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.

Forums 9 comments

In addition to magnetic fasteners in clothing reversing the polarity of a compass stored close to the fastener there is also the magnetic field from a mobile phone to consider. I think most, if not all, walkers carry a...
Got some fingerless gloves which convert into mitts, Rab ones have Velcro and the Marmot ones have magnets... Can't see the magnets being strong enough to cause a problem while handling a compass, they are on the back...
Why the hell would an outdoor manufacturer make a pair of gloves with magnets them? I heard about this a few weeks ago where a team in Scotland had exactly this happen with a pair of gloves. Helmets I kind of get but to...
They play havoc with the mechanism in your automatic watch, although there are worse things than being too early. Having said that, you've got to be an esoteric navigator these days just to rely on a watch.
Different type of issue, but the worst use of a magnet I've seen is the magnet on the quick release clip on Petzl meteor helmets (meteor 2 I think). They attract stones which gather around the magnets, and can prevent...

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