14 Essentials to Pack for Any Picnic

Nicole Garner
Don't forget any of these items when you're heading out to get your picnic on.
Don't forget any of these items when you're heading out to get your picnic on. / iStock/DisobeyArt
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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 National Picnic Day on Saturday, April 23, here are 14 things to always pack for a picnic.

1. Sun Bum Original SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray; $16

Sun Bum Original SPF 30 Sunscreen held by a person.
Sun Bum Original SPF 30 Sunscreen / Sun Bum/Amazon

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. This Sun Bum spray sunscreen is a great option if you’re picnicking near the ocean because it’s reef-friendly. This means it doesn’t use ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate which have been found to cause coral bleaching.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Mama Bear Baby Wipes; $17

Mama Bear Baby Wipes against white background.
Mama Bear Baby Wipes / Mama Bear Baby Wipes/Amazon

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. These Mama Bear wipes are a great choice if you have sensitive skin. They’re hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and are mostly (99 percent to be exact) made of purified water.

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3. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent; $11

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent against a white background.
Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent / Repel/Amazon

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. This bug spray from Repel will keep mosquitos away for up to six hours. If you find sprays too imprecise, you can also get repellent lotion.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Matador Pocket Blanket; $36

Woman on Matador Pocket Blanket on beach,
Matador Pocket Blanket / Matador/Amazon

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 ($36), which is water resistant (no more wet butts!) and has pocket corners you can fill with rocks so it stays put on windy days.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Hydro Flask; $40

Hydro Flask
Hydro Flask / Hydro Flask/Amazon

Making a large pitcher of sweet tea (or sangria) seems like an easy way to share drinks, but bottled beverages are a better option. Reusable small bottled drinks eliminate the need for individual cups—one less thing to pack and wash later. If chilled, bottles act as extra ice packs to keep heat-sensitive foods cool, and unlike pitchers, are less likely to leak. Plus, resealable bottles can prevent spills for clumsy picnickers. Hydro Flasks are great for picnicking because they can keep drinks cold for up to 24 hours and hot beverages warm for up to 12 hours.

Buy it: Amazon

6. HiCoup Bottle Opener; $15

HiCoup Bottle Opener against white background.
HiCoup Bottle Opener / HiCoup/Amazon

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. This HiCoup bottle opener combines both needs into one small tool, and has a built-in foil cutter for easier access.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Prince of Scots Picnic Knife; $30

Prince of Scots Picnic Knife against white background.
Prince of Scots Picnic Knife / Prince of Scots/Amazon

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. This Prince of Scots knife has a serrated blade, making it perfect to cut bread, fruits, and vegetables.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Protect Life 100-Piece First Aid Kit; $15

Protect Life First Aid kit against white background.
Protect Life First Aid Kit / Protect Life/Amazon

Whether your picnic includes a hike in the woods or just a day at the local park, a first aid kit is a must. This basic first aid kit includes 100 necessary pieces of supply like bandages, gauze, and antiseptic towelettes to keep an eventful day from becoming uncomfortable.

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9. Mayo, Ketchup, and Mustard Condiment Combo, Pack of 75; $14

Kraft Condiments against white background.
Kraft Condiments / Kraft/Amazon

Instead of lugging the whole bottle of ketchup, snag small condiment packets from restaurants or gas stations to add to your basket. Or if you don’t eat out much, you can still get this pack of 75 mini mayo, ketchup, and mustard packets for your condiment needs. The smaller packets will save you from taking much bulkier shakers and bottles.

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10. Utopia Towels Kitchen Towels, Pack of 12; $20

Utopia Towels Kitchen Towels against white background.
Utopia Towels Kitchen Towels / Utopia/Amazon

While napkins or paper towels are easy to pack and dispose of, a sturdy kitchen towel offers more versatility. They 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, you can use this set of 12 cotton kitchen towels to wrap up picnic snacks, creating an easy-to-use lunch sack that folds away when you're finished.

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11. Hefty Ultra Strong Tall Kitchen Trash Bags; $12

Hefty Ultra-Strong Tall Kitchen Trash Bags against white background.
Hefty Ultra-Strong Tall Kitchen Trash Bags / Hefty/Amazon

You don’t have to be a scout to follow the rule of leaving your picnic site “cleaner than you found it.” Tuck one of these unscented Hefty trash bags into your basket so that every piece of trash makes it to a trash can or home with you. They 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.

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12. Healthy Packers Ice Packs, Set of 4; $13

Healthy Packers Ice Packs against a white background.
Healthy Packers Ice Packs / Healthy Packers/Amazon

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 of these slim ice packs.

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13. Earth's Natural Alternatives Dinnerware, Set of 16; $18

Earth's Natural Alternatives Dinnerware against white background.
Earth's Natural Alternatives Dinnerware / Earth's Natural Alternatives/Amazon

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 like these biodegradable ones made from corn starch just in case.

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14. Polaroid Originals Now I-Type Instant Camera; $100

Polaroid Originals Now I-Type Instant Camera against a white background.
Polaroid Originals Now I-Type Instant Camera / Polaroid/Amazon

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 like the Polaroid Now I-Type 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.

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A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2022.