The 8 Best Outdoor Solar Lights of 2023, Tested in Our Lab

2023-02-15 17:35:59 By : Mr. Kaibo Yang

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Outdoor solar lights can transform your backyard into an inviting oasis, light the path to your front door after dark, and even help deter intruders. No matter which type you choose, these versatile lights take in sunlight during the day to illuminate your yard at night. Solar Motion Sensor Light

The 8 Best Outdoor Solar Lights of 2023, Tested in Our Lab

We tested 27 outdoor solar lights in our Lab and evaluated them on setup, features, design, brightness, durability, and value. We even set up a GoPro camera to find out exactly how long the lights stayed on in the middle of the night. For expert advice, we spoke with Cate Singleton, director of design at Tilly, an online landscape design company. Before deciding which outdoor solar lights to buy, the most important factor to consider is how much sunlight you get in that area, according to Singleton.

"Sun exposure and making sure there is enough sun in your yard to charge your lights would be top of the list," says Singleton. "I recommend doing a true assessment of the morning and afternoon sun conditions within your space."

Our top pick, the Urpower Outdoor Solar Spotlights, comes with two different brightness modes, which provide ample lighting for illuminating houses, driveways, landscaping, and more. Plus, you can adjust the angle of the solar panel to receive as much sunlight as possible during the day, as well as the angle of the light to direct it where it's most needed.

Find more of the best outdoor solar lights below.

Who it's for: People who want durable spotlights that can be adjusted to light up different areas.

Who it isn't for: People who want more stylish outdoor solar lights.

If you're looking to illuminate a specific area—whether it be your house, driveway, landscaping, or pool—the Urpower Outdoor Solar Spotlights are an excellent choice. In our testing, the automatic dusk-to-dawn lights remained on for 7 hours and 46 minutes on a full charge. They put out an impressive 200 lumens of light on the highest mode (there's also a low setting if you don't need as much brightness). The lights themselves can be adjusted up to 90 degrees to illuminate where it's most needed, while the solar panel can be angled up to 150 degrees so you can face it where it will receive the most sunlight during the day.

These spotlights also stood out for their durability in our evaluations. With a weather-resistance rating of IP65, these solar lights sustained no damage after we poured water over them, dropped golf balls on them, and placed them in the freezer for one hour.

Additionally, the Urpower lights come with two different installation options—you can insert them into the ground using the provided stakes or mount them to the wall using the included hardware. The lights are available in three different colors: cool white, warm white, and multicolor. They don't come with any pattern options, such as blinking or strobe modes, and they aren't particularly sophisticated in terms of design, according to our testers. However, for basic solar spotlights, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better value than the Urpower Outdoor Solar Spotlights.

Price at time of publish: $36 for 2

Who it's for: People who want to add soft ambient lighting to a patio, deck, or porch.

Who it isn't for: People who are looking for solar lights to increase visibility or security.

Unlike the string lights synonymous with Christmas decorations and college dorm rooms, Brightech's outdoor string lights feature large, Edison-style bulbs that give off a warm, moody glow. In our testing, the dusk-to-dawn solar lights stayed on for 7 hours and 52 minutes. Testers note that the solar panel comes with two easy installation options: a stake for inserting it into the ground and a clip that allows you to secure it to a railing—the latter is a great option for an apartment balcony or porch.

The bulbs are spaced out 20 inches apart, and the lights are available in two different cable lengths, 27 and 48 feet. (Testers found that you can't connect multiple cables together, though.) In our durability testing, the shatterproof plastic bulbs and the solar panel weren't damaged at all after being hit with golf balls and running water (although the solar panel did get knocked off kilter a bit), nor were they affected by being placed in the freezer.

Keep in mind that these soft white lights are meant to enhance the overall appearance and feel of your outdoor space, not necessarily to increase visibility around your home. But if your primary goal is to create an inviting outdoor space, the Brightech Ambience Pro Solar String Lights will do just that.

Price at time of publish: From $48

Who it's for: People who want flexible string lights that can be twisted around shrubs, trees, railings, and more.

Who it isn't for: People who want extra-bright solar lights.

