Your phone’s flashlight app will work in a pinch, but if you’re spending serious time outside after sundown—eating dinner alfresco, reading a book in your tent, throwing a nighttime garden party or beach bash—you need an outdoor light, or several. After seven hours of research and 15 hours of testing, we’ve found the best packable lights, tabletop lanterns, flameless candles, string lights, and path lights for all your outdoor adventures.
- Packable light: MPOWERD Luci Base Light
- Tabletop lantern: UST 60-Day Duro Lantern
- Flameless candle: Crate and Barrel Indoor/Outdoor Pillar Candle with Timer
- String light: Newhouse Lighting 48 ft. 11-Watt Outdoor Weatherproof String Light
- Path light: Smart Living Charleston Pathway LED Lights (Set of 6)
- Why you should trust us
- How we picked and tested
- The competition
Packable light: MPOWERD Luci Base Light
Who this is for: Whether you’re setting up camp for the night, gearing up for an evening picnic, or waiting for Solange to begin her set at Bonnaroo, the MPOWERD Luci Base Light will keep things illuminated. Inflate it with your lungs, charge it using the sun (or the included USB-A cable), and let it light up the night—maybe also use its USB-A port to charge your phone or other small device. When morning comes, deflate it and stow it away in a bag or pocket for next time.
Why it’s great: At 300 lumens, the MPOWERD Luci Base Light is the brightest packable light we tested. It can be charged using its USB-A port or solar panel—both located on the top surface of the light—and its built-in battery has a 4,000-mAh capacity, which is higher than any other model we tested. It has an International Protection Rating (a weatherproofing standard, also called the Ingress Protection rating) of IP67, meaning that it’s completely protected against dust and can be safely submerged in water up to 3.3 feet. It has straps on both the top and the bottom—making it easy to carry, clip on a carabiner, hang inside a tent, or string on a clothesline—while other models we tested only had a single hook or handle. Its USB-A port puts out up to 8 watts, according to our assessment, which is the highest output of any we tested. Its light has an inviting, warm cast and can be set to low, medium, high, or flickering. It has a handy valve to keep dust and water from leaking into the USB-A port and a battery-status button that allows you to check how much charge it has left.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The MPOWERD Luci Base Light has the shortest warranty (one year) of any packable light we tested. It’s also the heaviest at 10.1 ounces. We don’t love that the moisture from your breath leaves smudges on the inside surface after you blow up the light, the added effort of having to inflate and deflate it, or the potential to (as can happen with an inner tube, air mattress, or inflatable neck pillow) tear or pop the material. But we think this light’s extra compactness and portability greatly outweigh these drawbacks.
Brightness: 300 lumens
Power source: USB, solar
Warranty: one year
Weight: 10.1 ounces
Battery capacity: 4,000 mAh
Also consider: Black Diamond Moji Lantern
Who this is for: If you don’t want the hassle of inflating and deflating, the Black Diamond Moji Lantern is a great option for travel. It’s not as bright as the Luci Base Light, and it requires batteries, but it’s just as easily stowed in a backpack or pocket.
Why it’s great: The Moji is lightweight (just 4.3 ounces with batteries inside) and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It has a round, streamlined shape, making it easy to slip into a pocket. Unlike the Luci Base Light, there is no inflating or deflating—simply press the button on the side to turn it on and off. It has two strong, metal handles on top, which can be folded down for storage. The LED is encased in a frosted, white plastic shell and casts a powerful cool-toned glow. The body (which comes in an assortment of five to seven colors, depending on the retailer) is made of a durable-feeling rubber. Overall, the Moji seems well-built. And, like the Luci Base Light, it’s backed by a one-year warranty.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The biggest downside of the Black Diamond Moji Lantern is that it has only one brightness setting, so you can’t adjust it based on your surroundings. It’s also not as bright as other lights we tested; it’s rated for 100 lumens, whereas MPOWERD’s Luci has a brightness rating triple that. But it’s still plenty bright—especially to light up a small area for reading a book or consulting a map.
Also, the Moji isn’t the most rugged option—it has an IPX4 rating, compared with the Luci’s IP67 rating. That means it’s not rated for protection against dust, and although it ought to survive splashes of water, it shouldn’t be dunked.
Instead of charging via solar or USB like other contenders, the Moji is powered by three AAA batteries (not included). Our favorite rechargeable AAA batteries are good options for household use, but if you’re going off-grid you should pack single-use batteries.
Last, the Moji doesn’t have a USB output port like the Luci does, but that wasn’t a required feature—and you can always bring a power bank if you need to charge small devices.
