Rolling papers and Rodney Dangerfield have long had a lot in common: they didn’t get no respect.
But as marijuana’s cultural cachet has risen, so too have the quality and variety of smoking equipment. The humble rolling paper has been elevated to prestige level with Shine, a 24-k gold leafed paper that sells for $12 per sheet and, from what I hear, provides a premium smoking experience as the gold flakes off with the burn. Overall, rolling papers have gotten some upgrades by way of material, watermark print, glue, and presentation since they were first manufactured in 1700s Spain.
I recently dropped by a smoke shop in Northampton to purchase some rolling papers to see if there is any difference between brands or if they’re all pushing a lot of hype. The owner pulled out a binder book featuring the papers he sells — somewhere around 80 varieties. I purchased a dozen packs of 1¼ papers from some of the better known names in weed: Raw, Zig-Zag, E-Z Widers, Elements; as well as some funkier ones: Skunk, Glass, Randy’s.
My goal was to discover the best rolling paper on the market and, I also hoped I’d be able to say something like all papers made out of “this” are garbage, and only buy papers with “that” watermark on it. In the end, there are just too many variations in papers to be able to say such things, but I did discover which papers will make you look like a j-rolling expert, and which ones will make you look like a noob in front of your friends.
I judged papers in three categories: how it rolls, how it smokes, and whether I’d recommend it. (Possible points were -1 for bad, 0 for decent, and +1 for hell yeah.) For each paper, I rolled a straight joint using about ¾ of a gram of weed. I know a sloppily rolled joint can smoke like a crayon due to no fault of the paper, so I want to assure you my jay-skills are tight. As a point of whoa, I have rolled a successful cross-joint.
Here are the results, starting with the shittiest papers that I sampled and working all the way up to spliff heaven.
12. Zig-zag: You probably have a pack of these in your glove compartment right now. For decades Zigs have been the go-to rolling paper for people who want to smoke a joint, and don’t want to go to a head shop for paper selection. Zigs can be purchased at just about any convenience store/gas station for $1-$2 per pack. The curling bleached-out paper holds up well to the roll with its horizontal watermarks providing grip, but it smokes like an ash volcano. The flavor is harsh and the smoke stings my nose. Ash flakes off all over the place without a tap from my finger. As there are about 12 joints for me to smoke for this experiment. I stub it out.
Roll: -1 Smoke: -1 Recommend: -1
11. Randy’s: This was such a disappointment as I have some nostalgic memories of passing Randy’s around the audience at jam shows. Randy’s, established in the 1970s, sells a unique paper: it has a thin wire, kind of like a paperclip, running along the bottom. As the smoke burns the paper, the wire emerges and serves as a bendable roach clip. They’re the perfect papers for sharing — or that’s how I thought I remembered them. With Randy’s we have another bleached paper with the horizontal watermarks. It’s a heavy weight paper that makes rolling feel a little like origami and it took me three attempts to seal the thing. The smoke stabbed the back of my throat and tasted trashy. But the real disappointment was I got a dud paper: there was no wire in it. After I realized there was going to be no wire prize, I stubbed that sucker out.
Roll: -1 Smoke: -1 Recommend: -1
10. NETA: I couldn’t find much information on the branded New England Treatment Access papers sold at the Northampton medical marijuana dispensary of the same name. Made out of rice and lacking a watermark, these papers are a cruel joke to play on people just trying to take their meds. The paper is super light and smooth, yet grippy, which made rolling a little tricky. What really torpedos the NETA paper is that it doesn’t do a great job with air flow: the cherry is forever weak and the joint goes out on the regular. I relight it once and put it down when it goes out for a second time just halfway into the jay.
Roll: 0 Smoke: -1 Recommend: -1
9. OCB: These papers are French and they don’t have to explain themselves to the likes of me, apparently. I couldn’t find out much information on these papers, except for the salesman to say “people are loving them.” Again we’re working with the horizontal watermarks. The roll was nice and easy and produced a tight looking proper joint. However, the air flow was choked and it didn’t take long for the paper to start canoeing (that’s when one side of the joint burns, but not the other). I had to put the messy thing out of its misery.
Roll: 0 Smoke: -1 Recommend: -1
8. Skunk: My expectations for these papers were low. The Skunk brand produces flavored papers, which is not something I want, but figured I’d give it a shot anyway. I asked the guy behind the counter to surprise me and he chucked a “Hawaiian” flavored pack at me. Even though the pack was wrapped in plastic, I could smell the “tropical” scent of a new urinal cake oozing out. To my surprise, the paper was good quality. Instead of the traditional lines, Skunk uses a diamond pattern watermark in the hopes of creating a “more even burn.” As far as smoking it goes, the burn was good, it always had a strong bright cherry and the air flow was excellent, but I couldn’t smoke it. It tasted like I was sucking on a pink Sweet ‘N Low packet, or smoking one of those candy cigarettes you can only find in the roughest dollar stores.
