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  • It's picnic season, but which blanket to choose? - Magic Beans - Spilling the Beans

It’s picnic season, but which blanket to choose?

New post! Our top ten beach & pool toys & gear items for summer 2016!

Summer is finally at the door, and this is the time of year for sitting on grass. Picnics, concerts or just a leisurely afternoon in the park, any excuse is a good one for spreading out a blanket and settling in to enjoy the warm weather. Any tablecloth, blanket or large towel will do the trick, but there are also two great products that are designed specifically for this purpose, and they offer streamlined portability, waterproof protection, generous sizing and other thoughtful features for grass-loving families.

For a while, I’ve been curious about the differences between these two products, so I decided to do some product testing. Today was a beautiful day in Boston, so I brought both blankets to the local park and spread them on the grass. Then I put out some potato chips, oreos and lemonade for my daughter to share. Pretty soon, we had a small crowd of kids and parents and lots of interesting feedback.

The Essentials Blanket by JJ Cole
Essentials BlanketFrom the makers of the best-selling BundleMe, the Essentials Blanket is both sleek and chic. The materials are durable and the color palette is very contemporary. It folds quickly and easily into the shape of a cute bag. The outer fabric is water-resistant nylon and the striped inner fabric, also nylon, is resistant to stains. The coolest feature is the folding guide. This sewn-in insert makes folding the blanket almost foolproof. There’s also an adjustable and detachable shoulder strap. Open dimensions are 60″ x 60″, and it folds down to about 16″ x 11″ x 4″.

The Tuffo Throw-About Blanket
Tuffo BlanketThe Tuffo performs a similar function to the Essentials Blanket, but it boasts a larger surface area. There is a layer of polyester batting which adds some extra loft and bulk, but it is still lighter than the smaller JJ Cole model. Like the Essentials Blanket, the Tuffo offers a water-resistant nylon backing, but the top-side is a soft cotton fabric. The Tuffo can be machine washed and dried, and each blanket comes with a coordinating tote-style carry bag. The open dimensions are 54″ x 84″, making it about 25% bigger than the Essentials Blanket. Closed dimensions are 22″ x 15″ x 3″.

Survey says…
So, which one should you buy? Based on our testing, it depends on how you intend to use it. The JJ Cole blanket received high marks for ease-of-use and portability. It spread out easily and held its shape well. When it got dirty, a quick shake would clean it off. It seemed to me that the fabric was thicker than the Tuffo. I felt more cushioned from the contours of the grass, and it the lining seemed like it would hold up well to water. When it came time to fold up, the Essentials Blanket was a piece of cake. No instructions necessary, and I got it perfectly on the first try. It was very comfortable to carry home using the strap.

The Tuffo won praise for its size. Two adults fit cozily on the Essentials Blanket, but we had the same two adults, along with four children lounging comfortably on the Tuffo. Several parents felt that the Tuffo seemed more authentic as a picnic blanket; they preferred the softer fabric. But the Tuffo showed dirt much more quickly than the JJ Cole blanket, and by the end of the afternoon there were several stains from muddy feet and mashed up oreo cookies. I suspect these will come out in the wash, though. When it came to folding the Tuffo, I referred to the included instructions several times and attempted to follow them. After two failed attempts, I just tried to follow the existing fold lines and then stuffed it into the carry sling. It was not nearly as elegant as the competition, but it worked.

The decision will ultimately come down to size, style, portability and protection. The Tuffo is the clear winner for size (unless you want something small). Style is totally subjective. More urban types will prefer the undeniably hip vibe of the Essentials Blanket, while more traditional types will prefer the Tuffo. For portability, it is a question of priorities. The Tuffo is lighter, but the Essentials Blanket is easier. As for protection, understand that both companies describe their blankets as water-resistant, not waterproof. This means that if you put your blanket down on grass that is soaking wet, your fanny will probably not stay dry. Although I elected not to test this out on my own fanny, my impression was the Essentials Blanket would be better than the Tuffo.

While I heard a lot of differing opinions about the two products, all the parents I met were excited about the idea of a water-resistant blanket. As a mom, I was pretty thrilled with both of them. It was great to have a landing spot at the park where the kids could congregate and snack. A friend joined me, along with her infant son, and we found the blankets were particularly useful as a safe, clean spot for him to hang out. All in all, either one would be a worthwhile investment for this coming summer.

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