Open vs Closed Systems: Which Is Right For You?

Vaping is a huge industry, projected to get much bigger over the next 5 years. There are enthusiasts and fanatics who do it all. They build their own coils, mods, mix e-juices, etc. They learn the ins and outs of devices and can answer highly technical questions about mods. Vape enthusiasts who love the tech side of vaping find innovation and modification key to their enjoyment of the technology, as much as the habit of vaping, itself.

Conversely, but equally popular (or, actually, considerably more popular these days) are those who learn about the ‘e-cigarette’ as a way to transition from smoking combustible, tobacco cigarettes. They hear of the benefits and (debatable) lesser health risks of vaping, and perhaps find a Juul at their local gas station. Curious, former smokers, or those looking to quit, pick it up, try it, and find that it provides enough nicotine to keep their cravings at bay. They use their cigalike, buy pods in flavors they enjoy, but do not dive deep into technical knowledge about the devices or e-juices. There are, of course, many vape users in-between all of this, as well. For those on either end of this spectrum, one clear distinction is their choice of vape system.

Which One Then?

So many options, technical aspects, and varying degrees of difficulty to learn and use are available. What do we, the vaping community, have to do to know what is right for each of us? One thing, of course, is to talk to others who vape about what they use, why, and how they came to their conclusions. Determine your level of comfort learning the technology, mixtures, levels of complexity, and how engrossed in the culture you expect to be. If you’re a smoker or former smoker simply looking for a way out of the world of cigs, spend some time researching the major e-cigarette brands available all the way down to local convenience stores and gas stations.

To help start your research, consider one major difference first. Open versus closed vape systems are distinctly different in key ways. Each of these terms pretty well establishes two different types of vaping experiences and their relevant components. In our guide here, we will help get you started on the path to understanding these key differences and what to expect when investing in a vape.


Simply put, open systems allow you to refill them, and include the most intricate and interchangeable parts. Open vape systems are those bulky mods people use – boxes, squonks, sticks, and anything that consists of a large battery and tank set up. Speaking on parts and pieces, here is a breakdown of what to expect from an open vape system.


Tank and Coil

The tank makes for an effective way to use whatever juice you’re most interested in. The versatility of an open system begins with the tank. Since these mod systems are refillable, users have control over flavor, strength, and mixture of your e-juice.

The coil, with a cotton or silica wick, soaks up the juice and heats, to disperse the vapor out the mouthpiece and through to your lungs. Different types of tank and coil combinations let you decide how to micromanage your e-juice intake. Rebuildable Atomizers (RBAs), Rebuildable Drip Atomizers (RDAs), or some of the simpler, more common components now, there are various tank parts available for different vape enthusiasts out there.

  • Atomizers are small tanks, needing frequent refills. Atomizers also use a mesh to heat the juice. The mesh burns out more quickly than other wicks or heating elements. The upshot to an atomizer is it offers big hits with intense flavor. Some of the different sub-types of atomizers include the previously mentioned RDAs and RBAs, as well as RTAs and RTBAs. When building an atomizer you can use a variety of different types of wire. The most common material for wires in these types of atomizers is kanthal. Builders can use other types of wire such as stainless steel, nichrome, titanium, nickel, or even a bespoke combination of different types of wire.
  • Cartomizers have a slightly larger capacity tank for larger quantities of e-liquid and are disposable. Cartomizers also often use silica or cotton wicks, versus the heated mesh of the atomizer.
  • Clearomizers have a wick that allows for a longer, smoother breath in when soaking up juice. These are the newest, and now most widespread tank types now. A wick in the clearomizer soaks up the juice from in the plastic or glass tank. They are popular because the clear tank allows users to see the level of juice in the tank, and how efficiently wicks are working.


Batteries for open systems can be variable or constant voltage. What voltage works best will depend on a couple of factors, most importantly the resistance (in Ohms) of your atomizer, cartomizer, or clearomizer. Within range, up to the limit, the other vital aspect will be how heavy you want the mod to hit, or how often you want to refill the tank. Hit strength and refill frequency are closely linked, as the stronger the hit, the more juice you’re likely to use.

Most times, mod batteries are enclosed and cannot be changed out. They usually charge via a micro-usb to usb adapter. Some customizable or more technical mod kits do include the option to swap out batteries. But, these are not recommended for starting users. Because of the power of these mods, they often take a few hours to fully charge, but they last about a day with moderate use before needing to recharge.

filling a vape tank
Refillable tanks succinctly define open systems.


