What to Pack for a Picnic Hike

See what to pack for a picnic hike with this detailed guide including picnic essentials and our favorite picnic foods.

Picnic hikes can be a great way to spend a summer afternoon relaxing by an alpine lake or enjoy a sunset from your favorite overlook. But if you’ve never packed up a meal for the backcountry, you may be wondering what to pack for a picnic hike.

It’s all about finding the right balance between what you need for the hike itself and what you need for the picnic, all while keeping it as lightweight and manageable as possible.

In this post, we walk you through the process of packing for your picnic hike and offer tips and suggestions to make your experience as enjoyable as possible.

How To Plan Your Picnic Hike

Before you start packing your hiking backpack, it’s essential to get a clear plan in place for your picnic hike – just like any other hike you might go on.

Your plan should account for a variety of factors, which will ultimately dictate what you need to pack. Here’s what you should consider:

  • Length of Hike: The distance and duration of your hike will significantly influence the type and amount of food and water you’ll need to carry. Longer hikes will require more sustenance and hydration, and remember that everything you pack in, you’ll also have to pack out (including food scraps). We suggest picking a shorter hike (ideally 1-3 miles roundtrip) for your first hiking picnic.
  • Weather Conditions: Checking the weather forecast before you set out is crucial. If there’s a chance of rain, you might need a waterproof cover for your backpack to keep food from getting wet. If it’s going to be hot, you’ll need to think about what food items you can bring that won’t melt in the heat.
  • Trail Difficulty: Understanding the difficulty level of the hiking trail will help you prepare better. You probably won’t want to lug a heavy backpack full of food up to the top of a 14,000 ft peak. We suggest picking a trail with less than 1000ft. elevation gain for a more casual picnic hike.
  • Group Size: The size of your group can also affect your packing list. A larger group might mean more food and drinks, but it also means you can share the load. If you’re hiking with kids, you’ll need to pack kid-friendly snacks and possibly some games or activities to keep them engaged.
  • Suitable Picnic Spots: Try to choose a hike that has a suitable picnic spot like a grassy meadow where you can spread out a blanket, a sandy beach, a rock ledge overlook, or another nice spot to enjoy your meal.
Woman sitting at edge of rock ledge overlooking waterfall eating lunch
Choose a hike that has a nice picnic spot where you can set up your spread

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Food Ideas for Picnic Hikes

So you’ve picked out a great trail with a nice picnic spot, but what should you pack to eat?

The classic is a PB&J, but if you’re reading this, chances are you want something a bit more sophisticated.

When packing for your picnic lunch, choose foods that are relatively lightweight, can withstand some jostling around, and won’t melt or perish in a few hours. Always look for items that don’t create a ton of mess or require elaborate setup.

Here are our top picks for what to pack for a picnic hike:

  • DIY cheese and charcuterie board with nuts, crackers, dried fruit, crackers, etc… (prepare and serve on a lightweight foldable cutting board). A baguette can easily fit into the side pocket of your daypack… just saying 🙂
  • Fresh-cut veggies and fruit
  • Tortilla wraps or roll-ups filled with your favorite protein, cheese, veggies, and spreads
  • Pre-packaged snacks (you can find our favorite hiking snacks here)
  • Pick up a yummy to-go sandwich or takeaway Thai food from your favorite local joint
  • Pasta salad or grain salad stored in a leak-proof container
  • Chips & dip (Trader Joe’s has some of our favorites!)
  • No-bake energy balls
  • Mason jar salads (maybe ditch the glass jar and use something more lightweight)
  • Vegetarian sushi rolls
  • Sweet treats like cookies, brownies, or muffins
  • A canned beverage of choice

Have more ideas? Share your favorite picnic hikes lunches in the comments!

Tip: Remove as much excess packaging and plastic before heading out on your hike so you cut down on the trash you’re needing to pack out!

Hand holding sandwhich
Sandwiches are a classic picnic hike lunch. Elevate yours with delicious spreads and fillings!

What To Pack For A Picnic Hike

In addition to the 10 essentials you should pack on every hike, there’s a few things you need to elevate your hiking game on a picnic hike.

