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Gear Repair Zippers

Zipper Facts

  • Plastic zippers are less likely to break, than metal zippers.
  • Plastic zippers are easier to zip up and require less maintenance.
  • Coil zips are stronger than solid plastic tooth zips.
  • Larger zips are not necessary stronger.
  • Dirt in a coil zipper or zipper slider will quickly damage it, keeping a zipper clean will extend its life.

Almost all zippers use sliders made of an aluminium alloy that are prone to corrosion, particularly in sea air or salt water. Always rinse any equipment that has been exposed to sea air or salt water with fresh water as soon as you able, and dry thoroughly. Spaying the zippers with silicon waterproofing spray, Teflon spray, or rubbing with candle wax on the odd occasion will protect the zip and will also reduce friction, force, wear and tear and enhance the life of the zippers. Remember, proper care of your zippers will give you many years of loyal service and the zippers could even outlast your backpack.

Zippers are an excellent innovation, but the problem is zippers are prone to failure, particularly due to misuse or abuse. All of the zippers on the White Mountain Backpacks™ products are plastic zippers, small, interlocking coils woven into the zipper webbing with an alloy slider. One of the best features of coil zips is the self-mending property. When a zipper jam occurs, all you need to do is pass the zipper slider back and forth and the coils will straighten out without any further problems.

Flattened Coils

Sometimes the zipper coils flattened beyond the point of self-mending if this should happen, you can try to reshape the damaged coils. Do this by inserting a sewing needle, safety pin or similar object underneath each coil one coil at a time and gently coerce each coil back into shape.

Worn Slider

You may ask how does a zipper slider can wear out. Proper use usually is not enough to damage a good zipper slider. However, if dirt or grit finds a way inside and along the coils, the damage can be quick and fatal. A more common cause is general abuse, forcing the zipper open by pulling on the fabric places excess stress on the zipper slider and can cause it to fail. In addition, yanking on the zipper slider when a bit of fabric is jammed can also damage the zipper slider and/or the coils. Regular maintenance, proper care and a little respect will keep you zippers in top condition and prevent zipper failure.

Worn Slider RepairsZip Repair

The zipper is working fine, then all of a sudden the zipper parts, opening up behind the zipper slider. This is one of the most common zipper ailments. This is typically a sign of a worn zipper slider. However, it may simply mean the zipper slider has parted slightly and is unable to fully mesh the coils. This can happen if the flap is pulled to open the zipper(s) instead of using the zip pull tags. We have termed this the 'schoolbag syndrome' for obvious reasons, and it is also a common problem in tents.  If the latter is the case, you can repair the zipper slider in one of two ways.

This is a personally preferred method of encouraging a worn zipper slider into action, photo provided. You can repair zipper sliders that are not meshing correctly using a small set of pliers, the type found on many pocket tools. Move the zipper slider all the way to the beginning, this may mean some gentle coercion, and I cannot repeat strongly enough, gentle coercion. Next, use your pliers to gently pinch the rear corner, at the trailing end of the zipper slider. Then pinch the opposite side rear corner at the trailing end of the zipper slider, using equal pressure. Try the zipper, and then repeat this gradual pinching process until the slider functions normally.

Move the zipper slider all the way to the beginning; this may mean some gentle coercion, and I cannot repeat strongly enough, gentle coercion. Next, Tap the entire trailing end of the zipper slider closed, using a small block of wood with a slot cut in it. Place the block of wood over the top of the slider and tap lightly with a light hammer. Try the zipper, and then repeat this gradual tapping process until the slider functions normally.

Slider Replacement

If either of these two options fails, then you will need to obtain a replacement slider from the product supplier. Take your replacement slider to any Boot/Shoe repair shop, and have the new slider installed. Replacing the slider requires removing the stitching at the base of the zip without cutting the item itself, removing and replacing the slider and restitching. Replacing the slider is sometimes harder than you can imagine, feeding both ends into the slider can sometimes be difficult and you need to make sure the slider is put on the correct way. With items such a backpack you will need an industrial sewing machine to sew across the zipper and through the heavier material. I would suggest leaving this type of repair to the professional.

Material Caught in the Zipper

In the case of the fabric caught in the zipper, use your hands to gently, and I cannot stress this too much, gently pull it out. Use caution when applying a tool to assist in pulling the material free, the use of pliers or other implements can lead to tears in the fabric.

Lost or Broken Pull Tabs

It often happens that the Pull Tab is lost, or is so small you need a magnifying glass to find it. If this is the case, simply remove the old Pull Tab, or replace the lost Pull Tab with a new and improved Pull Tab. You can use your creative skills and imagination in devising a replacement Pull Tab. Use a ribbon, cord, or whistle to name a few suitable replacements. Preferably, the bigger the Pull Tab the better, especially if it is a Pull Tab you intend to use while wearing gloves or mittens.

To remove an old Pull Tab, gently lever up the back end of the metal arch that holds the Pull Tab. Levering up the back end of the metal arch allows you remove a broken Pull Tab or install a new one, but a word of caution, die cast aluminium will only take a small bend so be careful. Only bend the arch up enough, so that you are able to gently force a new Pull Tab underneath and into position, or pry an old Pull Tag out. Use a set of pliers to bend the arch back down and retain the Pull Tab. Remember, proceed with caution, If you break the Pull Tab metal arch, you will need to replace the entire zipper slider.

Replacing the Zipper

If the zipper is torn or damaged beyond simply replacing the slider, then the entire zipper will need replacing. This is a job best left to a professional repair shop. In some products replacing a zipper is not always an easy task, and you will need to decide on replacing the item or having it repaired. In the case of removable daypacks on travel packs, these generally wear out long before your travel pack and replacements should be available from any reputable supplier. As I stated at the beginning of this article, proper care of your zippers will give you many years of loyal service and the zippers could even outlast the item itself.

Corroded Zippers

It is always a little difficult when it comes to a zip that is already heavily corroded. It depends on whether the zipper is a nylon coil zipper or a metal tooth zipper. A metal tooth zipper can be more of a problem, particularly if the slider is stuck in position and refuses to move, even with mildly aggressive coaxing. Usually the problem with corrosion only arises when the slider has cemented itself in place, so we will assume that this is the case and the reason you are reading this response. It is Important we be careful not to tear the thread that the zipper is held together with, nor tear the zipper from the item itself. The zipper slider must be made to move, or subsequently replaced without causing damage to the zipper

If the following procedure fails after your best efforts, and the zipper slider is heavily corroded, then the only thing to do is to remove the zipper slider. To remove the zipper slider, gently prise the zipper slider apart, break it in half, remove the zipper slider altogether, and have it replaced. Removing the zipper slider and having it replaced will be a much cheaper alternative to damaging the zipper, in an attempt to force a zipper slider that will not move despite your best efforts.

To coax the zipper slider from a fixed position, I would recommend using a mild detergent, water, and perhaps a soft toothbrush to clean the zipper and zipper slider as much as is possible. Remove as much of the corroded material as possible, and then liberally apply a silicon zipper spray or other suitable lubricant for zippers on the corroded area. Next, place a cord through the zipper slider pull tab, and then gently pull the zipper slider in the direction of closing the zip while holding the back of the zipper. This procedure may take some time, and patience is important if you wish to prevent permanently damaging the zipper.

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