I've never had any trouble with nichrome, but Kanthal is tougher, doesn't break or pop as easily. The Kanthal ribbon wire works really well. I like the .4x.1mm stuff.
I like a sleeved mesh wick a lot. They can handle a lot of power. Get the wraps tight if you do one. If you pull on each end of the heating wire with some needle nose pliers before tightening the terminal, that will do it.
The hollow Ekowool silica may be a cheap and easy material to use for sleeving a mesh wick. I've been using Nextel which is a silica variant, but the stuff is hard to get and not particualraly cheap. It also has to be heat treated first.