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Keeping the outdoors lit up at night, or maintaining a bright ring of light around the campsite can be harrowing tasks in terms of energy consumption.
You either recharge LED lanterns and run up an electric bill that way, or you end up forgetting that your outdoor lanterns weren’t charged, and your pathway from the drive up to the front door becomes a bit more dangerous at night.
Solar lanterns are the solution. Whether it’s camping, lighting your back deck during summer nights, or just having them in your car for a breakdown scenario, they’re important, green solutions to lighting.
We’ve broken down the top five solar lanterns on the market for hanging up, or pulling down and being well-lit on-the-go.
Best Solar Lanterns – Reviews & Buying guide for 2020
bEST FOR CAMPING: TANSOREN Portable LED Camping Lanterns
Two is better than one. TANSOREN gives you two portable lanterns in this pack, with a whole lot of features packed in to give you the most bang for your buck.
They ascended to the top of the list for a fair few reasons, chief among them is the multifaceted utility that this lantern offers you. Built right into the base, you get an Android charging port so that you can charge your phone while you’re out on the camping site.
As far as outdoor solar lanterns go, this one packs in as much energy as possible and charges your phone fairly fast. On top of that, it actually holds a good charge for the light use without making the beam wane in the slightest.
One of the biggest issues with LED solar lanterns a few years ago is that they just weren’t bright enough to really be of use to anyone.
If you’re in an absolute emergency, you can also use three AA batteries in the bottom. As far as we’ve tested, this part does not charge your phone, but it’s good for absolute emergencies when you still need to be able to see what you’re doing.
If it’s raining out, the waterproof coating will keep your device nice and dry so it doesn’t falter in adverse weather conditions.
Fitted with an S hook on the top, you can hang this just about anywhere. Personally, I let this charge outside during the day, and hang it off the side porch and have it light up part of my yard if gatherings carry on into the night.
All in all, you want something that has the utility to be useful in emergency situations, and has a fairly high yield on solar energy retention. This two pack of lanterns have all that and more.
Size: 7.5” x 5.5” x 4”
Power: Solar, batteries, USB
rUNNER UP: Goal Zero Lighthouse Lantern
Going minimalist? Want something lightweight, collapsible, and portable above everything else?
Goal Zero made a miniature lighthouse lantern with a whopping 400 lumens of power, and in case you didn’t know, that’s a lot for an electric lantern. More than that, this lantern comes with a feature that actually allows you to get use out of its full power.
Most lanterns are fairly straightforward. You turn them on, and then they light up. End of story. With Goal Zero, it’s actually a little more than that, because you have a dial that cranks up the light to super bright, or you can leave it dim to conserve that energy and keep your battery life for longer.
This works well because if you’re camping, you want the brightest light possible outside, but a lower light while you’re in your tent (especially if you have friends and don’t want to keep them up all night with the light om).
What makes Goal Zero one of the best outdoor lanterns is the fact that you can also charge your phone on it if you need to. It’s compact, fits right into your backpack without issue, and gives a great deal of light for its size.
If you even run into a problem with one component of this, you can actually buy replacement components right from this very sales page and replace those pieces yourself without much issue.
You get light in a full 360° view, so you don’t have to focus a beam in one particular direction.
If you have the ability or the need, these work great on a lower setting to light up an outdoor gathering when the sun goes down. A few of these strategically placed, and you’ll have a well-lit area that doesn’t look like a spotlight is shining on your yard/house.
Size: 4.5” x 5” x 6.5”
Power: Solar, USB
aLTERNATIVE: LuminAID Inflatable Solar Lantern
This peculiar little lantern doesn’t look like anything you’ve ever seen before, and that’s what we love about it. The LuminAID is a clever name, and an even more clever design.
This was a product that you might have seen on TV if you’re a fan of Shark Tank (like I am). Designed for emergency situations as well as hurricane preparedness and camping, the LuminAID comes with a serious payoff in light power without compromising your wallet.
This solar powered lantern is like a light-up cube that can feature loads of different colors. These are lanterns, so they’re meant to disperse light in a full 360° range.
This gives an even glow all the way around in whatever color you choose, although if you stick to WLED (white light), it’s going to provide just a little more clarity above all else since it’s the easiest light to transmit.
Lumens are how we measure the strength of a light source. The more lumens you have, the brighter your light is going to be. This brilliant little lantern comes with between 50 to 75 lumens depending on the color you choose, which gives you an ample amount of light in small spaces.