Strung on a flexible, shapeable copper wire, these whimsical, fairy lights from Brightown can be wrapped around just about anything, including shrubs, trees, railings, and more. Keep in mind that they're designed to produce low, ambient light that's more for decoration than visibility. In our testing, these automatic dusk-to-dawn lights did not provide enough brightness to read a book—but when fully charged, they stayed on for 7 hours and 56 minutes.

The solar panel can be installed via a stake in the ground, and the angle can be adjusted up to 120 degrees to receive the most sunlight possible. The lights received high marks in all our durability tests, and boast an impressive IP65 weather-resistance rating.

One of the most unique features is the numerous modes, including sequential, waves, slow glow, slow fade, twinkle, and steady on, so you can switch things up from time to time or play around with them to determine which you like best. The Brightown LED Solar Powered Fairy Lights come in a set of two and are available in multiple sizes (ranging in length from 33 to 198 feet) and colors (like warm white, bright green, and multicolor).

Price at time of publish: From $20 for 2

Who it's for: People who want to illuminate a walkway or driveway.

Who it isn't for: People who want outdoor solar lights with multiple brightness settings.

These Hampton Bay solar path lights will illuminate walkways, driveways, flower beds, and more, all while adding a sophisticated look to your outdoor space. We particularly like the unique, crackled-glass design, which testers say gives the lights a "sparkling" effect—though it does not detract from the brightness.

This pick, which is designed to turn on at dusk and stay on until dawn, remained lit for 8 hours and 2 minutes in our testing on a full charge. They're easy to assemble with just three simple parts, including a plastic stake that secures them into the ground. In terms of durability, these lights were able to withstand all the elements we threw at them. They only come with one brightness setting, which our testers found to only produce enough light to read from while directly under the lamp. However, for their intended purpose of providing low light where you need it (aka near the ground), the Hampton Bay Jefferson Solar Path Lights are an excellent choice. And since the price per light breaks down to just over $11, this set is also a great value.

Price at time of publish: $114 for 10

Who it's for: People who want focused lighting with a long operating time.

Who it isn't for: People who want soft ambient lighting.

In our testing, these automatic solar-powered spotlights stayed on for an impressive 8 hours and 16 minutes with a full charge—and according to the manufacturer, they can last up to 12 hours depending on which of the two brightness modes you choose. One tester says these spotlights "provided great light while in the dark room," noting that "even after the water and golf [ball] test, the light was just as bright and stable."

We found these solar lights easy to assemble and insert into the ground using the included stakes, although they can also be mounted to the wall. The light itself can tilt up to 120 degrees, so you can focus it exactly where you want, whether it be on a house, driveway, or landscape feature. Plus, you can choose between cool and warm light, depending on your preference.

Price at time of publish: $40 for 2

Who it's for: People who want decorative solar lighting that's still bright enough to provide substantial visibility.

Who it isn't for: People who don't have a column or post in their yard and aren't willing to purchase one.

If you happen to have a post or column in your yard, mounting this traditional lantern to the top will add an elegant touch to your space and a bright light to your lawn. Our testers found it easy to read by the light of this Kemeco lantern, which is no surprise given it puts out an impressive 135 lumens. Plus, the dusk-to-dawn light remained lit for 8 hours and 6 minutes in our testing.

The lantern has frosted glass and a cast aluminum frame that comes in both black and white, which gives off a cottagecore look and feel. Keep in mind that this pick requires a screwdriver to assemble, and it's especially important that you attach it securely to the post—testers found that it's a bit top-heavy, and the glass shattered when we dropped a golf ball on it from six feet above. This solar post light is on the pricier end of those we tested, however, it doubles as a piece of decor that will elevate the look of any outdoor space.

Price at time of publish: $100

Who it's for: People who want mounted accent lighting for entryways, fences, and more.

Who it isn't for: People who want a solar light that will last the entire night.

These wall-mounted hanging lanterns provide soft, warm lighting that's perfect for illuminating entrances, porches, fences, and more, without being overly bright or harsh. In our testing, we found the light to be too dim for reading, but it was just right for illuminating an entry point.

Though these are marketed as dusk-to-dawn lights, the manufacturer doesn't specify exactly how long they should stay on—and we found they had the shortest operating time out of all those on our list, at just 4 hours and 15 minutes. But if you're just looking to light the way for comings and goings at night, this is likely more than enough time.

