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Outdoor lights using solar energy are the perfect landscape lighting solution. They tend to be budget-friendly and easy to install, and you can place them exactly where you want them because they don't require plug-in power sources. But it's important to consider the placement and purpose of outdoor solar lights, says Sheva Knopfler, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Lights.com, a well-known online retailer of all kinds of lights and lightbulbs. "How much brightness do you need?" she recommends asking yourself. "Does the light need to be direct or spread out? The height of your solar lights is also important. Will they be a tripping hazard? Are you able to install them into your pavement or garden?"
Over the course of several days, we tested 27 different solar lights at our Lab in Des Moines, Iowa, including path lights, spotlights, lanterns, wall-mounted, and string lights. After assembling and charging them in sunlight for the time specified by the manufacturer's instructions, we evaluated their assembly, brightness, features, design, value, and durability. And then we went beyond: We froze them, read under them, and dropped golf balls on their solar panels. We even video-recorded them overnight to make sure they truly stayed on from dusk until dawn!
Based on our testing and Sheva's thoughtful guidance, the AloftSun Motion Sensor Solar Landscape Spotlights is our top choice. We found it to be highly durable, bright, and versatile, with three different lighting modes and two installation methods (wall or ground.)
Here are the best outdoor solar lights to install around your home, all tested by The Spruce.
Best Overall: AloftSun Motion Sensor Solar Landscape Spotlights
Highest waterproof rating
Three easy-to-use modes
Bright enough to read by
Two installation methods
Our top pick, AloftSun Motion Sensor Solar Landscape Spotlights, withstood all of our durability tests, are easy to use, and are bright enough to read by! These spotlights can detect motion from as much as 33 feet away, depending on the setting. The three modes that operate from dusk until dawn—dim light/high light when motion is detected; no light/high light when motion is detected; or medium light/constantly on—give you options to suit your lighting needs and are simple to use. (It did, however, take us a few minutes at first to figure out how to trigger them.) Easy to put together (just two pieces), this two-pack of lights can either be staked into the ground (the method we tested) or mounted onto a wall with the included hardware.
We were impressed at how these lights held up during our durability tests. Since the manufacturer claims these lights have the highest waterproof rating and are frost-resistant, we sprinkled water on them, then froze them for over an hour. After each test, the lights still worked as well as before! We also dropped a golf ball on their solar light panel from a distance of 6 feet, and they still held up.
These spotlights feature 30 LED light chips, which help illuminate your pathway or yard easily, stand up to the elements, and are noted by the manufacturer to have a 40,000-hour lifespan. However, they are not particularly stylish. And they are more cool-toned than our tester prefers for their home. However, if you are looking for durable, bright lights with useful features, you can’t go wrong with this pick.
Best Budget: Brightown Outdoor Solar String Lights
Includes an extra set
Eight lighting modes
Low ambient lighting
Not as many placement options
For an affordable option that adds ambiance to your outdoor space, we recommend the 33-foot-long Brightown Outdoor Solar string lights. Available in nine colors (we tested white), these fairy lights survived all of our durability tests and were easy to install, with only two stakes needed for the solar panels. And because they are solar-powered, you don’t need electricity for them to work, unlike many other outdoor string lights. We would have liked them, however, to provide more light to read by.
We especially appreciate the eight lighting modes, including combination, waves, sequential, slow glow, chasing/flash, slow fade, twinkle/flash, and steady-on, so you can choose fun options for gatherings or holidays. After turning on automatically at night, these lights have up to 10-hour runtime, but inexplicably, they did turn off for 60-second increments during our overnight testing. Also, you have to be sure to place the solar light panels where they can get light, which may limit placement options a bit. However, this two-pack is a great budget option, especially if you are looking for string lights or want to add a fun element to your outdoor decor.
Best Set: Hampton Bay Solar Warm White Landscape Path Lights, 10-Pack
Great value for pack size
Durable and bright
Only one setting
Only sold in large packs
Solar path lights allow you to illuminate a walkway or driveway without having to worry about having outdoor electricity or extension cords. Aside from being stylish and durable, this 10-pack from Hampton Bay is a great value, especially if you have a longer area. We loved the “sparkly effect” these lights display on the ground, as well as their unique crackle look on the glass. Our concern that this would affect the brightness of the light was unfounded—it was still so bright, you could read directly under them!
