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How To: Repair a Zipper Failure in the Field


Everyone dreads the thought of closing the zipper on their tent, only to have it separate behind the slider and gape back open. In a rainstorm, or heavy mosquito infested area, this can make life more than miserable. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to fix this in the field.

Most of the time, the zipper teeth or coil are fine, and all that needs to be replaced is the zipper slider itself. On the other hand, if the coil or teeth pull off of the woven tape, then the entire zipper must be replaced.

The leading cause of zipper failure occurs because people have a tendency to grasp the zipper slider tab and pull away from the tent fabric – this can make it easier to use the zipper one handed, but puts stress on the two halves of the zipper slider forcing them to separate. Just a tiny bit of spread between the two halves of the slider can cause the zipper teeth (or plastic coil) to not engage. Dirt and sand can also damage the inside of the zipper slider, grinding away at the innards, again, causing the teeth not to lock into each other. These two things will cause ANY size zipper to fail. A larger size zipper will fail just as quickly as a smaller one. Unless the zipper slider is brass, the metal used is rather soft and misuse will damage the largest one as quickly as the smallest.

 

 

The fist thing you can try to do as an emergency ‘quick fix’ is to crimp the back (flat) end of the slider with pliers. Someone around will probably have a multi tool with a pliers on it if you don’t. It just takes a tiny bit of crimping, too much, and you will lock the slider in place and not be able to move it at all. This is a temporary fix at most, and the zipper slider will need to be replaced as soon as possible.  

 

 

Anatomy of Zipper Slider

 

To replace the slider:

While not the easiest thing to do, it is totally possible to replace the slider out on the trail.  You will need to have some way to clip the threads and remove some of the stitching on the zipper. You will also need a needle and thread to close it back up, and of course, you need to have the right size replacement slider. Zippers come in many different sizes. The zippers used on LightHeart Gear tents are all genuine YKK zippers and sliders, Number 3 (the larger the number, the larger the zipper). Sliders are not always interchangeable among brands of zippers, so unless you have a YKK slider, don’t use it on a YKK zipper.

The first step is to remove the old one. To do this, you MUST remove it from the end of the tape at the flat/back end of the slider (see image above). When you take the slider off the zipper tape, the teeth will be separated. You will then be putting the new slider on round/front end first. While it is possible to put a slider on from the other end, (zipper teeth going into the flat back end) it is extremely difficult and the teeth need to be engaged (closed) prior to doing this.  So, when replacing the zipper sliders on a door that has two zipper sliders, you will have to work from both ends of the door to replace both zipper sliders. For the tent fly, you are replacing it from the top end, not the bottom hem of the fabric.

First, you have to remove all the stitches that are crossing the zipper teeth (see the red lines in the photo).  Remove the fabric covering the end of the zipper, or a small metal clip if there is one. These metal clips are easy to pry off as they are like staple; just use the tip of a scissors or knife to gently pry up the teeth.

You will also have to remove the fabric patch covering the end of the zipper. It has lots of stitches in it – cut through the fabric if necessary, you will not be replacing it. Take it completely off and throw it away.

 

Red arrow shows fabric patch covering the end of zipper tape

Fabric patch and stitches are removed. Zipper can be split open down to the slider. Pull slider off in direction of arrow

 

Make sure you can split the teeth apart all the way to the end to insure you have removed all the stitches crossing the teeth. Try to clip as few stitches as necessary to get it off. Now, pull the slider off the tape - WARNING it can get caught on the other side as there is just a tiny opening for the slider tab to go through.                                                                                                        

Photos show zipper slider getting stuck on the back side while trying to pull it off the tape

 

Replacing the slider can be a little frustrating; you have to get both sides of the tape into the round/front end of the slider. Make sure the teeth (coil) are facing the cut out groove of the slider (see photos above). 

First, slip the slider onto one side of the zipper tape. Don’t push it on more than about ¼ inch. Second, try to flex the other side of the tape onto the other side of the slider so the ends of the tape are even. Third, while contorted and holding both sides of the zipper tape in the slider, try to push down on the flat end of the slider pushing it onto the zipper tape.

 

 

Once the zipper slider is back on, congratulate yourself, and then, sew across the top of the teeth with several whip stitches to keep the slider from being pulled off.

You may want to put a few stitches securing the zipper to the tent – on the rain fly, you will then need to re-seam seal the area you stitch through.

You’re done! Enjoy knowing new tricks, and never be caught out again J


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