Best Outdoor String Lights of 2021
The Solatec LED represents the best of modern outdoor design and construction. A tasteful Edison bulb encases a double filament 2W LED. The LED is a brighter white than an incandescent bulb, but not the glaring white of early generation LEDs. The cable is durable and weather resistant and will perform well in difficult outdoor settings. Each bulb screws into a flexible rubber skirt that seals around the bulb, blocking out inclement weather. We liked the design of the hanging "T" junction for each bulb, as it made installation a breeze and allowed the main cable and each light to have a little visual separation.
Our only real criticism for the Solatec is that the commercial-grade construction could be overbuilt for some people's desired use. For us, we appreciated their durability and that they could be set up once and never taken down. We liked the weatherproof consideration given to the male and female plug ends. The female end featured a cover that could close off the socket from outside moisture. The male plug was designed to create a weatherproof seal when stringing multiple strands together. Our set only arrived with one extra bulb, but with the durable plastic bulb and no failing unit upon arrival, we expect the extra to sit on the shelf for a long time before being put to use.
The Brightown Outdoor G40 is the quintessential globe style outdoor model. Tight spacing of 25 lights in 25 feet, warm and cozy incandescent light, and easy hanging clips make this the tried-and-true outdoor lighting staple. Although not as long as some of the other lights we tested, the 12-inch spacing makes this a very satisfying installation. Each bulb is soft and low enough power that you can look directly at them without a blinding effect. In our light meter test, these were some of the dimmest lights; this might be a good or bad thing, depending on your use. Overhead in a pergola, they create a curtain of warm light that permeates the space. The hanging clips make gutter installation a breeze. Be gentle with their glass bulbs and try not to handle them too much once they've warmed up, as the incandescent filaments get more fragile when they are hot.
Little innovation has been applied to the Brightown, but that doesn't keep them from being a great value. Many people want the low, warm light of the incandescent and the familiar diffraction of the glass bulb. These lights deliver on that expectation for a low price. Our package came with two replacement bulbs, although the Styrofoam egg-crate and cardboard packaging kept every bulb safe in transit. The glass bulbs are very delicate, and although we never broke any in testing, we know others haven't been as lucky in their installations. One of the big considerations on the Brightown is whether you will need more than 75 feet of overall length. Brightown recommends only connecting up to three strands in a chain to avoid overloading the wiring.
The Lemontec Commercial Grade Lights are a more substantial offering in the incandescent glass string light category. The Edison bulb is larger than its globe style counterparts, and the heavy wiring between each bulb has much more of a permanent installation feel. The bulb to socket junction is sealed nicely, and the plug is weather sealed like the Solatec. In fact, they seem to be almost identical cords. The lights were a nice middle range of brightness; they are less bright than their LED comparable and brighter than their globe incandescent neighbors. The cord is long enough to string across large spaces, but the spacing is a bit wider, too, with three feet of spacing between bulbs.
Overall, the Lemontec was extremely similar to our best choice, but in an incandescent offering. Generally, this means a warmer, softer light, with a little less durability and higher energy use. The second effect of the higher energy use per bulb is that the overall number of cords that can be strung together is reduced. The Lemontec recommends connecting no more than three strings simultaneously. Some glass bulbs we tested felt extremely fragile. These bulbs, although glass, were much more confidence-inspiring and never broke in our testing process. If the wide spacing seems beneficial for your installation needs, we think these are a nice upgrade over your everyday incandescent model.
The GIMGOM 27-Foot G40 modifies the classic globe style patio light by using an LED in place of an incandescent filament. Rather than sub in a plastic globe, though, the GIMGOM uses a glass bulb. The glass bulb is fragile, but once installed won't fog with time and has a subtly different light quality than plastic. In case you do break a bulb, four replacement bulbs were supplied (only two are advertised as being included). The LED is a little whiter than the incandescent alternate. On each bulb's side is an s-hook that can attach to a skinny eye bolt or hang over a gutter edge.
Although the glass bulb is a nice touch for its resultant light quality, it is undeniably less durable than plastic bulbs. We recommend using the plastic bulbs in locations that will see repeated handling or installation and removal, as this is typically when the bulbs can break. In our testing, we were sloppy at one moment, picked up the pile of lights, and in their clanking together, one bulb shattered. The LED continued to work, but luckily, we had plenty of replacements to swap it out.
The XMCOSY+ Patio Lights are a unique model with an integrated Wi-Fi interface that allowed us to dim and control the lights from our phone. The lights were quality LED bulbs on a thinner single-strand cord. We liked the "T" hanging style for each light and that the thinner cord made the whole assembly less bulky overall. To use the Wi-Fi functionality, we downloaded the XMCOSY app on our phone. Once downloaded, we entered our Wi-Fi network and password to connect the lights to the same Wi-Fi as our phone. We then paired the lights to our phone. It took about 15 minutes to complete the whole process and worked satisfactorily from then on. The app promises different "scenes", but ultimately, we used it for the dimmer and remote on/off function. One piece that could be nice is the "timer" function that could be used to turn the lights on/off according to the time of day.
