Outdoor solar lights can add both beauty and safety to your landscaping. While there are numerous systems you can invest in to add lighting and ambiance to your outdoor space, one of the simplest and most affordable options is to invest in solar pathway lights.
Not to be confused with outdoor string lights or fairy lights, solar lights sit on stakes in the ground and charge by sunlight during the day to illuminate your yard all night. Solar spotlights can be used to mark walkways, highlight decorative features, detect movement, or serve as focal design elements in their own right. What’s more, because they charge using a solar panel, they don’t require any landscape wiring and don’t cost any extra money to run.
We put nine outdoor solar light systems through a series of tests and found the Beau Jardin Solar Lights(available at Amazon) to be the best overall choice for durability and attractive design. If you want to splurge, the Ring Solar Pathlights (available at Amazon) are a truly spectacular smart set that are well worth the cost.
Here are the best outdoor solar lights we tested, ranked in order:
Beau Jardin Solar Lights
Ring Solar Pathlights
Hampton Bay LED Path Light
Portfolio LED Outdoor Path Light
Sunnest Solar Lights
Maggift Solar Lights
Gigalumi Solar Lights
ExcMark Solar Lights
Nature Spring LED Garden Lights
Beau Jardin Solar Lights
Number of lights included: 8
Dimensions: 16.54 x 4.72 inches
Battery type: Rechargeable AA battery (included)
Color options: Silver, black, brown
If you’re looking for a walkway or garden accent light that still provides enough illumination to actually see by, then the Beau Jardin solar path lights are one of the top options on the market. Standing at about a foot tall, the glass and metal lantern is quite durable, surviving our impact testing and proving weather resistance during a cold, wet New England winter.
These lights work best somewhere with direct sunlight, but also performed quite well in our indirect light testing on cloudy days. What’s more, they held a charge long after our official testing window finished, still shining down in my basement days later.
Aesthetically, these warm white lights are small and simple enough that they can disappear into the landscape, but still have a well-considered design that can serve as a focal point as well.
Whether you’re lining a walkway or highlighting different elements in your yard, the Beau Jardin solar lights can illuminate your design.
Battery type: Rechargeable lithium ion battery (included)
Color options: Black
The Ring Solar path lights are far and away the most durable, feature-rich lights that we tested. They’re made of the sturdiest plastic, and they were also brighter than all of the other lights—combined.
These lights include motion-activation, which means that they only come on when you need them to, so they’re less distracting and have a far longer battery life. One set has been in my dark basement for three weeks—even as testing has completed—and it still turns on anytime I go down there.
Then there’s the Ring lights’ ability to connect with your smartphone, Ring doorbell, and Alexa-enabled devices. Through the Ring app, you can turn the lights on and off, network them together, adjust the brightness, and tweak the motion sensitivity.
Of course, all of those features come with one significant drawback: This set of six Ring lights is much more expensive than any of the others on this list. You can buy the Ring lights in a variety of different packages, and the starter kit from Amazon comes with two lights and the Bridge, which allows you to enable the smart features for the lights.
Once you own the Bridge, the cost for additional lights comes down significantly. If budget isn’t a concern, and you’re looking for all of those features, then the Ring solar path lights are the absolute best option on the market.
The Hampton Bay LED path lights are one of the least expensive products that we tested, and vastly outperformed their price point. Made of metal and glass rather than crackable plastic, the Hampton Bay solar lights stood up to all of our durability tests, surviving kicks, rain, ice, snow, and cold without so much as a flicker.
The stake is one of the better designs of all the lights we tested—the square rather than cylindrical shape provides rigidity that most of the others lack.
The one knock against the Hampton Bay lights, and the piece that kept them out of our top spot, is brightness. These solar lights are much better suited to simply lining a walkway than actually providing usable illumination. However, if that’s what you’re looking for, then you’ll be hard pressed to find a better light for less money.
The Portfolio outdoor path lights are a solid addition to the solar light market. The lantern is made of plastic and on the larger side, but it is surrounded by metal rings that serve as both a design element and as additional protection.
In terms of brightness, the Portfolio solar lights are much more of an environmental accent than a major light source. You’ll be able to see a pathway and anything directly around the light, but it’s not going to provide usable illumination in your yard. For those dimmer applications, the Portfolio solar path lights are a great option, particularly if you’re drawn to the lantern design.
Color options: Cold white, cool white, multicolor, warm white, white
The Sunnest solar lights unfortunately performed about as well as their very low price point would suggest. Initially, they seemed fine—they are made of plastic, but didn’t crack during assembly like some of the others, and when we placed them outside, they charged right up and started shining. The light is on the dimmer side, meaning that these will function best as accent lights rather than as a real source of illumination.
However, over time and through tough weather, the Sunnest lights started to fade. While they never stopped working completely, they did grow noticeably dimmer, and only functioned sporadically, particularly after the ice storm. They also cracked under our gentle kicking test, suggesting that they won’t stand up to much day-to-day abuse. These may work if you live in a perpetually warm climate with no pets or kids, but there are better options for not much more money.
The Maggift solar lights are dim environmental accent lights best suited to warm climates. Though they were able to charge and work in the cold New England winter, they did not survive blizzards and ice storms unscathed. All of the individual lights that we tested lost brightness over time, and one of them stopped working entirely.
Impact durability is likewise a concern. The brittle plastic construction cracked under our kick testing, and I know that I easily could have broken it by squeezing too hard during assembly.
Color options: Cold white, color change, multicolor, warm white, white
The Gigalumi solar lights are another landscape lighting system that could work for some garden applications. The construction is brittle, and took some damage during our testing. These lights, which started out very dim, lost brightness over two weeks out in the elements. While they all still worked at the end of the day, I question whether they would actually last more than a season or two.
