I bought and tested 15 different string light poles in my own backyard to find the best ones for every space- fences, deck railings, concrete patios, grass, etc.
After making these DIY string light poles several years back and testing many different DIY methods for hanging string lights over the past few years, I decided it was time to buy and test some of the ready-made string light poles available from popular online retailers to see how they stand up (Ha! get it?).
Just for the record, this post is not sponsored and no one is paying me to say any of this, though I do earn a small commission if you purchase products through the links on my website. This allows me to support my family and continue creating helpful DIY content for you.
I bought several different ready-made string light poles to test and review this year. Of course they all require some assembly, but nothing especially complicated or time-consuming. To be perfectly honest, I was expecting them to be somewhat flimsy and only last for a year or two. But I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with some (though not all!) of the poles I’ve tested.
String Light Pole Heights
I find that for most backyards and outdoor living spaces, 10′ is the ideal height for string light poles. This allows room for the cords to swag down 1-1 1/2 feet and still have plenty of clearance overhead, even for your tallest guests. You may want to go a little higher for a commercial space like a restaurant patio.
Keep in mind that the bulbs of most commercial-grade string lights (which I recommend if you want them to last) hang down about 6″ below the cord (see the photo below).
Ultimately you outdoor lights will look best if your poles are all the same height or close to it. String lights generally give outdoor spaces a relaxed and casual look, so the heights don’t have to match exactly. But if you end up with one pole that’s a foot and a half taller than the others, it will probably look funny.
Qualities of The Best String Light Poles
So what should you look for in a string light pole? These are the qualities I think are important:
- sturdy and holds up for several years
- supports weight of the lights without leaning much (they’re all going to lean a little bit unless they’re installed in concrete)
- relatively easy to assemble and install
- doesn’t create a tripping hazard
- nice-looking and unobtrusive
String Light Pole Tops
The tops of the poles all have some kind of hook to keep the light sord in place. Zip ties are often helpful for securing the cord. And while each of the poles I tested has a slightly different-shaped hook at the top (you can see a few of them in the photo below), they all performed well, so I didn’t include the top hook as a factor in my ranking process.
Types of String Light Poles
There are a few different types of retail string light poles on the market intended for different purposes. The best option/s for you will depend on whether you’re installing the poles on a “soft” surface such as grass, dirt or gravel, on a fence or deck railing, or on a hard surface like the top of a deck or concrete patio.
Here are the three categories we’ll be looking at:
- in-ground (also known as “soft surface” or “yard poles”)
- fence & deck railing
- deck top/ patio (also known as “hard surface”)
I’ve found that most outdoor string light projects require attaching the lights to more than one surface or structure, such as the side of the house and a tree, etc., so your project may require a combination of these.
In-Ground String Light Poles
In-ground string light poles are designed to anchor in the ground. You may also see these referred to as “soft surface light poles”. They’re your best bet if you want to install your poles in grass, soil, or gravel.
These are a great option for renters, weddings, outdoor parties, and pretty much anyone with a backyard. They’re all easy to remove and store at the end of the season as well.
Screw-In String Light Poles
These poles screw straight into the ground, much like a beach umbrella. Most are intended to go down about two feet. The hardness of your soil and number of rocks will determine whether this option works well for you.
I tested these Espird screw in poles. I found them to be sturdy and high-quality, and I liked that each pole was only made up of three pieces (the fewer joints, the better). However I was only able to get mine down about one foot into the soil in my backyard because I kept running into rocks. This left the poles much taller than I wanted. That said, I still think these would be a great option for softer soil or sand.
Fork-Style String Light Poles
Fork-style poles stick straight into the ground and are stabilized by three to five fork tines.
I found them to be the easiest to install of all the in-ground poles. You simply stand the pole up where you want it, step on the tines, and then finish driving it into the ground with a hammer or mallet. A mallet would be the preferred tool here, since the hammer I used dinged up the finish a bit. But these are going into the ground, so I’m not especially concerned with them staying pristine.
When installed, the tines should be flush with or just below the ground surface so they aren’t a tripping hazard.
Fork-Style String Light Poles with Supports
These poles are similar to the basic fork-style poles, but they have an additional diagonal support pole that goes into the ground. It’s possible to install the pole without the extra support piece, but these particular poles are so flimsy that they need it. I also don’t love that the diagonal support piece sticks out, because it’s a tripping hazard, especially when it’s dark outside.
That last thing I want to note about these poles is they come in 8 sections. While this makes for a nice small shipping box, so many joints make the poles wobbly. I much prefer the poles with fewer pieces.
All that said, these are some of the lowest-priced poles I’ve found at around $17 each, and they do the job. So if cost is your most important factor, this could still be a reasonable option.
Fence & Deck Railing String Light Poles
As the name suggests, fence and deck railing string light poles are attached to a wood fence or railing using included brackets. The installation is pretty simple and quick, but it does require a drill and level.
Full-Height Deck Railing String Light Poles
We tested two different brands of full-height (10 foot) poles on my parents’ deck this year. As you can see in the photo above, they are well up to the task of holding up heavy-duty string lights without bending or leaning.
Both are made of quality powder-coated steel, and we’ve been very happy with them. In fact there really wasn’t a clear winner. The one difference we noticed was that one set of poles was a few inches taller than the other, and the finishes were slightly different. So I would say the choice comes down to price and personal preference.
Since these poles are attached to a vertical support with two or more brackets, and they sit on the deck surface, they don’t tend to lean as much as the in-ground poles when you string the lights.
Slightly Shorter Matte-Finish Poles (about $30 each)
Slightly Taller Glossy-Finish Poles (about $50 each)
You can see the installation tutorial for these poles here: How to Hang String Lights on a Deck
Short Deck Railing & Fence String Light Poles
These poles are meant to extend the height of a deck railing or fence, but they don’t extend all the way to the ground or deck surface. They come in a variety of lengths, from 1.5 feet to four feet. This is the most cost-effective option of the bunch, but I haven’t had the chance to test them yet, so I can’t tell you how they perform.
That said, I’ve been impressed with the quality of other string light poles from Ailbton, so these are the ones I would buy. They come in multiple lengths. Results coming soon!
Deck Top/ Hard Surface String Light Poles
These poles are intended to be installed on the surface of a deck or concrete patio. They have a flat base with holes for screws. Hard surface poles are a great option if you have a deck without a railing or a large paved patio and want poles in the center of it.
In an ideal world, I would place the light posts around the outside perimeter of the outdoor living space to prevent unnecessary obstacles and tripping hazards. Remember it will likely be dark out when you use your patio lights! But sometimes you need to place one or more poles in the center of a large area.
They do require a drill and level for installation. Concrete will be more complicated, but not impossible.
I haven’t had the chance to test these yet, but I will get reviews and recommendations up for you as soon as I do!
Bottom Line: The Best String Light Poles In Each Category
The all-around winner for both quality and value is:
Fork-Style: Mutovlin 2 Pack Fork-Style Yard Poles ($30/ea or $15/ea on sale) (also comes with deck railing brackets)
And these were all high-quality options as well:
Screw-In: Espird Screw-In Yard Pole ($37/ea)
Full-Height Deck Railing: Holiday Styling Deck Pole 2 Pack ($50/ea)
Full-Height Deck Railing: Ailbton 2-Pack Deck Poles ($30/EA)