Packing a Pipe

Proper packing of a pipe is crucial for maximum performance and enjoyment. It is often one of the most frustrating and complicated aspects of pipe smoking, especially for beginners. We are going to go over the most common packing methods and provide you with some tips to make packing your pipe effortless. 

One thing to remember is that you want the tobacco to burn from top to bottom, all the way to the bottom of the bowl. In order to accomplish this, the top layers of tobacco must make contact with the lower layers so that tobacco ignites and burns throughout. You need make sure that the tobacco and flame can "breathe." If the pipe is packed too tightly, it will not burn. Conversely, if it is packed to lightly the lower layers of tobacco will not ignite or burn evenly. 

Three Layer  Method

The Three Layer Method is probably the most common method of packing a pipe. To begin, take a pinch of tobacco and drop it into the bowl (known as gravity feeding). Fill the bowl to the top until it is slightly overfilled. Then, press down lightly until the tobacco is appears approximately half-full. Next, fill the bowl again with another pinch of tobacco. This time push it down a little firmer until it is approximately 2/3 full. Finally, take one more pinch and overfill the bowl. Push the tobacco down firmly. The packed bowl should be "springy" to the touch.  

The "Handshake"

One way a determining how hard to push down on each layer of tobacco when using the Three Layer Method is by applying the handshake technique. Basically, the first time you press down on the tobacco you should do it with the force with which you would shake a child's hand. The second press should be with the force that you would shake a woman's hand. The third press should use the same force with which you would shake a man's hand. 

Two Layer Method

The Two Layer Method is essentially a hybrid of the stand Three Layer approach. Instead of filling the pipe with three layers, you only fill the bowl twice. To begin, take enough tobacco to fill approximately 1/2 of the bowl.  Push the tobacco halfway down the bowl. Take a second pinch of tobacco to fill the remaining 1/2 of the bowl and push it down firmly. The packed bowl should be "springy" to the touch.  

The Scoop Method

The scoop method, sometimes called the "stuff and puff", is a packing technique used primarily by experienced pipe smokers. With this approach, pipe smokers dip their pipe into a bag or jar of tobacco and scoop tobacco into the bowl. They use their finger to push the tobacco down into the bowl.  This method takes a fair amount of practice to perfect and is probably something that beginners should stay away from. Once you have the bowl loaded, test the draw.  If it is too tight you may have to empty and reload. 

The Twist Method

The twist (which does not involve dancing while packing the pipe) is a method of packing where you take a bowl's worth of tobacco and roll it into a plug or twist of tobacco. You then twist the plug into the bowl and light as usual. This is not my favorite method, but when done correctly, most tobaccos will burn nicely throughout the bowl. 

The Draw

So, how do you know if you packed your pipe properly? Elementary, my dear pipe smoker - test the draw.  The draw is bascially the pulling in of smoke into your mouth from the pipe. You want the draw to feel like sucking soda out of a straw. If the draw is either too light or too tight your smoking experience will be sub par at best and totally frustrating at worst. 


While most people use the Three Layer Method to pack their pipes, there is not wrong way to do it so long as the tobacco smokes cool, evenly, and completely. The bottom line is that if it works for you, it is the right was to do it. Personally, I use the Three Layer Method and the Scoop. You have to experiment and find what works best for you. 

Remember, smoking a pipe is an art. Packing the  pipe is part of the process and should not be rushed. Sometimes you may have to pack, empty, and re-pack the bowl if the draw is not correct and that's OK. You should enjoy the ritual of packing your pipe. Picture yourself sitting in Dr. Watson's chair, carefully and delicately loading tobacco into your briar as Sherlock Holmes explains how his powers of deduction helped him solve his latest case.