How to Fix a Zipper: Extending the Life of Your Camping Gear

There’s no better feeling than dusting off your camping kit after the winter and heading back out on those trails as the weather warms up. Sometimes though, especially if you packed your kit away in a hurry, you can be confronted with an equally bad feeling: that of finding a broken zipper on your tent, backpack or rain jacket. You might be wondering how to fix a broken zipper and luckily, it’s not actually that difficult.

See also: Camping Safety: A Handy Guide for The Best and Safest Outdoor Adventure

In this article we’ll look at a few different types of zips, as well as how to get zipper back on. Keep reading to find out how to fix a zipper as well as the tools you need to get started.

A broken zipper can be really frustrating, especially if the rest of your kit is still in great condition. You might have invested lots of your hard-earned cash on a beautifully-warm down sleeping bag or state-of-the-art Gore-Tex jacket, and when the zipper breaks through wear and tear it can stop you using your favorite items.

There are so many zippers on items that you will probably have with you, including:

  • Tents
  • Sleeping bags
  • Backpacks
  • Rain jackets

Unfortunately most zippers, on even expensive items of camping equipment are usually not covered under the warranty. Of course, you do have the option of sending your camping equipment back to the manufacturer to fix, but you will have to pay for postage on top of any repair bill.

Zippers are essential on tents if you’re somewhere where it’s likely to rain or there are a lot of bugs. You’ll also feel more secure if your tent door closes! For tips on how to deal with pesky mosquitoes, see our article on this topic.

Due to the amount of wear and tear that zips are exposed to in relation to the rest of your kit, it’s inevitable that they can wear out quickly. Luckily most problems are easily fixed, but first let’s take a look at common ways that zips can break.

How and Why do Zips Break?

Usually, zips break in one of two ways. Either the zip pull comes off, or the teeth of the zip aren’t connecting properly anymore. Either way, the issue is usually with the zip puller, and can usually be fixed reasonably easily.

So rather than sending your kit off to get fixed, or replacing an otherwise still functioning tent or jacket, carry on reading to find out if you can fix your zip yourself and extend the life of your outdoor gear.

Types of Zips

There’s a wide variety of different types of zips out there, so if one of your zips has broken the first thing you will need to do is identify which type of zipper you have before deciding how to go about fixing it.

Zips can be roughly broken down into three different categories:

  • Plastic toothed zip: These have individual plastic teeth and are hardwearing so likely to be found on your outerwear.
  • Metal toothed zip: Usually found on items such as denim jeans, you’re unlikely to find a metal zip on your camping gear.
  • Plastic coil zip: Coil zips are also made of plastic, but the teeth are formed by a long strand of thin nylon plastic. These are often found on many different types of camping gear.

How to Fix a Broken Zipper

First you will need to identify what’s wrong with your zip! Take a look at the zip and see if you can spot the problem straightaway. Firstly remember that sometimes, the problem can be sand and dirt getting into the zip and causing it to get stuck. If you can’t see anything straightaway, try brushing off or rinsing down your zip to see it that will fix the problem.

If that doesn’t work, things to look out for when trying to see what is wrong with your zip include:

  • Check that the retaining box is still at the bottom of the zipper, on both sides. This is usually made out of plastic or metal. Check it’s clear of any debris, and give it a clean out. If the box is missing or cracked, then you’ll need a full zipper replacement rather than a simple repair.
  • Check to see if any teeth are broken on a plastic zipper, or if the coil is misshapen on a coil zipper.
  • Check the tape next to the insert pin (on the opposite side to the zipper box) is intact.
  • If the zip appears to be closing but then the teeth split apart which then opens along the whole length of the zipper, the cause will likely be a worn zipper puller.

All of these methods can be completed while out camping as long as you have some basic equipment with you which you will most likely have with you already. You will want to have a small sharp object such as a safety pin from your first aid kit and a pair of pliers.

Many camping tools such as Leatherman or Victorinox have pliers on them which will be perfect for this task. You can fix the majority of zip issues with these two lightweight items. We also recommend that you buy a small zip repair kit to pop in your backpack.

If you’re a little unsure or less than confident with fixing your broken zipper, then a repair kit is the way to go. There’s a wide range of these online and in camping stores to choose from. Select a kit which include a variety of different zippers, replacement keepers and repair tools and you’ll be well on your way to getting those zippers fixed whilst out on the trail.

Some also come with a short manual on how to repair your zippers so if you’re at all unsure, this will help you get started.

zipper repair tool kit

In the next section we’ll give you some easy instructions on how to go about fixing some different zipper problems.

Problems and How to Fix Them

Squashed coil zip

Suitable for: Coil zips.

Description: If an item with a coil zip has been stored tightly folded for a long period of time, or anything else has happened to cause the coil zip to be misshapen then it will not do up correctly.

Method: Use a sharp implement such as a sewing needle from a small sewing kit, or a safety pin from your first aid kit. Insert the pointed end into the small spaces between the coils, exerting gentle pressure to try and return the coils to their original shape. It’s unlikely that the whole zip will be affected, so use an undamaged section of the zip as a guide.