We also found these lights to be as durable as they were aesthetically pleasing, holding up well during watering, freezing, and being impacted with a golf ball. Made of aluminum, glass, and plastic, they stand 18 inches tall and have only three pieces to assemble, which we found to be easy. Like many of these solar lights, they feature dusk-to-dawn operation and stayed lit for 8 hours (after an 8-hour charge). They offer no other settings or special features and only come in packs of 10. However, if you are looking for a great set of path lights, this option stands out.
Best Spotlight: Vont LED Outdoor Solar Lights
Durable and waterproof
Two placement options
Can pivot 120 degrees
Only two brightness settings
If you need to illuminate a large space or specific focal point and don’t want to worry about wires or electricity, solar spotlights are a great option. The Vont LED Outdoor Solar Lights are easy to put together and install, with sturdy stakes to put in the ground or with the included screws to mount on the wall. You can even pivot them up to 120 degrees, so they can point in the exact direction you need.
The manufacturer lists these spotlights as being weather resistant, and they back this claim with a lifetime warranty. Despite what we put them through, we noticed no changes in their brightness or anything else. Although these lights turn on automatically at night, they don’t offer any other lighting features besides two brightness settings. However, if you are looking for bright spotlights that can withstand the elements, these should be your go-to.
Best String Lights: Brightech Solar LED String Lights
Durable, with shatterproof plastic bulbs
Can’t connect multiple strings
Lights aren’t as bright or stay on as long as other lights we tested
Illuminate your outdoor space with these pretty string lights, 27 feet long, with no electricity required. Just stake the solar panel in the ground or clip it to a balcony or other surface and place the lights where you want them! These vintage-style, shatterproof plastic Edison-style bulbs not only look stylish but are durable as well, holding up well during our tests. Though the solar panel moved a bit when we hit it with a golf ball, it showed no damage. They have a 1,000-charge lifespan (around 2.5 years, according to the manufacturer) and are backed by a full 2-year warranty.
Our tester loved the “moody lighting” these lights emitted but noted they were bright enough to read by only when the lights were gathered together and not strung out. Also, they did not stay lit as long as the others we tested (6 hours total). If you are mostly using them for decor or entertaining purposes, this shouldn’t be an issue. And although you can’t connect multiple strands together (as our tester hoped!), there is a 48-foot strand available if you have the space.
Best for Post: Kemco LED Cast Aluminum Solar Post Light Fixture
Bright, beautiful light
Two placement options
Easy to assemble
Post not included
Glass could shatter
A light post can add a stylish, vintage look to your decor while illuminating your entryway. And with the Kemco Solar Post Light Fixture, you have many more options on where to add it to your outdoor space, with no electricity or wires needed. You can mount this light to a 3-inch-diameter round post (not included) or to its included mounting base, which we used for our testing. It was easy to put together, with just two pieces, but we found it a bit top-heavy; we recommend attaching it to a post for a securer installation. Once set up, we loved how this aluminum light fixture’s lantern style and ripple glass added a nice glow. Despite the ripple glass, the light shines so brightly that we could even read around it while testing.
We noted that the only feature, aside from its solar capabilities, is an on/off switch. Our testing also revealed some conflicting results. On the one hand, the frosted glass shattered during our golf ball test; on the other, the solar panels still worked. Also, the manufacturer claims the product is weatherproof and wasn’t damaged when we poured water directly above it. However, we did not test water hitting it from the sides, which will happen if it’s on a post during a storm.
Best Lantern-Style: Home Zone Solar Wall Lanterns, 2-Pack
Can hang or place on table
Not as bright as other options
No on/off button or extra features
If you are looking for wall-mountable lantern-style lights, this option from Home Zone is the perfect choice. You get a two-pack of preassembled lanterns that include wall brackets and screws (no tools included). We love how versatile this set is—you can place them on a table, on a garden hook, mount them to the wall, or carry them around by their handles when you need extra light. Plus, they come with a 1-year warranty.