Brightness: 100 lumens
Power source: three AAA batteries
Warranty: one year
Weight: 4.3 ounces (with batteries inside)
Tabletop lantern: UST 60-Day Duro Lantern
Who this is for: If you’ve ever arrived at your campsite after dark and tried to set up your tent by the light of your car headlights or a wimpy headlamp (like I have), you should probably invest in a lantern. The UST 60-Day Duro Lantern is versatile—you can hold it by the handle on top, hang it from a loop on the base, or set it on a table while in use—and illuminates a wider area than the focused beam of a headlamp or flashlight. It’s also handy to keep by the door if you want to let your dog out in the middle of the night, play an evening game of cards on the porch, or have it ready in case of a power outage.
Why it’s great: The UST 60-Day Duro is the full package when it comes to portable outdoor lighting. It’s the brightest tabletop lantern we have tested by far, with an impressive 1,200-lumen rating. It has a handle on top—to hang the lantern from a carabiner, pick it up with ease, or hold it out in front of you like a creepy old innkeeper—as well as a loop on the bottom for additional hanging options. It feels sturdy, with a hard-plastic shell and grippy strips of rubber on the sides, top, and base that keep it from toppling over or slipping out of your hands. The upper handle is also coated in textured rubber, making it easier to grasp. Like every other model we tested, the 60-Day Duro has three brightness settings and a cool tone—shedding light that’s bright enough to read by yet feels cozy. Perhaps its most admirable feature is its lifetime warranty.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The UST 60-Day Duro’s weatherproof rating—IPX4, which means it can withstand splashes of water—is as good as any tabletop lantern we tested, but we wish the lantern were dustproof as well. It’s also the biggest and heaviest model we tested, weighing 3.7 pounds with all six D batteries inside. But we feel like that’s a fair trade-off for more power and brightness.
Brightness: 1,200 lumens
Power source: six D batteries
Weight: 3.7 pounds (with batteries inside)
Also consider: UST 30-Day Duro 700 Lantern
Who this is for: If you don’t need all the power that the UST 60-Day Duro offers—maybe you only go camping a few weekends a year or have a postage-stamp-size yard—you should consider the UST 30-Day Duro 700 instead. It is the 60-Day Duro’s little brother and was our top lantern pick for several years.
Why it’s great: The UST 30-Day Duro 700 is just as ruggedly built as the 60-Day Duro, and it has the same design details—rubber strips for added grippiness, three brightness settings, cool-colored cast, handle on top and hanging loop on bottom—that we value highly in the larger version. It’s roughly the size of a pint glass and weighs 1.8 pound with its batteries inside—not quite half as much as the 60-Day Duro—making it a lot easier to carry or pack inside a backpack or duffel bag. Like the 60-Day Duro, the 30-Day Duro comes with a lifetime warranty. Better yet, we confirmed in our long-term testing (by leaving the UST 30-Day Duro on its highest setting until it died) that it can stay lit for 30 days straight—in fact, it stayed on for 31 days.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Like every other model we tested, we would prefer the UST 30-Day Duro 700 to be better protected against the elements (it has a weatherproof rating of IPX4, meaning it’s protected against splashes of water but not dust). It also has the lowest brightness rating (700 lumens) and battery capacity (it’s powered by three D batteries) of any model we tested. But it still packs a punch—it’s plenty bright and powerful for the casual camper—especially considering how small and lightweight it is.
Brightness: 700 lumens
Power source: three D batteries
Weight: 1.8 pound (with batteries inside)
Flameless candle: Crate and Barrel Indoor/Outdoor Pillar Candle with Timer
This flameless candle makes a statement in any outdoor space. Its plastic exterior might not look as realistic as others we tested, but it’s sturdy and sleek—and its battery-powered light flickers like a real flame.
Who this is for: If you want a flameless candle that makes a bold statement and stays lit for hours, the Crate and Barrel Indoor/Outdoor Pillar Candle with Timer is your best bet.
Why it’s great: The Crate and Barrel Indoor/Outdoor Pillar Candle with Timer is nearly identical to other white, pillar-shaped candles sold by other retailers (namely, World Market) we tested—the candles look the same and have the same patent number printed on the bottom. But when we compared them side by side—considering build quality, brightness, overall appearance, and available sizes—we liked Crate and Barrel’s version the best. The one we tested is 6 inches in diameter and 12 inches tall, and there are two other sizes available (4 by 8 and 3 by 6 inches). It casts a warm, bright light with a realistic flicker. A convenient built-in timer will, if set, turn on at the same time every day and turn off after five hours. The candle has a minimalist silhouette and clean, white color that will look at home in most outdoor spaces.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Crate and Barrel Indoor/Outdoor Pillar Candle with Timer does not come with a remote, but you can use either the preset timer function or the switch on the bottom to turn it on and off manually. Another drawback is that the candle does not look very realistic; it has a matte, plastic exterior and the dark-colored battery compartment at the bottom is clearly visible. But from far away you can hardly tell the difference, and the candle is still nice to look at (if not wholly convincing) up close. Additionally, it takes two C batteries (not included), and none of our rechargeable battery charger picks can charge C batteries, so the costs (not to mention e-waste) will add up the longer you own the candle. Last, the Crate and Barrel candle has the shortest warranty (just 90 days!) of any flameless candle we tested, so test it right away to make sure you don’t have a dud.