The Home Zone Solar Powered Wall Lantern Lights also survived our water, golf ball, and freezer testing—a testament to their impressive IP67 weather-resistance rating. Overall, this would make a great choice for anyone who wants a wall-mounted light for illuminating a small area.

Price at time of publish: $50 for 2

Who it's for: People who want their solar lights to turn on when triggered by people, animals, or cars.

Who it isn't for: People who want a warm light more for the ambiance.

These spotlights are the only outdoor solar lights on our list with motion-sensing technology—meaning they have a built-in sensor that can detect movement within a 33-foot range and 120-degree angle—and testers found that it worked as expected. According to the manufacturer, the light will be triggered by people, animals, and cars, but not by wind, rain, or frost. Given the IP68 weather-resistance rating, the AloftSun Motion Sensor Solar Spotlights unsurprisingly survived all our durability testing.

The most unique feature of these spotlights is that there are three different modes. In the dim light sensor mode, the lighting stays dimmed when there's no motion and switches to high when motion is detected. The constant-on mode keeps the light on medium, whether or not there is motion nearby. On the high light sensor mode, the light says off without motion and switches to high with motion. Our testers found that even on the dimmest setting, the light was bright enough to read by—and it stayed lit for an entire 8 hours when fully charged.

The lights come in packs of two and four, and they can be mounted to the wall or inserted into the ground. We just wish there was a warm light option available, as some people might find the cool light a little too harsh for their taste.

Price at time of publish: $50 for 2

Our top pick is the Urpower Outdoor Solar Spotlights because they can be installed in two different ways and have two brightness modes, the highest of which is an impressive 200 lumens. We also appreciate that both the solar panel and the light itself are adjustable, so you can direct the light where it's most needed and make sure the panel gets the most sunlight possible.

We tested 27 outdoor solar lights in our Lab, evaluating each based on its setup, features, design, brightness, durability, and value. First, we unboxed each product and assembled it according to the manufacturer's instructions. We then charged each light in direct sunlight for the amount of time specified in the instructions.

Once the light was fully charged, we moved it to a completely dark room and observed whether it turned on independently (for dusk-to-dawn lights only). Our testers evaluated how bright each light was by attempting to read a book by the glow of its light.

For lights with multiple settings, we cycled through the various patterns and colors and took note of how easy it was to change the mode. For lights with a motion sensor (such as the AloftSun Motion Sensor Solar Spotlights), we set each model to the motion-detection mode, exited the room, waited two minutes, and then returned to the room at a distance of at least two feet from the light, noting how well the sensor registered movement.

Next, our testers used a watering can to sprinkle each light with water to simulate rain. We then took the light back to the dark room to see if its functionality was affected by the water. To further assess the durability of each product, we dropped a golf ball on the light from 6 feet above and again on each solar panel (when applicable) from 4 feet above and recorded whether any damage occurred. (The Kemeco Outdoor Post Light was the only one on our list that was damaged by the golf ball.) Our testers also placed each light in the freezer for an hour and then repeated the above tests to simulate cold-weather conditions.

Finally, we took our testing outdoors. We set up each light side-by-side in our outdoor testing area, within view of a GoPro camera. We evaluated the ease of installation for each light and then set it to its automatic dusk-to-dawn mode or its manual on/off mode, depending on the type. We left the lights on overnight and reviewed the GoPro footage to record the light output, noting the times each model turned on and off. Our best spotlight pick, the Vont Solar Spotlights, stayed on the longest: 8 hours and 16 minutes, to be exact. Once our evaluations were complete, testers received the retail price of each item and scored its overall value relative to its performance in the above tests.

Solar lights typically fall into one of three categories: dusk-to-dawn, motion-activated, and timer-controlled lights. Dusk-to-dawn solar lights are the most common—they use sensors to detect sunlight and automatically illuminate when the sun goes down and remain on until sunrise, making them a great choice for decorative lighting. However, dusk-to-dawn options can have trouble storing enough solar energy during the day to stay lit all night, particularly if you live in an area with limited sunlight.

Motion-activated solar lights turn on when they register movement, which helps conserve energy. These are best suited for people who want solar lights for security purposes or guidance, such as spotlights. Finally, timer-controlled lights allow you to specify exactly how long you want your lights left on, giving you maximum control.