XMCOSY provides a substantial length of lights in this package, and the built-in remote dimmer is a nice addition. We could see the lights working even better in a setting where voice activation is used broadly, such as Amazon's Alexa. Some folks will appreciate the thinner cordage, as it makes installation a little easier than the thick commercial cord of the Solatec or Lemontec, but it also makes us wonder if the XMCOSY will be as durable. One big concern is that individual bulbs are not replaceable — the LED is built into the socket, and only its plastic surrounding bulb is removable. For the tech-savvy, the XMCOSY will be a cool and clean addition to a variable lighting system and smart home living.
The Brightech Ambience Pro is a solar-powered alternative to the other plug-in lights we tested. The lights come with a compact solar panel with various mounting options — stake it in the ground, screw it to a wall, or clip it to an existing structure. The panel charges an internal battery that will power the lights for about five hours. A light detecting feature built into the panel senses darkness and turns the lights on automatically at sunset. There is a built-in "off" switch on the back of the panel that can override the lights being on. There is no way to force the lights on beyond covering the panel to block ambient light. The solar setup allows these lights to be used in locations without existing power. For far corners of yards, camping trips, or rustic cabins, the Brightech adds a tasteful accent in a self-sufficient package.
While many lights that use LED encase the LED chip in a colored gel to imitate incandescent light, the Brightech LEDs are fully exposed. This yields a very "white" light. Generally, our testers preferred the warmer incandescent light quality or at least the LEDs that were on the warmer side. Because the Brightech is our only solar-powered patio light, it is the dimmest of the lights we tested. At only one watt per bulb, they were five times dimmer than our next softest light as measured with our light meter. For some installations, a cabled string light will be a better option, but for some niche uses — in a garden or an off the grid cabin, these will be a fun accessory.
We tested multiple lights in the LED Edison style, and the SUNTHIN Outdoor LED was a great alternative to the bulkier competition. For less harsh conditions, the SUNTHIN could be a better option. The double-stranded cord is easier to handle and will hang more naturally right out of the box. The LED bulb is a different design than many of the others. A single LED "filament" is encased in a plastic tube, which is then surrounded by a plastic bulb. Overall, it was a softer light than many similar LED bulbs, which may be appreciated by those looking for lower lighting without having to employ a dimmer.
Another difference is how each bulb intersects with the main power strand. Rather than hang the bulbs from a T junction, each bulb is spliced directly into the main strand. Visually this may be a detriment for some as the cable and light are much closer together, and you don't get the same chandelier effect of the Solatec or ADDLON. The bulbs in this light strand are not the standard S14 bulb and socket, and replacing burnt out lights will entail purchasing proprietary bulbs from the company at a higher price tag. For more protected use and softer light, these are a great option.
The ADDLON LED Dimmable Plastic is another great option in the LED Edison style. These lights are durable commercial-grade construction with very bright standard S14 LED bulbs. The plastic bulbs are durable and resist breaking, and the LED filament uses less electricity than the incandescent alternative. The lights are designed so that each light hangs below the main strand on a short piece of cord.
For some testers, these bulbs were too bright and would do better to be on an LED dimmer. The bulbs need to be installed one at a time, which adds a little overall time to installation. The ADDLON LED was ultimately very similar to the other commercial-grade LED patio lights we tested, but we felt the weatherproof plug and cable to light junction was better construction.
Another Edison style, commercial-grade, outdoor string light is the ADDLON Outdoor 48-foot incandescent option. For a much warmer light quality and softer intensity, ADDLON uses the same cord system but offers incandescent bulbs instead of LEDs. Our light meter registered the incandescent bulb as three and a half times less bright than the LED ADDLON. For plug and play use without a dimmer, these could be a better choice for those seeking softer ambient lighting.
The ADDLON arrives without the bulbs preinstalled. This adds a step but can make installation less stressful because you don't have to worry about breaking glass bulbs. Hang the cable first, and then install the bulbs after. These ADDLON incandescent lights are suitable for year-round outdoor installation.
The Lampat G40 25-Foot is another great option in the basic incandescent globe string light category. The Lampat offers compact lighting in an affordable package. They are much more densely spaced than the larger Edison style lights, and the Lampat has 25 bulbs in 25 feet. This creates more even lighting and allows each bulb to be less bright while still putting out an overall equivalent ambient light.
For long term or permanent installation, we recommend one of the heavier gauge string lights. The Lampat is outdoor rated, but the wiring is not as weather-sealed as some of the others. The delicate glass bulbs are all preinstalled, and some care is needed when handling and installing them to avoid breaking any. For an affordable cozy option that can be used indoors or outdoors, the Lampat delivers.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our lead tester Eric Bissell examined so many outdoor string lights he's still seeing stars. With a background in sculpture and design, Eric thoroughly examined the form and function of each light in everyday use. We considered different installations and design needs in differentiating between the many options available.
