There are so many gadgets out there that are changing the way we smoke weed. Vapes, dab rigs, and more have turn lighting up into a whole new world for a lot of people, but sometimes you want that pure experience of packing a beautiful bowl and sharing it around the circle—puff, puff, pass style. Whether you’re a newbie looking for a full guide or an experienced smoker looking for a few tips, we can help you improve your bowl packing skills.

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Starts With a Grind

One of the cardinal offenses that new smokers commit is just throwing a full bud in the bowl or breaking it down into just a few pieces with your fingers. Marijuana releases cannabinoids, terpenes, and other chemicals as it burns, so you want to make sure the bud is able to burn all the way through, which it can’t do unless you break it down into fine particles.

A four-piece grinder, however, is the most comprehensive solution to the problem and should be included in any smoker’s stash. The top chamber features sharp teeth that grind the weed into fine particles so that it falls into the second chamber, which you open to pack your bowl. If you’re working with extra sticky weed, it’s a good idea to tap the side of the grinder with the cap to loosen any particles that have gotten stuck to the side.

Marijuana flower being ground up so it may be rolled into joint for smoking. iStock / HighGradeRoots
One of the most attractive qualities of the full grinder is the kief catcher. As you use your grinder more frequently, you’ll find the bottom chamber will accumulate more and more fine, yellow-green particles. These are resinous trichomes of cannabis that contain high THC concentration in very small, valuable particles known as kief. Many people insist that you can effectively break down your bud with your fingers.

With a little bit of effort, yes, you can get finer particles this way, but the problem is that bud is sticky—resin will inevitably get stuck to your fingers, and a lot of kief will get lost. If you’re looking for an effective but compact and discreet option, a grinder card may be your best bet. You place it on top of a container and grind the bud against the plate. It’s definitely not as good as a grinder because it’s a little messy and you’ll still get resin on your hands, but it gets the job done in a fix.

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Kief Control

Depending on the purity of the kief, it can reach up to 70% concentration of THC, as opposed to standard bud’s 12-25%. To pack an extra special bowl pack, sprinkle a little bit of kief on top of your bud for a stronger high. Be wary though, kief’s strength can produce an almost narcotic effect that could glue you to the couch or even send you straight to bed. To get the kief off the bottom chamber, you’ll need to scrape it off with something like a coin. If it’s extra sticky, you can put your grinder in the fridge or freezer so that the grinder will be cold, making it easier for the trichomes to detach from the metal.

Packing the Bowl

Lighly used bowl piece on a bong iStock / shanecotee
Once you’ve effectively ground your bud into small, even particles, you’re ready to pack your bowl. But you don’t want to just carelessly throw it in there. First, find a relatively thick stem or intact calyx to place at the bottom of the bowl to ensure the packed weed doesn’t fall through into the pipe. Otherwise, you’ll get a mouth full of Scooby Snacks. If you don’t want to deal with finding the perfect stem every time you smoke, you can invest in some screens. They’re extremely cheap and ensure premium airflow.

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Next, it’s time to add the bud! Most people pick up the weed from the grinder with their fingers and place it in the bowl, packing lightly from the bottom and packing a little tighter as the bowl gets more full. You can also fold up a piece of paper, place the bud from the grinder in the crease, and sort of pour it from the piece of paper into the bowl. This ensures a fast pack without any resin on the fingers but doesn’t allow you to control the density of the pack.

Lighting Up

Lighting up a bowl iStock / Sakkawokkie
People who are new to smoking out of a bowl may be confused by the carb, which is the little hole on the side of the bowl. When you light your bowl, you should have your thumb over the carb, then when you’re ready to clear the smoke out, lift your thumb and inhale.

Cleaning the Bowl

This is where even the most experienced smokers sometimes drop the ball. Sure, cleaning your bowl isn’t exactly your first instinct after you cash a bowl, but you do want to make sure you do it frequently to keep your pipe from getting grimy and clogged. This is easy to do if you keep a poker around to keep the pipe clear after every smoke session. Every once in a while, you’ll want to do a deeper clean by soaking the pipe in isopropyl alcohol for about 3 hours in a bag. If you routinely keep your pipe clear and stow it somewhere that it won’t collect particles, you should only have to do this occasionally.  You can also add salt or shake the bag to speed up the process.

Bowl Etiquette

If you’re using a bowl with friends, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure the session isn’t wasteful and everyone has a good time. Make sure not to pressure people into smoking more than they want to and, if you’re the host, you offer the first hit to a guest. Only light a small portion of the weed if you’re going first, as you don’t want to get too big of a hit and torch the bowl. The slow burn will be more pleasant and sustainable anyway, and you don’t want to be a bowl hog.

Weed Pipe iStock / Stefan Malloch
If you’ve heard the term “cherried” or "still rolling" that means that the bowl is sustaining a burn on its own. If the bowl is cherried, make sure the person you’re passing it to knows that. You’ll be able to tell because the weed will stay lit up after you’ve taken your hit. If you exhale with your mouth still on the pipe, the weed will fly out of the bowl and go everywhere. Take your mouth off the piece and blow away from it so as not to waste any green.