The 10 Best Picnic Backpacks
This wiki has been updated 28 times since it was first published in September of 2015. If you're going to go to all the trouble of arranging a romantic outdoor meal for your significant other, don't spoil the ambiance by lugging everything there in plastic grocery bags and eating off paper plates. Instead, keep all your drinks and food at the perfect temperature in one of these convenient picnic backpacks that come with everything you need for al fresco wining and dining. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
March 10, 2020:
Due to availability issues, we've removed the One Earth Home and the Picnic Plus Fiesta at this time. When it comes to top-notch usability, though, we still like the Plush Picnic 2 Person and the Apollowalker Coffee. It must be said, however, that the latter has a very striking color palette, and it will not necessarily be to everyone's taste. As an alternative, we've added the plain but handsome California Picnic Complete, which is available in simple black or brown. Plus, it is well insulated and arrives with a matching waterproof blanket.
Other insulated choices of note include the Oniva Turismo, which works better with ice packs than with ice, as it can leak. There's also the Kyndley Rucksack, a cooler backpack with a big 42-liter capacity. Pack it carefully, however, as the floppy material won't do a great job of protecting delicate foods. Finally, after some consideration, we have elected to keep the Summerfield Terrace Verdugo. The price is truly hard to beat, but it can't compete with most other more expensive versions when it comes to durability. Consider it best for occasional use.
Corkcicle Eola Bucket If your idea of a picnic involves mostly liquid refreshments, then the Corkcicle Eola Bucket is definitely one to consider. It doesn't have room for plates and silverware; instead, you'll find plenty of space for your adult beverages, whether that's 12 cans of beer or eight cans and two bottles of wine. corkcicle.com
Greenpoint Waxed Canvas The Greenpoint Waxed Canvas may not look much like a backpack, but its messenger bag styling with top grab handle does, in fact, offer two-shoulder carrying. But no matter how you carry it, it holds plenty, with a wine and cheese service for two nestled inside, along with a padded compartment for your vino. potterybarn.com
Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Tote Already have your own dishes and cups, but need some way to transport it all? Take a look at the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Tote, a backpack/tote that is light, compact, and portable. At 27 liters, it can hold plenty, whether that's in the large main compartment, zippered pockets, or stretch mesh side pockets. patagonia.com
Picking A Picnic Backpack
These will be limiting options for carrying most foods, though.
Although enjoying a meal or appetizers and drinks in a pleasant outdoor setting will never go out of style, the traditional picnic basket is arguably past its heyday. This is so because the picnic backpack is simply the superior option when it comes to transporting foods from the home to the park, the seashore, or the friend's back yard. A good picnic backpack may offer slightly less storage capacity than a large wicker basket, but what it lacks in a bit of room, it makes up for by combining aspects of a cooler, an ergonomic backpack, and the adaptability of tactical gear all into one handy -- and often attractive -- piece of gear.
First consider which is more important to you: plenty of space for storing food and beverages, or a backpack that comes with all the fine flatware, cups, and plates you and a friend (or date) need for a great picnic. To first discuss the latter, many people will find the convenience and charm of a picnic set that comes packed with complete service for two people, and even with a corkscrew and cheese knife and cutting board, simply irresistible. There's also something to be said about using the utensils and serving set that come with a picnic backpack, as you know they will fit the unit perfectly.
On the other hand, few households don't have some forks, knives, plates, and glasses they can stick into a bag, so don't overlook the actual carrying capacity of a picnic backpack -- not to mention other features to be touched on momentarily -- because you are dazzled by its included extras.
Some picnic backpacks are expressly designed for carrying wine. If that's your primary concern, then one of these units with sleeves for two bottles built into it is the ideal choice. These will be limiting options for carrying most foods, though. A better idea for most people is a picnic basket with an insulated side compartment that can accommodate a bottle of wine (or another beverage) and that can be removed when not needed. Look primarily to the storage space in the bag, and keep in mind that the compartment designed for holding goblets, plates, and utensils can always be used for more foodstuffs, just take the service items out.
Finally, pay attention to the actual straps and padding of a picnic backpack you are considering. Many options are designed to be stylish and attractive, but had less concern put into ergonomics and comfort. If you're only carrying sandwiches and drinks for two, then the type of straps on your bag likely won't much matter. If you're packing in food for many, and/or if you have a long trek ahead of you before it's meal time, then a backpack with easily adjustable, padded straps and a soft backing is a must have.
Other Great Accessories For Outdoor Dining
If there's one thing anyone who has ever attended an outdoor dining event -- be it a barbecue, picnic, or campsite meal -- can attest to, it's that along with great food and great times often come a great number of bugs. Insects can hardly be blamed for flocking to foods brought into their natural habitat, but you also can't be blamed for wanting to keep them away from your picnic. Insect repellents and citronella candles can do much to keep the bugs at bay, but if you want to deter flying insects from interfering with your meal, a great approach is to set up a battery power fan near your eating area. Fans can shoo away many insects, especially those most insidious mosquitoes, who are quite weak at flight.
If your outdoor eating area comes complete with a table and benches or chairs, then it's best to enjoy these luxuries. If not, you will absolutely need a good picnic blanket to create a clean and comfortable outdoor dining area. Dedicated outdoor blankets usually have one side that is water resistant and durable enough to avoid tears and punctures, and another side that is soft and comfortable. You can well over a hundred dollars on a top of the line picnic blanket, but you can also get a fine piece for about fifteen dollars.
To enjoy an outdoor meal on a hot and sunny day, such as you might encounter at the beach or during a summertime festival, also consider bringing along a popup sun shelter. Many such units weigh only a few pounds, can be folded down small enough to clip to your picnic backpack, and can mean the difference between a miserable, sweaty time and a pleasant, shady afternoon.
Other Uses For Your Picnic Backpack
Just because a product goes by one name doesn't mean it can't be used for a whole host of other purposes. Thanks to a picnic backpack's insulated compartment (or compartments) and its several other storage areas, insulation not required, a picnic backpack also makes the ideal way to transport a moderate amount of groceries. While certainly boasting far less capacity than a dedicated shopping cart, a picnic backpack offers the twin advantages of keeping foods chilled and keeping your hands free. Bring one along when you are biking to the grocery store for a quick trip, or if you have a large volume of groceries to carry and need to minimize the weight in your hands or if you have surpassed the capacity of your cart.
Some picnic backpacks also make the ideal accessory for use on a fishing trip. The insulated compartment of a picnic backpack can help keep bait fish cool and fresh and can help preserve smaller fish you have caught (or fillets you prepare in the field) and need to transport home under refrigeration. (Of course you can also simply store your cold beer or other beverages and snacks in the backpack and enjoy fine food and drink while fishing). Just keep in mind that once you have carried raw fish in your backpack, it should probably remain dedicated to that use.
And in a pinch, a picnic backpack can also double as a way to organize and carry tools. Most such pieces have several slots intended for forks and knives but perfectly suitable for screwdrivers and wrenches, and the main compartments are usually reinforced and durable enough for larger implements like hammers or even smaller power tools.