After analyzing hundreds of the best-selling string lights, we narrowed our selection to 10 of the best contenders. We then put them through side-by-side testing, comparing them across a series of metrics. This testing allowed us to evaluate and determine which products stood out from the rest and which served specific purposes.
Analysis and Test Results
Selection began by researching hundreds of the possible outdoor string lights available online. Some were commercial grade permanent outdoor installation worthy, while others were better suited to indoor use. Some were powered by standard outlets, while some were solar-powered or Wi-Fi controllable. We used four metrics — durability, light quality, ease of installation, and features — to determine the best string lights currently available.
There was a wide range of durability in the lights we tested. We were impressed by the robust construction of the best performing lights in this metric. Some were advertised as suitable for commercial use, and they delivered on that promise. The Solatec LED was very confidence-inspiring and is suited to withstand the full fury of uncovered outdoor installation. The 18AWG cord had weather-sealed plugs for linking strands. Each bulb screwed into a socket with an extended gasket that sealed off exterior moisture from the internal socket connections.
The Lemontec Commercial Grade Lights looked to use the same cord as the Solatec but with incandescent bulbs. Even though the Lemontec used glass bulbs because of the incandescent heat consideration, the glass was sturdy and less prone to breaking than the cheaper globe style lights.
As to be expected, the small glass globe style lights were some of the least durable we tested. Gentle handling was necessary with these lights to avoid breaking bulbs. They also had some of the least inspiring cord construction. The Lampat G40 25-Foot was the cheapest set of lights we tested and could be suitable for indoor applications. There was no weather sealing around the sockets and outdoor use would lead to moisture issues. The GIMGOM 27-Foot G40 was another glass bulb in the globe style and was one of the most fragile bulbs we tested. To their credit, the LED "filament" continued to work even with a broken bulb. Overall, a heavy-duty cord, plastic bulbs, LED lights and weatherproof sockets will make the most durable lights.
Light quality was most noticeable when comparing LED and incandescent bulbs. Many of the LEDs were very similar, and many of the incandescent lights were similar. We tested brightness with a light meter at a fixed distance away from a single bulb to get an idea of the brightest and dimmest bulbs. Additionally, we considered "warmer" (lower on the Kelvin scale) color temperature to be more pleasing than "bluer" (higher on the Kelvin scale) color temperature. The nicest lights were the incandescent bulbs in our testing. The Brightown Outdoor G40 was a soft, warm light that would be usable out of the box without a dimmer. The Lemontec Commercial Grade Lights were also a nice incandescent light but a little brighter than the Brightown.
Our least favorite lights were either too bright or too blue. The exception to too bright was the very dim Brightech Ambience Pro. These lights were solar-powered with a built-in battery, but the lights were five times dimmer than even the lowest powered globe lights. The XMCOSY+ Patio Lights were another light with extra features that lost points for its very white, somewhat harsh light quality. Adding a dimmer to the stronger LED lights would be a worthwhile investment. Additionally, aftermarket bulbs can be an option to change the color temperature.
Ease of Installation
There are three main hanging styles in the lights we tested. Lights like the Brightown Outdoor G40 come with a clip built into each bulb that makes for quick no-fuss installation. Use the clip to hook the lights onto existing gutters or install a hook that the lights can be attached to. Other lights have a "T" junction at every bulb that allows the cord to be fixed to rafters or other structures and the bulbs will hang free below. The Solatec LED exemplifies this style and has a more elaborate, decorative look. And some lights have holes at each bulb, allowing a screw or piece of cord to be used for installing.
Our least favorite installation style was the lights that had the hole right at the bulb. For some cases, this may work well, but we felt it was cleaner to have some separation between the cord and the light. The SUNTHIN Outdoor LED has its hanging hole at each bulb. On another note, in the hundreds of bulbs that shipped to us, not a single one was broken on arrival.
Although many of the lights we tested had similar features, a few stood out with unique offerings. The XMCOSY+ Patio Lights included a built-in Wi-Fi controller that connected with our phone. It took a little while to download the app and get it all set up and paired with the lights, but once we were connected, we could turn the lights on and off or dim them to our mood-lighting desired brightness. Another light that had a standout feature was the Brightech Ambience Pro. These lights came with a solar panel in place of the standard AC plug, enabling them to be installed almost anywhere. They were certainly not the brightest lights, but for an outdoor accent light, they were a fun option.
All the strands came with at least one replacement bulb and an extra fuse for the power cable. And although a few lights stood out for having extra features, many of the other lights were quite similar. We did dock the SUNTHIN Outdoor LED because the bulbs weren't standard socket type. This means replacing burnt out LEDs requires getting replacements specifically from SUNTHIN.
String lights are a fun and easy way to vastly improve the atmosphere of any outdoor (or indoor) hangout. They make taking the party onto backyard patios and under open-air pergolas bright and cozy. Many of the lights available are very similar, but we hope this test will allow you to find the right light for your space.
— Eric Bissell