There’s nothing like a string light to make a tent, hammock, or back of a car a cozy home away from home. Whether you’re out on a solo car-camping adventure, making fireside meals with friends, or relaxing in your hammock in the park on the weekend, the glow of a string light can make the mood exactly what you want it to be.
Proper lighting in your camp setup can help make you feel like you’re living, not just camping. When it’s time to crawl into your tent for bed, you can turn the lights on like you’re flipping a switch as you walk through the front door. Our experts have been lighting up the scene for a handful of years now, testing just about every camping string light on the market and settling on seven of the best for every occasion.
For this review, we toted these string lights from the frontcountry to the backcountry, stringing them up in campsites in national parks and remote outposts alike. We illuminated our rigs on overlanding get-togethers and cast a useful light on camp kitchens across the country to whittle down on what exactly makes a good string light. We focused on important functional differences in brightness, battery life, durability, and weight, and each light passed through the gauntlet of our unique testing regimen.
String lights are inviting, versatile, and extremely useful, whether you’re trying to create an ambiance or fight off the impending dark. If you’re tired of looking for things with a flashlight or have been blinded one too many times by a friend looking at you in the face with a headlamp, investing in a set of string lights might just be your answer.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, and at the end of our list, be sure to check out our buyer’s guide to learn more about how to illuminate your next camping outing.
Editor’s Note: We updated our guide on October 27, 2023, to include multiple new camping string lights, including our new top pick: the ENO Twilights Camp Lights, as well as the Nite Ize Radiant ShineLine and additional information on our testing and tips for buying your next set of lights.
The Best Camping String Lights of 2023
- Best Overall Camping String Lights: ENO Twilights Camp Lights
- Best Budget Camping String Lights: BioLite SiteLight String
- Best Cord-Style Camping Lights: Nite Ize Radiant Rechargeable ShineLine
- Best Solar-Powered String Lights: MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Power Hub
- Best Modular String Lights: GoalZero Light-A-Life Mini
- Best Overlander Camping String Lights: LightForce Flexible LED Strip Light
- Best Boondockers Camping String Lights: TIKI BiteFighter LED String Light
- Lumens Not provided
- Power source Three AAA Batteries
- Burn time 72 hrs
- Water resistance IPX4 rated (resistant to splashes)
- Weight 3 oz.
- Variety of light modes
- Long battery life
- Easy to hang
- Gets tangled easily
- Not rechargeable
- Lumens 150 lms total (across four lights)
- Power source USB power source or other BioLite Lanterns
- Burn time Dependent on battery source
- Water resistance Not rated, but resistant to light rain
- Weight 2.5 oz.
- Easily packable
- Compatible with other BioLite products
- Compatible with USB chargers
- Not suitable for lighting large areas
- Requires plug-in
- One brightness setting
- Lumens Not provided
- Power source Rechargeable battery, USB charger compatible
- Burn time 6 hrs
- Water resistance Not rated, but resistant to light rain
- Weight 4.2 oz.
- Easy to hang and store
- Short battery life
- Not consistently bright, or the brightest overall
- Lumens 140 lm max, 20 lm low
- Power source 4000 mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery, solar panel
- Burn time 40 hrs. on low, 8 hrs. on high
- Water resistance IPX4 water resistant
- Weight 1 lb., 10.2 oz.
- Ability to light up a broad area, focus on specific zones
- String lights store on the lantern, limiting tangles
- Detachable power hub powers your electronics with USB-A and USB-C ports
- The solar panel is small, and the charging capacity is limited
- Take care not to snag the lights, the wiring can break
- Lumens 110 lms (high), 30 lms (low)
- Power source USB
- Burn time Dependent on battery source
- Water resistance Not rated
- Weight 24 oz. each
- Ability to add more lights
- Adjustable brightness
- Adjustable shades
- Color light options
- Brightness not adjustable as a group
- Cluttered set-up
- Lumens 1600 lms
- Power source Auxiliary power outlet
- Burn time Dependent on battery source
- Water resistance IP65 rated (resistant to water jets)
- Weight 14 oz.
