Instead of Velcro, buttons, and snap fasteners, magnetic closures are now the trendy alternative for fastening phone cases, gloves, jackets, hoods, and other outerwear. But this seemingly innocuous design feature can actually put your life at risk.
According to Heather Morning, mountain safety adviser for Mountaineering Scotland, a recent incident involving a group of lost hikers and an intense mountain rescue mission could have been avoided had it not been for a misplaced compass and a phone case with a magnetic closure.
“[The compass] had been stored in a pocket next to a mobile phone in a case which had a magnetic closure on it,” Morning said, “and the magnet had reversed the polarity of the compass needle, so that the north arrow pointed south.”
Mountaineering Scotland says that this reversed polarity occurs when a magnet comes into contact with a compass, and that needles can be deflected briefly, partially, or completely. If the compass has been partially reversed, the needle will move slowly, stick, or be out of balance. It is totally reversed if the north arrow points south, as was the case with the hikers in Scotland.
Luckily the hikers made it to safety, but Morning now calls for a collaboration “between outdoor clothing manufacturers and mountain users” so that this type of “life-threatening” event does not happen again.
In the meantime, consider bypassing the magnetic trend and instead opt for clothing and phone cases with traditional fasteners to prevent a potentially risky situation on your next hiking expedition.
In addition to taking precautions with your outerwear, Mountaineering Scotland also advises hikers to keep their compasses separate from their phones, phone cases, and other electronic devices, and to always carry a spare compass in case it breaks.
And as with all travel, always remember to tell someone where you're going, and when you plan to be back.