How Bright Are Solar Lanterns?

The concern for power and brightness seems to be something that comes up with all solar gear. This is understandable considering how solar was still in the early stages of development a couple decades ago, but things have definitely changed! Bright solar lanterns aren’t an anomaly – they’re the norm!

Solar lanterns designed for camping and outdoor use tend to vary from 140 lumens of light up to a stunning 360 lumens. For your conventional yard and garden setup decorative solar lanterns generally give off 6-8 lumens of brightness, enough for clear ambient lighting without being too bright or harsh. Because of the different types of bulbs measuring light in lumens vs watts or volts is a far more accurate system now.

Solar lanterns have reached the point where they can stand toe to toe with any non-solar options, as long as they remain well charged. Any of these kept outside should have no issue of that – even with a lot of cloudy days in a row.

hanging solar garden lantern
Is this the type of outdoor lighting you’re looking for?

If you are looking for solar lanterns to decorate around the home or garden you will have plenty of options. Even if you’re looking for a camping or emergency solar lantern, you still have plenty of options.

Solar Lawn Lanterns Vs. Solar Camping Lanterns

The use of the lantern makes a huge difference. When I think of a lantern I tend to think of camping or emergency use. But I also grew up in a very rural area and camped about 1/2 the days of every summer growing up (not exaggerated – and it was tent or build your own shelter camping).

Most people at this point when they’re looking for solar lanterns are focusing on functional and decorative pieces that are designed specifically to light up a front yard, backyard, or garden.

Which means your light needs are going to be FAR different between the two.

This drastically changes the numbers.

There are a couple very reliable and excellent solar powered lanterns that are designed for emergency power outages or for camping. Solar isn’t quite as popular here as it takes some serious engineering to create a solar lantern still good after days and days of rainy weather with no other charging method, but a few exist.

The two best?

These are around 360 and 380 lumens each, respectively. It’s safe to say that the 360-380 lumen range is the average brightness for solar lanterns designed for camping, survival, or emergencies.

Since the majority of readers searching for solar lanterns want something to decorate the yard or garden, the rest of the article will focus on those.

To give you an idea of how really bright that is, here’s a picture of two Vont emergency lanterns (some of my all-time favorites) which are “only” 140 lumens each. And this room is incredibly dark with the only window having blackout curtains over it – camera set with no flash, no night vision.

So yes, solar camping lanterns can get the job done.

Two vont lanterns lighting up blacked out room

Lumens Vs. Watts

While this transition is still taking place, it’s important to realize you’re not looking for watts anymore. You’re looking for lumens, which is the actual measurement of a unit of light.

Most bulbs used to be measured by watts, but that was before there was a wide array of different types of lightbulbs. With original iridescent lightbulbs, the number of watts did directly correlate to the amount of light. This was slightly different with halogen, but then CFL and LED bulbs came out and made a HUGE difference.

An LED could put out around 500% more light than an old fashioned standard incandescent light bulb, for example. An 20 Watt LED bulb would put out the amount of light a 100 Watt standard bulb would. So measuring by watts didn’t make any sense anymore.

Lumens were always the technically correct measurement to use. And now because of the radically different light put out by different bulb types.

Case in Point:

Lumens Produced (Est.)IridescentCFLLED
45040 Watts10 Watts8 Watts
80060 Watts14 Watts13 Watts
110075 Watts23 Watts17 Watts
1600100 Watts24 Watts20 Watts

So calling something 40 watts makes a huge difference if it’s Iridescent versus lighting up the entire neighborhood at night if it is LED.

So all measurements here on out are in lumens, because that’s what actually matters.

So general rules of thumb for solar home & yard lighting:

  • Ambient lighting starts around 6-7 lumens
  • Yard lighting is best from 30-50 lumens each
  • Lighting for bushes or shrubbery should be up in the 75-100 range
  • Lighting for underwater features needs to be around 200 lumens in most cases
  • Security lights or motion sensor lights should start at 200 lumens and go from there

Keep in mind that the appearance of the light does matter. You may adjust slightly based on how bright LED looks, or how the glow of any type or strength of light appears when you have multiple lights throughout your setup.

Track lighting for walkways can be less than 10 lumens, especially if solar yard lanterns are interspersed along the way, although around steps higher is better for clear footing.

How Bright Are Solar Yard Lanterns?

The various solar lights used to nightscape your property have to walk that line of producing the ideal ambient (and security) lighting while also not being so bright as to disturb your sleep or the neighbors’. That can be an interesting tightrope to balance, but understanding the best lumen range for each type of light can help you pick out the best solar lighting for your property.

How bright is the average solar yard lantern? There are the ambient light low lights that tend to vary from 6-9 lumens while the larger solar lanterns tend to fall in the 20 to 50 lumen range. There are some high light decorative lanterns that push the 200-350 lumen range.

Some of the top-selling and most popular solar garden light options and their lumens are:

You can get a clear sense of the average lumen range you’re looking at from very low light ambient lighting to path lighting to decorative solar lights and lanterns.

solar yard lantern
Hides during the day, provides some beautiful lighting in the evenings.

Finding the Right Ambient Lighting

What works perfectly for one backyard, garden, or front walkway won’t necessarily create the same perfect nighttime image for your home.

Experiment with some different looks. Test out how light falls through the area at night. While it can take some time to get that perfect look the effort is well worth it!

How Do Solar Lanterns Compare to Regular Lanterns?

At this point they are pretty much interchangeable when it comes to quality of light. There are still some models of non-solar lights that get a touch brighter, but if you’re in a town or residence you can be getting up into neighborhood pest territory if you’re bringing that level of brightness to the night.

The best outdoor solar lanterns are going to compete with anything non-solar you can pick up for the yard. This includes some of the best outdoor hanging lanterns that are good from trees or from stands or along the back porch. Solar has come a long way and if you want to go all solar with the night lighting that is 100% viable.

It also helps to save on the electric bill while keeping things green.

For all intensive purposes the two are pretty much interchangeable now. You can find solar lawn lights that will provide the same light that you expect from standard pieces. And solar lighting will last throughout the entire night without issue.

So What’s the Final Verdict?

Solar has come a long way over the past few years. In fact, solar lighting can serve a wide array of needs from heavy duty search and rescue lights to camping lanterns to the reliable ambient mood lighting around a city property lighting up the walkway, garden, or backyard without getting complaints from the neighbors.

Or family members who have the light just pouring in through the windows.

Solar yard lighting is just as bright as traditional walkway lights, so just look for the best looking lantern and light options that you love, double check the lumen numbers to be sure, and enjoy nightscaping your property with quality solar lights!