- Impressive lighting
- Easy set-up
- Brightness settings
- Possibility of killing car battery
- Lumens 117 lms per light
- Power source Wall outlet
- Burn time 10,000 hour life per bulb
- Water resistance IP55 (water resistant)
- Weight 6 lbs.
- Long string with many lights
- Built-in mosquito repellant
- Appealing color
- Lacks portability
- Tough to hang
Camping String Lights Comparison Chart
|Camping String Lights||Price||Lumens||Burn Time||Water Resistance||Weight|
|ENO Twilights Camp Lights||$25||Not provided||72 hrs||IPX4||3 oz.|
|BioLite SiteLight String||$20||150 lms total||Dependent on battery source||Not rated, but resistant to light rain||2.5 oz.|
|Nite Ize Radiant Rechargeable ShineLine||$30||Not provided||6 hrs||Not rated, but resistant to light rain||4.2 oz.|
|MPOWERD Luci Solar String Lights + Power Hub||$70||140 lm max, 20 lm low||40 hrs. on low, 8 hrs. on high||IPX4||1 lb., 10.2 oz.|
|GoalZero Light-A-Life Mini||$80||110 lms (high), 30 lms (low)||Dependent on battery source||Not rated||24 oz. each|
|LightForce Flexible LED Strip Light||$80||1600 lms||Dependent on battery source||IP65||14 oz.|
|TIKI BiteFighter LED String Light||$160||117 lms per light||10,000 hour life per bulb||IP55||6 lbs.|
How We Tested Camping String Lights
Our lead tester Maddie Downie is an experienced camper, hiker, hammocker, and fireside hang-outer based in Washington State. She grew up camping with her family in the Colorado backwoods, and now spends almost every weekend night out of the summer sleeping outdoors. Maddie understands the difference between setting up a camp for an early start the next day and putting together a campsite for friends to gather for drinks, and tested each light with this context in mind, developing a few specific tests to put these lights through: a stuff test, rain test, battery test, “big campsite” test, and durability test.
Anything corded seems to have a mind of its own when left to its own devices, and that’s exactly what the stuff test aimed to challenge. We packed away each of these lights into packs and car camping storage, both loosely and in any included storage bag. The purpose of this test was to determine how easy these lights were to pack and unpack, as well as how likely they were to tangle or break inside a pack.
The weather isn’t always going to cooperate for your weekend shindigs, and our rain test occurs during real, day-long Pacific Northwest rain storms. After spending the day in the rain, each light was turned on and inspected for any damage. The battery test, too, sought to challenge these string lights with real-life usage, and included charging rechargeable lights fully, setting up battery-powered lights with brand new batteries, and hooking up plug-in lights with portable batteries, then running each light until they died.
The “big campsite” test assessed each light’s ability to light up a large campsite on its own. We were able to see if a light was bright or long enough to light up the common space where food and drinks were being made. The lights that weren’t suited for whole campsites were set up in tents, backs of cars, and over hammocks to see if they worked better for a single camper.
Lastly, the durability test involved some good old-fashioned muscle power, and saw our testers pulling, stretching, and yanking on these lights to see if they would break under abuse. Though this test might have been more aggressive than what these lights would see in their normal use, it not only determined each light’s general durability, but where a user might see wear and tear over time.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Buy Camping String Lights
We set out to find the best camping string lights on the market to give you the best recommendations for your adventures. It’s important to note, also, that string lights oftentimes will be accessories to other camp lighting solutions, such as Camping Lanterns or a good Headlamp.
Consider all of these to form a system that covers your campsite with light: headlamps for detail work like chopping veggies or zipping up a tent, lanterns for gathering around and telling stories, and string lights to guide your way around the party. Here’s what we’ve found to be the most important considerations when purchasing camping string lights:
Before you can have light, you need power. String lights have a few different means of power, and what will work best for you depends on how you plan to use your lights.
For optimal portability, having a set of string lights with a built-in battery will allow you to bring light anywhere without further complications. These lights have the benefit of not needing anything else to work, but that means they’re another thing you’ll have to remember to charge before heading out for the weekend.