Crafted out of highly durable TPU, you get a slew of benefits that ABS plastic (as found in most lanterns) simply doesn’t give you). TPU is not only shatterproof, but it’s also entirely waterproof and even dustproof thanks to its IPX rating. Basically, it’s not indestructible, but it’s damn near close.
In total, you get about nine to twelve hours of light depending on how well you charge this. If you’re not leaving it out in the sun all day, for at least two days, it’s not going to charge since it needs ten hours to actually fully cycle the battery.
Still, that’s a full 12 hours of a dim light to get you through the night in adverse camping situations or a blackout.
You get a micro USB cable included with your purchase, because it’s the alternate charging method. Simply plug this into your PC, laptop, or an AC adapter in the wall, and you’re all fired up and ready to go in about two hours tops.
Overall, it’s an impressive little item that doesn’t set you back. The panels are set to last for about twenty to thirty years depending on how much exposure it gets, ensuring that this is an investment, not just another purchase.
These can easily be strung up outside if you purchase multiple lanterns to be used festivaly at night as well.
Size: 4.75” x 4.75” x 4.75”
bEST FOR Garden: LeiDrail Outdoor Hanging Solar Lantern
While these aren’t colorful cubes that you can hang up from the ceiling, LeiDrail lanterns get the job done without breaking the bank. While we kept a heavy focus on budget-friendly lanterns, LeiDrail met that target right away.
You get about twelve hours of light when the panels detect a lack of sunlight, meaning you can leave these lined up along the side of the house to charge, and then string them up at night to make your home look nearly magical at night. With the price in mind, many people get between six and twelve of these lanterns to light up their yards.
These solar powered decorative lanterns are on the fourth spot of the list because their light isn’t quite as bright. We don’t have an exact lumen count here from the manufacturer, but if we had to guess, it’s between 40 and 50.
That’s a light hue coming out from all angles in a 360° direction, giving a warm glow more than a bright, illuminating light.
While these aren’t the lanterns you take camping with you, they work well as a decorative piece added to any home or yard. The entire chassis is made out of metal, ensuring that only a little bit of wear and tear will occur from UV light.
Thankfully, it appears in an intentionally weathered effect, so your lanterns never look tarnished or destroyed from years of sunlight exposure.
Apart from being stylish, they’re also designed to last for quite a long time. The metal ring handle gives you the perfect way to hang these no nails sticking out of your porch, or over a string/rope hanging over your yard for a floating light effect. There are nearly infinite ways to use these, save for camping and emergencies.
Size: 4.5” x 4.5” x 9.3”
rUNNER UP: TomCare Metal Flickering Flame Solar Lanterns
Last but not least, we have these higher end lanterns that are completely solar powered, but bring something different to the table.
While the effect isn’t the same as an indoor electric fireplace, there’s a light flame flicker on the sides of each panel on this lantern to give a more ambient atmosphere. I would classify these more as mood lighting or outdoor night lighting than emergency lighting, and for its intended purpose, it works exceptionally well.
One hanging solar lantern can provide about 50 lumens worth of light in a 360° direction, but hanging both of them up can light an entire walkway when placed apart properly.
The chassis of each of these are made out of an alloy metal that provides an intentional weathered effect over time, so much like the LeiDrail lanterns we just reviewed a minute ago.
You have two lanterns in this pack, each providing about eight hours worth of bright light, at which point it will dim for about two to four hours before fizzling out entirely. Charging time can take anywhere from ten to fourteen hours depending on sunlight and the time of year.
The build is made up of ABS plastic for the four sides, which holds up well enough against the elements. That’s partially due to the IP65 waterproof rating, as well as the thickness of the plastic.
Eventually, sunlight will leave “light stains” on the plastic and the panels might need to be swapped out, but that’s a few years down the road and nothing to worry about now.
Last but not least, I wanted to talk about the money-back guarantee: you get forty-five days to return this for a full refund, as well as a one-year warranty in case anything goes awry. In terms of quality, these are some of the longest-lasting lanterns on this list, so get ready to enjoy their aesthetic appeal at your home for years to come.
Size: 11.5” x 10” x 6.5”
Solar Lantern Buying Guide and FAQ
How Long Do Solar Lanterns Last?
We have to break this down into three separate areas to really understand what components will outlast others, and if it’s worth it to replace them, or simply to purchase entirely new lanterns right away.
Out of everything, solar panels are the main reason that we’re here, and they’re actually the longest-lasting component of all these lanterns. Most industrial solar panels can last for thirty-five to forty years, and residential solar panels for about thirty years.
However, these smaller panels aren’t as dense or fortified as those other types of panels, so they have about twenty years on them before they’re expected to die out.
