Hillgoers Warned about Magnets in Clothing

Mountaineering Scotland have issued a warning to walkers and climbers to beware of the effects of magnets, not just in electronic equipment but - of all things - in clothing too. It's a case of fatal attraction, they say.

Magnetic closures on gloves and jackets are sometimes used as an alternative to Velcro or poppers, but far from being a convenience magnets can be a major headache, deflecting compass needles and leading to potentially serious navigational errors. It sounds too obvious to be worth saying, but we at UKH have experienced exactly this issue, as have several forum users.

Magnetic gloves and compasses - what could possibly go wrong?, 127 kb
Magnetic gloves and compasses - what could possibly go wrong?
© Dan Bailey

A magnetic cockup may have been the cause of a recent Mountain Rescue call-out.

Heather Morning, Mountain Safety Adviser for Mountaineering Scotland, said:

"We have reviewed the circumstances of a recent incident in the mountains east of Glen Shee, which involved hundreds of hours of rescue personnel hours and police time."

"A group of walkers were caught in low cloud and headed east instead of west, becoming totally disorientated and ending miles away from a road. Fortunately no-one was hurt – just pride dented – but it could have turned out so much worse had mountain conditions been more severe."

"The reason for the error was the compass. It had been stored in a pocket next to a mobile phone in a case which had a magnetic closure on it, and the magnet had reversed the polarity of the compass needle, so that the north arrow pointed south."

The phenomenon of 'reversed polarity' has been widely publicised in mountaineering circles and people are advised to keep their compasses well away from mobile phones.

But added to this is now a growing awareness of the insidious problem of magnetic closures in outdoor clothing.

Several outdoor brands produce mitts or gloves with fold-back flaps using magnetic closures, and even some jackets now use magnets hidden away in folds of the garment.

Heather warned:

"Modern technology is great. The resources available now to keep us warm and safe in the mountains have never been better. But more joined-up thinking is needed between outdoor clothing manufacturers and mountain users to avoid potentially life-threatening consequences."

"My advice is to steer well clear of any garments utilizing this latest trend of magnetic closures or you could end up with an expensive bill for replacing your compass or – worse – a life-threatening navigation error."

Following our own recent experience with a wandering compass needle we at UKH took a scalpel to a pair of mitts to remove several unnecessary magnets; we'd advise all owners of daft magnetic clothing to do likewise.

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