If you have the space, you can pack a portable battery as well. While these lights are easy to bring along, they typically don’t have long battery life, lasting for an average of less than 10 hours. For instance, the Nite Ize Radiant ShineLines take about an hour and a half to charge completely for a 6-hour battery life.
Battery-powered lights are also portable, but keep in mind that these batteries can weigh down your pack. It also means you have to remember to put in fresh ones before heading out or running the risk of running out of power. Having rechargeable batteries for these lights will save you money!
These lights will generally last longer than the built-in battery lights, anywhere from three days to a few weeks, depending on how much you’re using them. It’s most likely a string light with a replaceable battery will take AA or AAA batteries, such as the ENO Twilights that take three AAA batteries.
Lights that require a plug-in to work may be better suited for car camping, boondocking, or lighting up an outdoor space at your home. Plug-in lights can come in a variety of types, such as USB or outlet plug-ins.
Keep in mind that not all USB cords are the same; lights may come in USB-C, USB-A, or Micro-USB. USB plug-ins are the most portable as long as you don’t mind packing a battery bank. And some USB plug-in lights are compatible with lanterns, such as the BioLite SiteLights that can be plugged into the BioLite AlpenGlow 500 Lantern.
However, lights that require being plugged into a wall outlet are better suited for RV camping or lighting up your back porch. These lights are a great choice for car camping in cars that have USB or house-plug converters. Plug-in lights also mean you can run these lights longer. House plug-in lights last as long as you want and USBs last as long as your battery bank can.
String Light Size
Some string lights are for small areas, like the back of a pickup truck, while others will light up your whole campsite. String lights that emphasize portability are generally better for smaller campsites as they are dimmer and smaller. These lights range anywhere from one foot to 10 feet in length. Shorter ones are better for lighting up the inside of your car or tent, or illuminating your hammock. The BioLite SiteLights, at 10 feet long with only four lights, are better at lighting up a hammock than an entire campsite.
Lights that require being plugged in are better suited for large areas as they are generally larger and brighter. These lights can range from a few feet to several yards. The TIKI BiteFighter String Lights are 36 feet long with 14 LED bulbs. Plug-in lights mean that these lights can stay brighter for longer, making them ideal for large spaces.
The brightness of a light is also dependent on its power source, as well as the type of light. LEDs are the most common light type because they work really well! LED lights that run off a rechargeable or battery-powered source are not as bright as plug-in lights. This makes them better suited for lighting up small spaces such as a car or tent. These lights will also dim as the battery dies.
Plug-in lights are brighter from 100 lumens (lms) to 1,000 lms. The Lightforce LED Strip Light comes in at 1,600 lms! Plug-in lights also stay brighter for longer and are less likely to dim as you use them.
Some camping lights use alternative light sources, such as the fiber optic lights in the Nite Ize Radiant ShineLines. These lights are generally not as consistently bright as LED lights, and offer more of a glow than a shine. The fiber optic design means that the light isn’t consistently bright through the cord, but is brighter the more it is bent.
Many camping string lights come with light adjustment options which can be helpful in setting a desired mood. Many come with a simple high brightness and low brightness, such as the GoalZero Light-A-Life lights that have a 110-lumen high setting and 30-lumen low setting. This setting is great for transitioning into a sleepier mood.
Other lights have blinking and color-changing effects, which keep the mood more energized. The color ENO Twilights have a setting that will gradually rotate through all of the colors. However, a few lights require that you cycle through these different settings to turn the light off, which can definitely be an annoyance around bedtime. No one likes a strobing light right as they’re about to fall asleep.
There are a few factors to consider when thinking about storage of your camping string lights, which can be dependent on the type of camping you want to do. For backpacking or camping where a portable light is necessary, having a specific storage container is nice.
Several battery-powered or rechargeable lights, such as the ENO Twilights, come with a soft storage bag that fits nicely inside a pack. Some lights, such as the Nite Ize Radiant ShineLines come with gear ties that make it easy to loop these lights up and tie all ends together. Lights without a specific storage method require a little creativity to store and run the risk of getting tangled or damaged.