Juice Options

There are a few specific benefits to open systems that have made them as popular as they are with both vape enthusiasts and regular users. One major benefit to open systems is the ability to choose your own e-juice flavor, and even nicotine strength. You get to decide what nicotine level (0mg, 3mg, 6mg, 12mg, and up), if any, is in your e-juice.

Vape liquid manufacturers produce a number of nicotine levels to accommodate users looking to eventually wean themselves off of the addiction. It’s a good idea, given that this is supposed to be the actual point of vapes existing on the market in the first place.

Flavors are abundant (you can even make your own if you’re so inclined). Delicious and intricate options from fruits, sweets, coffee, and so many more are available at local and online retailers. E-liquids usually come in a dropper bottle, to easily fit in and refill the tank. An upshot from cigarettes, even menthol ones, lets you get a nicotine fix without having the scent of tobacco fill the room, or the car, or your breath.

Tank mods are also great for vaping CBD liquid, not just nicotine juice. If you use CBD and are looking to dedicate a device to just your cannabidiol supply, consider investing in a tank mod and a variable voltage box. You’ll have control over the temperature of the burn. A separate CBD tank also lets you decide if you want nicotine juice mixed in, or to vape each independently for their own purposes.

Customize and Build

As we noted above, there are a few working parts of open system vapes. Another benefit, in regards to control, is the ability to customize your setup. You can mix and match pieces, since most of them screw together easily and are manufactured to work together. Tanks will screw onto pretty much any mod or battery component. Be mindful of the battery output, though. Always read the recommended Ohms/Voltage for the coil. Either use a battery with the suggested output range, or if your mod is variable, adjust it accordingly.

If you do get into DIY, you can modify, build, or rebuild your own components. The most common piece that vape enthusiasts learn to build is the coil. Rebuilding coils allows you to save money and waste by repacking the wick into the same metallic chamber. It is a process with a learning curve, like any new activity, but if you’re tenacious and inclined, there are plenty of tutorials and resources online to guide you.

‘Fat Clouds’

If you’re into the gimmicky, kitschy, or novel aspects of vaping, open systems are the right investment. Looking to blow huge plumes of vapor that fill a room, block out light, and swirl and surround you? Build an open mod system. Want to learn vape tricks? Put together one of these kits. Be mindful, though, not everyone will be amused by a room full of ‘not smoke.’

Control vapor plumes easily from the airflow hole in the tank. Don’t want to annoy everyone around you with your huge lung capacity? Adjust the airflow valve and thin out the vapor cloud. It will dissipate quicker and be less of an opaque, fluffy, white mass.

Leaking vape tank
Tank mods are not without their problems, like leaking and spitting.


Just as the open system option comes with plenty of good reasons to invest, there are some reasons it may not be right for you. Before committing to this purchase, be careful of some of the specific drawbacks or reasons it may not be the right system for you.


Unless you want to DIY and learn to build your own, you’ll have to get coils to change out, manage voltage rates with a variable mod, and need to know how everything fits together. If you do want to get into the DIY aspect, that comes with its own level of intricacy and hands-on effort. Open systems can be fairly simple if you buy, set, and forget the device. Taking the learning curve slow is a sure way to get familiar and comfortable, but it is easy to become overwhelmed at the sheer amount of pieces, mechanics, and electrical knowledge you may see available in regards to these systems.

Shape and Size

Open system mods are bigger, more cumbersome, and potentially more dangerous because of the size of batteries and glass components. Sure, there are carrying cases, and ways to transport bigger mods without it feeling like too much. But, really, if you are looking for something to pick up and pocket easily, or throw into a purse or bag, open systems are largely (no pun intended) not the way to go.

There are a few exceptions, and some manufacturers have options for open systems that look and feel similar to the e-cig market and the small, popular pod vapes. The Smok Fit is an example of an open vape system that works like a Juul or other closed pod vape. It comes with a small refillable tank, but is not nearly as bulky or technically-oriented as most of Smok’s other devices. For now, small open systems are the exception, not the rule.

Expense and Investment

Open vape systems don’t have to break the bank, though. You can get started with great beginner kits that include every major component you’ll need. I originally spent $50 to get my starter kit, which came with a tank and coil, back up coil, the mod, and a charging cable. I spent another $20 on my first 60ml of 6mg e-juice – which lasted me 3 months. Since the initial $50 investment, I spend about $20-30 every couple of months on juices to stay stocked and have some variety.

