Everything You Need to Pack for the Perfect Picnic

Couple walking and laughing on coastal path with picnic hamper

Dougal Waters / Getty Images

One of the reasons that picnics are fun is that you are taking your party on the road, away from your home, but that also makes it tricky. That you won't be able to dash into your house to get the corkscrew you need to open that bottle of wine or the knife for cutting that wedge of cheese. But if you're organized and have a checklist, your picnic will be a delightful change of scenery from your dining room, restaurant, or your own backyard. Here are suggestions for items you'll want to pack for your next picnic.

A Picnic Basket, Hamper, Tote, Cooler, or Backpack

Whichever style you choose and whatever you call it, you need something to transport the food, the drinks, and the place settings. If your picnic food isn't perishable and you will be driving your car close to the picnic location, a traditional picnic hamper will be charming. If you plan to hike deep into the woods, a backpack style picnic carrier may be more appropriate. And if you're bringing along a lot of food and beverages that should remain cold until served, a cooler may be best suited for your needs.

A Picnic Blanket

Unless you're planning your picnic in a location that has picnic tables waiting for you, bring a blanket for spreading out your picnic items, and as a place to sit. Any blanket will do, as well as an old comforter, tablecloth, or even flat bed sheet in a pinch. Dedicated picnic blankets have a waterproof lining on one side which will come in handy to keep you dry when the grass or sand is damp.

Plates, Glasses, Utensils, and Napkins

You could just eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich straight from the little plastic bag in which you packed it and wipe your hands on your shorts. But if you'd like to make your picnic feel more special, pack a proper table setting. Depending on the occasion and location of your picnic, your place settings could be as casual as disposable plates, cups, utensils, and paper napkins, or you could use your best china, crystal, silver, and table linens. Pack things carefully to avoid breakage.

Corkscrew or Bottle Opener

You will curse the day you took your picnic away from the backyard if you forget to bring these items along. If your picnic includes a bottle of wine, imported sparkling water, or any other beverage that requires more than your bare hands to open, remember to pack the appropriate gadget for opening them.

Cutting Board and Knife

Pack a cutting board and knife for cheese, charcuterie, fruit, vegetables, or bread. A fresh approach for sandwiches is to prepare them on site. This way, you will avoid soggy bread, and you'll only need to chill the perishable ingredients instead of the entire sandwich.

Ice Packs or Thermos

Keep your food safe by packing ingredients with enough ice to keep it chilled until served. Likewise, if you bring hot food to your picnic, use a thermos to keep it at a safe temperature of above 140 F. Any food held between 40 F and 140 F is in the danger zone where bacteria can flourish and lead to food poisoning.

Trash Bags

Your picnic spot may not have a trash receptacle, so bring along trash bags for any food waste or disposable items. Also bring a plastic bag for your dirty dishes and glasses to keep your lovely picnic basket from getting soiled.

Paper Towels or Wipes

Pack paper towels or wipes to clean the picnic table if you're using one, as well as for your hands before and after you eat.

Atmosphere 

Your picnic site may have enough atmosphere to create a picnic mood, but if you want to make it extra romantic, you might want to bring along flowers, candles, and a lighter. First check for fire restrictions in the park or natural area so you keep yourself and the environment safe. Even an open flame as small as a candle or cigarette can lead to a brush fire or forest fire. If you do light candles, be very careful to keep the flame contained and put it out completely before you pack up to go home.