15 Essentials to Pack for Any Picnic

iStock/DisobeyArt
iStock/DisobeyArt

Beyond a pristine picnicking spot—and someone to share it with—there's not much needed to enjoy dining al fresco. But if you’re looking to have a perfectly prepared picnic without any common disasters like soggy sandwiches and spoiled potato salad, a little more preparation won’t hurt. In honor of International Picnic Day on June 18, here are 15 things to always pack for a picnic.

1. Sunscreen

Lunching outdoors is a great opportunity to enjoy warm breezes and sunny views, but all that outside time can catch up with your skin. Make your picnic one to remember for the fun, not the sunburns, by packing sunscreen. While lunching under an umbrella or tree can reduce the impact of UV rays, skin damage is still possible in the shade.

2. Baby Wipes

Even if you’re not toting kids to the park, baby wipes are a perfect picnic companion. While hand sanitizer also kills off bacteria, wet wipes can remove dirt and stains, cleaning up better before—and after—you chow down.

3. Bug Spray

A man sprays bug spray on his arm.
iStock/TinkerJulie

A day in the park can help you meet new pesky friends: bugs! Reduce the chances of insect bites by taking along and liberally applying bug spray. Repellents with DEET, lemon eucalyptus oil and picaridin generally last longer than other sprays, and work best when applied after sunscreen. If you find sprays too imprecise, you can also get repellent lotion.

4. Blanket

It’s easy to opt for picnic destinations that have chairs or tables provided, but on a beautiful day, seating might be limited. Don’t forget to bring along a blanket for both seating and spreading your lunch fare. Make sure you have enough room for everyone. According to members of the Portland Picnic Society, 9 square feet of blanket space per person leaves optimum room to stretch out after a big meal. For smaller picnics, we like Matador's pocket blanket ($30), which is water resistant (no more wet butts!) and has weighted corners with built-in stakes for windy days.

5. Bottled Beverages

Making a large pitcher of sweet tea (or sangria) seems like an easy way to share drinks, but bottled beverages are a better option. Small bottled drinks eliminate the need for individual cups—one less thing to pack and wash later. If chilled, bottles act as extra icepacks to keep heat-sensitive foods cool, and unlike pitchers, are less likely to leak. Plus, resealable bottles can prevent spills for clumsy picnickers.

6. Bottle Opener

A bottle opener with two caps
iStock/Ralf Geithe

Keep from resorting to desperate measures by remembering to pack a bottle opener for those bottles with pry-off lids. The same goes for another picnic essential: the corkscrew.

7. Knife

A small knife can be one of the most versatile tools in a picnic basket, used to spread mayo or pry open a bottle of wine if you forget to pack a corkscrew. Plus, slicing fruit or cutting sandwiches at your picnic destination (instead of beforehand) can help keep foods fresh through sweltering heat or sun. Small blades that fold or come with sheaths are best for packing away in your basket; some cutlery manufacturers make knives with picnics and outdoor meals in mind.

8. First Aid Supplies

Whether your picnic includes a hike in the woods or just a day at the local park, a first aid kit is a must. Basic supplies like bandages, aspirin, and hydrocortisone creams can keep an eventful day fun instead of uncomfortable.

9. Mini Condiments and Seasonings

Condiment packages against a white background
iStock/Elenathewise

Instead of lugging the whole bottle of ketchup, snag small condiment packets from restaurants or gas stations to add to your basket. The smaller packets will save you from taking much bulkier shakers and bottles.

10. Kitchen Towel

While napkins or paper towels are easy to pack and dispose of, a sturdy kitchen towel offers more versatility. Towels can be used to cover foods from bugs, provide extra protection when wrapped around wine glasses or bottles, and can do a better job of sopping up spills than handfuls of paper napkins. If you’re feeling fancy, kitchen towels can also be used to wrap up picnic snacks, creating an easy to use lunch sack that folds away when finished.

11. Trash Bag

You don’t have to be a scout to follow the rule of leaving your picnic site “cleaner than you found it.” Tuck a trash bag into your basket so that every piece of trash makes it to a trash can or home with you. Trash bags can also double as rain ponchos in case of unexpected summer storms, or if sliced open, can lay under your blanket to keep wet grass from seeping through.

