Best solar lights for outdoors 2018: let there be light in your garden, but not any wires

Follow the shining path the stylish garden illumination

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Particularly in summer, an illuminated garden looks an awful lot better than a completely black backdrop. It tells guests you’re really proud of your gardening and landscaping skills and that you’ve taken trouble to get things just right. Adding the best solar lights for outdoors reduces the hassle factor very considerably.

What is the best solar garden light?

And the winner is… the Yunlight Solar Outdoor Torch Lights. These do what the name suggests, being surprisingly classy electric facsimiles of flaming torches.

Those preferring something more minimalist should plump for John Lewis' Flint Solar Glass Outdoor Light. These are versatile and attractive, even if they're hardly the most dazzling things ever.

The best garden solar lights: a bluffer's guide

With outdoor lights, even when you’re all on your lonesome, you’ll look out of the lounge window and marvel at the glow beneath the Acer Palmatum, the flickering fairy lights dancing in the breeze and the Tiki flame spike lights you spent so much hard earned on in order to recreate the ambience of your favourite Maldives holiday resort.

Solar-powered lights are a doddle to install because there’s none of that pesky cabling involved. Simply site the panel in direct sunlight – south-facing properties fair best – string the lights up or spike them into the ground and sit back and wait for the sun to go down. During the day, the solar panel absorbs light, converting it to electricity which is stored in a built-in rechargeable battery. As soon as the light begins to fade, the built-in light sensor flicks the switch and, voila, light, lots of lovely light.

We’ve rooted through the interweb and hunted down the best solar-powered options we’d love to see in our fictitious T3 garden. It's worth paying a bit more for solar lights to get ones with greater longevity – both in terms of how long they shine, and how many winters they can survive. Any one of these carefully curated products will add a little sparkle to your al fresco nightlife.

The best solar lights for gardens, in order

1. Yunlight Solar Outdoor Torch Lights

The best solar lights for outdoors

Reasons to buy
+Fantastic flame effect+Solid construction

Stake-style solar lights are an efficient and fuss-free way to gently illuminate a garden path or a flower border and, for my money, this pair is one of the best I’ve ever come across. 

Unlike the popular static, single LED variety, each solar-powered Yunlight is equipped with 96 LEDs that flicker independently to simulate a dancing flame. The result is remarkably realistic, especially from a distance. Amazon is awash with rosy comments about the system in general, and not just this particular model. In fact, many owners have even taken the trouble to post videos of their new-found garden lighting nirvana.

The Yunlights are equipped with a 2000mAh Li-ion battery apiece that is charged by an unobtrusive, top-mounted solar panel during the day. When dusk falls they automatically come on and stay on for hours. They’re much bigger than other stake models (32cm x 12cm) and throw a very decent amount of light that looks like a genuine tiki torch. The housings, too, are sturdy, really well designed and look swish even when off. Invest in several pairs of these and you’ll have the best-lit garden in the neighbourhood. Top buy!

John Lewis Flint Solar Glass Outdoor Light

2. John Lewis Flint Solar Glass Outdoor Light

Best solar lanterns for your garden

Reasons to buy
+Look good, cost little+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Not very robust

The amount of light given off by these LED lanterns is more suited to building ambience than actually directly lighting anything. They are also very portable, so you can easily leave them in a sunny part of the garden to charge up before distributing to darker corners as the sun sets.

With a solar cell and LEDs that last for 20,000 hours, these cheap lanterns are easily placed on tables, shelves, the floor, or hung from trees or your washing line. Just don't tread on them or let them fall, or they may die. At under £10 a chuck, that doesn't seem too disastrous.

3. Powerbee Endurance Deluxe Solar Fairy Lights

Best outdoor solar fairy lights

Reasons to buy
+Pleasant fairyland effect+Powerful solar panel
Reasons to avoid
-A bit trickier to install

Powerbee produces a wide range of great quality outdoor solar lights but we’re especially smitten with this string of 100 white fairy lights. Where so many solar-powered lights fade during the late evening and most of winter, this package has been designed with cloudy UK weather in mind. Hence, they come with an effective solar panel that soaks up more light than others, ensuring reliable light sensor-controlled illumination every night of every day.

Simply find a clear spot to site the solar panel – it spikes into the ground – and string up your tree, fence or shed, or whatever you like. It also comes with a control box offering a range of different lighting functions, from static to flashing to chase. 

Don’t panic if your garden’s north facing or you just don’t have enough natural light because it also comes with a USB charging port to boost the internal battery.

4. Warm White Carnival Solar Festoon Lights SL17010

Best solar string lights

Reasons to buy
+Great price+Easy to install+Unbreakable bulbs
Reasons to avoid
-Better seen from a distance

This elegant garland of 20 LED bulbs can be slung from a tree, strung along the patio wall or simply bunched up in a flowerbed. As they’re made from tough perspex, there’s no chance of them being broken on a windy day. Each bulb is 6cm in diameter and contains a single white LED that emits a gentle glow when natural light begins to fade. They look best from a distance.

The package comes with three metres of cable – long enough to site the solar panel away from sun-blocking foliage – and a selection of different light rhythms to suit the mood, including static, flashing and chase, where each light switches on and off in parallel sequence. And fear not if you live in a dark zone because it also comes with an AC plug to convert the whole shebang to electricity.

5. John Lewis Salina Solar Outdoor Stake Lights

Best solar stake lights for outdoors

Reasons to buy
+Soft sparkly light+Well made
Reasons to avoid
-Not terribly bright

A lot of companies produce solar-powered stake LED lights but few are as well built as these. You only get four in a box, mind, so perhaps avoid if you have a large garden or long garden path or you’ll end up spending a small fortune.

Each Salina has a small unobtrusive solar panel on top that absorbs the sun’s rays during the day, storing the resultant electrical energy in a rechargeable AA-size battery. When the light sensor detects sundown, the light comes on. Simple as that.

It has to be said that these lights are not especially bright – more of a soft sparkly glow for guiding the way – but then what were you expecting from a solar-powered lamp, the landing lights at Heathrow?

6. Next Solar Small Oriana

Another excellent solar lantern

Reasons to buy
+Elegant design+Decent glow
Reasons to avoid
-LED bulb is too visible

Here’s something nice to hang from the fence or place on a table out in the open and away from any over hanging shrubbery. The lantern itself is made out of thin patterned metal and sprayed in silver that is brighter in tone than the image suggests. It’s a typical Next style of design but it might not be for everyone. On top of the lantern there’s a small square solar panel fitted with a single rechargeable AA battery and a downward-facing flickering LED that reflects off a fake candle below. 

It’s a pleasing enough effect though, in some ways it would have been better to simply do away with the downward LED part – which is easily visible – and fit the lantern with something like those battery-powered faux candles instead. But, hey, I’m no designer so what do I know?