Your mileage may vary. If you become highly interested in having a few mods sitting around for various purposes, or for different voltage options, etc. you may start looking into what it would take to buy a few. Realistically, to save in that aspect, it may make the most sense to grab a variable voltage mod and purchase a few different tanks (maybe even some that use different size coils). Swapping out tanks and coils with an adjustable mod is perhaps the most viable way to make a decent investment without going overboard on spending.

Throat Hits and Tank Spits

If you’re not careful, an open system mod can hit pretty harshly. All the variables we discussed above need to be carefully managed to get the right hit. The wick could be too dry or not primed. Maybe you haven’t adjusted the airflow properly. Perhaps the battery is not powerful enough, or too powerful. All of these can cause potential pitfalls to using an open system.

If you’re pulling too hard (inhaling too intensely) you could also draw some of the liquid up through the mouthpiece. This is kind of gross, honestly, and is certainly not the desired way to get the nicotine or juice into your system. If your tank is leaking, or spitting, make sure everything is tightened correctly, that all grommets are secure and not torn, and consider easing up on your inhale. If nothing fixes it, you likely have a leak somewhere and will have to replace a grommet or a part in general. That can be cumbersome and a nuisance if you’re not familiar with the parts yet.


Looking for a good starter kit? Check out our review of the best mod starter kits here.

Not new to vaping? Want to take it to the next level? Take a look at our review of the Aspire Platinum Sub-Ohm Starter Kit here.

We list and update reviews on our website to help you make an informed and comfortable decision. Check out our review section here.

Already have a mod? Need some extra tanks for all those flavors you bought? Don’t worry, we got that covered, too. Take a look at our tank review page here to make a smart purchase.

Need a good juice supplier for all these new tank mods you just bought? Take a look at our coupon code for Mt. Baker Vapor. Stock up on some of their delicious vape juice flavors here.

SMOK Mag Kit
SMOK makes some of the most beautiful – and sturdy – tank mods on the market.


The big difference for closed vape systems is that they are not (supposed to be) refillable. All the major components are still there. The heating unit is a somewhat smaller version of the battery/mod component of its open counterpart. Instead of a tank, however, you get a disposable cartridge or pod. They charge with a usb dock or cable. Simple. Effective. The simplicity of closed vape systems – and the disposable nature of our consumer habits – are why these devices are growing considerably in popularity across the US.



Juice cartridges, or pods as they’re more typically called, are a key aspect. They give pod and pen vapes distinction. Pod vapes and pen vapes with screw-on cartridges have popularized the easy, on the go vape habit. They are much smaller than the tanks on open systems. Users can buy CBD cartridges for their pen vapes, as well. No matter the system, your device isn’t just for that nicotine fix anymore.

To offset their size, manufacturers have taken to using nicotine salt versus the ‘freebase’ nicotine in traditional juices. Nicotine salts allow for a higher concentration in a smaller amount of liquid. This means you can get the effect of smoking a full cigarette off of just a few puffs on a pod or pen vape.

Heating Unit

The heating unit, as it’s often referred, is a smaller version of a mod or battery pack. It is able to deliver the right power to heat the small cartridges, and no more. A pod vape or a cigalike should not overheat. If it is, there is likely something internally malfunctioning. Instead of a button press, you can simply inhale most pod vapes to kick the heating element into gear. So, the process of using a pod vape or a pen vape is made as simple and easy to pick up and use as possible. Some pen vapes still have a button, but overall these devices are not designed to be modified or made complex.


Like the charging units on open systems, closed system vapes use a usb connection. Cables consist usually of a dock with the usb port on it, or sometimes a small length of cable between the port and the dock. Many popular pod vape brands employ magnets to keep devices securely docked.


Simple and Disposable

The most appealing factor of these vapes is likely their simplicity. Manufacturers made these devices for users who don’t want to mess around with bulky, technical mods, or refill tanks and deal with any messes. Engineers designed pod and pen vapes for users to pick up, puff on, and place back down all quickly and easily. You can even completely throw away some e-cigarettes once they are empty.

Disposable cartridges – or pods – are one of the defining characteristics of closed vape systems. The heating element is usually the part you keep, nowadays. Unlike the traditional tank system, pod and pen vapes have single-use, tossable nicotine containers. They are small in size, use high-concentration nicotine salt in the juice, and click easily in and out of the heating unit.

