It’s an exciting day today! Having moved up from the one-hitter, onto a personal pipe, maybe you even stopped to dip your toes in the bong water with a dinky corner store water pipe--but today is the day you step up to top-notch quality with all the elements required for clean, precise inhales at your own preferred power level. (Which may or may not be the same knockout delivery of your Deadhead neighbor’s best bongs!) Once we break it down with all the most important features, we’ll also touch upon some ways of making your pipes last, enhancing pipes with attachments, and even some one-of-a-kind collections for inspiration.
Here’s a basic breakdown of features to consider when buying a bong:
Durability & Stability
Percolators & Cooling Power
Brand Reputation & Aesthetic
Is bigger always better? Not necessarily, but sometimes. This is the one part where you really have to tune into you to establish your needs. Here are a couple questions you might want to ask yourself:
Where will you store it? Does it need to fit on a bookshelf, cabinet, or can it get as massive as you like, shining like a gem on the coffee table?
What activities do you like to do post-smoke? While Netflix-binges can take it to the max, if you’re new to the water pipe game you may want to be conscious of what size will allow you to enhance your day’s plans versus keeping you strapped to the couch. (Particularly active personalities may also want to consider a vaporizer as an alternative for on the go--here’s a vape buyer’s guide for more info.)
What size inhale is most comfortable for you? It’s a pretty direct correlation between the height of your device and extent of the draw required to clear it. Some people have Herculean lungs, others don’t mind a second puff to get the job done, but most prefer one seamless experience.
Do you have a general idea of the chamber size you’re looking for in mind? Okay, now add a couple inches for growth--cause you will get the hang of it and don’t want to find yourself getting bored with your new pipe too soon.
Now that you’ve established a size range, pull out a ruler or other item you know is about the size you’re looking for to use for comparison as you shop online. Shopping for bongs online has a pretty endless list of pros from personal privacy to having the time to deliberate without a guy behind the counter impatiently waiting for your decision. The con, on the other hand, is that as hard as a brand tries to accurately convey size through photographs, sometimes a gargantuan pipe can come off as tiny and vice versa. Comparing the measurements listed to a ruler as you browse will make sure you don’t end up going through the hassle of a return.
One final note on size: if you’re going for a more personal size, about 12 inches or less, consider a pipe with a splashguard so you don’t kill the mood with that oh-so-delicious bongwater flavor.
The Durability Factor
There are three ways to maximize durability:
Opting for borosilicate glass
Wide, stable bases
Let me share a bittersweet story about breakage with you: My S.O. and I invested in a perfectly affordable 20-inch inline bong well over two years ago. It’s been dropped onto hardwood, knocked over by pets, and badly handled by butterfinger friends. Still standing strong without even a crack, the only sign of wear has been the grimy buildup accumulating at the hard-to-reach inline perc (we’ll get to The Cleanability Factor below!). So, I decided to stop at the corner smoke shop to buy a sparkling new bong. In the end, I spent more money on an extra-cute design that my cat broke the very. next. day.
So let this be a PSA to first-time bong buyers: durability is key! It’s a factor that’s easy to talk yourself out of even after decades of experience, but never fails to hold true. The main difference between the bong that never dies and the one-day lifespan of the new one was borosilicate glass. In fact, borosilicate glass is such an integral element of high-quality pipe construction that we’ve given it an entire article of its own. Think Pyrex in it’s ability to keep up with rapid temperature changes and solid hefty feel. It used to be the case that you had to sacrifice all the fun stuff on a pipe to afford borosilicate, but this is no longer the case in our golden age of pipe making. And remember: you can always upgrade a basic but durable bong with fancy attachments (below).
While premium glass is the most significant element in the lifespan of a water pipe, there are other ways to maximize durability.
Beaker bases and flared bases are features that will stabilize your pipe against topples. (Think weeble-wobble.) Beaker bases also increase water filtration by extending the surface area of the water for your smoke to bubble through. Flared bases, on the other hand, are most commonly found on straight stem or inline silhouettes that create a sturdy foot for the pipe to stand on--the wider, the better.
Reinforced joints, also known as “Dewar’s joints,” add another level of breakage protection. These joints have a second bar between the slide and main chamber so if your bong takes a tumble the force of impact is lessened by distributing it between two points instead of one.
Base designs and two-pronged joints work best when paired with borosilicate glass, however. Consider a pipe that has all three features a triple threat. The already-RIP pipe from my anecdote above did, in fact, have a flared base and Dewar’s joint. But because the glass was so weak, it broke just above the second joint just out of reach of the extra protection, rendering the entire water pipe useless. On the other hand, my borosilicate inline pipe has taken quite a few tumbles without a reinforced joint and is still standing strong.
