Close your eyes and imagine a picnic basket. Chances are you see something made of wicker with a handle on top and red-and-white checkered lining. While that may have been the only style of picnic baskets 50 years ago, a diversity of designs, materials, and sizes abound.
We know that buying the perfect basket can be overwhelming (which is exactly the opposite of what a picnic should be), so we've created this all-encompassing guide that lays out everything you need to know when buying a picnic basket.
Types of Picnic Baskets
According to legend, royal parks in England became open to the public for the first time after the French Revolution in 1789. As a result, having a picnic in the park became a popular pastime that represented freedom, hope, and community. More than 200 years later, picnics imbue citizens with the same emotions and sensations.
Even though the romanticism surrounding picnics remains intact, the way we transport food to picnics has vastly changed over the decades. Instead of the classic wicker material, baskets are made from a variety of fabrics, plastics, and wood and come in all shapes and sizes.
Before going any further, let's take a look at all the types of picnic baskets you'll encounter, along with their pros and cons.
Traditional Picnic Basket
The design of the traditional empty picnic basket, which dates back the furthest, is simple. It is often made out of wicker or some other woven fiber and has a handle to make it easy to carry. The inside is sometimes lined with decorative material to protect the inner basket, but you'll also find some without it. Unlike more modern baskets, the traditional basket does not have any additional assets, like insulation or extra compartments.
- Captures the essence of the classic picnic
- Extremely simple design
- Very durable
- Harder to clean out
- Rigid and potentially bulky
- No special features
Picnic Basket with Cooler
There are two main types of picnic baskets with coolers. The first looks exactly like a traditional picnic basket, complete with a woven exterior and handles, except it has an insulated cooler within it. For example, some picnic baskets feature thermal foil lining to maintain the temperature of food and beverages. These baskets keep the traditional look but add a new layer of function and convenience.
The second type of picnic basket with a cooler is the modern-looking collapsible basket. Instead of wicker, the basket is made out of durable polyester and comes in an array of colors and fashions. What makes these so convenient is that they can double as a reusable grocery bag, because they keep delicate food at the right temperatures.
- Keeps perishables cool/warm
- Easier to clean out
- May not look like classic picnic basket
- May be less sturdy
Specialty Picnic Basket
The next category of picnic baskets is laser-focused on a specific food or drink. The first type of specialty picnic basket is the wine and cheese basket. These baskets are specifically designed to make transporting wine and/or cheese to your picnic easy. For example, one wine basket from Picnic & Beyond is made of willow with an insulated interior that can hold two bottles of wine and nothing else.
The second specialty basket is for coffee and tea. These either include compartments for hotter beverages or look like traditional baskets with special sections for coffee.
- Great for connoisseurs
- Occasionally smaller
- Not as versatile
- Typically must buy with accessories
A tote stretches the original definition of a basket, but you'll often see it lumped in with picnic baskets. Lunch totes usually feature two shoulder straps connected to a bag made out of polycanvas. One of the strong points of the lunch tote is that it's essentially a carryall, so it can be used for more than picnics. Most totes are insulated, can be sealed, and have an extra pocket in the front.
- Very versatile
- Easy to carry
- Seals shut
- Difficult to clean
- Few or no compartments
Like the lunch tote, the picnic backpack does not fit the traditional definition of basket, but it serves the same function, along with a few extra advantages. It's a regular polyester backpack that's converted to hold food, accessories, and beverages. The main compartment holds the food and the front compartments usually hold accessories.
- Easier to travel long distances
- Can be carried without hands
- Many compartments
- Harder to clean
- Eschews the look of a classic basket
8 Features to Consider When Choosing a Picnic Basket
Now that you know what styles of picnic baskets are available, let's look at the features you need to consider when buying one.
1. Carrying Option
If you're the adventurous type who loves having picnics at the summit of a mountain, a basket with only a handle is not going to cut it. That's why how you carry a basket is important. Here are the four most common carrying options you'll encounter.
Most traditional picnic baskets will only have a built-in handle. This is great for traveling short distances because although it doesn't add much weight, it's not the easiest way to hold a basket for long periods of time.
This is what you'll see on lunch totes. It slides over your shoulder like a purse. Shoulder straps are great for slightly longer distances and can be more stylish.
