Gear

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.
Coast to Coast

C2C: day 8, Keswick to below Blencathra

Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.

Walt Whitman
Knocking out another big peak.

Today the alicoop was carried to a spot along the Cumbrian Way right next to the river. Lonely and far from everything, it’s the first real “wild camping” experience so far. Even so, as I sat down to muse on the day with a spot of tea and my shoes off, another single woman slowly lumbered passed, the first person I’ve seen on the trip with a backpack.

Keswick was a fine stop for food and civilization. I skipped the Pencil Museum and instead hung out in town. Moot Hall with its high clock tower stands at the center of the pedestrian shopping zone and marks the start – and end – of the Bob Graham rounds. I was lucky enough to see a finisher just arriving for his picture and congratulations from about twenty-five pacers, supporters, friends and family. He was dressed only in flappy short shorts, fell runners and a light raincoat for the 24-hour slog of 28,000 feet over 40-something peaks.

Shy sun in the Lakeland Fells.

The forecast called for 40% chance of rain, but began clear, the sun going in and out of cloud, dancing on the far fells I climbed yesterday, giving them a velvety cast over Derwent Water.

The real issue was how to get out of town and on the trail to Skiddaw. I am always amazed at my luck on walks as just when I was wondering which road to take, a young man kitted out for hiking came striding down the sidewalk sending me on the right route.

Church bells pealed in the town as I got closer to the fell. A sign pointed towards the public footpath, but appeared to be bent. Confused I marched up a trail that gave way to bracken, thick stemmed ferns standing three feet high with long grabby tendrils setting up a tripping hazard and hiding holes.

Helpful signs for once.

Turning around, I ended up heaving myself gingerly over a barb wire fence only to find the way closed by the owner. The only option was to get down to the road and start my search all over again.

Eventually the path came into view, and a farmer was even kind enough to ensure hikers didn’t accidentally venture into his fields. The going was steep, but to my surprise, signs had been erected to keep people from charging straight up the mountain, which had eroded away a good bit of it. Instead, the path zigzagged on a short series of switchbacks. I am betting these will be the only ones I use the entire walk.

Miss Smiley goes up.

Higher and higher as all of Cat Bells ridge came into view above the water, but so did mist blowing right over the peak I intended to climb. I met a couple who told me England’s third highest peak, Skiddaw, tends to “trap the cloud.” It makes me a bit tense to get into the mist. I’m blinded, for one, and the cool air feels like chilled silk against my cheek. But it’s also a lonely feeling. I find it hard to relax and feel sure being here is the right thing for me to do. It’s more than loneliness. More like an out-of-sorts.

But that all blew away as hikers suddenly appeared at the ridge, most in shorts and tank tops. Someone told me, “If we waited for good weather to go into hills, we’d never go.” I felt instantly better.

Backpackers appear on Skiddaw’s misty summit.

After the summit it was down and down towards a wide, well used track called the Cumbrian Way. On the way was one little Wainwright at 673 meters called Bakestall. I was certain I was on it at a cairn until one lonely cairn appeared out of the mist about 50 yards away and only slightly higher. Of course, I took off the pack, marched over, and touched it. One more for the record books.

My goal was to reach a flat spot by water and set myself up to tick off England’s second highest peak tomorrow, Helvellyn with a side trip up Blencathra. On the way is a youth hostel high on a bench looking out on the hills. No one was around when I arrived, and no beds were available anyway should the rain come. So I had my lunch on their bench, then pressed on.

The Alicoop at “camp spooky.”

And here I am, right next to an almost cliche bubbling brook, wide views and soft grass. The English describe carrying a tent and pitching outdoors, “wild”camping. I find it such an apt description of how I’m blending in with all that’s here, the birds, the grass, the changing weather and the continuity of the natural world. I am its guest here and my memories of this moment embraced in its wildness will go on the rest of my life. Will this place remember me?

Above England’s second highest, Skiddaw.