Made of stainless steel and glass, these lights stood up to our durability testing, with no damage to the glass or solar panels. They are bright and cheery for an entryway but not as bright as other options we tested—we couldn’t read under them. With a simple, automatic dusk-to-dawn operation, these lights are simple to use but have no other features. They also need two AA batteries to operate, which eventually need replacing. However, we love their farmhouse-style, affordable price, and the ability to have wall-mountable lights without needing electricity.
Best Path Light: Better Homes & Gardens Ellis Solar Powered Black Metal and Glass LED Path Light
Light shines 360 degrees
Tall, durable stake
Displays a sunburst pattern on the ground
Not a lot of features
Wish it was slightly brighter
Sometimes, one simple path light is all you need to make your entryway shine. The Better Homes & Gardens Ellis Solar Powered Black Metal and Glass LED Path Light is a nice addition to any entryway or outdoor space, and you may even be tempted to buy two! With a tall stake, and a globe that completely illuminates the surrounding area, this affordably priced solar light emits a nice, warm yellow glow. (When setting up, remember to pull the tab off the battery on top.) We appreciated the sunburst pattern the light displayed on the ground. We also found it bright enough to read by, although our tester expected it to be even brighter, considering the size of the bulb.
This product capably withstood our durability testing—water, freezing, and dropping a golf ball on the glass didn’t affect the light fixture or quality of the light. This path light lacks motion sensor capabilities or other features aside from an on/off switch. But when switched on, the unit stayed lighted from dusk until dawn, which, during our summer testing, was 9:13 to 5:27 a.m. CDT.
Best Motion-Sensor: Linkind StarRay LED Solar Motion Sensor Landscape Spotlights
Two motion detection modes
Bright for large spaces and pathways
Simple, all-in-one design
Can wall mount or stake in ground
Not a lot of features
A little expensive
Solar-powered lights with motion sensors allow you to add lighting when and where you need it. The Linkind StarRay LED Solar Motion Sensor Landscape Spotlights have two modes to suit your needs. You can choose to have them turn on for 25 seconds when motion is detected or to operate constantly at half light and only brighten for 10 seconds when motion is detected. (We noted that on the second mode, the difference between half-light and full-light was hardly detectable, although both modes are bright enough that we could read under them.) Although they are powered during the day, these lights do not automatically turn on at dusk unless you select one of those modes.
Aside from their motion sensor feature, we also love their versatility and streamlined design. You can stake them in the ground or mount them on a wall with the included hardware. The light and solar panel are on the same unit and can be pivoted up to 90 degrees vertically (180 degrees horizontally), so you can angle the light exactly where you want it to shine. Also, we found that these lights withstood our water and golf ball tests without sustaining damage. But when frozen, they strobed three times before turning off.
The price for the Linkind StarRay LED seems a little high for a single light, but we found it works as described and feels sturdy. We recommend it either for landscape lighting or for lighting pathways and security.
Best Basic: Litom 12 LEDs Solar Landscape Spotlights 12 LEDs Solar Landscape Spotlights
Bright and durable
Can pivot 120 degrees
High waterproof rating
Bronze color stands out
Unnoticeable difference between the two modes
Dimmed after 7 hours of testing on bright setting
Another great option for spotlights, this two-pack from Litom provides a slightly stylish but still basic look, with a bronze finish that can stand out in a garden, wall, or on a path. These spotlights are bright enough that we could read directly under them (although it would be hard to read from farther away). Also, they offer two brightness settings, but we couldn’t notice much of a difference between the two, as both were pretty bright! With only two pieces, we also found them easy to put together: We staked them in the ground, although you could also mount them on a wall with the included hardware.
We put their high waterproof rating (IP67) to the test, and they held up when we doused them. They also withstood our freezing and golf ball tests. We videoed the lights overnight on their high setting from when they turned on, at 9:21 p.m. CDT, and noticed they dimmed greatly around 5 a.m., so don’t expect them to be bright in the early morning hours. The manufacturer claims 12 hours of light on a low setting. But considering we didn't notice much difference between either setting, we believe the Litom LED solar lights' durability, performance, and slightly stylish look make them a great option.
Best Hanging: Derynome Solar Lantern Outdoor Lights with Wall Mount Kit
Easy to install
On and off switch
Durable and stylish
Tips over easily on a table
Wall-mounted lights can help you save space, but they can be a little intimidating and time-consuming to install. Plus, there could be many reasons you can’t install them in the location you want to, including lack of sunlight or surface space. Requiring a small footprint for the hanging bracket, the Derynome Solar Lantern Outdoor Lights give you all of the benefits of wall-mounted lights with little effort—you will need a drill and to make sure the holes are level, but only two screws are needed.
