The Starter Series - Part 1 - Your First Vape
Vaping, in theory, is pretty straightforward. Put the fizzy stuff (electricity) through the twirly thing (the coil) to hot it up, making the goo (eliquid) in the fluffy stuff (cotton) turn into fat air (vapour). The specifics of doing this vary. A lot.
As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. Unfortunately, the massive variety we see in every aspect of vaping means it can be difficult to know what is right for you. To make this even more difficult, vaping is super subjective. What’s best for one person might not be for another.
To make things a bit easier, I thought I’d put something together covering what you need to consider before your first purchase. Now, this post is not designed to give you recommendations on which setup to buy, but it should allow you to ask the right questions to make sure your first purchase is a good one, maximising the probability of making a successful switch away from smoking.
First things first, MTL or DL?
If you’ve read anything about vaping then you’ve probably heard these acronyms thrown around a fair bit. These terms generally describe the draw from the atomiser.
MTL (Mouth To Lung) is a tighter, restricted draw, which mimics the draw from a cigarette. MTL hits work by drawing the vapour into your mouth, then breathing it into your lungs.
DL (Direct Lung) or sometimes DTL (Direct To Lung) is looser and airier. DL produces more clouds than MTL, and usually more flavour. That’s not to say you can’t get really good flavour from MTL, but DL vapourises liquid at a much faster rate. More vapour usually means more flavour, but there are a lot of variables at play so don’t take that as a blanket statement.
Alright, now you have an idea of what kind of draw you want, it's time to consider where that is going to come from.
Often referred to as a tank or an atty, this is the bit that houses the coil, wicking material and liquid. Coils for stock tanks, i.e. non-rebuildables, come with the coil and wicking material as one. These are usually either screwed or press-fit into the atomiser. Most atomisers fall into either the MTL or DL categories, but there are some that try to straddle both. There is also quite a range in either style. Loose MTL and restricted DL are quite close, with tight MTL and loose DL at opposite ends of the scale. Most people looking to quit smoking tend to start out with MTL, with the aim of replicating smoking as closely as possible. Personally, I needed it to be different enough to smoking to not remind me of it, so DL worked well for me. It’s very subjective, and there is no one-size fits all.
When considering your purchase there are a few factors to bear in mind:
- Coil availability - can you reliably find coils for it? Are they cross-compatible with other tanks, opening up your options?
- Capacity - The Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) limits tanks in the EU to 2ml. This might be absolutely fine for MTL, but high-wattage DL vapers will find themselves filling their tank several times throughout the day, which can get old, fast. Some atomisers are restricted to 2ml via an insert which should definitely not be removed, ever (ahem). Others may come with a free gift of a bubble glass, which increases capacity.
- Diameter - how big is the tank across? If it’s larger than the top of your mod, you could end up with the dreaded overhang. In reality, it’s not a problem, it just looks a bit squiffy. If it doesn’t bother you, don’t worry about it.
Rebuildable atomisers (RDA, RTA, RDTA) aren’t really recommended for a beginner, so I’m not going to cover them here. I will cover them in another, dedicated post at a later date.
So now we have an idea of what kind of atomiser we want. What are you going to fill it with?
Also known as e-juice. What flavours do you enjoy? Chances are there is an e-liquid flavour out there for you. Coffee? Yes. Fruity? Yes! Doughnuts? Very much yes! Chicken Tikka Masala? If you really insist, just stay away from my family.
E-liquid is made up of four ingredients, Propylene Glycol (PG), Vegetable Glycerine (VG), flavourings and nicotine. Flavourings and nicotine are technically optional, some people vape either unflavoured or zero nicotine e-liquid.
50/50 or 70/30?
