Published on August 28, 2021

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Indoors and out, lighting is everything. Just as you use candles or the soft radiance of a nearby floor or table lamp to set the tone at a dining table, the best outdoor solar lights can provide your patio or porch gatherings with the perfect ambient glow. Softer than their hardwired counterparts, solar lights are often synonymous with sustainable design, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be incredibly beautiful or functional. Our list encompasses a range of options—including those with smaller panels and integrated LED bulbs—plus expert advice from landscape architects that’s sure to add a little something extra to your balcony or backyard. From modernist lamps to paperlike globes, here are seven of the best outdoor solar lights to complete your exterior space.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

Energy efficiency: “For obvious reasons, solar is great for the environment,” says New York–based landscape architect Evan C. Lai. Among them are solar lighting’s reduced energy consumption, longer life span, and more affordable price tag than the electrical alternative. But in addition to being sustainable, it’s also crazy convenient! Since they don’t rely on connection to the power grid, you can place solar lights anywhere you want (aside from the shade).

Brightness: In most instances, solar lighting doesn’t put out enough lumens for way finding or stair lighting, but it’s not completely out of the question either. “Most have a maximum battery life that’s based on the brightness (eight hours of light at the brightest setting when fully charged), but it’s not at the same level of hardwired landscape lighting,” explains Jessica Driscoll, horticulturist and landscape designer for Katherine Field and Associates, noting that the latter pumps out 300 lumens consistently while most solar panels average 30. 

Charging time: It all depends on the individual product. Check the manufacturing specs for an exact number, but do keep in mind that LED bulbs provide longer-lasting light compared to incandescent or fluorescent options. If your access to sunlight isn’t enough for a quick charge, there are a few options on our list that can be powered up via USB. 

Our Top Picks

Best Value: IKEA Slovinden Solar-Powered Floor Lamp

Want to linger later than sunset while sipping evening aperitifs on your balcony? IKEA’s solar-powered lamp has just enough lumens to add a subtle glow, but the ambience it brings is next level. The sleek perforated white steel tower is also the perfect statement maker to add a sculptural look to your evening patio or porch gatherings, but looks just as good when it’s not in use, whether on the floor or tabletop. And at just $25, it’s the most affordable way to enjoy up to 12 hours of uninterrupted light. 

Best Modern: RH Modern Claudel Solar Lantern

It doesn’t take a trained eye to find the architectural beauty in RH’s Claudel solar lanterns. Designed by Jonathan Browning, who specializes in luxury lighting accessories, the powder-coated stainless steel structures have a streamlined shape that dazzles in minimalist spaces. But there’s more to these than meets the eye. Available in slate, bronze, and iron, they have internal LEDs that diffuse 50 to 450 lumens (depending on the size) from every angle for up to 16 hours of illumination; an automatic sensor helps conserve the battery, emitting just enough light as the sky darkens (though there’s also a manual switch to toggle between three different settings). They even charge up on overcast days.

Best Minimal: Ballard Designs Solar LED Lanterns 

We’re seriously feeling the Noguchi vibes of these beehive lanterns by Ballard Designs. If charged in direct sun or via USB, the frosted white exterior radiates light for up to eight hours on days when the clouds roll in; plus the neutral design blends into any color palette or style. Incredibly bright (but dimmable) and lightweight, the lamps are easily transportable thanks to a sturdy leather-like handle, whether you’re using them to guide friends on a moonlit stroll or illuminate the patio during an alfresco dinner. The only con: You’ll need to bring them indoors during heavy rain. 

Best String: Brightech Solar-Powered Outdoor String Lights

No list of outdoor lighting would be complete without string lights. “They create a relaxed environment and are very moody,” says Lai. “I love using these in trees under a dining table or lounge area.” Backed by commercial-grade weatherproof technology and shatterproof bulbs, Brightech’s lights can withstand rain, sleet, snow, and wind as strong as 50 mph, so you never have to take them down, even in less than ideal conditions. But reviewers reveal that these perform best when charged for six hours in direct sunlight, lasting just as long when turned on.

Best Wood: Gloster Ambient Ray Outdoor Light

Both Lai and Driscoll tap Gloster’s Ambient collection to elevate all kinds of outdoor spaces, from small New York City rooftops to huge backyards. According to Driscoll, the best part of the teak-paneled design is that there’s no visible light source, so you can brighten up your patio or porch with an ethereal glow that feels like a midsummer night’s dream. “We also like the architectural shape that creates interesting light patterns on the pavement,” she adds. “We have yet to find a similar product from any other designers that charge well, are made of high-quality material, and are beautiful to look at.” The only downside: With great beauty comes an even greater price tag.

Best Boho: Allsop Soji Stella Market Outdoor Solar Lantern 

Handcrafted with tyvek—a lightweight yet durable fabric that looks like paper but won’t dissolve when doused with water—these lanterns feature a delicately cut pattern akin to crochet. Encasing two LED lights that fully illuminate the 12-by-12-inch globe for four-plus hours when fully charged, this option boasts both weather- and UV-resistance, so you can use them to decorate the backyard with abandon. Hang them from your pergola, the fence around your garden, a tree, or anywhere else without the restrictions of a cord.

Best Pathway: Project62 Solar Pathway Lumen Lights

You don’t even need your toolbox to install these simple pathway lights thanks to the sleek, mid-century stake design. Sold as a set of six, each features an integrated LED bulb in a weather-resistant plastic structure, so you can count on a warm solar-powered glow season after season. If you’re considering using these to brighten the walkway to your front door or outline a patio area, spring for a few sets: At 15 lumens, each stake will smolder just enough to prevent you from squinting but won’t completely light up an area. 

Ask Domino

Do outdoor solar lights need direct sunlight?

It’s not 100 percent necessary for your solar lights to soak up direct sunlight throughout the day, but without continuous rays, you may notice a slower charging time or a shorter span of illumination. In general, most require three to four hours of solid sun to properly function. And while a cloudy day won’t put out the light, the shade of a neighbor’s house or nearby dense tree branches will. 

How long do outdoor solar lights last?

According to Lai, this all depends on the individual fixture; however, a good baseline to follow is: The larger the solar panel, the more energy it can absorb. Unfortunately, solar lights simply aren’t as durable when compared to hardwired landscape lighting. Landscape lights are built to endure a variety of climate conditions—rain, snow, wind—but solar panels are much more susceptible to breaking, adds Driscoll. 

How We Vetted These Products

Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria: 

  1. They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use. 
  2. They’re expert approved. In addition to our team of editors, we tap a range of designers, makers, renovators, and all-around knowledgeable people to share their intel. 
  3. They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews to know that they pass the test IRL. 

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