Zippers Part 1: Quick zipper field repairs

The Field Fix

Jacket zipper not sealing properly on your sheep hunt? Many zipper problems can be fixed in the field. you can clean the teeth with water and your toothbrush if you need to, and a candle can be a decent lubricant. Most zipper problems come about quickly and really impact gear performance. Usually these problems are caused by a faulty zipper slider, the small metal chunk that slides up and down the zipper chain its self.

Sometimes just the zipper pull breaks off, and with a locking zipper this can prove extremely frustrating. This customer had done their own easy and fully functional, if not aesthetic repair. Bonus points for hitching the original zipper pull so it stayed attached!

The simplest problem to fix in the field is a broken pull. Many zippers have a locking mechanism that is activated by pulling on the zipper pull, the mechanism requires a rigid, somewhat lightweight wire that can fit into the zipper slider body. A paper clip is likely the easiest solution, though I've seen small split rings or bailing wire used as well. A thin string can be tried, but often won't have the rigidity to deactivate the locking mechanism.

It turns out that zippers are a precisely calibrated part, and over time the sliders can wear to the point of not working.

 These wings on the zipper slider begin life with square edges, and a nice painted finish, as the slider wears, it can no longer squeeze the two sides of the zipper chain together effectively.

These wings on the zipper slider begin life with square edges, and a nice painted finish, as the slider wears, it can no longer squeeze the two sides of the zipper chain together effectively.

 A well worn zipper slider, removed from the chain because it no longer sealed the zipper. The red arrows point to areas of obvious wear (lower arrow) and stretching of the slider (upper arrow). Pinching the stretched sides of the slider gently together while it is still on the chain  may  fix the problem temporarily. It can also lead to more catastrophic failure down the road.

A well worn zipper slider, removed from the chain because it no longer sealed the zipper. The red arrows point to areas of obvious wear (lower arrow) and stretching of the slider (upper arrow). Pinching the stretched sides of the slider gently together while it is still on the chain may fix the problem temporarily. It can also lead to more catastrophic failure down the road.

A quick and dirty fix is to gently squeeze the sides of the zipper slider together, as the reason your slider isn't engaging the zipper teeth is because it has either stretched or worn out of spec. Use caution, because your slider is already worn in some way, you risk breaking it when you squeeze the top and bottom together. Pinching your zipper slider tighter may fix your immediate problem, but over time you may wear out the actual zipper tape, the fabric that the zipper chain is attached to; which will then require a full on zipper replacement. 

This zipper slider is broken and no longer functions. Possibly caused by squeezing the sliders edges together, or being slammed in a car door. Regardless, the only solution here is to replace the slider. Note the zipper size on top of the slider, in this case a 45 (4.5 mm). This is actually a tricky size to source, and is commonly used by this manufacturer.

A broken slider needs to be replaced, a job that can be done in the field with some simple tools you may already have, but unless you have a spare with you, your probably asking yourself if it's a good idea to sew your jacket shut with dental floss. Do what you need to get yourself out of the mountains, then come see us.

The simple zipper slider, cause of most zipper problems. This Slider has been replaced with a new one, it's important to make sure the slider you replace with matches the orientation of the original as far as coils in or coils facing out. By replacing the slider, this jacket zipper will function like new for years to come.

In Zippers Part 2 we'll demonstrate how to replace the slider with simple tools you probably already carry.