A stoner’s guide to the perfect pipe

Ken Magri’s collection of portable cannabis pipes.

Ken Magri’s collection of portable cannabis pipes.

photo by ken magri / illustration by sarah hansel

I like to carry a pipe with me while running errands just in case the opportunity arises. A quick hit with a small pipe is much more discreet than sparking a joint.

After years of “research,” I still haven’t found that absolutely perfect carry-around pipe—but I do know what to look for. So with that in mind, here’s a few tips from a veteran toker.

The ideal portable pipe is compact, sits upright and draws easily, with a screen that fits tightly and a cover over the bowl. A device that’s easy to clean is also important. An added bonus is if the piece looks nice and feels good to the touch. Some materials like ceramic clay are too fragile for such daily use. Mick Sheldon, an artist based in Yolo County, made me a ceramic self-portrait pipe with a circular bowl that was shaped like artist’s mouth. I dropped it once and the stem broke. (Sorry, Sheldon.) Clay pipes can be durable like the one local artist Dan Samborski crafted for me three years back, but its smooth glaze finish made it impossible to anchor screens inside the bowl.

Glass is a beautiful material, especially the way it reflects light, and professional glass-blowing artist Jason Thiemann’s spoon pipes are portable works of art. His process starts with true glow-in-the-dark borosilicate glass that radiates under black light. But glass also breaks easily. Needless to say, my Thiemann pipe only makes special appearances.

A $6 silicone pipe from China came close to the ideal smoking vessel. With an unbreakable cover and reusable aluminum screen, it drew well and cleaned easily with hot water. Still, the pipe was so short it had the capability to light a mustache on fire. The silicone also felt odd and ultimately this cheap pipe lost its appeal.

As teenagers, before the advent of head shops, my friends and I made pipes from a simple resource: wood. Using three-sixteenths and half-inch drill bits, we’d drill a long hole across the length of the wood piece followed by a shallow hole down from the top. If the two holes connected, we had a pipe. We added faucet screens from the hardware store, and used folded paper and a rubber band to cover a packed bowl.

Recently, I discovered the “Genius Pipe” made from anodized aluminum. It’s split into two layers: A bottom with 2,000 tiny dimples inside, which cool and filter the smoke; and a sleek top layer that slides to cover the bowl. calls it a “no-cough” hit, while highlighting its convenience on its website:

“You can pack a bowl, put it in your pocket just like a phone and when you get to your destination it’s still packed.”

Sounds … well, genius. Except, its $80 price tag slowed me down. But then I saw Genius Pipe’s Stanley Mouse/Alton Kelley limited-edition pieces that features the psychedelic artists’ rose-covered skeleton of Grateful Dead fame. Price now meant nothing and I bought one for $120.

With a nice easy draw, the dimples worked well to prevent cough attacks. The cover slid smoothly, the screens fit tightly and cleaning with a little isopropyl alcohol was effortless. The Genius Pipe would be my recommendation for the perfect pipe, excluding the high price.

After all the online searches—and perhaps inspired by a bit of nostalgia—I stepped into my garage and took out my power tools. From some simple rosewood burl, I crafted a 4-inch pipe reminiscent of the one-hitters from my youth. I added an 89-cent, steel-rimmed screen complete with the familiar folded paper/rubber band cover. It was as perfect as any other, but way less expensive. Almost genius? I think so.