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Hosting or attending a picnic? Here's everything you need

Make your outdoor dining experience more enjoyable with expert guidance on the gear you need, the food to eat and where to set up your spread.
Not sure what you really need for a picnic? Experts say a great blanket, a basket for all your stuff and reusable dinnerware can elevate your experience.
Not sure what you really need for a picnic? Experts say a great blanket, a basket for all your stuff and reusable dinnerware can elevate your experience. fotostorm / Getty Images

When the weather is warm, there’s nothing quite like packing some food and heading out for a picnic. Whether you’re in a park or at the beach, dining on a blanket can feel carefree and fun. “Picnics are great because they get people outside, into nature and connected to people they love. It’s the quintessential quality time activity,” says Lauren Kimmons, who hosts large and small picnics in San Diego through her company Pop Up Picnic Co.

SKIP AHEAD Our top picks | How we picked the essentials you need for a picnic | Top-rated picnic essentials | What types of foods are best for a picnic? | Where are the best places for a picnic?

To enjoy a meal outside, you don’t need much — you can absolutely plop on the ground and eat. But to truly be comfortable and make the entire experience more enjoyable, there are some items that can help. We spoke to experts to get their favorite picnic essentials.

Our top picks

How we picked the essentials you need for a picnic

When going on a picnic, there’s not much you have to have — really, you just need a place to sit and some food. But there are plenty of nice-to-have items that can make your experience more comfortable — so you’re not balancing paper plates on your knees while sitting on the damp ground. We consulted experts, who shared a list of items can enhance your picnic-going experience:

  • A picnic blanket: If there is one thing every picnic needs (other than food), it’s a blanket, says Kimmons. It keeps your clothes from getting dirty while you’re sitting on the ground and makes everything feel a bit more cozy. As for what to look for? “You want it to be big enough that everyone has space to sit (or recline) and having a water-resistant option makes damp grass areas more comfortable,” says Kimmons.
  • Outdoor dinnerware: Experts we spoke with agreed that it’s best to avoid disposable dinnerware. Not only are reusable options more eco-friendly, they tend to be sturdier than paper plates or plastic forks. “Look for lightweight, unbreakable options like reusable plastic or bamboo dishes that are easy to pack and can be washed later,” says Candace Perez, owner of The Posh Picnic in Austin, Texas.
  • A basket or cooler: If you’ll be dining on perishable food during your picnic, you’ll want to transport it in a cooler to keep it cold. If you’ll be eating your food soon after preparing it or it’s non-perishable, you can stash it in a basket or bag. “How you transport your food really depends on what you are serving, how far you’ll be traveling and how many people you have — so keep all of those things in mind as you choose a basket or cooler,” says Perez.
  • Comfy extras: Want to go the extra mile to make your experience even more special? Experts recommend you consider items like umbrellas to provide shade, wagons to transport supplies and legless chairs that can give you back support if you’re sitting for long periods of time.

Top-rated picnic essentials

To help you shop for picnic essentials, we used guidance from our experts to gather top-rated options in all of the categories they suggested — including picnic blankets, dinnerware, coolers, baskets and comfy extras.

Picnic Blankets

Scuddles Extra Large Picnic Blanket

This picnic blanket lives in the trunk of my car. I pull it out for trips to the beach with my daughter as well as outdoor concerts and picnics at our local park. It’s water-resistant thanks to a vinyl backing, which means spilling a drink or sitting on it in a wet swimsuit is no big deal. My favorite part is the fact that it folds up, snaps closed and has a handle that makes it easy to carry from place to place. I have the 60-inch by 60-inch size, which is perfect for three to four people, but it also comes in a wide range of larger and smaller sizes.

Good Gain Waterproof Picnic Blanket

This blanket rolls up and has a top handle for transporting to your picnic spot. It is made from water-resistant fabric, plus it has a 4.7-star average from over 3,700 reviews on Amazon. It comes in 13 patterns (like grey stripe, red check, yellow flower and more). It measures 78 inches by 57 inches and is machine washable, according to the brand.

