Historically, a picnic basket was literally a basket used to transport food and other supplies to have a meal, usually lunch, out in nature. These days most picnic baskets are more like backpacks, but their fundamental purpose — to transport food, plates, drink, and cutlery — remains the same.
Classic-style picnic baskets are still available from a number of producers. These baskets are usually made of wicker or a similar material. They consist of a single large storage space, usually with a handle and flaps that open at both ends on the top. These baskets are suitable for transporting food and liquid relatively short distances, but temperature control is not possible and often the food will undergo some trauma. More advanced wicker picnic baskets, such as English style hampers, have clips on the inside to hold plates, utensils, and a large picnic cloth.
Picnic totes are the other basic type of picnic basket available on the market. These serve essentially the same function as a traditional picnic basket, but more closely resemble a backpack. They come equipped with a wide array of clips and sleeves for all manner of flatware, napkins, cloths, and plates. They also usually have holsters on the side or front to hold bottles of wine or juice. The obvious advantage of a tote over a traditional basket is the greatly reduced difficulty in carrying it for long distances, as the weight is much better distributed. Additionally, totes are usually well padded to help protect the food from damage during transport.
More expensive totes include systems to help regulate the temperature of food and liquid being transported. This may involve heavy insulation on the entire tote, or different areas for hot and cold food. Many totes, even those which don't regulate the temperature of the food, have insulation on their wine sleeves to ensure that the wine remains at its appropriate temperature.
Picnic baskets and picnic totes come in all manner of shapes, sizes and colors. Varieties are available for specific functions, such as plastic beach totes. Prices vary drastically, from US$20 for a simple traditional basket to over US$300 for a well-insulated, durable picnic tote.
A wide range of picnic accessories are also usually available wherever picnic baskets are sold. Accessories may include disposable utensils, unbreakable plates, cushioned cloths for place settings, and a variety of thermoses — including those designed especially for serving wine.