Our tester installed both of these lights on her home (one on an enclosed side porch and the other on a front porch post) in less than 15 minutes, not including the time it took to locate a drill. Once the brackets were installed, it only took seconds to hang the lantern on the hook. Keep in mind, though, that the lantern feels sturdy and durable but is lightweight (just over 3 pounds) and can swing around on the hook—make sure you hang it at a height that is accessible for when you need to remove it. Our tester did note that after rainy and windy weather (although not extreme), surprisingly, the lantern never blew off. The on/off switch is located inside the lantern, but our tester found it easy to twist the lantern to access it. When on, the lantern will go on and off automatically (dusk until dawn).
The bracket extends 5 inches from the wall, so even with a small overhang, the solar panel is more likely to get sun. In fact, our tester installed them under a little overhang, and they were still able to get the sunlight they needed to remain lit overnight. But since they are so easy to install, if you find you need a sunnier spot, it’s relatively easy to rehang it. Although a little brighter, this pick is very similar in style, price, weight, and durability to our lab-tested, Best Lantern-Style option, the Home Zone Solar Wall Lanterns. However, the Derynome Solar Lantern Outdoor Lights have an on/off switch and are available in three different colors (black, white, and bronze). We also like that the battery lasts longer. If you are looking for a lantern you can place on a table though, the Home Zone pick is the better choice, with a wider base.
Durable and versatile, the AloftSun Motion Sensor Solar Landscape Spotlights are our top pick with three easy-to-use lighting modes and two installation methods, so you can have bright light when and where you need it. If you are looking for a budget-friendly way to add ambiance to your outdoor space, the Brightown Outdoor Solar String Lights is a two-pack that provides 33 feet of lighting per string and has only two solar panels to install.
How We Tested The Outdoor Solar Lights
We researched popular outdoor solar lights of various styles and selected 27 to test in our Lab in Des Moines, Iowa, evaluating each on a wide and thorough array of attributes that included ease of assembly and installation, feature set, brightness, durability, and value.
After putting them together, we let all the lights charge in full sunlight for the time specified in their instructions. We then took each to a dark room to run through all of their features, including any motion sensors and lighting modes and noted how easy it was to cycle through those. (If the lights didn't turn on automatically, we searched for an accessible and functioning on/off switch.) For lights with motion sensors, we had testers exit the room, wait 2 minutes, then re-enter and note whether the lights turned on without any prompting. Then, we evaluated each light's brightness by attempting to read a book under it.
Next, we wanted to see how each product withstood the elements, including rain, hail, and winter's subfreezing temperatures. To simulate rain, we sprinkled water on them from a watering can; "hail" took the form of a golf ball, dropped from 6 feet above the fixture and 4 feet above the solar panel. Then, we froze each light for an hour. After each test, we noted any changes and checked to see that all the features were still working.
After these tests, we took them outside and evaluated how easy they were to install, when applicable. After making sure the lights were on the appropriate setting (dusk-to-dawn mode, turned on, or left alone if automatic), we set up a video camera and recorded each overnight. We then reviewed the recording, noting when each light turned on and off and any anomalies.
What to Look For in Outdoor Solar Lights
Outdoor solar lights fall into three general types based on their light output: motion-activated, dusk-to-dawn, and timer-controlled. Because of solar cell size and battery capacity, the gathered solar energy is a limited resource, so consider when you want the lights to shine and for how long. Timer-controlled solar lights give you the most control since you can specify the time they turn on and for how long.
Dusk-to-dawn solar lights use sensors to automatically illuminate when daylight dwindles and should have the lights remain on until sunrise. In regions with more limited sun, especially during winter, dusk-to-dawn lights may have trouble storing enough solar energy to stay bright for an extended period each night.
Motion-activated lights turn on when triggered by movement and conserve solar energy reserves, such as the AloftSun Motion Sensor Solar Landscape Spotlights, our Best Overall pick for its bright lighting, three modes, and two installation methods. This style is often used for floodlights or for specific lighting needs, such as outside your back door.