12. Ice Packs

Mayonnaise-based foods like potato salad can spoil and delicate greens can wilt in the summer heat, so if chilled water bottles aren’t enough to keep your cooler or picnic basket (or fancy leak-proof cooler backpack) cold, toss in a few frozen ice packs.

13. Extra Cutlery

Many picnic foods, like sandwiches and fruit, don’t require any silverware, which is what makes them perfect for a day in the park. But common picnic salads, like potato or macaroni, can be difficult to serve and eat without a large spoon. Pack extra utensils just in case, or at least serving spoons for foods that can be scooped or dipped with chips.

14. Camera

Getting out on a picnic adventure is a memory for the scrapbook, so charge up your phone or bring your camera for an afternoon of photos. If you're looking to get nostalgic, grab an instant camera (we like the new Kodak Smile, $100), which will allow you to print keepsakes on the fly. If you're sticking with your phone, consider packing a portable charger to make sure you never run out of juice.

15. Something to Do

Grandparents and their grandchildren sit on a picnic blanket playing chess and reading.
iStock/TanyaRu

While picnics are often focused on food, half the fun is enjoying the outdoors. Kites, Frisbees and balls are common picnic toys, but you don’t have to move around just because it’s traditional. Spend time reading or drawing for a leisurely and relaxing experience—after all, isn’t that the point of an afternoon picnic?

A version of this article first ran in 2016. It was updated in June 2019.

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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

qingwa/iStock via Getty Images
qingwa/iStock via Getty Images

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.


WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.


Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard." Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

Looking to Move? These Are the 20 Best States to Live In

The skyline of Boston, Massachusetts.
The skyline of Boston, Massachusetts.
Sean Pavone/iStock via Getty Images

To a certain extent, identifying the “best” states to live in is wide open to interpretation. If your happiness is contingent upon the opportunity to shred gnarly waves, for example, chances are low that Kansas would even crack the top 40 on your personal list.

Having said that, some metrics for evaluating the nifty 50 aren’t so subjective—and it’s not only about income, either. To find out which states are “good” to live in, financial news website 24/7 Wall St. devised a rating system based on a few of these universally good qualities: Life expectancy at birth, bachelor’s degree attainment, and poverty rate. After all, a state with a high number of healthy, educated, financially stable people seems like a place you’d want to live, right?

The rating system is based on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, which aims to assess the well-being of a nation’s population through similar statistics: Life expectancy at birth, mean years of schooling for adults over 25, and gross national income per capita.

Based on 24/7 Wall St.’s study, Massachusetts took the top spot. Of all residents aged 25 and older, 44.5 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree—the highest rate of any state. Their 10 percent poverty rate is the eighth lowest in the nation, and life expectancy at birth is 80.4 years, which beats the national average (79.1 years) by more than a year.

As far as regional trends go, Massachusetts isn’t alone in its greatness. Almost the entire Northeast ranks in the top 20, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Rhode Island.

The number-two spot went to Colorado—low on surfing opportunities, perhaps, but plenty of gnarly slopes to shred—which actually edged out Massachusetts in life expectancy (80.5 years) and poverty rate (9.6 percent). Its neighbors in Utah and Nebraska made the top 20, too.

24/7 Wall St. also points out the cyclical nature of these metrics. People with advanced degrees earn more money, which they use to afford better healthcare and establish healthier lifestyles, so they live longer.

Then again, a high number of college graduates means nothing if you’re mainly just looking to settle down near the nation’s best roller coasters or curiosity shops (none of which, by the way, are located in Massachusetts). As for those of you looking for that perfect wave? Hawaii claimed the fourth spot.

Scroll on to see if your home state ranks in the top 20, and read more about 24/7 Wall St.’s study here.

  1. Massachusetts

  1. Colorado

  1. New Jersey

  1. Hawaii

  1. Connecticut

  1. Minnesota

  1. Maryland

  1. New Hampshire

  1. Washington

  1. Virginia

  1. Utah

  1. Vermont

  1. New York

  1. California

  1. Nebraska

  1. Illinois

  1. Rhode Island

  1. Oregon

  1. North Dakota

  1. Wisconsin

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