Who doesn’t loves a good picnic? But it can sometimes get tricky to keep everyone on your picnic blanket happy. Many a picnic has been foiled by sticky hands, not enough food or a critical lack of plates. So, to facilitate all of your end-of-the-year outdoor excursions, I give you a comprehensive step-by-step list to building the perfect picnic basket.

1. Start with the infrastructure


Photo courtesy of Lily Allen

A good setup is critical to the success of any picnic. First, consider location: somewhere in the shade is best for any long-term commitment, but make sure sun is easy to find–Vitamin D is a critical ingredient in any outdoor recipe.

A picnic “basket” will usually take the form of a backpack, so that the sucker who has to carry it can at least have his hands free. Make sure that whatever bag you choose, though, has plenty of space and lots of pockets to keep your picnic packings organized.

Next, consider your blanket choice. Always pack a larger blanket than you expect, no one wants to be left off the edge. Pick something thick enough that dew won’t get through, but remember that you’ll have to lug it through the park. Pro tip: pack or plan to pick up something that will keep the edges of the blanket from flying away in a gust of wind (this could be rocks, jars or shoes).

2. Pack the necessities 


photo by Ivy Wanta

Make sure you are stocked with napkins, utensils, plates, bowls, cups and maybe some Wet Ones for those particularly messy dishes. Also pack some bottles of water and sunscreen to keep your picnic guests safe and hydrated!

3. Move onto the good stuff


photo by Ivy Wanta

I like to think that my picnic philosophy comes from the French. I pack the basics and let my friends create their own meals. A crusty baguette, a variety of meats and cheeses and spreads of your choice (I usually just choose butter) are the makings of delicious sandwiches. Meat should include something lean like roasted turkey and something fatty like prosciutto. If you want to do some prep beforehand, brown-sugar glazed bacon is a delicious alternative to normal cold-cuts. To make sure you cover different cheese tastes, pack a brie, a goat cheese and a harder cheese like gouda (just don’t forget to bring adequate knives). Once you’ve gotten the basics down, pick some sandwich accessories, like carrots and peppers with hummus or some pickles. Top off your savory selection with a packaged snack: pretzels, pita chips and popcorn all make great salty sides.

As for dessert: simple is usually best. Fruit (enjoy summer’s selection of peaches and cherries) and bars of chocolate are always delicious. Finally, pack a beverage. Water should be a given, but sparkling cider, or wine if you are of-age, is a picnic must-have.

4. Bring the fun

A picnic is nothing without activities! Bring jump ropes, hula hoops, a volleyball, frisbee or sidewalk chalk. Be a kid again with bubbles and water balloons or just enjoy the sunlight with a good book.

5. Clean up after yourself!

The most important part of a picnic is the great outdoors. Make sure it stays beautiful by cleaning up all of your garbage and using as many recyclable, compostable, or reusable items as possible.

More picnic tips:

College-specific picnic ideas

A real Parisian picnic

More picnic planning 

A great picnic salad recipe

Have a rainy-day indoor picnic