As a longer shoulder strap, a sling strap is designed to be worn across the chest like a messenger bag. This is a comfortable way to carry an insulated picnic basket, which is where you will typically find a sling strap.
Finally, there are the straps you'd find on a picnic backpack. While a backpack is not a true picnic basket, it's perfect for long excursions because of the way it distributes the weight.
Another factor you need to weigh is the size you'll need. Picnic baskets are categorized by how many people they are meant to serve, though dimensions within those categories vary considerably. Here are the sizes:
If you're a social butterfly who likes to go on double-dates, a four-person basket is a no-brainer. However, if you're the romantic type who only picnics with a loved one, opt for the smaller two-person basket. Larger families will want a six-person basket.
Material is an equally important consideration when selecting a picnic basket because it brings different qualities to the table. These are the main types of materials, but bear in mind that they aren't mutually exclusive, meaning you'll often see different materials on the same basket.
As one of the most iconic materials for picnic baskets, willow is chosen for its pliability, which means it's less likely to split when woven together. It can also be bent around corners, making it an all-around fantastic material for baskets.
This material comes from a tropical palm tree and is known as one of the strongest woods available. Rattan is frequently used in wickerwork for durable furniture and baskets. You'll usually find it on the handle of a picnic basket because of its strength.
Yet another material used in wickerwork, bamboo is rarely used by itself but is sometimes used in conjunction with willow to add more components.
On the other side of the spectrum is polyester canvas. Polyester is not traditional like wood, but it has its advantages, which include flexibility, durability, and ease of cleaning.
Some baskets now have distinct sections for everything — from utensils and corkscrews to picnic blankets and wine bottles — but most of the traditional picnic baskets still have one large compartment for food and accessories.
This is a matter of preference. If you enjoy having a place for everything, then the more compartments the better. However, you may be trading off the flexibility of packing as much in as possible for separate sections.
The fifth feature you need to look at is insulation. Many of the classic wicker baskets don't have insulation built into it, which can be an inconvenience. Traveling for long periods of time will necessitate insulation to keep perishables from, well, perishing.
Fortunately, many modern baskets have built-in insulation, but even if you prefer to get a simple one with a classic look, you can buy a removable insulated cooler that fits inside any basket.
We already covered the different picnic basket styles (along with their pros and cons) in the previous section, but it's something you'll want to think about. Of course, as we said earlier, you may have to sacrifice certain features to get the exact style and look you desire.
It's not uncommon for picnic baskets to come packed to the gills with accessories. Deluxe baskets will usually feature more items made with higher quality materials while the basic models will have few to none.
Again, this is purely a matter of preference, but here's a complete list of accessories that you may find with certain picnic baskets:
|Plates||Wine glasses||Coffee Mugs|
|Cutting Board||Insulated Cooler||Wine Stopper|
|Picnic Blanket||Coffee Flask||Salt/Pepper Shakers|
Finally, there's price. The cost of baskets has a typical range from affordable to expensive. We put this consideration last because you should select all the features on your wishlist and then seek out the basket that fits your budget.
Just be aware that the less expensive baskets will have fewer features and a more basic design while the costlier ones will be more luxurious and packed with accessories.
Popular Picnic Basket Brands
When searching through the hundreds of picnic baskets on the market, you'll likely notice the same names over and over. That's because a majority of baskets you find these days come from five brands. Here's a little more about each.
Since the company was founded back in 1982, the goal of Picnic Time has been simple: create a line of products that inspire people to head outside and spend time with the family. Needless to say, they've succeeded with their line of picnic baskets.
Picnic Time started off making traditional European-style picnic baskets that were affordable but have since expanded into other types of outdoor products. Still, the company's highlight is its picnic collection, which includes more than 200 styles and colors to choose from.
Picnic at Ascot
Picnic at Ascot boasts a proud British tradition that combines the European elegance of picnics with the spirit of American adventure. Although Picnic at Ascot is based in Southern California, the company has developed a distinctive line of picnic items, including baskets, that enhance the outdoor experience.
The company prides itself on quality craftsmanship and high standards that are backed with a lifetime warranty.
With the picnic product market saturated by the traditional design, Picnic Plus has expanded to include brighter colors and contemporary designs. This assortment of patterns and colors makes the baskets more playful and chic.