The rising popularity of unbreakable silicone bongs is also well worth mentioning. Made from medical grade silicone, these pipes can roll up into the size of your palm without breaking (making it one of our beachside essentials). The only downside is they usually don’t include any extra percolation or compatible attachments.
The Percolation Factor
Percolators are those fun little enhancements that help bubble away toxins while making your inhales smooth and cool through diffusion. These come in single, double, or triple-perc silhouettes -- depending on your size and preference. They can also be seen in the slit design at the base of a downstem. Because there are so many kinds of percolators on the market, you can even mix and match!
Oddly enough, YouTube is a great resource for beginners. When you’ve narrowed down your options, it’s a good idea to watch some YouTubers give it a go, primarily for some IRL feedback on percolation. This is because sometimes the specs can appear impressively perfect, but the reality is that certain perc combos will make the resistance a bit too much (meaning your inhales will require an awful lot of effort compared to an easy, mellow draw).
Here are a few popular percolators that have a consistently high-quality reputation:
Something you’ll want to keep in mind as you’re getting wooed by perc power, is that the more percs the harder it will be to get in there and clean your device. You may want to keep your pipe unencumbered with just one or two diffusers and up the percolation factor with an attachment instead.
Not quite percolation, but to the same effect, is another term you should know: the recycler. An alternative way of cooling and soothing smoke is through this relatively new water pipe design. It works by continuously “cycling” your smoke between two chambers, often enhanced with some pretty cool percs as well.
The Cleanability Factor
Be honest with yourself here. If you’re the kind of person who goes to the hairdresser and gets a high-maintenance style that you end up just wearing a hat over til it grows out--opt for low maintenance. I, myself, envy my neat-freak friends who appear to have their own personal Cinderella crisply cleaning their pipes after every use while my own, well.. You know.
Your best bet to making pipes last as long as you’d like them to is by cleaning them regularly and changing your water as often as every use. For those of us who consider that a bit too idealistic, our best bet is a pipe that allows you to get in there for a good rubdown.
Some features that allow for deep cleaning are a removable downstem, maneuverable size, and a relatively simple silhouette (as compared to lots of nooks and crannies with complicated perc combos).
Another great option for keeping it low maintenance is to prevent buildup in the first place through an ash catcher attachment (next on our list).
Give your new pipe an extra boost with a variety of useful attachments that slide right into the joint. When picking out an “atty,” make sure you choose one with the same joint size (that “mm” measurement) and angle (usually 45 or 90 degrees). The purpose behind a bong attachment is to keep your pipe cleaner by trapping grime in an easier-to-maneuver-under-the-sink size, to amp up diffusion, and keep from getting bored of the same old design.
We briefly mentioned ash catchers for cleanability, but here’s the full breakdown. Ash catchers keep your device clean by trapping fallen ash before it can get into any tight crevices in your beloved new pipe. Many of them include capabilities beyond preventing grime, such as additional percolation.
When you’re looking to try out concentrates without committing to a fully-concentrate rig, try out a dome/nail bong attachment! (You may also be pleasantly surprised by the number of quality dual-function water pipes now hitting the scene!)
These attachments add an extra level of cooling power as a first-stop station on your pipe. Pre-coolers can be recyclers, additional percs, or both! They range from minimalist designs to over-the-top silhouettes that really get enthusiasts drooling.
Sometimes built-in and sometimes seen as an adapter, an impressive way of increasing cooling power is glycerin. You can store these right in your freezer to pop back on for an exhilarating inhale without an ice-catcher.
If the idea of mixing and matching paired with easy-to-clean maneuverability gets you excited, Grav Labs’ (borosilicate) STAX collection is definitely worth checking out. These build-your-own bongs allow for the superior customization and allow you to have a massive pipe when you want, or a more personal size when you don’t! Basically, you’ll never get bored and the pieces break away at all the places a pipe usually becomes hardest to keep clean.
Brand Reputation & Aesthetic
After all of these considerations (size, durability, percs, and cleanability) it comes down to brand reputation and which aesthetic you like best! While we love to support up-and-comers, your first foray into investing in a quality bong is probably not the best time to test out new brands. There is usually good reason that certain brands have become household names--whether for construction quality, unique innovation, or both! Grav Labs is a perfect example of a company that tried-and-true smokers continue to stand by for both their impressively simple yet top-notch silhouettes as well as their talk-of-the-town collaborations, like the blue infused Jane West Collection or next level Upline Collection.
The result of buying well-established brands comes down to durability and flawless joint construction that won’t waste your dry herbs on smoke slipping through the seams.
Not so bad, right? Now that you have a good idea of all the most important features you can have fun scrolling through your options!