It's important to consider exactly where you want to direct light, according to Singleton, who adds: "Do you need to illuminate pathways? Are you looking to create a focal point in the yard? Are there steps that need lighting for safety? Do you have a back gate that needs lighting for easy access?" Below are common varieties of outdoor lighting, each with a different intended use.

The brightness of lights is measured in lumens, and the higher the number, the brighter the light. For ambient lighting, five–100 lumens is best, while lights meant for security (such as spotlights and floodlights) typically go even higher. Some solar lights come with multiple brightness settings designed for different purposes.

Simply put, an IP rating is a measure of how waterproof or weather-resistant an item is. This is especially important for outdoor solar lights, as they're going to be exposed to various weather conditions and elements.

"IP stands for Ingress Protection and relates to the amount of protection the fixture will have against solids and liquids," says Singleton. "A good rating for an outdoor solar light would be IP65. The first number refers to the ability to repel dust and debris, six being the highest. The second number refers to how airtight the fixture is. Level five will [protect] against angled spray, while level eight can be completely submerged in deep water."

When you see an IP rating with an X in it, this means the product does not offer protection for that category. For example, IPX4 means the device is protected from water splashes in all directions, but not from dust and debris.

There are a few special features you may want to consider, depending on your needs and budget. Some outdoor solar lights are WiFi-enabled, so you can control them from your phone. Others feature the ability to change color or patterns (i.e. blinking or strobe lights), which can be fun during the holidays and when hosting parties.

Linkind Outdoor Solar Motion Sensor Landscape Spotlights: This is a less expensive motion-sensing option with a simple streamlined design and several different modes to choose from. However, it fell short of the competition because it only lasted 4 hours and 9 minutes in our testing, although this may be enough for some people.

Frontgate Pro Series VI Solar Path Lights: If you're willing to spend a little more, these path lights have an attractive design and produce 60 lumens of light. Unfortunately, they only lasted 3 hours and 20 minutes on a full charge.

Singleton says that "solar lights charge during the day with the sun and then light up at night when they have energy." But on a more complex level, she explains that solar lights are made up of five basic components: solar cells, the photoresistor, the battery, the controller board, and the LED light.

"The solar cells are connected directly to the battery," says Singleton. "The solar cell is essentially charging the battery during the daytime. After sundown, the solar cell stops producing power and the photoresistor turns on the LED light. The controller board is the 'brain' of the solar light and takes in power from both the solar cell and the battery, along with input from the photoresistor to indicate when to turn on the LED."

Solar lights stay on until the batteries run out or the photoresistor detects the absence of light (in the case of dusk-to-dawn lights).

Solar lights can still work in indirect sunlight and on cloudy days, but they may not stay on as long. For best results, place your solar light in a location that gets several hours of direct sunlight each day.

"A good rule of thumb is eight direct hours of sunlight will produce approximately 15 hours of illumination, but it will vary depending on the exact light you have," says Singleton.

When installing solar lights, you'll need to consider both where you need light during the night and where you receive direct sunlight during the day. "In general, the best places to install solar lights would be along pathways and for highlighting focal features—whether that be a structural plant in the landscape, a water feature, or a sculptural element," says Singleton.

This article was written by Melanie Fincher, associate commerce editor for Real Simple with three years of experience writing product reviews and lifestyle content. To come up with this list, we tested 27 outdoor solar lights in our Lab and evaluated them on setup, features, design, brightness, durability, and value. For expert tips on how to shop for outdoor solar lights, Melanie spoke with Cate Singleton, director of design at Tilly, an online landscape design company. Melanie uses the Brightech Ambience Pro Solar String Lights to illuminate her porch every evening and loves the ambiance they provide.

Next to each product on this list, you may have noticed a Real Simple Selects seal of approval. Any product appearing alongside that seal has been vetted by our team—put through tests and graded on its performance to earn a spot on our list. Although we buy most of the products we test, sometimes we do get samples from companies if purchasing a product ourselves isn't an option. All products go through the same rigorous process, whether they are purchased or sent by the company.

The 8 Best Outdoor Solar Lights of 2023, Tested in Our Lab

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