how to fix a tent zipper

Nobody notices it when your zipper is up, but everyone notices when it’s down.

Cynthia Lewis
The four zippers that close my doors on the alicoop all had to be replaced.

The tent I used for both the Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail – the alicoop – is made my Tarptent. Called a Notch Li, it’s a mix of Dynamee and Nylon. You can find out more of its specific and my review here.

She’s gone a whole lot of miles with me, and I’m hoping she holds up for one more thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail this season. Since there are no tears in the fabric except a few minor stress points where the tarp door closes, which I patched adhesive-back dynamee fabric, she just might. Though I am having a problem with the zippers which no longer pull the teeth together, leaving me wide open to bugs and whatnot.

Zippers fail because corrosion from due to dust and grit gunks up the teeth and causes the sliders to spread apart. I normally would clean the coils before I store the tent using a toothbrush – and then, very unwisely, use something like chapstick to help them slide.

Big mistake.

First of all, I should use soap and water with that toothbrush and never use chapstick which just adds a gluey layer that attracts even more dust and grit, thus speeding up the fail.

After a good soaping up, the next step would be to use a silicone spray, something like Liquid Wrench. Spraying it into a cloth and working it over the teeth gets the zipper pulls gliding smoothly with the added benefit that the lubricant itself actually removes grit and dust.

Clean the zippers when you’re ready to store your tent for the season:

  1. use soap and water to clean the teeth then dry thoroughly
  2. follow up with silicone spray on a rag to pull off any more grit and lubricate the teeth
A silicone spray helps remove grit from the teeth as well as lubricating the zipper.

But after so much opening and closing of the doors to get in and out of the alicoop night after night, the zipper coil can open slightly behind the slider. In that case, it’s pretty easy to crimp the metal “jaws” back closer together with needle-nose pliers.

When crimping a fussy zipper coil…

My advice would be to take care not to pinch too tightly, so pinch, and try, then pinch and try until it feels like it’s grabbing.

All good so far, except one problem: the alicoop zipper pulls were so full of gunk, they were grabbing anything – and besides, I wasn’t planning to take a set of tools with me on the trail for any MacGyver-ing, so I needed to replace the pulls themselves.

Good ‘ole Tarptent sent me four new zipper pulls and ran me through the steps, which were easy, so I will share with you!

Replacing the zipper pulls

  1. Locate the end of the zipper coil.
  2. Cut through the coil about a centimeter from the end and remove the zipper pull.
  3. PRO TIP: use toenail clippers rather than scissors so you don’t accidentally cut into the tent itself
  4. Slide on a new pull aligning the raised side of the coil to the flange side of the pull
  5. Work one side on a time and be careful to only pull it up partway, this ensures you don’t mismatch teeth when you try to place the second pull
  6. Here’s where the fun begins! Slide the pull onto the other side and wiggle it together so the two halves click in place.
  7. PRO TIP: I found this the hardest step trying to hold one side in place while clicking the other to lock in, but be patient and keep wiggling them, they want to slide together.
  8. Pull the slider and engage more teeth.
  9. Sew up the incision to create a new break and YOU ARE DONE!
The alicoop is an ultralight shelter that has seen torrential rain, heavy snow, masses of bugs and spectacular scenery.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

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