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Magnetic warning

Thursday 15th February 2018, 12:20pm

Mountain safety experts have warned against a worrying trend in the outdoor clothing market.

Magnetic closures on gloves and jackets are being marketed as the modern alternative to Velcro or poppers.

But magnets are well-known for deflecting compass needles, and there is already evidence that this 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.”

This 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 there is concern at the growing use of magnetic closures in outdoor clothing.

Popular outdoor brands are producing mitts/gloves with fold-back flaps using magnetic closures and there is a wide choice of outdoor jackets out there replacing Velcro with magnets hidden away in folds of the garment. Pockets, hoods, front fastenings, wrist closures… they’re all out there. 

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.”


Note the difference in the needles: one held in a magnetised glove, the other in a bare hand.