Not every lantern is going to use LEDs, but the long-lasting lanterns are going to use them. LEDs might need to be changed out every five to fifteen years. It’s all going to depend on how much use they get, and just how much stress these LEDs are under.
After hundreds of hours of use, your LEDs can go out for no reason, or pull on through and maintain that beautiful, crystal clear light for years to come. After years of use, it becomes a wildcard, but LEDs have a good track record of staying well-lit.
Most of the time, this is made up of ABS plastic. There’s nothing wrong with this—ABS plastic is extremely durable and lasts for decades, but it’s not perfect. It’s still subject to cracking if you drop it, though admittedly that’s better than glass siding.
Siding can fade, or get “light scars” on the sides from too much sunlight exposure. We don’t want angled sunlight piercing through the side panels on a constant basis, otherwise it ends up making the plastic panes look really odd.
Overall, siding will last about five years or so before it looks too weathered to allow proper light out, and might need to be switched out.
Solar patio lanterns can last you for years, but when the electronic features fizz out on you, a replacement is in order. A quick online tutorial can show you how to replace them. Instead of spending $70.00 on two new lanterns, you could spend 10% of that on some new LEDs and fix it yourself in five minutes. No need to replace it.
Can Outdoor Solar Lights Get Wet?
Most outdoor solar lanterns are designed with waterproofing in mind. After all, it would suck if your outdoor lanterns couldn’t get wet, right?
Nobody is going to be home every time it rains to bring them in, or even remember to run outside and grab the lanterns when it gets wet—companies would seriously be losing out if they didn’t waterproof these lanterns.
But they’re not invulnerable. Leaving them out for every single rainstorm could eventually take away the waterproofing. These are almost universally set at an IPX67 waterproof rating, which isn’t bad by any means, but it isn’t forever.
With anything, whether it’s a pair of shoes or a tarp, you have to reapply waterproofing solutions on an annual basis. If you don’t, then you end up with gaps in your armor, as it were, and water will seep in even when it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.
How Many Lumens Can You Expect From the Solar Lantern?
Not many. We have another guide that’s dedicated to solar flashlights, and surprisingly, you can get 500 lumens or more in a single beam of light. It only takes 100 lumens in a flash to temporarily blind someone, so you can imagine just how powerful those flashlights are.
The difference comes down to a concentrated beam of light versus a 360° direction on a lantern, just constantly pouring light out from every single angle.
Lanterns could potentially have more lumens in a concentrated stream, but instead, you can expect 50 to 75 lumens in most lanterns, with very few of them going up to 100. If you have a lantern with a 90° beam, which some have, then you can get around 300 lumens, although they offer less utility which is why they’re not as popular.
Can You Connect Solar Lanterns to a Solar Panel?
With proper wiring, you could connect just about anything to a solar panel. However, that’s not going to do you much good, because you need an inverter to direct the PV panel photos into an electricity source, and then from there into a battery or a direct power source.
If you were going to plug solar lanterns into the panels on your roof, those panels would intake so much more energy than the lanterns need, and it could potentially short circuit the lanterns. This, of course, means that it could damage the inverter as well if you hook up those lanterns straight to the inverter.
However, you can get a 5V mini solar panel with its own inverter. Those can connect to your lanterns to power them. These are commonly sold for camping use, and can even be used to charge your phone while you’re at home.
They’re basically designed for smaller uses, although I don’t imagine you would need to hook up a 5V panel to a lantern for any real purpose.
Should I Turn Off My Solar Lanterns at Night?
If you’re not going to be using them to actually do anything outside, then sure, you can absolutely turn them off. All this is going to do is provide you with more stored solar energy.
The thing is, if you just got these out of the package, they’re been devoid of sunlight for months on end in a warehouse, just stocked on a shelf. You need to cycle the internal battery.
For the first three days out of the package, leave the lights off, but the lanterns underneath the sunlight. Three full days in the sun should bring the battery up from nearly nothing all the way to maxed out, cycling your lithium-ion and keeping everything at its top performance.
Basically, turning off your lanterns at night is only going to be useful when you fully cycle your batteries inside of your lanterns. Otherwise, you can let them just run all night if you enjoy the ambiance and knowing that your outdoor area is well-lit all night long.
Solar Light Even at Night
Solar light is fantastic, and with the advancements on small-scale solar panels in recent years, we’re able to enjoy solar-based light for much longer.
It’s time to forget the horrors of 2003-era, peg-style walkway lights: these solar lanterns are arguably better than battery-powered ones, and now, you have the cream of the crop to choose from.