant’s inactive ingredients. Then comes distillation of valuable compounds, until what you’re left with is highly concentrated cannabinoids The process is very close to how oil for carts is made, but tends to produce products that are between a little and a lot higher in cannabinoid content.

      Dab pens provide more control over settings

      The best 510 thread batteries and vape mods offer cart users control over settings like voltage or temperature, but this is more common in wax pens. By adjusting the voltage, you can fine-tune the potency and flavor of each dab.
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      Dab pen vs vape pen: which is better?

      We spoiled the conclusion earlier, but it stands: wax pens aren’t objectively superior to carts, and vice versa. Everyone’s reasons for vaping are unique. Consider the experience you’re looking for, including the high, ease of use, and your commitment to cleaning and maintenance.

      Not only can this help someone choose between dab pens and carts, but it’s also important when selecting an oil or concentrate.

      Dab pens if potency and flavor are top priority

      Oils like distillates may be extremely potent, but they’re still beat out by concentrates. Plus, due to their high concentration, dabs feature a more robust flavor.

      If your goal is to feel the hit of THC or CBD as quickly as possible, wax pens are the better bet.

      Vape carts for convenience and variety

      From ease of use to sheer variety, vape carts have a lot to offer.

      It’s impossible to ignore the convenience factor, especially if you’ve picked up a 510 thread cart. As long as you have a 510 thread battery on hand, you only need to give it a charge and start vaping. Then, once you’ve vaped all the oil, the cart can be disposed of and a new one attached.

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      You don’t need to choose between dab pens and carts

      We’ve spent time pitting dab pens and carts against each other, but the truth is, you don’t need to stick to just one. Feel free to experiment with both devices or swap them out, depending on your mood.

      Both forms of cannabis are potent and convenient. Naturally, there’s no shortage of either product in our current market—so it’s the ideal time to expand your repertoire.

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      Hayley Heidelbaugh

      Vaping since: 3 years

      Favorite products:

      Favorite flavors: White Wedding, Northern Lights, Platinum Valley, OG Kush

      Expertise in: Oil carts, cannabis concentrates, cannabis flower

      Hayley Heidelbaugh

      I'm a Pennsylvania-based cannabis enthusiast and writer. As a part of the Vaping360 team, I'm eager to help cannabis consumers explore vaping and get the most out of their experience. You can also find me @faeberrystudios on Instagram.

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