Brightness: 10 lumens/bulb
Power source: two C batteries
Warranty: 90 days
Weatherproofing: safe for outdoor use (not rated by UL or IP)
Height: 6, 8, and 12 inches tall (sold individually)
Remote: no (but it does have a timer)
String light: Newhouse Lighting 48 ft. 11-Watt Outdoor Weatherproof String Light
This sturdy, lengthy string of Edison-style bulbs is the best we’ve found to illuminate (and dress up) any outdoor space.
May be out of stock
Who this is for: In the fourth season of Queer Eye, interior designer Bobby Berk tells a hapless farmer, “You can make any place look fancy with the right lighting.” Case in point: The Newhouse Lighting 48 ft. 11-Watt Outdoor Weatherproof String Light is the perfect mix of country and city, style and durability, whimsy and utility. Whether you’re having a backyard BBQ, garden party, or just dressing up an outdoor patio, this sturdy string of Edison-style bulbs can add a dash of class to any outdoor space—in a way that even our favorite outdoor Christmas lights cannot.
Why it’s great: The Newhouse Lighting 48 ft. 11-Watt Outdoor Weatherproof String Light is a solid set of lights. It’s ruggedly built yet has a sophisticated look. It’s an ample 48 feet long, with 15 sockets spaced 3 feet apart, including 2 feet at the end of the cord with the input plug to help you reach faraway outlets. The other end has a foot of extra cord and an AC port so you can string multiple sets of lights together. It also has a handy plastic cover attached to the “female receptacle” to keep out water and dust when not in use. This set of lights comes with a five-year warranty, it’s UL-listed for outdoor use, and its Edison-style bulbs (75 lumens each) emit a cozy, warm cast. It comes disassembled (like every model we tested, each bulb needs to be screwed in by hand) and has three spare bulbs in case some break or burn out. The bulb sockets each have a little hole at the top to let you attach the lights to a house or other structure using wire, zip ties, or whatever material you so choose. Plus, each socket has an extra couple of inches of cord leading down to each bulb, so that they dangle vertically even if the main cord is hung at an angle.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: To assemble the Newhouse Lighting 48 ft. 11-Watt Outdoor Weatherproof String Light, you have to remove each bulb individually from its own little box, which we found to be much more time-consuming than the cardboard grid other models have. We also found that some of the bulbs didn’t light up until we fiddled with them—gently unscrewing them until they illuminated—and one was burned out. Last, the bulbs are made of glass, which over time gets hotter than plastic. The temperature reading of one of its bulbs after 15 minutes was 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t painful to touch but is still quite hot—make sure not to leave them plugged in close to flammable objects like dried leaves in your gutters. Despite this drawback, all the 48-foot options we tested have glass bulbs, and we think they look nicer than plastic anyway.
Brightness: 75 lumens/bulb
Power source: AC wall outlet
Warranty: five years
Weatherproofing: UL-listed for outdoor use
Bulb type: S14 (Edison shape, clear glass)
Cord length: 48 feet
Spare bulbs: 3
Also consider: Room Essentials 20ct Outdoor String Lights G40 Clear Bulbs
If you like the look of round bulbs, this affordable string of lights can add a cute decorative touch to a balcony or patio. Plus, each bulb has a handy built-in hook for hanging.
Who this is for: The Room Essentials 20ct Outdoor String Lights G40 Clear Bulbs may be a better option than the Newhouse if you’re putting up string lights in a smaller area, like a balcony or an archway—especially if you’re not planning to keep them up permanently.
