Summer Picnic Essentials

The sun is out, the sky is blue, and the subway is an icebox. In New York, these signs can only indicate one thing: It is officially picnic season.


Now we love to complain about how crowded this city is — all those people smushed in the cracks between a mishmash of buildings that would give any self-respecting urban planner a migraine. But one area where New York excels is green spaces. This city has parks coming out the wazoo. And not just parks: accessible parks, where you can walk and lounge and cartwheel on the grass to your heart’s content. Some of us are blessed with air conditioning, others make do with an elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque concoction of fans in every size and ilk. But all of us need to get out of our apartments every once in a while, and what better way than with a picnic.

I’m a firm believer that food tastes better outdoors, due to some alchemy of fresh breeze and grass or tree smell playing across your palette like a classical violin. I’ve picnicked on rooftops and riverbanks and islands and once, recently, on a 1920s-themed lawn. And I’ve learned, through my adventures en plein air, that there are a few things you should have to make your picnicking experience as enjoyable and stress-free as possible. These are some of my essentials.


A Blanket: I recommend one with a waterproof side, so you don’t end up with a soaked derriere thanks to a recent shower. And if you can find one that collapses for carrying convenience, even better. (Target, $19.99)


A Large Tote: The fancy-pants among you may be turning up your noses in favor of a bona fide wicker basket of some kind. But even price point aside, I actually prefer a tote for its versatility (and lower splinter potential). Make sure you get one that’s roomy enough for a picnic’s worth of delights, and with long handles should your load be heavy. (Matthew Gray Gubler, $22)


Insulation: A picnic requires refreshments. And nothing ruins a good picnic like food or drink that is meant to be served cold arriving in your mouth decidedly tepid. You can opt for a cooler or insulated lunch bag of some sort, or you could even combine steps one and two and go full-on insulated tote. (MIER, $15)


Thermos: What’s worse than lukewarm food? Lukewarm drinks. Repeat after me, kids: Thou shalt chill the rosé. And bring an insulated bottle or thermos so you can enjoy it as the good lord intended (S’Well, $42)


Sun protection: Once, as a young teen, I was told that I would “make an awesome goth” because of my pale, pale skin and dark, dark hair. But even if you’ve been melanin-ly blessed, you should never venture out under the sun’s rays without a little SPF. And speaking of sun, don’t forget about sunglasses! They’ll keep you from squinting uncomfortably at your fellow picnickers, and make you look cool and stylish to boot. (Neutrogena, $10.49)


Entertainment: If you have planned your picnic correctly, carefully selected your companions for maximum conviviality and adventure and brought enough tasty treats and drinks to leave everyone sated, you should be set for a marvelous time. But while the picnic can be the activity in and of itself, it never hurts to have a little extra fun in your bag.  A Frisbee, a volleyball, or a compact group game will not go amiss, and will leave your fellow picnic-goers marveling at your expert hosting skills. Also a good call? A Bluetooth speaker to provide the soundtrack to your festive outing. (Jawbone, $59.99)


Nitty gritty: Finally, these are some things that are not terribly glamorous but will vastly improve your picnic experience: hand sanitizer, wipes, paper towels, and a trash bag. We’re lucky to be blessed with such magnificent lawns and benches and knolls in which to do our summer dining. Leave your space just as clean (or better yet, cleaner) for the next folks.



Jennifer Harlan is a blogger by day and a journalist by night. In her past lives, she has baked wedding cakes, taught French children to sing "Jingle Bells," and translated Italian poetry. She loves bookstores, Derby pie, and the Oxford comma.

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