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Dublin: 17 °C Friday 3 July, 2020

Irish hillwalkers warned about magnets in clothing sending compasses the wrong way

Mobile phones are also a problem.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexander Chaikin

HILLWALKERS ARE BEING advised to be aware of how magnets can affect compasses and navigation after a recent incident in Scotland involving a mobile phone.

The incident occurred in Glen Shee when a group of walkers wrongly headed east instead of west and became “totally disoriented” in low cloud, miles away from a road and their intended destination.

Mountaineering Scotland has said it’s believed the error occurred after a compass that was used for navigation was disrupted after it was put in a pocket next to a mobile phone.

“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,”  Mountaineering Scotland Heather Morning said.

Morning went on to say that there is a “growing concern” in mountaineering circles about not only phones affecting compasses but also magnetic strapping on pieces of clothing.

The rescue group warned that some popular outdoor clothing brands have been using magnets instead of Velcro on gloves, jackets and all manner of gear.

“My advice is to steer well clear of any garments,” Morning said.

Asked by whether the incident should be a concern for Irish hillwalkers, the Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team said that compasses being reversed can happen but can be spotted by following some simple tips.

“A compass having its polarity reversed is not very common, but it can happen relatively easily,” DWMRT’s spokesperson John Kavanagh said.

He then passed on this advice to avoid it happening:

It’s usually easy to spot if you check your compass in an area you’re very familiar with, ideally before you leave home. If it does happen, it can lead to what’s known as a 180 error, where a person takes the opposite direction to their intended heading. In poor visibility a 180 error can have very serious consequences, occasionally leading to fatal accidents.

A more difficult problem to spot is when the heading indicated by a compass is altered by less than 180 degrees. This can be the result of magnetic fasteners in clothing and equipment, usually close to the compass while it’s in use. It’s less obvious, but can be just as dangerous.

“Our advice is to learn to navigate, keep practicing, and stay alert. Take adequate breaks, and don’t go out walking if you’re too fatigued. The more alert and practiced you are, the more likely you are to catch a mistake before it becomes a problem.”

Read: Man arrested after stabbing at the Hell Fire Club in south Dublin >

Read: Heading for the hills today? Here are 18 tips to stay safe on Ireland’s mountains >

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Rónán Duffy

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