Anyone who says life’s no picnic is clearly in need of one, stat. Spreading a blanket somewhere scenic and taking in the fresh air while you kick back with an assortment of tasty vittles is the optimal way to get out and experience nature—and all it takes is a little planning. Happily, we’re here to help! Whatever your picnic style, we’ve gathered the essentials (plus a few little luxuries) to make the experience one you’ll want to repeat for as long as the fair weather lasts. Just follow these steps:
1. Pick a spot. The world is full of great picnicking places, from beaches to roof gardens to wineries. If you don’t have a local favorite in mind, any of the more than 400 National Parks in the United States is a great starting point. The National Park Service (NPS) just debuted a new app with all the info you’ll need, from accessibility information to interactive maps. Not near a national park? Oh, Ranger is another app that can guide you to nearby public lands—you can even search by activity. And if you need a pitstop for gas, refreshments, or bathrooms, Around Me has you covered. Just make sure to check the weather before you head out—the only thing that will ruin a picnic faster than ants is rain.
2. Pack wisely. A classic basket is cute and all, but if you’re going to do any hiking before or after your feast, a backpack-style cooler is probably a more practical (and ergonomic) investment, especially one that’s insulated and can fit up to 20 12-ounce cans. At the very least you’ll want to get one with a padded shoulder strap that can hold trays and tupperware. For sustainability’s sake, we also like this reusable melamine riff on the classic paper plate or these fun camp plates. Pack some bamboo cutlery—and don’t forget a bottle opener/corkscrew.
The best picnic food is easy to transport, not too messy to eat, and tastes good at room temperature. Fortunately, the internet is chock full of recipe ideas that fit those criteria—but if you need something super fast and easy, you can never go wrong with a tricked-out cheese plate. (Everybody loves to graze!) Just grab a variety of cheese wedges and accompaniments like olives, nuts, crackers, and fresh fruit, and call it a meal. This clever board has two interlocking trays that make it perfect for picnics.
3. Seat yourself. Unless you live in a desert, a picnic blanket with a waterproof backing is sure to come in handy. This charming gingham one is affordable, washable, and comes in a classic red and white design. Of course, blankets aren’t the only option. This portable folding chair weighs less than 10 pounds, supports up to 250 pounds, and has a sunshade and pocket to stash your stuff. But of course, if you really want to commune with nature, there’s nothing like a hammock. The Nakie, which seats two, is made of recycled plastic (the equivalent of 37 water bottles), and for each purchase, the company will plant four trees.
4. Set the scene. Picnics don’t have to be limited to noon on a sunny day. Few things are more romantic than a sunset picnic, and if you want a little extra ambiance, it’s totally available. Take the chill off with a mini fire pit—five inches in diameter—that not only amps up the cozy factor, but can be used to make great s’mores, too. Want to go gourmet? Try cooking your meal over an open flame using something like the Wolf and Grizzly portable grill, which weighs just over two pounds and will support cast iron cookware over any campfire. Or channel some island vibes with a portable speaker that doubles as a tiki torch. Just fire up your picnic playlist and press play.
5. Keep critters at bay. When you dine alfresco, you never really dine alone. To avoid unintentionally feeding the wildlife, keep all your food waste bagged up and leftovers stashed away. No really: if you’re in an area frequented by bears, the NPS offers guidelines about how to store food safely. If you’re picnicking at the beach, these realistic falcon kites double as surfside fun and keep seagulls at bay. And to make sure you don’t become dinner yourself, keep the bug spray handy—this lotion delivers SPF and natural bug bite protection in one application. You can also download this sonic mosquito-repelling app. 6. Cleanup crew. Like campers, picnickers should follow the golden rule: Leave it better than you found it. Bring extra trash bags—Glad makes compostable ones—so you can put garbage in one and dirty dishes in another, for faster sorting when you get home. And if you’ve used any communal items, like park grills or tables, wipe them down before and after use.