Hookah vs. Bong: What’s the Difference?
Bongs and hookahs may seem like very similar items, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are a lot of similarities between a hookah and a bong, sure, but they are also very different smoking pipes, and understanding these differences can help you get the best smoke sessions possible.
After all, knowing a little more about your favourite smoking devices might help you save the day at a party or kickback one day. Be the person who can save the day and learn what really separates bongs from hookahs.
Here is your guide to understanding the differences and similarities between hookahs and bongs.
What Is a Bong?
Bongs are a type of water pipe that can be used to smoke tobacco and other smokeables.
A water pipe is any type of smoking device that uses water in its filtration system. This serves two purposes, first to cool the smoke and second to filter out debris and toxins from the smoke. The effectiveness of water pipes to filter out debris and toxins is debatable, but the cooler smoke does serve to lessen lung damage from heat.
A bong consists of a stem, downstem, and a bowl. The bowl is a very small bowl, typically consisting of enough smokeable for one or two people to smoke in 4-5 hits.
You smoke a bong by placing your mouth into the top of the stem, sealing it against your face, and then lighting the bowl with a match or lighter. You inhale, remove the bowl when ready, and inhale the smoke in the bong.
It is a very simple process that achieves its purpose and delivers thick, heavy, cool clouds of smoke.
What Is a Hookah?
Hookah pipes have been around for hundreds of years, first originating in India and the surrounding areas, and spreading throughout the middle east. They now find worldwide appeal, featuring heavily now in the United States.
Hookah pipes are another form of water pipe, but one that is slightly more complicated in nature, with more pieces involved.
Resting atop the pipe is the bowl, which is typically much larger than a bong bowl. These bowls could hold ten times as much as a bong bowl, or more for extra large hookahs.
The bowl rests directly atop the stem, which leads into the vase area which is where the water is located. The downstem comes out of the stem and rests one inch deep in the water in the vase.
In the vase base of the hookah, above the waterline, there is also a spout that comes out and connects to the hose.
To use the hookah, you place coals on top of the bowl, which is filled with hookah-specific tobacco called shisha, and inhale through the hose to bake the smokeables in the bowl, which is pulled through the stem into the vase where it bubbles through the water, and finally flows through the hose and into your mouth and lungs.
What Are the Similarities Between Hookahs and Bongs?
Both hookahs and bongs are types of waterpipe, meaning they are smoking devices designed to use water as a filtration system for the smoke. This serves mostly to cool down the smoke, which can make it thicker, smoother, overall more pleasant to smoke.
Another similarity is the use of a bowl to hold the smokeables that you are smoking in that particular smoke session. Both a hookah and a bong use a bowl.
Other than that, however, bongs and hookahs couldn’t be more different.
What Are the Differences Between Bongs and Hookahs?
Let's start with the fact that hookahs are much more complex than bongs. Bongs are relatively simple and are typically only two or three separate pieces. Hookahs, on the other hand, are at least a half a dozen pieces or more total.
Bongs and hookahs also use different methods of producing smoke. Bongs are typical of other types of pipes, using combustion as the method for producing smoke.
This is done by lighting your smokeable on fire, inhaling the smoke that burns off. This smoke is often at an incredibly high temperature when combusting, which can lead to hotter smoke and more toxins in the smoke.
Hookahs use vaporization rather than combustion. Instead of lighting the actual smokable on fire, hookahs use the heat of burning coals to essentially cook the smokeables, producing a much cooler smoke that is then cooled further by the water.
Another difference is what you smoke. In a bong, you would smoke dry marijuana, or dry tobacco leaf. But in a hookah, you almost always smoke shisha, a wet flavoured form of tobacco leaf made with molasses, glycerin and sometimes honey as well as flavorings, like the famous Double Apple.
The final difference is the hose versus the top of the stem. When smoking from a bong, you place your mouth and lips at the top of the stem, sucking in to light the bowl and inhale smoke. With a hookah, you use a hose, attached to the base, and the bowl rests atop the stem instead.
What Do These Differences Mean When Smoking?
After all those differences, what does that actually mean for smoking and optimizing the experience between bongs and hookahs?
First things first, the length of your session will be different. Smoking a bowl out of a bong takes a few minutes. But a single hookah session could last an hour or more depending on the size of your hookah bowl.
The flavor of your smoke will change as well. Shisha is highly flavored, and can taste like mint, fruit, desserts, and all sorts of things. Bong smoke, however, will almost only ever taste like smoke.
You also need to pay more attention to how your heat source for your hookah compared to your bong. Since you are combusting your smokeables with the bong, you don’t need exact precision. With a hookah, your coals will be lit on top for an hour or longer, requiring you to move and flip them to try and keep the heat even and spread out. (You can also invest in a heat management device to handle this problem for you!).