Hi, I’m Jean Levasseur, a former conveyor mechanic, current property manager, hobbyist woodworker, and writer. I come from a family of tool-users—my grandfather was a carpenter, my father owned an excavation company, and my mother was a mechanic. Between growing up working for my family’s businesses and then moving onto my own projects, I’ve used most tools you’ve heard of and quite a few that you haven’t.
We created a series of tests designed to put each of the lights through real-world scenarios to find out how they would hold up.
Our first test for the solar path lights was basic assembly, where we found that all of the lights fit together in pretty much the same way, and can be set up in under five minutes. However, some are more durable than others.
As I assembled, I checked for the sturdiness of the materials. I also took note of any that broke or cracked during assembly, even though I wasn’t trying to break any at this point.
Once the lights were assembled, I inserted them into a bucket of sand to find out how well they stood up to being inserted into the ground. We chose to use sand because we tested in the winter when the ground was frozen.
The next test was to find out how well they charged in both direct and indirect sunlight. I placed one of each type of light in my front yard to receive direct sunlight, and another of each in my backyard against the house since the sun rarely shines there. Then, I waited for the lights to charge, checking to see if they were able to charge in a day.
I also set up a third batch of lights to fully charge and then placed them in my dark basement, checking every few hours to see how long the fully charged lights lasted.
Finally, we moved into durability testing. First, I gently kicked each of the lights several times, looking to see if it would crack, stop working, or fall over. I then poured water over each of them to simulate wet weather conditions. Mother Nature helped with this test as well, providing both a blizzard and an ice storm as additional tests.
What to Consider Before Buying Outdoor Solar Lights
Type of Solar Lights
There are a variety of solar lights to meet the needs of any space. Pathway lights, like the ones we tested, are an excellent choice to provide safety and visibility to a walkway or driveway. Post lights, fence lights, and rope lights can provide the same type of illumination with a slightly different look.
String lights, fairy lights, and decorative hanging lights are typically used more for aesthetics than pure functionality, and can help set the mood of any backyard party.
No matter what form the solar lights take, there are options for motion detection and light colors to truly suit your needs.
Light brightness is measured in lumens—the higher the lumens, the brighter the bulb. A 100-watt incandescent light bulb can measure approximately 1,500 lumens, while lights designed for outdoor use are typically much lower. Those we tested ranged from 1 to 80 lumens per bulb.
While most of the solar path lights are pretty straightforward, a few do have special features that you may want to consider.
Some have the ability to change colors, giving you more control over the aesthetic of your yardscape. Others may be smart outdoor lights with wireless features that can be controlled from your smartphone or tablet.
And others have motion detectors, so they only turn on when needed, rather than shining all night. Different people have different needs, so decide on the special features that make sense of your specific application.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do Solar Lights Work?
Solar lights have a photovoltaic panel on the top of the light that converts sunlight into electricity that is used to charge a rechargeable battery inside the lantern.
An internal light sensor recognizes when night has fallen, and the LED light or lights turn on, running off of that rechargeable battery. When the sun comes out again, the battery charges back up to full, ready to power another night.
Do Outdoor Solar Lights Need Direct Sunlight?
While most solar lights function best and charge fastest in direct sunlight, all but two of the lights that we tested worked in our indirect sunlight tests.
Once the lights reach a full charge, the batteries output the same amount of power, giving the lights the same brightness. The only impact that shade or cloudiness will have is in charging time.
Do Solar Lights Work In Winter?
From a purely electrical standpoint, solar lights will gather sunlight and charge the battery in the cold. However, not all of the lights that we tested were able to stand up to the environmental rigor of New England winter weather. Several models grew noticeably dimmer and even failed after two weeks of rain, ice, snow, and freezing temperatures.
If you live in a cold environment, consider investing in higher-quality lights.
How Long Do Solar Lights Last?
In terms of a single day’s performance, we saw some lights that could last eight to 12 hours—if not far longer in some cases.
For durability, we tested our solar lights over two weeks of a New England winter—a worthy test, but we can’t say definitively how long all of them will last over time.
However, there is a wide range of quality in the market. Some of the lights we tested never really worked, others started to fail after a few weeks, and still others show no signs of wear or slowing down.
I would expect any of our top-ranked lights to last for at least several years, until the rechargeable batteries themselves fail.
Are Outdoor Solar Lights Durable?
In solar lights, durability came down almost entirely to the materials that the lights were made of. The solar lights that are made primarily of plastic crack very easily. The ones made of glass and metal are much more durable, both in terms of their physical durability and their ability to stand up to the weather.
In terms of sliding into the ground, they nearly all have the same plastic stake technology. The lights with the cylindrical stands are a bit flimsier than the lights with the square stands.
How Bright Are Solar Lights?
Some of the solar path lights are designed to give off a very dim glow, and function more as markers rather than true light sources. For example, you’d be able to see the edge of a walkway, but probably couldn’t use the lights to find your keys if you dropped them.
Others of the solar path lights give off a usable amount of illumination, and you’d be able to light up most of your yard with a few of them.
Still others, like the Ring light in particular, are more like spotlights on a stake. A single one lights up my entire walkway area. However, for some applications, this may be too much light.
Jean Levasseur became a professional writer over a decade-long career in marketing, public relations, and technical writing. After leaving that career to stay home to care for his twin boys, Jean has continued to write in a variety of freelance roles, as well as teaching academic writing at a local university. When he's not reviewing tools or chasing toddlers around the house, he's also an avid fiction writer and a growing woodworker.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.