A good picnic basket or hamper will make al fresco summer eating a whole lot more convenient. Read our review of top containers for carrying picnic food.
You can't beat a traditional picnic, especially if you find the perfect picnic basket. Whether you need a simple basket for transporting your own picnic paraphernalia and food, or something to hold the full works, including glasses, plates, cutlery, a bottle opener, cool bags and more, a good-quality picnic hamper should make eating al fresco a breeze.
While summer 2020 may see us taking a new approach to eating outdoors, socially distanced picnics are on the agenda for many, with some of us adapting and having picnics in our own gardens, going the whole hog with blankets, hampers and appropriate picnic food.
Which picnic hamper should I buy?
Before buying, you should think carefully about how you'll be using your picnic hamper to ensure you choose the right one. Where are you most likely to go for your picnic? Will you drive to the picnic spot or will there be a hike involved? What type of food and drink will you be taking on your picnic?
We looked for a wide range of picnic baskets at a variety of price points, all of which held enough to serve four people. So which are the best picnic baskets? Here is our line-up of best buys.
The best picnic baskets and hampers to buy for summer
Fortnum and Mason wicker basket with picnic rug
Best luxury picnic basket for two
Pros: subtly wire-reinforced for added strength, wipe-clean insulated cavity, rug provided
The Fortnum and Mason two-person wicker picnic basket looks rather small, especially for the price, but it quickly reveals its practicality.
The brand is synonymous with luxurious al fresco dining, and the chesnut-coloured wicker has the iconic F&M branding across its side. You pay a premium for the name – this is the ‘Le Creuset’ of the picnic hamper world – but quality underpins the key characteristics here.
It’s a simple hamper, featuring one thickly insulated inner section with a zip entry that’s wipe-clean and easily fits two plates, cups, a bottle of wine and four standard stacked sandwich boxes with snacks around the side. Although there are no interior pockets for keeping small items like cutlery and napkins, these slot in around the contents.
A standard bottle of wine can just about be zipped under the lidded section. A taller bottle of bubbly with a large cork will poke out the top but we tilted one gently to fit – not too much of a problem if you’re planning to drink it all.
Coated-wire reinforces this hamper by providing a skeleton beneath the wicker and forming the loops where the handles connect. They are not only less likely to weaken with wear and tear over time, but are stronger in general for weight bearing.
It’s a really nice hamper to carry even when loaded. The handles sit nicely in the hand and being only 40cm in width, it doesn’t knock against your leg when you carry it. Wicker scratches on bare legs are an all too familiar feeling!
Aesthetically, it’s pristine. The buckles and fastenings are made of faux leather with a sturdy material fastener that secures a printed woven rug pattern rolled beneath. The rug is lightweight and has a waterproof underside and is designed to sit on top of the zipped compartment.
A magnetic fastener makes for easy opening and closing. If you don’t need the rug, this section is removable with poppers. The rug itself is 130 x 145cm so large enough to accommodate 2-4 people.
You’re partly paying for the iconic F&M branding on the wicker, but for an extra special picnic hamper, Fortnum and Mason’s is hard to beat.
Available now from Fortnum and Mason (£115)
Greenfield Super Deluxe Picnic Rucksack for four people
Best picnic rucksack
Pros: packed with everything you need to make picnics stress-free, Thermos and tumblers included
Cons: not contemporary in design, picnic rug sold separately
Picnic rucksacks are immensely practical. While wicker hampers can limit you on how far you can go, just load this up, throw it on your back and you’re ready for an adventure. What this picnic bag lacks in contemporary design, it more than makes up for in sheer practicality.
All the essential bits of picnic kit and some added extras have a place. The bag is made up of two main compartments.
The front section contains four sets of cutlery (dishwasher safe but recommended hand-wash only to keep their original ‘lustre’), four plastic wine glasses, a corkscrew and bottle opener, tablecloth and napkins – all machine washable – and four medium-sized melamine plates that would survive knocks and drops.
Some useful additions for making picnics easier also make this bag stand out. For example, a bottle stopper for saving the rest of your bubbly for later and a sharp serrated knife for cutting through crusty baguettes using the small bamboo chopping board.
At the end of a picnic, there’s always the question of what to do with the dirty things - how are you going to transport them without getting it all over the inside of your picnic hamper? An additional scrunch-able reusable bag proved invaluable for holding all the dirties.
The bag’s back compartment is larger and insulated - great for helping keep your food cool. Two lidded stacker boxes come with the bag but you could easily stack five in there and have additional room.
Four stainless steel insulated tumblers fit in the back section and pair with the flask, which has its own insulated pocket at the side.
The rucksack we tested did not come with a blanket, but they are available to purchase separately. The materials used though-out have been used to achieve a relatively lightweight picnic rucksack and for what you get, this is a reasonably priced picnic companion.
Available now from:
The Colourful Garden Company personalised four person picnic basket
Best picnic hamper for four people
Pros: high-quality components, can be monogrammed with initials to make for a personal gift
Cons: no accompanying picnic rug
If you’re not straying too far from the boot of your car, this wicker hamper for four people is a luxurious ode to the traditional picnic, and provides all the trappings with staggering quality.
It has classic wicker styling but unlike traditional hampers, its boat-shape design means it sits and stores things upright; an arguably more practical shape. This offers open sections at each end; one for carrying a rolled-up picnic blanket and the other end is split into two for bottles (or baguettes!).
Three aspects set this picnic basket apart from the rest; firstly, the quality of each component. They’re the kind you’d buy to furnish your new kitchen, and wouldn’t look out of place on a dining table.
