If the zipper on your sleeping bag, tent door, jacket or backpack is broken, it might be a simple fix or it might mean replacing the zipper.
First, you need to look at the problem. To fix zipper teeth that won’t stay closed, you can tighten the zipper slider or replace it. If the zipper teeth are broken or it’s missing a tooth, it might be time to replace the whole zipper. And if the zipper feels stiff and isn’t sliding, try to fix it by using a candle.
Zipper repair tools
A pair of hinged or adjustable pliers (ideally not needle nose)
You might also need:
Before you get started, take a look at what type of zipper you have to know what you’re working with:
How to tighten a zipper slider
If your zipper teeth won’t stay closed, you can try a temporary fix by tightening the zipper slider:
Move the zipper slider to the bottom of the zipper.
Put the pliers around the slider, so one side of the pliers faces the inside of the garment and one side faces the outside. (Needle-nose pliers will put uneven pressure on the slider, which is not ideal).
Gently squeeze the left side of the slider, then squeeze the right side. Test the zip. You may have to re-squeeze the slider until the zipper functions. Avoid squeezing so hard that you jam or break the slider.
If a zipper is sewn in at one end (like a fly on a pair of pants or the top of a tent door) there might be a few teeth at the very end that do not properly engage. To fix this, unpick some stitches and install new stops, or sew a few teeth closed, and use just a little bit less of the full length of the zipper.
How to replace a zipper slider
A more permanent fix for fixing a zipper slider is to replace it completely.
For separating zippers (zippers that separate at both ends, like the front zip on a jacket) it will be easier to remove one or both of the stops.
For non-separating zippers (zippers that are sewn in at one end, like a tent door), you may need to open a seam before you can remove the stops.
How to replace a broken slider: separating zippers
How to replace a broken slider: non-separating zippers
Find a matching replacement for your zipper slider.
Use pliers (or nippers if you have them) to gently pull or cut out the stops. Try not to damage the webbing as you take them out.
Pull the slider off the end.
Put the new slider in place (for non-separating zippers, place the two ends of the zipper teeth into the front two openings of the new slider). Make sure that slider is facing the right way – not upside down – as you’re putting it on.
Hold the teeth together and move the slider along the zipper. It may require a few tries to get it sliding evenly.
Once the zipper slider is working, attach new stops and re-sew any seams required.
How to fix a zipper with missing teeth
You can do a quick fix in the field by sewing above the missing teeth:
How to fix a stiff zipper
Does your zipper feel stiff? Maybe it’s not sliding nicely? Try rubbing the zipper with a wax candle: