How do I fix a separated zipper?

  • Repairing and maintaining your climbing gear will extend its life, which is good for your wallet and good for the planet. A broken zipper is no reason to ditch your favorite jacket (or sleeping bag or backpack). With a few tools, you can fix a zipper that separates or broken slider at home or in the backcountry.

    The most common zipper failure is separation -- when you pull the slider to the top, but the teeth don't engage, exposing you to the cold or leaving your tent to fly around in the wind. This type of failure is caused by loose sliders that cannot push the zip coils together.

  • How To Fix a Zipper That Has Separated

    First zip up as usual, then pull the slider up an inch or two.

    Using the pliers on the multitool, pinch each side of the slider (one jaw of the pliers is on the inside of the slider and one on the outside). Apply enough pressure to gently squeeze the front and back of the slider closer together.

    Try the zipper again. If the teeth still don't engage properly, repeat the steps above, this time squeezing the bottom of the slider, being careful not to overtighten. Continue pinching, applying more pressure as needed, until your zipper is properly fastened.

    When you get home, consider replacing the zipper sliders for a longer-term fix.

    Secure separated zippers with pliers

    If your zippers fail in the backcountry, the multi-tool can keep you out of trouble.

    Why does the zipper break?

    Although the zipper serves a critical function, it does a thankless job. They get little attention unless they're actually broken -- and they tend to happen at the worst possible time. Zippers most often fail for two reasons: overuse and underuse.

    Overuse will often result in the aforementioned detached zipper. Over time, the tension on the slider relaxes to the point where it can no longer apply enough pressure to pull the teeth together. Overuse can also cause the zipper track to bend, especially if you force the zipper shut when it bites into a piece of fabric. Visual inspection will reveal crooked or broken teeth. At that point, it's time to take your gear to the shop for repairs. If you're in a remote area, you may have to resort to old trusty duct tape as a temporary solution.

    Underuse damage can happen when your gear is stored for long periods of time without maintenance. It's a good idea to check your zipper health at least once a year, and check all your gear—backpacks, tents, jackets, first aid kits, and anything else that relies on zippers. It is also an important part of daily zipper maintenance.

    It's worth noting that most zippers tend to slowly fail over weeks or months. Zippers tend to be very reliable and can withstand a lot of abuse. That's pretty impressive for a device that hasn't changed much since it was first invented in 1851. If your zippers start to get stuck or create gaps in the teeth section, give them an adjustment. A little preventive maintenance can save you time and money by avoiding a trip to your local zipper shop (tailors and alterers can often repair zippers too).

    Tips for keeping the zipper in the zipper

    Store Properly: To protect zippers and make them work properly, always zip them all the way and turn garment inside out before washing.

    Graphite Pencil Tip: For metal zippers that don't move smoothly, use the lead of a No. 2 pencil to rub your teeth. The "lead" is graphite, which helps lubricate the metal teeth and helps the zipper slider move more smoothly. Wiping the zipper teeth with a bar of soap will do the same.

    Use lubricant: Lubricant can help the metal zipper move more smoothly. Spray the lubricant on a cotton swab and apply carefully so as not to stain the fabric of the garment.

    Use a fork: A fork can help temporarily put a zipper that has come completely off a garment back into place. Using this method, you get the teeth meshing together, but when you pull it apart, the zipper comes off again.

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