I'll sound like an old fogey, but many modern headtorches are just too fiddly. They're also made of plastic, which may not be quite as environmentally questionable as the batteries that go inside, but still isn't ideal for the planet. With the new Terra Scout, Swedish brand Silva score two huge ticks, giving you a torch that's fantastically simple to operate, and one with a lower impact on the environment too, thanks to being made of recycled plastic and hemp.
It's the first (and hopefully not the last) time I've encountered this interesting combination of materials in a piece of consumer electronics, and it's this that accounts for the rustic speckled appearance of the torch. It also has up to 90% lower CO2 footprint compared to standard plastics, say Silva. While the battery is probably no more eco-friendly than any other, I do think the Terra Scout represents a small but meaningful advance in sustainability.
Three models of Terra Scout are available: I'm looking at the Terra Scout H, the most expensive option at £59.99, which comes with Silva's own rechargeable battery pack.
So you can use it without a diploma in electrical engineering, and feel a bit good about your choices as you do so; but what's it like as an actual torch?
More eco than your average torch
Refreshingly basic to use
Burn time isn't stellar
The big one: no lock-out
Weight and comfort
Weighing 73g with the battery, the Terra Scout H seems about standard for a torch around this size and power - for instance the slightly brighter Black Diamond Spot 400-R I reviewed in January is a similar weight (68g). It's not going to seem too heavy for summer use, but still feels solid.
The Terra Scout's curved mount and broad elastic headband give it a secure and comfortable fit, and with no bounce this is a torch you can happily wear running. The head tilts miles forward to give you a view of your feet. I do find the headband a bit sweaty, as it's not very breathable.
Aside from the hemp-and-recycled thing, its absolute user-friendly simplicity is key to the attraction of this torch. There are just two main modes, high and low, plus the night-vision-preserving red LED that no headtorch seems to be able to do without (in my case it literally never gets used). As an antidote to a market that seems obsessed with complicated dimming functions, reactive lighting, app-enabled programming and multiple output modes, Silva are offering something commendably low-fi. This back-to-basics approach won't suit every occasion, but if - like me - you're easily lost in over-complex operation, and usually just want something that'll switch on and show you where to walk, the Terra Scout is a sanity saver.
Using the torch could hardly be easier, with everything done via a single glove-friendly button. This is great, as far as it goes. But there is one omission - and it's a biggie:
With no lock-off function, the torch can be accidentally nudged on in your pack, leaving it drained when you come to need it. This has happened to me on Ben Macdui, which wouldn't be the ideal place to be torch-less after sunset (in winter I always carry two). Yes you can get round this by removing the battery until needed, but that adds faff and the potential to lose something, so it's not a perfect solution. While it's a great torch in many ways, the lack of a lock limits its appeal for mountain use. Through the darker months of winter I've been using it from my front door; it's great for dog walks, school drops and short runs in the dark, but if you're relying on it far from home you'll need to be canny.
In high output mode with a fresh battery the Terra Scout puts out 350 lumens. While that's not a lot in today's head torch arms race, I've found it surprisingly effective. Stated range is 65m, which from my use I'd say sounds about right. Full beam is plenty for walking even on rough terrain, and I've used it for night time runs on easier tracks too.
At lower power you get just 50 lumens and a weedy 30m range (again that seems accurate), making this the battery-saving option for close proximity lighting.
Just as significant as the numbers is the lovely clear quality of light the Terra Scout produces. Things just seem to look sharper, somehow. With a really well-considered mix of close-range wide-angle and longer distance spot, the beam offers loads of visibility, ideal for general use out and about. No need for a multiplicity of modes - this torch effectively does quite a lot with comparatively little.
It's a relatively compact torch, with a fairly small 1.25 Ah battery, so something has to give - and as with most such torches it's the burn time. At max output you get a stated 3 hours. This is measured by the now-common ANSI FL1 Standard, which measures the time it takes for output to drop from turning on with a fresh battery to 10% of initial brightness. So while the opening 350 lumens is pretty bright, and has plenty of range, after 3 hours you're not going to see very far. I have noticed this drop-off over the course of a cold dark walk-out, and resorted to using another torch after 90 minutes or so. To me this reinforces the impression of the Terra Scout as a good torch for local walks and campsite camping, but less so for serious mountain use. It's not the first model I'd pick for winter climbing or overnight backpacking; but in terms of burn time you could say the same for many compact torches.
On the other hand Minimum mode gives you a massive 25 hours, which is plenty for hanging around in a tent for several nights.
Battery and charging
The Silva power cell on the Terra Scout H is charged via a USB-C connection. This is the modern style, which I assume all devices will eventually adopt. It's the first such headtorch I've used, and as I have only the one cable that Silva provided - versus about a hundred older micro USB cables - it's aggravating that I keep managing to misplace it. Quicker adopters with a ready stash of more up-to-date plugs aren't going to find this a problem.
With its removable battery the Terra Scout H has an advantage over torches with an inbuilt battery, since when the power cell degrades (as they eventually do) you may still have a usable light unit. Three AAAs can be used instead. If you want to save money the other models in the range, the Terra Scout X (£34.99) and Terra Scout XT (£39.99), take AAAs only.
While I love the Terra Scout's easy operation, light quality, and use of environmentally friendly materials, I'm far less sold on that missing lock. As a torch for less-rigorous use it's a winner, but on the mountains there are better options.