Backpack Zipper Maintenance and Repair
Like most types of gear and equipment, zippers require a bit of maintenance every now and then to prolong its usable life.
Good quality zippers should outlive your pack if maintained and used appropriately. Forcing zippers and frequent overstuffing of your pack will take its toll on both the zipper and zipper slider and should be minimized.
Inspect your zipper and sliders. Dirt and debris should be removed and you may wish to occasional treat your zipper with silicone waterproofing, Teflon spray or paraffin (candles) to add a bit of protection to sliders and help lubricate them.
Watch for misaligned zipper teeth. Occasionally, the zippers will misalign when forcing the slider to close the zipper too fast and/or when zipping around a bend in the zipper. This can become a problems since this part of the zipper closure is weaker and can easily come apart later. It is easier and less traumatic on the zipper and slider to fix a misaligned zipper than it is to fix a undesired separated zipper. If you see that the teeth become misaligned, you should gently pass the zipper slider back and forth the misaligned or open area until coils straighten.
Metal sliders often are made of aluminum alloy are are prone to corrosion, especially when exposed to salt water environments. If your zippers are exposed to salt water or sea air (on ships, at the beach, etc), they should be rinsed off with fresh water and dried out as soon as it is reasonably possible.
Opened or Jammed Zippers
Zipper sliders can get caught on gear in your pack, fabric from your pack, dirt/debris or even the cloth zipper edges themselves. If you zipper becomes stuck, try a little coercive sliding of the zipper slider back and forth to try to free up the jam. Forcibly yanking on a zipper slider can result in damage to the slider or zipper itself.
If enough fabric is caught in a zipper, you may need to carefully pull it out with your fingers before you are able to move the zipper freely back and forth past this point.
Once freed up, inspect the area to see what might have caused the jam. If fabric from the pack or zipper is a culprit and this becomes a regular occurrence, you may need to stitch up a loose/free edges of fabric to prevent future jams.
Zipper coils can become flattened and in turn lose their self-mending qualities. Should this occur, you might be able to carefully reshape the damaged coils back to their proper shape with a safety pin.
Metal slider can open up over time or just get worn out with hard use and exposure to dirt and sand. Once a slider becomes parted or worn enough, the zipper will misalign more and more and eventually part somewhere behind the slider.
To mend a worn slider, first make sure the the zipper behind the tailing end of the slider is closed and properly aligned by gently sliding it back and forth until everything is lined up. Then use a pair of needle nose pliers to very gently press back end where the zipper should be lock together one corner at a time. Test your slider and repeat until it is working properly.
It is important not to force the zipper slider closed to the point that it no longer slides. Should this happen, you might be able to pry it loose with a flat tip screwdriver or you may need to remove and replace the slider all together.
You can also try a block of wood and a rock to carefully and gently tap your slider back in place. This field technique is not recommended unless you don't have access to any tools and just can't wait.
If you can't repair a slider by reshaping with with pliers, it may be time to replace the slider altogether. This can usually be done a a luggage or shoe/boot repair shop.
If you wish to do this yourself, you will need to remove the stitching at the end of the zipper without damaging the zipper and pack fabric. Before you slide the slider past your newly freed end, take note as to how the teeth align when closed. Now make sure that you have enough room to easily remove the slide on a new slider. If you are replacing a pair of sliders or removed a single slider from the leading edge of the zipper, separate a few teeth at the end a carefully slide on your new slider. If the closed teeth at the trailing end of the slider align like they did prior to your repair, the hard part is over. If your teeth don't align to satisfaction, remove your slider and repeat until everything lines up. Now carefully sew the zipper end closed and pack together.
It is important to get the proper slider replacement prior to starting this repair. Sliders come in different sizes, are made either coils or tooth zippers and can be reversed or upright. A few zipper companies make proprietary sized zippers and sliders and finding a slider that works may be quite difficult.
Lost or Broken Pull Tabs
Pull tabs can break, fall off, wear through the crown of the slider, of just not be to your satisfaction. The easiest repair is to use cut and remove any remaining pull tab that may remaining and threading in a zipper pull cord. The ends of the cord should be tied in a nonslip knot with the ends melted to prevent fraying and possibly capped off with a plastic pull. Make sure your cord will not go past the opening at the trailing end of the slider crown. If the opening is too large, you can gently press it closed.
If you would to use a special pull tab or trinket, you may need to lever up the trailing end of the metal arch of the slider crown to allow for removal and/or replacement of your new pull tab. Once you have placed you pull tab in the crown, gently press the crown closed.
Note that aluminum sliders will not allow for much bending before breaking and if you break the crown of the slider, you will need to replace the entire slider if you want a functioning pull tab.
Replacing or Upgrading a Zipper
Zippers can wear out or get damaged to the point that they need to be replaced. This is not an easy task and is one that may be better left to a properly equipped professional repair shop to tackle. This can be done by a DIYer, but is more difficult than you may expect. If you do go to the trouble of replacing a zipper, you may want to go with a size 10 YKK coil zipper if you aren't already using one.
This can be a major problem, especially if a metal slider becomes fused with metal zipper. You will first want to see if you can move the slider with gentle force. Use some mild detergent, water, and a soft toothbrush to clean the zipper and zipper slider as much as possible. Then spray on some lubricant and continue to gently work the slider while holding counterforce on the zipper.
If your slider doesn't budge and is fused, you may need to pry it off of the zipper and replace it altogether.
Note that trying to force a corroded and frozen slider can cause enough damage that your zipper and slider will need to be replaced. Just replacing a slider is of course easier than to replacing an entire zipper.
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