Why it’s great: The Room Essentials string of lights is 17 feet long, with 20 globe-shaped, clear-plastic bulbs spaced about 10 inches apart. Each bulb socket has a built-in hook, allowing you to easily clip it onto a railing or trellis. This makes for an easier setup and takedown than the loops on the Newhouse, and the set’s overall build quality is a lot less rugged, so it’s better if you’re looking for something that’s convenient, portable, and ephemeral—rather than something you’ll leave up year-round. The insulation comes in a variety of colors: black, turquoise, white, gray, orange, leaf green, and dark green. Like the Newhouse lights, the bulbs come in a cardboard grid, allowing for easy assembly. Each bulb—dainty and whimsical compared with the Newhouse’s industrial-chic bulbs—gives off a soft, warm 75-lumen glow. There’s another version with dark green insulation and frosted (rather than clear) plastic bulbs, although we didn’t test it. Like the Newhouse, this set is UL-listed for outdoor use. And it’s covered by a one-year warranty.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Room Essentials model looks and feels chintzier than the rugged, robust Newhouse. Another drawback is that this set does not come with any extra bulbs, so you’ll have to replace the whole set or find spare G40 bulbs that match if one burns out or breaks. Plus, there’s only about 6 inches at the end of the cord, so you’ll have to use another set of lights or an extension cord if the nearest outlet is out of reach.
Brightness: 75 lumens/bulb
Power source: AC wall outlet
Warranty: one year
Weatherproofing: UL-listed for outdoor use
Bulb type: G40 (round shape, clear or translucent-white plastic)
Cord length: 17 feet
Spare bulbs: 0
Path light: Smart Living Charleston Pathway LED Lights (Set of 6)
These solar-powered path lights have a sleek look that contrasts pleasantly with any outdoor environment. They’re ruggedly built and easy to assemble, and they stay put when staked into the ground.
Who this is for: If you have a path or walkway in your yard and want your steps to be illuminated by a set of durable, weatherproof solar-powered lights that are easy to install, look no further than the Smart Living Charleston Pathway LED Lights (Set of 6). It’s the sturdiest, best-looking option we’ve found—and for a relatively low price too.
Why it’s great: Each Smart Living Charleston path light is 3.5 inches in diameter, with a stem raising it an ample 16 inches off the ground. The lights meet our minimum brightness criteria of 5 lumens, casting a soft and cozy warm light. Some basic assembly is required—you need to screw the stainless steel topper (containing the solar panel and battery compartment) onto the glass bulb, screw that onto the stainless steel stem, and screw that onto the plastic stake—and then you can stick it into your lawn, or use a rubber mallet to gently hammer it into more solidly packed earth. Sturdily built and seemingly durable, this set is available in pewter, copper, or antique bronze finishes—which should, between them, work with most landscaping. The square solar panel on top (which blends in well with the stainless steel topper) provides power during the day, and when the sun isn’t out each light is powered by one (included) AA backup battery. This set has a one-year warranty.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: While we like the look of the Smart Living Charleston Pathway LED Lights the most out of all the ones we tested, they might be a little diminutive for some yards—especially if you have a wider walkway. But we haven’t found any larger options we like that aren’t completely obtrusive.
Why you should trust us
As the writer of this guide, I spent seven hours researching and 15 hours testing outdoor lights. I’ve also spent a lot of time considering how electronics are powered, having written guides to the best portable solar chargers, the best portable power stations, the best power banks for charging phones and tablets, the best power banks for charging laptops over USB-C and AC, and more. Before working at Wirecutter, I was a science writer and fact checker for more than four years. In my personal life, I spent most of my childhood vacations camping in national and state parks, I’ve eaten my fair share of meals alfresco—in parks, campgrounds, and backyards—and I generally enjoy spending time outdoors at night.
How we picked and tested
We perused the websites of major brands and retailers like Amazon, REI, and Target, and read user reviews and other editorial reviews, to compile a list of our top contenders. Next, we narrowed this list down based on the following criteria:
- Cost: We didn’t have a strict price cap for any of the categories, but we required that more expensive models have some extra feature or capability to justify the added cost.
- Warranty: Again, we didn’t set a hard limit, but we preferred a longer warranty.
- Availability: We sought out established, widely known brands and retailers as they’re likely to keep their products well-stocked and provide ample customer support.
- Brightness: We gave preference to products with higher brightness ratings (in lumens) when listed. For products without a listed brightness rating, we calculated the lumens based on the listed bulb wattage. Maddeningly, none of the flameless candles listed their lumens or bulb wattage, so we used the wattage of an average LED Christmas light bulb (0.1 watt) to calculate the approximate brightness.
- Battery life: For built-in rechargeable batteries, we considered the rated capacity (in mAh) to estimate battery life and gave preference to models with higher ratings.
- Weatherproofing: We only considered models deemed safe for outdoor use, and we preferred those listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and/or given an Ingress Protection (IP) rating by the International Electrotechnical Commission. The first and second numbers of an IP rating, respectively, denote how protected the product is against dust (on a scale of 0-6) and water (on a scale of 0-8) exposure.
