Picnic Baskets and Backpacks
How we tested
Whether you’re heading to an outdoor concert or planning to spend a sunny afternoon at a park, it can be a hassle to wrangle all the gear you want. It’s often more convenient to use a picnic basket or backpack equipped with everything you’d need for a picnic, from silverware and plates to cloth napkins and wineglasses. We especially liked three models we tested. The Sunflora Picnic Backpack for 4 was the most portable, with wide, padded straps that made it comfortable to wear even when the backpack was full. We also like the Picnic at Ascot Collapsible Insulated Picnic Basket for Four, a canvas basket that collapses with all its items still tucked inside. For those who want the charm of a traditional wicker basket and don’t anticipate walking long distances, the Picnic at Ascot Buckingham Picnic Basket for Four is a good option. It’s significantly larger and heavier than our other favorites, but the basket’s charm and its stainless-steel silverware and real wineglasses make every picnic feel like a special occasion.
What You Need to Know
If you bring a cooler or a regular insulated shopping bag on a picnic, you need to round up all the necessary plates, silverware, glasses, and napkins before you head out the door. Many people prefer to use a picnic basket or backpack that comes equipped with its own gear and has little pockets to store it all safely. The items are reusable (which cuts down on trash and recycling), and you don’t need to worry about accidentally losing the plates and glasses you use at home.
You can choose from traditional wicker baskets, canvas baskets, and even picnic backpacks. Although their size and shape vary dramatically, each of the models we tested offered room for food and came with assorted picnic equipment. All of them came with knives, forks, and spoons; plates; and wineglasses. Many were equipped with cloth napkins, tiny cutting boards, corkscrews, serrated knives, and salt and pepper shakers. While the included corkscrews and serrated knives got their respective jobs done, they didn’t perform as well as our favorite wine opener or serrated utility knife. The cutting boards were small (generally just 6 by 6 inches or smaller), so their usefulness was limited.
Each model had a slew of tiny interior pockets and straps to keep the gear safe during transit and in easy reach during picnics. We found no significant difference in the quality of the pockets or straps across all the models we tested. All the items stayed put during transit, and none of the straps or closures showed any signs of wear and tear even after we intentionally tugged at them or repeatedly opened and closed them.
What to Look For
- Spacious Storage Compartments: The wicker and canvas baskets each had one big compartment, while the backpacks had special insulated compartments for food. We liked both styles—as long as they were able to accommodate enough food. (Some models were intended to serve two people, and some were meant for four people; we adjusted the amount of food accordingly.) The better models were more spacious or designed in a way that allowed us to simply put the food in and go, with no fussing or rearranging required.
- Easy Access to the Food Storage: When you’re packing up food for a picnic or setting things up at your destination, you want to be able to see what you’re doing. We preferred baskets with lids that stayed open. We also really liked the design of one backpack. It had two zippers set several inches apart, which allowed us to peel back a wide swath of the insulated canvas, creating a large opening into the food compartment.
- Sets with Large Plates: Bigger plates are more versatile. The best ones measured 9 inches across and had about 6 inches of usable flat surface. They were big enough to hold a smattering of cheese, bread, and crackers or a full sandwich and some side dishes. A few sets had plates that were about 2 inches smaller in diameter. Their size was fine for an afternoon spent leisurely grazing on snacks but too tiny to hold a full meal.
Nice to Have
- Blankets: All the backpacks came with fleece blankets and built-in storage for them on one side. Blankets intended to seat four people measured roughly 4¼ by 5 feet, while the one intended for two picnickers was a bit smaller in each direction. They were large enough to fit the intended number of picnickers, but there wasn’t much room to spare and not enough space to allow people to stretch out. Still, we found them handy, particularly if they had water-resistant backing.
Flaws, but Not Deal Breakers
- Doors and Lids That Don’t Stay Open: One basket we tested had a set of hinged doors that sloped upwards and met in the middle, under the basket’s handle. These doors swung out toward the ground but didn’t open wide enough to stay open on their own. When we were reaching into the basket, they often fell against our arms and blocked our view of the contents. Though not a deal breaker, it was a bit of a nuisance.
- How Portable and Storable You Want Your Picnic Set to Be: Wicker baskets are charming, but they can be cumbersome. They’re often heavy, weighing as much as 8.5 pounds before they're filled with food and drinks, while models made from other materials generally weigh from about 4 pounds to 6.5 pounds. Wicker baskets also have hard edges, and they must be carried by hand because their handles are short. Canvas baskets and backpacks are less elegant, but they are more comfortable to carry. The canvas basket we tested has long handles that we could loop over our forearms, giving our hands a break. And backpacks free up your hands entirely. The backpacks we tested had wide, padded straps that distributed weight evenly, so they were still comfortable even after we walked for 15 minutes and covered about 1 mile of uneven and hilly terrain. Another perk of backpacks: The ones we tested each came with a blanket, while the baskets in our lineup did not.
- What Kind of Servingware You Want: Ceramic plates and wineglasses made from actual glass are elegant and heavy enough to stay put on uneven ground or on windy days. They can also make a basket or backpack feel heavy. Plastic plates and plastic wineglasses, while a little less charming, are much lighter, and there’s less risk of breaking them.
- Pack with cheese, fruit, vegetables, hummus, and drinks to serve two (or four) people
- Pack with sandwiches, vegetables, cookies, and drinks to serve two (or four) people
- Fill the baskets with food and carry them for 15 minutes over uneven terrain
- Put into and remove from the backseat of a car
- Eat and drink from the included place settings and glasses
- Use any extra gear, such as a cutting board, corkscrew, and blanket
- Wash the silverware, plates, and glasses by hand
- Repeatedly open, close, and/or tug at the latches, straps, buckles, or zippers keeping the gear in place and the baskets or backpacks closed
Design: We rated the models on how much space there was for food. We also considered whether their lids or doors stayed open, ensuring that we had easy access to the food.
Comfort: We considered whether the baskets and backpacks were comfortable to carry for long distances.
Accessories: We rated the usefulness and design of the items that come with each model.