Roll: +1 Smoke: -1 Recommend: -1
7. Glass: This see-through “paper” is made out of non-tree cellulose, so some kind of fibrous plant matter. Wrapping weed in what looks like a cigarette cellophane was not appealing. And I was concerned the joint would look like one of those clear Yeezy, thigh-high boots: they look hot as hell on, but as soon as you take a step the whole thing fills up with frothy foot sweat. I figured once I lit it my joint would look like a stick of tar. Rolling with the cellulose was difficult, there’s no watermark and no tactile texture to grip. There is no glue on Glass, because the whole thing is one sheet of glue, lick it anywhere and seal. The Glass joint lights well, and I was surprised at how not gross my smoking weed looked in the clear paper. There’s no added flavor and the smoke is mellow. I smoke about half the joint and it looked like I was smoking a shrivelled green bean. For a special occasion, it was kind of cool
Roll: -1 Smoke: 0 Recommend: +1
6. Irie: Made in China, these “European hemp” papers have no watermark and are easily forgettable. The paper was a bit heavier than a typical hemp leaf, which provided a little roughness. The hemp flavor you hope for when smoking a hemp paper, was not present.
Roll: 0 Smoke: 0 Recommend: 0
5. Juicy Jay: JJ makes rolling papers in dozens of flavors that sounded awful and slathered with cheap sugar — cotton candy, sour apple, peppermint stick. I chose the least objectionable flavor and took home my blueberry jays. The papers are adorable with little blueberries all over them and Juicy uses a unique watermark, more of a honeycomb than a diamond. The roll was easy enough, but the burn wasn’t totally clean. The joint got an edge on it, my guess is it was along the glue line. But the hits off it were smooth and the blueberry flavor mild. More than making the smoke taste good, it made it smell good, which enhanced the overall smoking experience. The air flow was less than desirable and the joint went out, but if you’re into flavored papers, go with Juicy Jay.
Roll: 0 Smoke: 0 Recommend +1
4. Elements: These Spanish-made rice papers focus on quality and, according to their overzealous packaging, really care about the environment. The packaging also has a magnet on it, which is cool because I lose a lot of papers to the box being open and getting dirty. Elements is made by the same company that produces Raw smoking papers, but they are very different products. The Elements paper is super thin and rolls effortlessly. When smoking, the paper produces no flavor and very little ash. More than with any other paper, I could taste the flavor of the marijuana. The joint canoed a bit, but I was able to fix it with ease. This was an appealing paper that I will use again.
Roll: 0 Smoke: 0 Recommend: +1
3. Raw: This is current king of rolling papers. If you’re smoking with a heady pothead, they’re probably going to pull out a pack of these. The company has a deal with rapper and mega weed enthusiast Wiz Khalifa that’s helping the company spread the leaves. I’ve been using Raws for about a year and didn’t really understand the hype until, this time around, I bought a pack of the unrefined Raw papers — and they were the shit. The brown, hemp papers have a diamond pattern watermark and a smooth gum. Rolling a jay with the paper was a little trickier than I had anticipated, I think the roughness of the unprocessed material got in the way a bit. But damn, it smokes like a nice dream. The hemp paper adds a subtle, deliciously earthy flavor to the weed. The burn and pull are wholly satisfying as the air flow through these papers is intense. The diamond pattern in the watermark seemed to harm the paper’s ability to burn evenly, but I think that may just have been because I was hitting it extra hard. Yum.
Roll: 0 Smoke: 0 Recommend: +1
2. E-Z Widers: What? Yes, the old school classic has taken the number two, best papers around spot. This dark horse surprise of a paper was a true soldier when it came to rolling and smoking. It did its damn job and did it well. E-Z Widers are dependable and can be purchased at gas stations and convenience stores making them super available. It has been a long time since I’ve bothered with E-Z Widers. I thought of them as the papers of my high school days, and upon reflection there’s good reason for that: these are beginner papers. The Belgian papers, by way of Kentucky, are super easy to roll with a glue that stays together. The air flow is decent and it produced a lot of ash when smoked, but the paper burned evenly and the cherry was at a good medium throughout.
Roll: +1 Smoke: +1 Recommend: 0
1. Bambu: This is my new rolling paper. One of the oldest cigarette papers still being manufactured. The company was founded in 1764, at first, to make Bible paper. Based in upstate New York, I couldn’t figure out what the paper is made of. Though it’s called Bambu, none of the company’s literature refers to bamboo in the papers. Anyway, this paper comes in a unique package that resembles a book of matches. This provides a vertical crease in the paper that creates a nice pocket for weed when you fold it horizontally to get your roll on. The paper feels smooth, and the watermark does have horizontal lines, but they are pressed closer together than what other papers are printing. The gum is dark brown, making it easy to find in the dark, and the paper is a medium weight. The best thing about the Bambu papers — which, by the way, are the same papers referenced in Cheech and Chong’s classic Big Bambu album — is how they smoke. Wow. The air flow is phenomenal, and the cherry is tight and hot, but doesn’t run down the paper until you take a draw. The hits are smooth, no flavor from the paper. The construction is solid and I never had to worry about whether my joint was going to go out. This jay gave me joy.
Roll: +1 Smoke: +1 Recommend: +1
Hope you enjoyed the recommendations, everyone! If you have any weed-type questions, send them my way. I’m putting together a column of reader questions for next week. Peace.
Kristin’s not here man, but you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.