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.”
Two identical new compasses show a wide difference in ‘north’ when one is held in a glove with a magnetic closure.
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.
Magnetic closures are being increasingly found in cyling and hill walking jackets
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.”