Chapter 40: How to Repair a Separated, Stuck, or Sluggish Zipper

Zippers are one of the great workhorses of lightweight backpacking. They are on your tent, pack, sleeping bag, and clothing. Here are a few tips to repair them and keep them running smoothly.

To extend your zipper’s life, keep it as clean as possible. Wash it from time to time and use a brush to remove the trail grime. Treat your zippers with some care, such as pulling the sides of your pack or tent together so the zipper isn’t stressed. Slow your pace a little, especially around corners. Make sure your hand follows the track of the zipper and that you’re not pulling sideways.

Coil zippers are the most common. When they separate and don’t make the usual closure, a worn slider is usually to blame. The slider is the part that the pull tab is connected to. Back up the slider to the zipper’s starting position. Take a pair of pliers or needle nose pliers and gently squeeze each side of the slider until the zipper works smoothly again. Be patient and don’t squeeze too tightly. If the slider breaks, remember you can get a new one.

To fix a zipper that has clothing or other fabric stuck in it, the best item in your pack is probably your biodegradable soap. It is a great lubricant and will easily wash out of any gear. If you are at home, you can use liquid soap. Apply a small amount of soap and gently wiggle the fabric until it comes loose.

Here are some tips to fix sluggish zippers. For metal zippers, run a pencil up and down both sides of the zipper. This will apply just the right amount of graphite to make the zipper work smoothly.

There are many options for sluggish plastic and nylon zippers. If you are already on your hike when the zipper gets sluggish, try your biodegradable liquid soap. You may also be carrying lip balm or candle wax. If you are at home, your first choice should probably be bar soap. You can also use liquid soap, candle wax, petroleum jelly, or a lubricant from the kitchen such as olive oil. You can use the old standby WD-40, but remember to use very little because of the odor. If you don’t have any wax candles, you can rub wax paper over the zipper.

There are a lot more zipper tips and repair items at local stores and on the web including new zipper sliders. Don’t give up on those old zippers and that old equipment.

And remember, annual zipper day is April 29th!