PG and VG have different properties, so the proportion of these ingredients in the e-liquid can have an impact on the performance of your device.PG is thinner, harsher on the throat, and tends to carry flavour better. VG is much thicker, smoother, and produces bigger clouds. The ratio of these ingredients in your e-liquid will determine how well suited your e-liquid is to the coil in your atomiser. MTL tanks tend to favour an equal ratio - 50/50. A higher VG ratio will often result in a liquid that is too thick for many MTL tanks to wick quickly enough, potentially resulting in a burnt coil. DL tends to favour a more VG heavy mixture at ratios of 70/30 VG/PG or higher, and thinner e-liquids could cause leaks. Again, these are not blanket statements, some MTL coils really shine with a 70/30 juice, and some DL coils handle 50/50 without a hiccup.
3, 6 or 12mg?
Nicotine in e-liquids is measured in milligrams per milliliter, or mg/ml. This is often shortened to simply mg. A 10ml bottle of 3mg/ml e-liquid will contain a total of 10 x 3 = 30mg of nicotine. In general, it’s not advisable for DL users to go above 6mg/ml, whereas MTL users can go higher, up to 20mg/ml. The amount you smoked before transitioning, the amount you are likely to vape, and the atomiser you use will all influence what strength is best. Too high and you’ll get nicotine poisoning (nic-sick), too low and you won’t be able to satisfy your cravings, increasing the risk of returning to smoking. Once you feel you’ve successfully transitioned fully to vaping, you can start to lower your strength if you wish.
Our old friend, the TPD, limits nicotine containing liquid to 10ml bottles, with a maximum of 20mg/ml. Fortunately, nicotine free e-liquid is not covered by TPD. This opens the door to shortfills. Shortfills consist of a nicotine-free e-liquid, where a larger bottle is not filled completely (or short filled), to allow room for a ‘nic shot’ to be added. Nic shots are 10ml of unflavoured e-liquid, usually at a nicotine strength of 18mg/ml. Add one nic shot to 50ml of eliquid and the end result is 60ml of e-liquid at 3mg/ml. Shortfills are usually significantly more cost effective than smaller 10ml bottles, however getting a shortfill to a nicotine strength of over 3mg can often reduce the flavour in the vapour.
Salts or Freebase?
There is some science behind nic salts that I won’t go into, for the sake of trying to keep this to a reasonable length. They’re not like the salt you put on your chips, it’s still a liquid and you won’t be able to see any difference. Nic salts are a more pH neutral version of the more traditional freebase nicotine, meaning less throat hit. This allows us to use higher concentrations of nicotine, meaning we can use devices with less vapour output and still get that nicotine fix. If you want more throat hit, go for freebase. If you want a smoother vape, go for nic salts. Nic salts are said to be absorbed and released by your body quicker than freebase, which means you can satisfy those nicotine cravings in a shorter time frame, but might need topping up again sooner.
Beware, there is a lot of misinformation on the internet about nic salts. I’ve read numerous times that you can’t use nic salts in a DL tank, and you can’t use freebase in a pod system. Manufacturers have taken advantage of this in the past, releasing nic salt versions of products, or saying ‘designed for nic salts’. In reality, it doesn’t matter. More important is the strength of the nicotine, and the vapour output of the device. Your tanks and coils won’t care if you use salts or freebase, but you might if you unintentionally fill a DL atomiser with 20mg juice and hit it at 75W.
Mods & Batteries
We have options here too. From small, pocket-friendly internal battery mods, to large dual or even triple battery devices. Ranging in price from under £20 to £400+, they essentially all do the same thing - apply power to the coil in your atomiser. This power is measured in Watts. Your mod may well come with lots of fancy modes, such as temperature control, bypass, variable voltage, but in the beginning stick to Wattage. The menu systems on some mods may refer to this as power mode.
