Picnics are more than just a time to lay on the ground and eat some food outside. For some, it’s a chance to enjoy beautiful weather, see friends again or dip back into a feeling of childlike nostalgia.
“It is like, let’s pause a second instead of racing to the next thing,” says Wendy Weston, founder of Perfect Picnic NYC, which provides picnic experiences and grab-and-go items to NYC area locals.
Another picnic perk: You can have them pretty much anywhere. Whether you want to visit a beach, go to a park or just set up in your own backyard, the choice is all yours. “You get to pick a space that feels safe and inviting and fun to you,” says Monica Gray, owner of Southern Charm Picnic Co. based in Fairhope, Alabama. “It’s an opportunity for you to go out and enjoy the space that you like being in.”
So what exactly do you need to have a great picnic? Odds are you probably already own some of the essentials to get your picnic underway. We spoke with picnic planning experts to get you prepped for any kind of gathering, be it a casual last-minute affair or a special occasion with the people you want to celebrate most.
Blankets with a strap are great for travel, but how about one that folds up into a tote (with a pocket)? This water-wicking blanket from Food52 is also machine-washable, so stains and spills won’t get repeat invites to your picnics.
If you’re planning on using regular blankets from your home, try layering them with canvas tarps to maximize your lounge space and protect yourself from dirt and dew. “Creating a space that’s big enough for people to actually relax is key,” says Weston.
Camping and outdoor blankets can also act great for picnics since they’re designed to be durable, lightweight and resistant to the elements.
Wandering Folk Grandé Fleur Picnic Blanket
$150 at Wandering Folk
A picnic blanket that’s so beautiful you’ll want to use it everyday? This durable cotton canvas picnic blanket is one of Gray’s favorites, available in 10 different designs that each feature unique hand-drawn artwork.
Short Table Simple Setup Basic Short Table
Low tables are a big trend in modern picnics. This foldable wooden table is the perfect size for couples or small groups and adds another gathering point to your picnic space.
Lightweight and compact, this table folds up into a convenient carrying case for all your outdoor entertainment needs.
If a taller table suits you better, try out this folding camping table from Woods. Small but sturdy, this model is much easier to take to the park than your standard, plastic folding table.
There’s no right or wrong way to do a picnic. In fact, you don’t even definitely have to have a real table.“For the tables, you can do anything,” says Weston. “Wood crates and a piece of wood. It’s like, cover it and you’re good to go.” Plus, the crates can double as a carrying device for picnic supplies.
Perhaps as paramount as items like blankets and coolers is the picnic food itself. When it comes to planning your menu, think about foods you can assemble onsite or that won’t go bad quickly if left out.
Weston says things like cured meats, cheeses, olives and jams do well, as long as you keep the cheeses mostly in the shade. You can also never go wrong with fresh fruit — tasty and adds beautiful color to your display. “You can create an ideal picnic setting with just like two or three cheeses and then a good amount of fruit,” says Gray.
You also want to ensure that there is enough food for your entire party and that the food provided meets everyone’s palates. “Always consider what they like to eat, or what are their favorite foods or drinks, so that everyone can have something”, says Miriam Morales, owner of San Diego Picnics.
Weston is a big fan of using melamine picnic plates since they won’t break easily when packed in with all your other supplies. These dinner plates from Target have a raised rim so food stays on the plate and the earth-tone color palette means you can mix and match with bolder designs, like these Floral Appetizer Plates, to create a picnic set that’s entirely your own.
Baltique Marrakesh Collection 3-Piece Cheese & Charcuterie Tool Set
Serving utensils can often be the kind of thing that gets accidentally left at home, but they’ll make serving your favorite picnic snacks much easier. This Moroccan-inspired bamboo set is so vibrant that you’ll want to make sure everyone at your gathering sees it. Or if you’re more the subtle type, you can opt for this basic black serving set instead.
If you’re planning on indulging in some wine at your picnic, it’s essential to remember both wine glasses and a wine opener. Morales recommends insulated tumblers like these that come with lids, that way you prevent spills and avoid potentially ruining your favorite blanket. As for wine openers, we’d go with the Oxo Waiter’s Corkscrew, which we named the best wine opener of the year.