Even if a light comes with a specific storage container, the ease of setting them up and putting them away is a consideration. Soft storage bags are generally easy to stuff lights into, and ties take a bit longer to put away. The BioLite SiteLights may win the award for easiest to store as the lights stack on top of one another.
Despite how easy each light is to store, there is always the risk of lights getting tangled in storage. We found that string lights that can be stored in a soft bag are easy to get tangled, which adds more time to setting up your campsite. Lights that are stored with ties are less likely to get tangled. Spending the time to fold or wrap your lights carefully will prevent tangling and make your future self a happier camper.
Proper storage can also prevent wear and tear. Lights with rubber or plastic wire coverings have a higher chance of tearing, stretching, or breaking, so it’s especially important to store these lights with care. We found that lights that are shoved into bags or that are just tossed loosely into packs are more likely to experience this kind of wear. Even if a light doesn’t come with a specific storage container, creating one out of a plastic bag or with wire ties could save you from having to replace them right away.
The types of hanging features on a string light can determine how easy they are to set up at a campsite. Many string lights come with hooks that can be used to clip the lights to tent poles, hammocks, or the inside of your car. The BioLite SiteLights come with small hooks on either end that make it easy to attach these lights to different parts of a campsite.
The Nite Ize ShineLines might take the cake for hanging features. Not only are these lights easy to wrap around objects, but they come with four rubber-covered hanging wires that can be used to attach these lights to almost anything. The attachments are super malleable and can be moved anywhere on the light where they are best fit. They also make it easy to store these lights as you can tie off the lights when they are bundled.
Durability and Water Resistance
When choosing between camping lights, the durability of those lights should be a consideration. As a whole, companies designing outdoor lights have put effort into making them durable, such as concealing the lights and wires themselves in some protective material. The ENO Twilights are almost completely plastic-covered, which keeps dust and water at bay for the most part. However, over time, the plastic seems prone to stretch and tear if these lights are handled roughly.
Plug-in lights that come with exposed components should be handled and stored with extra care. For instance, the BioLite SiteLights come with a USB dongle that could be damaged if left in the dirt and rain. The Nite Ize ShineLines have a plastic cover that should be used to keep dirt out of the charging port on the end of the light.
Many of these outdoor string lights are water-resistant and IP-rated. The IP scale refers to how water-resistant something is, and the definitions of each rating are easy to look up online. In general, most string lights seem to be resistant to splashes, but aren’t likely to make it if dunked in water. The Lightforce LED Strip Light is IP65 rated, meaning it’s resistant against “jets” of water. Still, it’s best to assume that no string light is waterproof and try to keep your lights out of the rain as much as possible.
The most convenient light will depend on what you need to do with your light. Are you walking and exploring in the dark? Then you’ll want something like a headlamp or flashlight you can use to direct a beam of light ahead of you and down the trail.
Do you have a central area like a table or tent you need to light? Then the expansive glow of a lantern might be what you’re looking for. If you’re trying to light up a large, spread-out area, string lights are likely your best bet as they can extend over a large area. And if you want brighter light, you can simply wrap them, or even pile them, in a more central location.
The length of time your lights can stay on will depend on how bright you have them set and how powerful the battery is. Sometimes the power source is built into the lights, but others can be plugged into an external power bank. The bigger the bank, the longer the lights will last.
Still, with most high-efficiency LED lights used in these products, you can expect your lights (like the ENO Twilights) to last for at least several hours. If you use a lower-power setting, some string lights can even last for days at a time, and features like built-in solar panels on the MPOWERED lights will only extend this time.
The number of lights you need is entirely dependent on how big your campsite is and how bright you want it to be. For brightness, consider whether you want a single string light that crosses a campsite for some added ambiance, or if you want to crisscross string lights across your campsite to provide illumination.
Some brands offer long strings with dozens of lights (like the TIKI BiteFighter String Lights). However, you may actually be better off opting for smaller sections of lights you can string together (like the BioLite string lights). Just remember, the more you string together, the faster the battery drains.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and experiment to find the lighting you prefer.