There are some considerations to be made here as well:
- Internal or external batteries - internal batteries may seem more beginner friendly initially. No need to worry about sourcing the correct batteries and chargers, no need to worry about whether your battery wraps need replacing. Simply charge and vape. The downside to these mods is that batteries don’t last forever. Once the battery no longer holds a charge then that’s it, new mod time. Replacing batteries on internal battery mods is difficult and not cost effective. You could also find yourself waiting around while it charges. External battery mods do require a little more thought and initial spend, but if your battery starts to age it can simply be replaced. Although many modern devices do a good job of charging batteries well, it is still recommended to use an external battery charger. An external charger and two sets of batteries means that you can always have one set of batteries charged and ready to use. No waiting for your mod to charge, just swap the batteries out and keep vaping. It also allows you to monitor your batteries whilst charging, and means you’re more likely to inspect your batteries regularly.
- Maximum wattage - A good pairing between mod and atomiser will make your foray into vaping much more enjoyable. If you’ve decided to go down the MTL route then it’s unlikely you will need to exceed 25-30W. Some DL tanks require 70W+ in order to perform well. The maximum wattage of a mod is directly tied to the capabilities of the battery. Fortunately, working out the maximum wattage your battery can safely handle without getting too stressed is fairly simple. The formula is CDR x number of batteries x 3. So, a single battery with a CDR of 15A can comfortably be used at 45W (15 x 1 x 3 = 45). A dual battery mod with a pair of 35A CDR batteries can be expected to safely run 210W (35 x 2 x 3 = 210). Bear in mind though, that running a battery at it’s CDR will not provide you with a lot of vaping time between charges, so it’s advisable to leave yourself some headroom.
Pods and AIOs
Pod systems and All In One devices (AIOs) essentially combine mod, battery, tank and coil into a small, single package. The main difference between the two is that with a pod, when the coil is done then you dispose of the entire pod and replace it. AIOs on the other hand, have replaceable coils. So although you may have a ‘pod’ as part of an AIO, this is essentially a device-specific atomiser. These are usually focused more towards the MTL vaper, however we’ve recently seen a shift towards some more DL capable systems. Pods and AIOs can be a great option for new vapers. Often sleek and good looking, these are often simple to operate and require minimal maintenance.
I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but battery safety is of the utmost importance. Using the right battery, making sure the wraps are in good condition, proper handling and storage. All these aspects and more go into proper battery care. The batteries we use, even on low-powered devices, can store a significant amount of energy. If things go wrong they can go very wrong. The vaping community is extremely fortunate to have Mooch - his links are in the sidebar, please read them. Watch his youtube videos. If you have a spare few quid each month, consider joining Mooch’s Patreon. Without a doubt, his work has made vaping safer for all of us.
I cannot stress this enough, if you are a beginner please do NOT buy or use a mechanical mod. These mods offer no safety features at all and should only be used by experienced vapers who have gained the knowledge required to use them safely. It’s not some secret, forbidden knowledge, and it’s not particularly complicated, but misuse of a mech mod could potentially result in serious injury, even death. The only safety feature on a mech mod is the lump of meat holding it. If the lump of meat doesn’t know what it’s doing, it could suddenly become multiple, separate, distinct lumps of meat.
Budgeting for your purchase
You’ve probably heard that vaping will save you money. That’s true, however the initial outlay can often be a little off putting. To put it into perspective, if you were to smoke 20 cigarettes a day, one week’s worth of smoking will easily cover the price of a good starter kit, juice and spare coils. After that, your main expenses will be coils and e-liquid.
If you’re going for an external battery mod, don’t forget to factor in the cost of batteries and a charger.
By now, you should have a decent idea of what to look for in your first vape. Decide what’s important to you. Ask for recommendations, watch and read reviews. It’s worth bearing in mind that it’s unusual for your first device to be your last. Using a device for a while helps you to get to know your preferences, and dial it in for your next device, to make your experience that much better.
Next up, we’ll delve into a world with more acronyms than you can shake a stick at - rebuildables. RDA, RTA, RDTA, RSA. Lots of Rs, lots of As, with different letters in the middle. Overall, I’m expecting to write four parts to this series, and will cover mech mods and squonkers in the last two. Things may change though, so I’m promising nothing!