Napkins are one of those things that you’re bound to forget when you pack. You can easily wash and reuse these Ruvanti cloth napkins, plus they’ll help add a little extra pop of color to your picnic decor.
We love Stasher’s bags and they’re perfect for toting all your pre-prepped fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses and other healthy snacks. And you won’t have to worry about keeping track of any loose plastic bags that might blow away in the breeze.
If you’ve got leftovers to wrap up once your picnic day is over, consider using covers made with sustainable materials like these Bee’s Wraps.
When clean-up time comes, make sure you’ve brought at least one trusty trash bag with you. Even in public spaces, there might not be a trash can nearby, and there’s no guarantee the trash cans you do see won’t be full. “A lot of the trash cans get full really fast and then it spills over and then the animals come,” says Morales. “Take it with you home and then just throw it in your trash can at home.”
Picnic baskets & coolers
Whether you’re really going all out or just keeping it casual, Weston recommends a wagon to take the weight off your shoulders, literally. Plus, they’re versatile, especially if you find yourself traveling often by foot, so use them for groceries, outdoor entertaining and anything in between.
Weston prefers soft bag coolers like this one from Scout that are easy to carry or throw in a wagon but also let you pack and shove lots of items in.
Business & Pleasure The Premium Cooler Bag
$79 at Business & Pleasure
Both Gray and Morales said they scout Business & Pleasure for their own picnic products. You can grab tables, umbrellas and soft cooler bags like this one that are both functional and fashionable.
Ice is a necessity for keeping drinks and food cool. Gray uses ice sheets like these to prevent dealing with a melted mess, plus they can lie flat in your cooler or on your picnic table and support your food spreads.
If rounding up all the gear for your picnic sounds intimidating, just snag one of these pre-prepared picnic kits. With these kits “literally the only thing you will have to get is probably your food and your drinks,” says Morales. You can also find basket versions if you prefer a more classic picnic look.
Picnic accessories & activities
To add a little more jazz to your picnic setup, you can grab some parasols, which are also great if the sun decides to shine a little stronger. “They look super cute, but they are actually functional,” says Weston.
If you literally want to add a little more jazz to your picnic, use a speaker to set the vibe right. In our testing, the UE Boom 3 proved to be a Bluetooth speaker that provides great sound no matter where you take it.
“Decor is always great, but layering of items will elevate the picnic,” says Gray. Even just adding a colorful placemat or table runner will help make your picnic setup pop. And if you need to make sure it’s secure, you can use some museum gel or Command strips to keep things from blowing away.
“Any fresh flowers will take your picnic from it looking blah to looking so elegant and so nice,” says Gray. You can grab some from your local florist or even at the grocery store on the way to your picnic spot. Plus, they also help to make the event feel that much more special.
Old friends and new acquaintances alike can enjoy these Table Topics cards. They’ll help turn a casual get-together into a chance to get to know each other better.
If you’re looking to create deeper, more meaningful connections with someone, try these We’re Not Really Strangers cards, which feature three levels designed to get you to open up.
Games and activities are great tools for keeping kids occupied on long outings. Creative craft projects like these Make Your Own Trading Cards kits will keep your little ones from wandering off while you prep the rest of your setup. Adults can also get in the crafts with this more advanced painting project.
Antizer Flameless Candles LED Candles, 9-Pack
If you want to set the mood for a more romantic picnic, Morales recommends adding some candles to your decor. “If you can, get battery-operated candles so that there’s no accidents involved,” says Morales.
Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Sunscreen Spray
If you’re going to be outdoors, especially during the peak afternoon hours of spring and summer, sunscreen is essential for all members of your picnic party. With a lightweight and great-smelling formula, this Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen is our top pick for best sunscreen.
For particularly woody, grassy or humid areas, bug spray is a great idea for keeping pesky gnats and insects from spoiling your picnic. Our pick for best bug spray is this DEET-free repellent from Proven, which you can easily slide into your picnic basket or tote.