- Power: We preferred models with higher wattage ratings, as these generally translate to faster charging (input) and brighter lights (output) in real life.
- Weight: We generally preferred lighter models, especially for packable lights and tabletop lanterns, which need to be portable.
- Extra features: Useful features (like a handle for hanging or a remote control) helped us break ties between models that were otherwise identical on paper.
We then conducted 15 hours of hands-on testing with our finalists—three packable lights, three tabletop lanterns, six flameless candles, five string lights, and four path lights—to put manufacturer claims to the test and get a better sense of how these lights function in the real world. As applicable, we monitored temperature (in Fahrenheit) using an infrared thermometer, checked cord length (in inches) using a tape measure, accounted for weight (in pounds and ounces) using a digital scale, and measured maximum power input and output (in watts) using a PortaPow USB Power Monitor and a Drok Adjustable Constant Electronic Load.
The UST Spright Recharge has lower battery capacity and lower weatherproof and brightness ratings compared with the MPOWERD Luci Base Light—3,500 mAh, IPX3, and 100 lumens, respectively—and just one metal hook versus two straps. Unlike the Luci Base Light, it does not have a solar panel, and it can only be powered by USB. After it is powered off, it still glows in the dark, which could be annoying or obstruct sleep. It has one USB port for input and one for output, which could get confusing—plus, at a measly 5 watts, the output port is hardly worth having.
The UST Spright Solar has lower battery capacity and lower weatherproof and brightness ratings than the MPOWERD Luci Base Light—860 mAh, IPX4, and 120 lumens, respectively. Plus, its dual fold-up metal handles are less effective at hanging and holding onto compared with the Luci Base Light’s straps, and its solar panel is on the bottom so you have to hang it if you want to catch any rays. And, like the Spright Recharge, it glows in the dark even when you might not want it to.
We ruled out several other models in the MPOWERD Luci line (including the Candle, Color, Color Essence, Connect, Core, EMRG, Explore, Lux, Original, Outdoor 2.0, and Pro Series) without testing them since they have lower battery capacity (mAh) and/or brightness ratings (lumens) than the Luci Base Light.
The Coleman 800 Lumens LED Lantern with BatteryGuard offers plenty of light (800 lumens) and power (four D batteries) for the price, and it has a classic look and convenient handle on top—much like the UST 60-Day Duro and UST 30-Day Duro 700. However, we found that it feels clunky and chintzy compared with the other two, both in terms of materials used and build quality.
The World Market Large Flameless Outdoor LED Pillar Candles fared about as well as the Crate and Barrel versions in our testing, but a representative from the company told us they are seasonal and will be discontinued soon.
The Luminara Outdoor Candle comes in a variety of sizes (9, 7, 5, and 4 inches tall), but it’s less realistic than others we tested—both in terms of its exterior and flickering light—and much more expensive.
The Brightech Ambience Pro 35 is similar to the Hampton Bay and Newhouse Lighting options, but it only came with one spare bulb, and when we were assembling the bulbs we had to partially unscrew some of them to light up.
The Hampton Bay 48 ft. 24-Socket Incandescent String Light Set is almost identical to the Newhouse Lighting model, but it has more bulb sockets (24) and comes with more spare bulbs (six), all of which come packaged in a convenient cardboard grid. However, it was out of stock when we did our most recent round of testing.
The Restoration Hardware Party Globe Light String is most comparable to the Room Essentials model, but its cord is thinner and flimsier, and at the time of this writing it’s more than triple the price.
The Energizer Stainless Steel Solar LED Path Stake Light (Stainless Steel, 8 Pack) is the priciest set of lights we tested, and while it offers plenty of lumens, easy setup, and durable construction, we don’t think these features outweigh the high cost. Not to mention that each light is a whopping 6 inches in diameter, which we think is a little too obtrusive for the average backyard walkway.
The Lowe’s Portfolio 4-Pack 8x Brighter (9.6-Lumen) Black Solar Integrated LED Path Light was more difficult to assemble than any other model we tested, and it was on the pricier side. It also has a more noticeable solar panel on top and a dimmer light than on others.
The Room Essentials Outdoor Pathway Light Stainless feels cheap and clumsily constructed compared with the rest. No lumens are listed online, but its light appeared dimmer than most of the others we tested.
About your guide
Sarah Witman has been a staff writer at Wirecutter since 2017. She has been a science journalist for over seven years, covering a wide variety of topics, from particle physics to satellite remote sensing. Since joining Wirecutter, she has researched, tested, and written about surge protectors, power banks, lap desks, mousetraps, and more.