Picnic Plus, which is the brand name of Spectrum Imports, also focuses on adding features that separate the baskets from others, such as extra pockets, durable zippers, eco-friendly designs, dense foam insulation, and more.
Picnic & Beyond
Despite only being founded in 2005, Picnic & Beyond has quickly become an industry leader in picnic products. Its offerings don't stray too far from traditional European stylings combined with an American sentiment, but Picnic & Beyond boasts a design team that puts out new, fashionable products each year.
The core of the Picnic & Beyond collection is the classic willow basket, but you'll also find some fun designs within those parameters.
The final brand you'll frequently see manufacturing picnic baskets is Sutherland Baskets. The company is another leading manufacturer of handmade baskets that are made with a focus on workmanship.
Although Sutherland also sells picnic backpacks, its collection of baskets exclusively features those made from wicker.
Picnic World's Basket Recommendations
While the purpose of this guide is to give you all the information you need to make the most informed purchase, we understand everyone might not want to sift through the hundreds of baskets available. That's why we've handpicked a few of our favorite baskets.
Picnic & Beyond Veranda Collection Basket
With dinner service for two, this willow basket from Picnic & Beyond's Veranda Collection is the perfect way to escape on a playful outing. It features two sets of plastic wine glasses, melamine plates, silverware, napkins, and a waiter's tool.
The willow exterior is reminiscent of traditional picnic baskets and the suitcase-style opening allows for easy access to the food inside. There are no bells and whistles to this basket (except for cotton lining that comes in either red and green stripes or green and yellow stripes), which makes the basket simple and versatile. The bright colors make for a more lighthearted picnic at the park.
Sutherland Black Tie Picnic Basket
Whereas the previous basket oozed with playfulness, the dark brown Sutherland Black Tie Picnic Basket exudes romance and sophistication. The suitcase-style basket opens from the top via a secure latch and reveals the inside of the lid, which includes slots for the plates, silverware, and salt and pepper shakers.
Inside the basket is a set of ceramic mugs, plastic food containers, and wine glasses. The dimensions of the basket are 8 inches by 18 inches by 12 inches, which is more than enough space to fit food.
If you're looking for a formal picnic setting for two, this basket from Sutherland is a great option.
Picnic Plus Dilworth Willow Basket
Sometimes, a two-person basket simply isn't large enough to accommodate your family and friends. That's where this Picnic Plus Dilworth Basket for Four comes in.
Like the previous baskets, this set comes with ceramic plates, flatware, wine glasses, napkins, a waiter's tool, and salt and pepper shakers. A few things that set this deluxe basket apart is the design and number of compartments. The basket features two independent side compartments that can fully latch shut. In the middle are three open dividers that can fit three bottles of wine, which makes it a great basket to take to outdoor concerts or fireworks shows.
It also includes a large removable insulated cooler that fits inside one of the compartments to keep your perishables cool.
Picnic Time Canasta Basket
If you have a sweet spot for simplicity or already have all the accessories you want, the Picnic Time Canasta Basket is a gorgeous basket without all the add-ons. Featuring a sturdy willow double-strand weave, the Canasta Basket looks different than the previous baskets and takes pride in its durability.
The basket has a removable flat lid made of composite wood that easily comes off to act as an even surface on uneven ground. Inside the one main compartment is a removable form-fitting cotton cover, which offers insulation and protection from spilling. The fact that the lining and lid comes off means you can use the whole thing as a plain basket.
Finally, the basket is easy to transport with comfortable dual-canvas straps.
Picnic at Ascot Eco Wheeled Cooler Basket
Our last recommendation is the Picnic at Ascot Eco Wheeled Cooler Basket. Unlike all the previous baskets, this one does not feature a wicker construction. Instead, the fully equipped cooler is made of 600D polycanvas, which is not only durable but easy to clean and modern looking.
The basket includes plates, glasses, napkins, and utensils for four, along with a combination corkscrew and cheese knife. But the real asset is its portability and versatility. It comes with a removable wheeled cart that attaches to the back. This allows you to fill it with drinks and snacks to take to the beach or a tailgating party. Or if you're going on a casual picnic at the park, you can just use the handle or shoulder strap.
To top it all off, the cooler has an eco-friendly design that's PVC free and assembled in the USA.