Four sets of stainless steel knives, forks and teaspoons are slotted into leather loops under the hamper’s lidded sides. When closed, they’re secured with a leather-style strap and clasp.
When open, they reveal a central section that holds four small wine glasses (made of glass rather than plastic) and four ceramic plates. Alongside this is one insulated zip bag, which is removable. Linen napkins and a stainless steel bottle opener are also provided and secured snugly.
Once loaded up with food and bottles the hamper is weighty and has a sturdy handle, thanks to the tightly weaved wicker. There are also lots of nooks and crannies for stuffing in additional things, like extra napkins.
Lastly, this hamper can be personalised with initials across one side – a classy-looking personal touch that would make it a great gift for weddings or purely just because you love picnics. It also comes nicely gift-wrapped.
Joules two bottle beach hamper
Best for no-frills drinks and nibbles
Pros: nice compact and upright design, comfortable to carry, strong in construction
Cons: no provisions for carrying a picnic rug
Although a little unconventional to have your picnic equipment poppered onto the outside of the wicker basket, the design of the Joules beach hamper for two people is a nice compact alternative to rectangular styles. And it’s perfect for drinks and snacks on the beach or a no-frills picnic.
Made from antique washed willow, the hamper offers one insulated compartment for storing food safely on hot days, plus space for standing two bottles (although one of these could hold your rolled-up picnic rug).
We stacked three standard sandwich boxes inside this compartment and had room left over for stuffing in napkins, a bottle opener and snacks. At the opposite end is the picnic kit, secured with elastic straps inside a grey pouch that’s connected to the willow.
This includes two acrylic wine glasses, small melamine plates, two pairs of white handled cutlery and salt and pepper pots.
The zips extend all the way down, so it’s easy to access if you’re busy reclining in a leisurely fashion on your picnic rug.
Measuring L34 x W27 x H24cm (inc handle), this is a compact picnic hamper that’s best suited to light picnics or drinks with nibbles – think sunsets on the beach or lazy afternoons in the countryside. Its capacity also limits how heavy it gets.
Although the basket’s natural curve isn’t particularly conducive to stacking rectangular boxes, you do have flexibility to play around with what to carry in its compartments. We also couldn’t fault its construction.
Available now from Joules (£53.10)
Totally compostable plastic-free picnic box, The Wholeleaf Co
Best eco-friendly picnic basket
Pros: disposable and compostable, great if you don’t want to have to bring anything home with you
Cons: box has a limited life and won’t survive long if it rains
This is an eco-friendly, fully compostable, disposable picnic option for those times you don’t want to be carrying anything home.
The pack comes with a cardboard box big enough to carry food and drink for four people and 25 each dessert bowls and plates each (made from seasonal naturally shed palm leaves), plus FSC-certified wooden knives, forks and spoons and fully compostable cups. If the box is reused, this should give a family of four enough kit for six picnics.
Although not as sturdy as wicker or an insulated hamper, the box will be reusable (as long as it doesn’t get wet) and can hold a decent amount of food. The plates and bowls are sturdy and can take hot liquids, too.
Those who love the convenience of disposables can get their fix without harming the environment, and without any plastics, as all products are fully compostable.
How we tested picnic baskets
Our reviewer filled the hampers with picnic recipes and tested the picnic hampers in local parks, as well as their garden. The food varied between mid-morning brunches with cheese and crusty bread and coffee, to grab-and-go feasts of tomato and potato salads, hummus dips with crudites, watermelon slices, homemade cakes and spreads using our foolproof picnic recipes.
While testing, we looked carefully at handle comfort, capacity, the practicality of the design and quality of build, the quality and quantity of accessories, the ease of using the fastening mechanisms and how secure they were. We questioned whether the basket made our picnic stress-free and more pleasurable or proved more a hindrance than a help.
What we looked for in a picnic hamper
Large baskets without a durable handle or shoulder strap to take the weight may result in handles pulling free from their rivets after a few heavy picnics. It's important to consider how long they will last under duress, especially if you like a boozy, wine-fuelled picnic.
Accessories are fun and add to the occasion, but if you have kids, will those glasses really be the best thing to drink from? If you plan to walk to your favourite picnic spot, make sure you consider how bulky and easy to carry your basket will be.
Insulated compartments or separate cool bags will mean your food stays cold and safe to eat on a hot day. All those straps and buckles can be tiresome to undo and redo, and while the elastic straps don’t look so attractive, they are definitely a swift solution to securing accessories.
Value for money
Picnic hampers can get expensive, so you’ll want to ensure you're getting the best value for money in terms of quality of the basket and accessories. Materials vary from cheaper plastic to glass and fine bone china, so make sure you consider how you’ll be using the basket before deciding how much to invest.
The appetite of your party or the occasions you'll most often use your basket for will have an impact on which one you choose. It’s all very well having lots of accessories lining your basket, but if it means you have to sacrifice a sandwich or two, then it might not be the basket for you.
Quality of materials
If you want your picnic basket to last and look good, you will want a well-made basket with quality wicker and sturdy handles and straps. The quality of any insulation will determine how long it will keep your food cold and safe. Better-quality materials can also make for a more cumbersome basket, so you need to prioritise and weigh up the ease of carrying against more expensive, quality materials.
Whether you prefer a traditional, classic picnic hamper or something a little more fun and playful, you’ll want your picnic hamper to look good while you’re out and about.
What to put in a picnic basket
This review was last updated in July 2020 If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have a favourite picnic basket? We'd love to hear your product suggestions…