Where you want to use solar lights determines how you install them. Some outdoor solar lights mount like traditional light fixtures, using screws. For path lighting, solar lights with stakes are quick and easy to install—just push them into the ground, and you’re ready to go. "Brick lights are great for illuminating gardens and pathways, as they can be installed into pavement or dirt," says Sheva Knopfler, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Lights.com, a well-known online lighting retailer. Another option that is typically easy to install is solar-powered string lights. These typically have a solar panel that needs to be placed where it can receive a good amount of sun daily. For example, the Brightech Solar LED String Lights, our favorite tested string lights, can provide ambiance to your outdoor space all year long. Wall lights, which are similar to string lights in effect, are also an option some retailers offer. "Wall lights are great for general lighting around the perimeter of your space," Knopfler adds.
Lumens determine brightness: from 5 lumens for landscaping ambiance to 350 lumens or more for a strong spotlight or floodlight. Your needs depend on your desired location and application. During testing, we noted that not all products listed their lumen ratings on the package.
Keep in mind that different retailers will offer different solar brightness options, which are all designed for different purposes. "Depending on size, color, and placement in relation to the sun, most of our solar lights could produce up to 20 lumens," Knopler says. "These lights are meant to be layered, so you can customize your brightness by placing them closer or further away from each other."
- How do outdoor solar lights work?
Typically, outdoor solar lights contain several key components, including solar cells, rechargeable batteries, photoresistors, and lightbulbs. During the day, solar cells convert the sun’s rays into electricity, which the batteries store. At night, photoresistors detect the absence of ambient light and switch on the units. The light stays on until the batteries run out or the photoresistors detect light in the morning.
- Do outdoor solar lights need direct sunlight?
Solar lights placed in bright, direct light collect more energy in their batteries, which means your light stays on longer. For best results, place your solar light in a location that gets several hours of direct sunlight. However, solar lights still work in indirect light or on cloudy days—they just won’t collect as much energy and may not stay on as long.
- How do you install outdoor solar lights?
To install solar lights, follow the product instructions. Some lights are designed to be mounted to the wall using screws, while others have stakes that you stick in the ground. For the best results, arrange your product's solar panel in a way that it gets several hours of sunlight throughout the day.
- Where’s the best place to install outdoor solar lights?
To get the best results from your outdoor solar lights, place them where they get 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. If they’re designed to be wall-mounted, consider placing them up high, so they’re closer to the sun. Ensure that your lights aren't in an inconvenient location, like in the path of your lawn mower, blocking a window, or encased in shadow.
- How long do outdoor solar lights last?
In general, batteries in outdoor solar lights last 3 to 4 years before needing replacement. Some manufacturers sell replacement batteries, while others require you to buy an entirely new fixture. You can help increase your solar lights' life span by cleaning the panels regularly and protecting them from harsh winter weather. "LED lights can last up to 10 years, so if your solar lights are properly cared for and protected from extreme elements, they could last a decade," Knopfler adds.
Why Trust The Spruce?
Jenica Currie is the Associate Commerce Editor for outdoor, gardening, and home improvement at The Spruce. She has tested dozens of products at home and in the Lab, including artificial Christmas trees, clothing racks, bean bag chairs, fans, and vacuums. She spends her weekends gardening and working on other projects to improve the outdoor space around her home (including adding path lights along her driveway!). For this article, she used our test results and researched dozens of top-rated outdoor solar lights to compile this list of the best available options. Emma Phelps, an Updates Writer for The Spruce, provided research assistance for this article. She reached out to Sheva Knopfler, the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Lights.com, to learn more about best practices for choosing, installing, and caring for solar lights.
What Is Spruce Approved?
Here at The Spruce, we want to ensure we fully stand behind every product we recommend, and that when we say something is the best, we mean it. You might have noticed The Spruce Approved badge next to the products on this list. Every product with this badge has been rigorously tested in person and carefully selected by our expert team of lab testers and editors. In most cases, we buy all these products ourselves, though occasionally we get samples provided to us directly by companies. No matter how we procure products, they all go through the same tests and must meet the same strict criteria to make the best-of cut. We also pride ourselves on transparency and will always let you know if we received a product for free.