You can probably cobble together everything you need for your picnic hike with what you have in your kitchen and gear closet, but if you’re looking to make your experience extra special, here are our favorite items for a nice picnic on the trail:

1. Picnic blanket

Whether you’re headed to a remote beach or a rocky peak, the REI Co-op Outdoor Blanket is the perfect picnic companion. It weighs just a pound and a half and can easily be stuffed into your day pack.

The bottom layer has a water-resistant finish to keep you dry while the top is made of soft microfleece, great for enjoying a post-picnic nap.

2. Swiss Army Knife

Every outdoor adventurer should have a good Swiss army knife. They come in handy on picnics when you need to slice a block of cheese, pop that half bottle of wine, cut open a package, or even pick a pesky morsel of food out of your tooth with a toothpick.

The Swiss Army Camper Knife features a variety of useful tools while still being compact and lightweight.

3. Hydro Flask Cooler Cup

The Hydro Flask Cooler Cup is a clever design that keeps beverages cold on your hike in and then doubles as a cup when it’s time to drink them.

For added chill factor, refrigerate the containers the night before so they’re extra cold when you head out.

4. Picnic Flatware

Elevate your picnic experience by bringing stainless steel flatware instead of cheap plastic utensils.

This flatware set by Hydro Flask comes with its own carry sleeve that keeps your forks, knives, and spoons organized and easy to find.

5. Plates

You can use any non-breakable plates for your picnic hike, but if you want a set that cleans up well and looks nice, check out the stainless steel Hydro Flask camp plate.

6. Bee’s Wrap

I’m always trying to find ways to reduce single-use plastics, so I was really excited to discover Bee’s Wrap, which can be used in lieu of plastic wrap.

These sheets are coated with a thin layer of beeswax and can be used to wrap up sandwiches, cheeses, veggies, fruits, or any other food items you have planned for your picnic.

To clean them, simply rinse them with cool water and let them dry before reusing them!

7. Stasher bags

These reusable silicone Stasher Bags are perfect for carrying picnic goodies like chopped fruits and veggies, sandwiches, trail mix, or other picnic supplies.

Unlike normal ziplock bags, these are meant to be reused, so simply rinse them out and repeat!

Woman sitting on rock on hike eating snacks out of a reusable Stasher Bag
I love using Stasher Bags to carry food on my hikes because they’re durable and reusable

8. Crazy Creek Chair

For a picnic party, my Crazy Creek is my go-to chair. It takes about five seconds to put together and provides more than ample back support. It also has hook-and-loop straps to attach to your backpack so you can be hands-free on your hike.

This chair is also perfect for outdoor concerts and movies and especially helpful on river trips where you are sitting upright in a boat all day.

9. Wet Wipes

Wet wipes are always useful to have around. They’re great for cleaning up post-picnic when you need to wipe off dirty utensils or plates. These Surviveware wet wipes are nice and thick and large enough so you only need to use 1 or 2.

Please remember to pack out all used wet wipes and dispose of them in a trash can, even if they say biodegradable.

10. Hand sanitizer

Bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you to clean your hands before you eat your picnic. I like this travel-sized bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Hand Sanitizer.

11. Bug repellant

Nothing can ruin a nice picnic faster than a swarm of mosquitos or pesky gnats. Be prepared to fend off insects with some good bug repellant.

Natrapel is a plant-based, non-toxic bug repellant that works pretty well. However, if you know biting insects will be a problem, you might want to go with something that contains DEET.

Leave No Trace on Picnic Hikes

It’s important to mention the 7 Leave No Trace principles so you can follow good environmental practices on your picnic hike.

They are:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate to other visitors

You can read more about the 7 Principles and find examples in our Leave No Trace blog post.

Have a great hike!

We hope this post helps you plan a memorable picnic hike! What are your best picnic hike tips and essentials? Do you have a favorite hike or experience to share? Let us know in the comments!

Bearfoot Theory | Looking for advice on what to pack for a picnic hike? Explore this comprehensive guide filled with essential tips and packing list recommendations for the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation. From selecting the right hiking gear to packing the most delicious and convenient picnic foods, we've got you covered. Plus, we share ways to enhance your experience and promote eco-friendly practices for a memorable and responsible outdoor adventure.

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