Material jam

Suitable for: All types of zips.

Description: Sometimes, the lining of your rain jacket or tent inner can get caught in a zip and jam the zipper, stopping it from sliding up and down smoothly.

Method: In this case, try to gently ease the material away from the zipper. To do this, pull the zip up slowly, whilst gently pulling the material away at the same time. If you try to use tools like pliers in this case, then you may end up ripping the material, so it’s better to go slowly in this case. It might take a while, but this problem is easily fixed with a bit of patience.

Lost zip pulls and pull tabs.

Suitable for: All types of zips.

Description: Pull tabs are plastic toggles attached with a small piece of cord, to the zip pull of your camping gear, including tents, rain jackets and backpacks. The idea behind these is that they make it easier to locate and open or close the zip quickly and easily. Essential if you’re trying to do up your rain jacket in a thunderstorm, or quickly find your way out of your tent!

Method: Luckily, this is a really easy fix. If the rest of the zip is working fine but you’re missing the pull tab, you can buy replacements from the manufacturer of your equipment. Alternatively you can use a small piece of ribbon or cord.

Sometimes, the entire zip pull can break off, making it very hard to zip open and shut. Again, you can replace this with a small piece of ribbon or cord but this time threaded through the metal arch on the zip. You could also use a small gauge plastic cable tie for this.

If you have a zip repair kit with replacement zip pulls, use a small pair of pliers to lift up the metal arch on the zip just enough to slide the new zip pull into place, and then push the arch back down to secure it.

Zip not closing properly

Suitable for: All types of zips.

Description: One of the most common problems with a broken zipper is when the slider can go up and down the zip but the teeth don’t connect behind it, meaning that the whole zip is left open. This happens when the zip slider gets worn out or bent out of shape.

Method: Have a look at the zip slider from the top, and you will probably notice that it may be a bit distorted, and likely one or both sides will be slightly bent out of shape. Use a small pair of pliers to gently and slowly re-shape the zipper until it is back to the original shape. Once you’re happy that the shape of the zipper pull is back to normal, you should find that the zip is working again.

When fixing with pliers, make sure you don’t squeeze the puller together too much, as this will also mean the zip doesn’t work! So start off gently and adjust in small increments, checking after each one.

Zip slider has been re-adjusted, but zip is still not working

Suitable for: All types of zips.

Description: If you have tried to re-shape your zip slider and the zip is still not working, check the condition of the entire zip. If it still looks in good shape, you might need to replace the zip slider itself.

Method: First, take a look at the keepers at the top of your zip to see if they are metal or plastic. Then follow the corresponding steps. For a metal keeper, use your pliers to remove the metal keeper at the top of the zip, on the same side as the zip slider is located. Make sure you save the keeper as you will be replacing it later.

Take the zipper puller off by pulling it off the zip at the top. Take a new slider of the correct size and replace it on the zip itself. Next, carefully replace the metal keeper at the top of the zip and secure it into place by squeezing it gently with the pliers.

For a plastic keeper, you will need a zip repair kit with new replacement keepers (usually metal).  First, carefully cut away the keeper on the same side as the zip slider is located. Be careful not the cut the fabric. Take the zipper puller off by pulling it off the zip at the top. Take a new slider of the correct size and replace it on the zip itself.

Next, take a replacement keeper from your repair kit, position at the top of the zip in the same location as the plastic one that you cut away. Use pliers to secure the keeper shut over the fabric.

When you’re fixing a tent zipper, bear in mind it will be a lot easier to do before you put up your tent, as there won’t be as much tension on the fabric.

What if my zip is still broken?

Unfortunately, there are of course, a few problems that will require a replacement zip. These include:

  • Broken or missing box at the base of the zip, which gets inserted into the zip slider when doing up your zip.
  • Unravelled coil on a plastic coil zip.
  • Missing or damaged teeth on a plastic zip.

If your zip is affected by one of these but the rest of your camping equipment or outerwear is in good condition, consider getting the zip replaced either by the manufacturer or a professional seamstress in your local area.

Congratulations: You Fixed your Zip!

If you managed to successfully fix your zip whilst out camping or hiking, then well done! It’s a great feeling knowing you’ve mended a piece of kit and made it usable again. To help prevent being stuck out on the trail with a broken, zip, make sure you give the zips on all your equipment a good check before you pack them away. So it might also pay to rinse down zippers on tents and bags to make sure they stay nice and clean.

Consider investing in a zip repair kit along with those all-essential pliers and safety pins so that if you do find yourself out and about with a broken zip you should easily be able to mend those zips and enjoy the rest of your trip.

For more tips on how to repair a tent zipper, take a look at our article on this important topic.

If you’ve been out on the hiking trails and successfully fixed a broken zipper, or have some tips for others, please let us know using the comments section!


2 thoughts on “How to Fix a Zipper: Extending the Life of Your Camping Gear”

  1. You don’t need to do away with your camping gear just because of a zipper that does not run smooth. You can always make repairs with the help of this article.

  2. Whether your coat, backpack, or pants zipper gets stuck or broken off, you should not stop using the gear, but learn how to fix the zipper. The video should do you much good.


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