The most common failure of a zipper in the outdoors is when the zipper parts after closed. If your zipper is a coil zipper–most zippers used for outdoor gear are–then the problem probably lies with the zipper pull. Often the zipper pull becomes deformed and that deformity prevents the coils from meshing, which causes the zipper to split open after you closed it. You can imagine the desire to fix a broken zipper on your tents canopy during bug season in a boreal forest, and you can imagine a run to the boat to grab your emergency duct tape. Before you apply tape, try a quick emergency fix for your broken zipper.
Quick Emergency Zipper Fix
Anna Latz of Heavy Duty Sewing says that the easiest emergency fix for zippers is to attempt to reform the zipper pull using a pliers. Before you attempt any fix, gently slide the zipper pull down to the beginning of the zipper. Then, using the pliers crimp the bottom of the zipper, like shown in the picture. Crimp the other side. After you compress both sides, try the zipper. If the zipper fails, try again. Work gently so you don’t over-compress the zipper pull, or, because the metal weakens with each crimp, break the zipper pull.
If this quick fix works, you won’t have to get the duct tape out. This is a good thing, because duct tape, Latz says, often leads to a more expensive repair. The adhesive in duct tape can ruin the fabric surrounding the zipper which makes the zipper repair more extensive.
A More Permanent Zipper Repair
Once you’re out of the wilderness and back home, take your broken zipper to a local seamstress. The seamstress will be able to replace the zipper pull quickly and inexpensively. If you have time, most outdoor gear and clothing manufacturers offer good, if not lifetime, warranties. These warranties usually cover zipper failures. In the past, I’ve sent in several items for zipper repairs. Turn around time for garments from both Marmot and Sierra Designs–both YKK zippers–was under six weeks. Sometimes, stores carry extra zipper pulls to fix coats and they can complete a repair in under an hour.
Prevent Broken Zippers
As with any mechanical device, zippers wear out the more they’re used, but using them correctly helps extend their lives. The single most important action you can take to extend the life of your zipper is to use the zipper pull to open the zipper. Opening the zipper using the flap of fabric above the zipper pull creates stress on your zipper pull and causes the bottom to part and deform. Also, yanking on the zipper pull when fabric is stuck in it, can cause deformity. It’s best to gently work the fabric out of the zipper pull.