Ask many experienced campers about their tents, and most will agree that the first item to break is the zipper.
For such an essential and easy to use item, zippers are actually complex and quite delicate. Therefore, it’s imperative to make sure you take care of your tent’s zippers! But if something does happen, we’ve created this guide for how to fix a tent zipper just for that reason.
Anatomy of a Zipper
Let’s also take a quick look at the anatomy of a zipper, so that you know which parts we’re specifically referencing when it comes to fixing your zipper.
How to Fix a Tent Zipper
So your tent zipper is stuck – don’t panic! Simply review our step-by-step guide below to help resolve the problem.
Is There Stuck Fabric?
If your tent zipper is stuck, your first order of business is to examine the entire zipper very closely, both front and back if possible.
The most common cause of a stubborn zipper is your tent material getting caught in it. So, look carefully and see if there is any side material caught in the zipper. If this is the case, gently … gently pull the fabric out the zipper and try it again.
If the zipper is still stubborn after removing the stuck fabric, trying to lubricate the teeth both above and below the stuck location. McNett Lubricant is an excellent choice. If you don’t have a dedicated zipper lubricant on hand, graphite from a pencil will work very well.
Are There Missing Teeth?
If you trace your malfunctioning zipper to broken teeth on the zip, then you have a little repair work in your future.
First, gauge your skill level and time available as this will influence what repair method you go with. If you prefer a quick and comparatively easy solution, then look for a standard zipper repair kit – such as this 143-piece set. These kits will include replacement teeth that you can swap out with the broken teeth.
Make sure you carefully examine your tent to make sure you select appropriately sized replacement teeth and that you secure them properly. Some teeth can be crimped into place, while others require some sewing, and many could use a small dash of adhesive to help hold them in place – but don’t inadvertently glue both sides of your zipper together!
Take Note: Removing broken teeth often involves delicate work with pliers and/or an exacto knife along with cutting into the track fabric.
If you have the extra time and skill, you can look at replacing the entire zipper track. However, this is a long and complicated process (especially since most tent zipper tracks are curved). If you believe this is the only solution to fix your zipper but lack the skills needed, consider finding a professional who can complete the repair for you.
Use Zipper Lubricant
We can’t emphasize this enough, zipper lubricant can alone solve many stiff and stubborn zippers – especially if there’s no obvious cause to the stiffness.
Try tossing a small bottle of lubricant into your tent repair kit so that you’ll always have it on hand wherever your adventures take you. Remember, stiff zippers can be just as annoying on your hiking packs as they are on your tent!
Replacing the Slider
If your tent zipper doesn’t have any obvious causes the malfunction– no pinched fabric and no misshapen or broken teeth – then the problem may lie with the slider itself. Two common slider problems are your zipper opening after you’ve sealed it and the zipper opening/separating at the ends Thankfully, replacing a zipper slider is very straightforward.
- First, use a knife/pin and pliers to remove the sewn-in stop at the bottom of the zipper. Once removed, pull the slider down and remove it from the zipper track all the way. Keep the stopper and the old slider and set them to the side.
- Next, ease the new slider on to the track in the same orientation – pointed nose first. You may need a pin or tweezers to help push the zipper track fabric through the slider until it is all the way on.
- Before you resew the stopper, push the new slider up the track a few inches to make sure it works. If it doesn’t, try taking it off and reinstalling it, or installing a different sized slider (most repair kits will come with several size options).
Once you’re certain the new slider is working, reinstall the stopper and you’re good to go!
If you don’t have a repair kit/extra slider, try using pliers to gently squeeze the sides of your current slider in order to re-secure it to the track – resulting in a better seal. Be careful here! Too much pressure and you may make the slider pinch down on the fabric and bind up.
As always, apply plenty of zipper lubricant to help stubborn sliders work their way up and down the zipper. Remember that pencil graphite is an excellent option in lieu of professional products.
Preventative Measures you Can Take
With all that said, maintenance and care are key to ensure that your tent zippers don’t develop issues down the line. So, before we get into how to repair a problem, let’s talk about how to keep that problem from ever occurring.
Perhaps your best line of defense against zipper malfunctions is proper cleaning. The vast majority of zipper breakage can be traced back to foreign debris damaging the zipper teeth or just gumming up the works in general.
With that in mind, make it a habit to occasionally clean your tent zipper. The quickest and easiest method is to use an old toothbrush to gently scrub the zipper teeth along the entire zipper length.
Pro Tip: If you start to notice your zipper feeling stiff or ‘crunchy’, a toothbrush clean should be your first move.
Also consider giving your tent a bath a few times during the season (using appropriate cleaner). This will help with any dirt or grime build-up and also flush any debris from the zipper.
Lubricate the Zipper
Occasionally lubricating your tent zipper will work wonders for keeping it in optimal health season after season – this also holds true for your hiking pack zippers! Make sure you pick a product that’s specifically designed for this zipper type. To get you started, the McNett Zipper Cleaner and Lubricant is an excellent choice.
Proper Tent Pitching
While perhaps not obvious, the way you pitch your tent can dramatically affect your zipper performance. Pitching your tent super taut may seem appealing to shed rain water quickly, but keep in mind that too taut may cause your zipper to malfunction.
With the hustle and bustle of setting up your tent and settling into a new campsite, it’s easy to fling open the zipper without thinking about it – or worse, grabbing your tent door and pulling on that to peel open the zipper more quickly. But think first!
Zippers are delicate and complex, so give them a break and treat them gently. Make sure you only pull on the string attached to the zipper slider and apply steady and gentle pressure. If it’s stuck, don’t yank on it! Trying to force open a zipper will likely only make the problem worse. So if your zipper is stuck, it’s time to move on to our How to Fix a Zipper Guide.
There you go, campers! With this information on how to fix a tent zipper, you’re all set to keep your gear working perfectly for season after season. To recap, remember the following points:
- Cleaning is key
- Never yank on your tent zipper
- Always use lubricant or graphite to help stubborn zippers
- Invest in a zipper repair kit
- Know when to contact a professional
Treat your adventure gear right, and it’ll look after you in the backcountry. So keep an eye on those zippers and have the tools on hand for minor fixes, and you’re sure to have a seamless adventure!