The compass on the left has a flipped needle, pointing in the wrong direction. The right-hand compass is indicating the correct northernly direction. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The compass on the left has a flipped needle, pointing in the wrong direction. The right-hand compass is indicating the correct northernly direction. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Mountain experts have identified a new hazard for hillgoers, after analysis of a recent rescue in the Highlands.

The trend in the use of magnets in outdoor clothing could be making compasses flip polarity, with potentially dangerous consequences.

Safety experts said the trend in the use of magnetic closures on jackets and gloves is worrying. The magnets are being marketed as a modern alternative to Velcro or poppers, they said.

But Mountaineering Scotland said magnets are well known for deflecting compass needles, and there is evidence that this may have been the cause of a recent mountain rescue callout, and called for a rethink from clothing designers.

Heather Morning, mountain safety adviser for the organisation, 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 there is concern at the growing use of magnetic closures in outdoor clothing.

Mountaineering Scotland, which represents hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers north of the border, said popular outdoor brands are producing mitts and 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,” it said.

Ms Morning said: “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 utilising 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.”