Nicotine Salt

Speaking of nicotine salts, let’s discuss how this recipe differs from the ‘freebase’ nicotine of other e-juices. First, there’s the throat hit. Inhale properly (read: slow and steady). You won’t get the burning sensation in your throat, and will get a smooth hit similar to a cigarette.

It’s not just the hit that draws people to using these closed system vapes. Pod and pen vapes often only require a couple of puffs to get the amount of nicotine and the same fix as smoking a whole tobacco cigarette. The e-juices in these pods come, too, with a fraction of the carcinogens of combustible cigarettes. Simple, closed system devices are definitely for people looking to make a transition away from smoking without feeling like they’re entering totally unfamiliar territory. Pick up the small, sleek devices for a quick fix, and for a similar sense of oral fixation as well.

After those couple of puffs, toss your pod vape or e-cigarette into a purse or a pocket. These are not cumbersome or weighty. another aspect that makes them a common decision for first-time vapers. Cigalikes easily fit in the palm of the hand. Using them feels strikingly similar to pulling a cigarette to the mouth. Only has a small LED on the device lights up during inhale and while charging.

Juul with pods
Juul is a closed vape system. Pods are not designed to be refilled.


Easily Lost

Again, they’re small. So, their size makes concealing pod vapes and pen vapes easier. Yet, they are also easier to lose. If the vape slips out of your pocket, or falls out of your purse, it could potentially be gone for good, if you’re not aware until much later. Keeping track of smaller, closed system vapes is important, given their size and popularity with youth. Someone else could easily pick it up and walk away to use it for themselves, at least until Juul releases their new pod vape with Bluetooth paired to your mobile device.

Pods as Expense

Since pods are not designed to be refilled, be ready to buy pods regularly, much like a pack of cigarettes. Depending on your habits, and your schedule to reduce nicotine intake and/or quit, you may be using up to a pod a day (nicotine amounts to about a pack per pod, in milligrams).

Waste Makes Waste

Using all those pods and not refilling them means a lot of plastic waste. Empty pods can quickly clutter a desk or a drawer or any other area you might toss them when they’re empty. The more popular pod vapes become, and the more people who use them, the more pods will be trashed and contribute to the already horrible waste problems we have.

Youth Attraction

All the benefits of pod vapes make them trendy new devices for younger users, much like cigarettes were 30 or so years ago. They’re sleek, futuristic, easy to conceal (from teachers and parents), leave no bad odor or breath, and highly addictive. The FDA and pod vape manufacturers are currently addressing the ‘epidemic’ levels e-cigarettes like these have risen to in the teen demographic.


We have reviews of some of the most popular pod vape brands commercially available. You can find some of these at your local corner store, tobacco shack, or gas station. Or, buy them direct from the manufacturer online. Check out our review of the best mini pod vapes and e-cigarettes here.

Maybe you’re more interested in a good pen vape? We’ve also got you covered there. Some pen vapes can easily burn wax, or dry herb just as they can burn liquid nicotine. No matter your need, check out our list of good pen vapes available here.

We offer great discount codes on some of the best pod vape and e-cigarette brands on the market. Want to save a little money on your first investment? That was rhetorical, of course you do. Check out our discounts and set yourself up with a sweet little device here.

Two of the most popular pod vapes available are Juul and Phix. We did a side-by-side of the devices here.


Whatever you decide for your vape, make sure it’s at your comfort level. If you’re new to vaping, or coming from cigarettes, you might find it easier – financially at least – to start simple. Perhaps start with a cheap closed system. Cigalikes and pod vapes are a great way to ease into the vaping community and the activity itself. They are, by and large, cheaper and more comfortable to use without having to know a lot of the technical side of things.

You might spend some time looking into the technology, and the community, and decide to get serious about vaping. I recommend, then, you take a trip over to your local vape shop. Talk with some experts, and see how you feel about the technology of an open system when it’s in front of you. Get a feel for and play with different systems.

Decide what you want out of it – Put in the time to decide what works best. After doing the research, and knowing your desired level of financial investment, make a decision and try something out. If nothing else, start small and grow from there. You have even some open system options with negligibly higher cost for what you get. Keep in mind ongoing investment costs and your hopeful value from investment. If you’re already interested in vape activity and community and want to dive in, let your budget be your guide.

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