Yeti Lowlands Blanket

This outdoor blanket from Yeti, the company behind one of our favorite tumblers, is padded for comfort and has a water-resistant layer. It’s made of material that prevents dirt and pet hair from sticking to it, according to the brand. This blanket is 78 inches by 55 inches and comes in three colors — fireside red, smoke blue and canopy green. It also comes with a rectangular carrying case. This blanket has a 4.8-star average out of over 600 reviews on Yeti’s website.

Wandering Folk Topanga Picnic Blanket

Wandering Folk picnic blankets, which are made in Australia, are a favorite of Christine Thomas, founder of Maui Luxe Picnics. “I’m obsessed with them and have nearly every one they sell,” she says, noting that they come in fun patterns and are nice and big. This cotton canvas blanket has a paisley print, fringe trim and measures 64.5 inches by 57.9 inches.


Certified International Multicolor Talavera Melamine Dinner Plates

“I love melamine plates,” says Wendy Weston, founder of Perfect Picnic NYC. “They are light and easy, and you don't need to worry about them breaking.” This set comes with six 11-inch plates. They are dishwasher safe and BPA free, according to the brand. They have a 4.7-star average from over 500 reviews on Amazon.

Chic Leaf Palm Leaf Disposable Plates

While all our experts expressed a preference for reusable dinnerware, they did concede that sometimes disposable is necessary. “Disposable dishes can be convenient for picnics because they eliminate the need to carry heavy or fragile dishes and reduce the amount of cleanup afterward,” says Perez. “They are especially practical for larger picnics.” This set, which has a 4.7-star average from over 300 reviews on Amazon, comes with 50 six-inch plates. They are made out of palm leaves and are biodegradable, according to Chic Leaf.

Ydytop Reusable Travel Essentials Flatware

This set comes with four plastic flatware settings, each set in their own plastic case to keep your fork, knife and spoon clean. This item has a 4.7-star average out of over 1,150 reviews on Amazon. You can choose from a variety of colors — including wheat, blue, pink and more. The plastic is BPA-free, and the utensils and case are dishwasher safe, according to the brand.

Scandinovia Juice Glasses

Whether you are pouring wine, water or lemonade, these BPA-free plastic juice glasses can work well for a picnic. Because they are on the smaller side, you don't risk a big spill should one tip over on your blanket. They have a 4.7-star average from over 3,700 reviews on Amazon. You can choose from a multicolor set or an all orange or violet set.

Baskets and Coolers

Sunflora Picnic Backpack

“From a purely functional standpoint, a backpack is the best way to carry your picnic items because it frees up your hands to hike and is less strain than carrying a basket,” says Kimmons. This one from Sunflora comes packed with other picnic essentials, too. It’s available in 6 different colors, and you can choose either a 2-person or 4-person option. Strapped to the outside of the bag is a 58-inch-by-50-inch blanket and an insulated sleeve to keep a bottle of wine or water cold. If you unzip the large front pocket, you will find melamine plates, plastic wine glasses, stainless steel flatware, napkins and a small cutting board. There’s also a large insulated compartment to put your food. This backpack has a 4.8-star average from over 3,600 reviews on Amazon.

Allcamp Insulated Picnic Basket

A more traditional basket shape, this option has a full zipped closure and is fully insulated to help keep food hot or cold, according to the brand. It has a 4.7-star average from over 2,750 reviews on Amazon. Constructed of polyester canvas, this basket comes in six different patterns and colors— including blue stripe, rectangle blue white and jet black. Also nice: It folds flat, for easy storage in between uses, according to the brand.

Grizzly 15 Cooler

If you’re bringing lots of perishable food on your picnic or want to keep lots of drinks cold, consider a more traditional cooler. In our guide to the best coolers of 2023, Chef Jeremy Critchfield, owner of HuntChef, told us he uses and likes Grizzly coolers. This one has a silicone rubber gasket that traps cool air inside the cooler to help extend the life of the ice. It also has two carrying options: an adjustable shoulder strap and a stainless steel handle.

CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag

This was one of the more affordable options on our list of best coolers of 2023. It folds flat for easy storage, but its wire frame pops up when needed so you can fill it with up to 50 cans, according to the brand. It also has a built-in bottle opener, which means you have one less thing to remember to pack when picnicking on the beach or the park.

Comfy Extras

Sport-Brella Super-Brella SPF 50+ Sun and Rain Canopy Umbrella

“Depending on the weather, having shade or an umbrella is essential to protect yourself from the sun,” says Perez. This umbrella provides coverage eight feet in diameter and can be placed in the ground, or leaned on its side. It is made with UPF 50 polyester that blocks out both UVA and UVB rays, according to the brand. It has a 4.5-star average from more than 5,400 reviews on Amazon.

Mac Sports Collapsible Folding Wagon

“Sometimes getting all your stuff to the park is the hardest part,” says Weston. “So make sure you have a way to easily transport all your stuff — utility wagons are the best for this.” This one holds up to 150 pounds of goods, has traction wheels to easily maneuver over all kinds of terrain and it easily folds up to store when not in use, according to the brand. It has a 4.8-star average from over 44,800 reviews on Amazon and comes in seven different colors.

Unipride Beach Chair

Sitting unsupported for long periods of time may get uncomfortable. “It is so nice to have a legless chair on a picnic,” says Weston. “Unipride makes a great one. For me, it was a game-changer because it is easy to carry and elevates your entire experience.” This chair has a back rest and mat to sit on and folds up into a bag that you can toss on your shoulder. The back of the chair is also adjustable, allowing you to set it at different angles depending on how upright you want to be. There is also a zippered pocket on the back of the chair, which allows you to stash stuff you may not want on the ground, according to the brand.

What types of foods are best for a picnic?

Arguably, one of the most important parts of a picnic is the food. Try to avoid foods that will get messy or are tough to eat when not sitting at a proper table. “I highly recommend avoiding chocolate and red wine — in other words, foods and beverages that melt or stain,” says Perez. “You should also avoid overly messy or greasy items.” Instead, pack items that are tasty and can be eaten easily. “The best foods for a picnic are ones that are easy to transport, don’t require too much preparation and can be enjoyed outdoors,” adds Perez.

According to our experts, these foods are great for a picnic:

  • Sandwiches
  • Crudite
  • Charcuterie boards
  • Nuts
  • Fruits
  • Pretzels, popcorn, chips and crackers
  • Room temperature fried chicken
  • Pasta salad

Where are the best places for a picnic?

A park, beach or botanical garden all make for beautiful picnic spots. No matter where you decide to dine al fresco, there are some considerations you should keep in mind. Here’s what experts say to think about as you choose your spot:

  • Bathrooms: You’ll be eating and drinking, so proximity to a restroom is a must, says Kimmons. Before settling on a spot, make sure there is a restroom within easy walking distance. While you don’t want to be sitting right outside of a bathroom, you do want to be able to get to one easily should the need arise, she says.
  • Environmental conditions: If a spot has a gorgeous view but the ground is covered in rocks, you’re not going to be very comfortable sitting on it. Same goes if you’re in the blaring sun. And, if you’re picnicking on the beach, avoid sitting too close to the water, says Kimmons. “You don’t want the tide ruining your meal.” A good spot has level, smooth ground, some shade and coverage from wind, says Kimmons.
  • Privacy: If you’re planning a picnic, chances are you want to have some quality time with whoever is invited. That can be hard to do if you’re constantly being interrupted by too many people or cars around you. Find a spot that is off the beaten path so you have some privacy, says Kimmons. This means away from busy roads or walking trails, too, says Perez.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Why trust Select?

Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers topics like beauty, home and lifestyle. For this story, she interviewed four experts to gather their guidance on what to look for when shopping for picnic essentials.

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