Sometimes the littlest things make all the difference on a hike. A broken zipper is a prime example. When a zipper breaks on clothing, cold air and moisture from rain or snow can make its way into your underlayers, making for an uncomfortable walk. When a zipper breaks on a backpack, the contents inside can get wet or fall out. Unfortunately, zippers are common fail points on hiking gear.
Fortunately there are steps you can take to prolong the life of your zipper.
Never overstuff your backpack or clothing so that a zipper bulges. This only puts additional pressure on the zipper. Instead, repack or redress to avoid the bulge, usually by removing some items or a layer.
Don’t use the zipper to force a bag or clothing shut, even if there is no bulge. Instead, pull the material at the opening together with your hands. This also reduces stress on a zipper.
Use the metal tab rather than loops or ropes to zip up. This lessens the amount of force exerted on the zipper.
When zippers hit a snag, don’t force the slide (the part of the zipper that links and unlinks the teeth) through it. This typically will bend the teeth so that the zipper won’t work. Instead, back the zipper out of the snag then try it again.
When fabric is caught in a slider, gently pull the material from the metal to free the zipper.
During the hike
If a zipper breaks during a hike, you’ll want to have some items in your backpack to get you by. Two useful items are small thin elastic ropes and safety pins.
Either can be used as a temporary pull tab should that break. Simply tie a slip knot or attach the safety pin to the open hole to where the pull tab attached to the slider.
When the entire zipper breaks, safety pins can be used to close up your clothing or backpack pocket. The pin won’t be a perfect solution but will reduce the amount of cold and moisture hitting your body or prevent materials from falling out of your pack.
After the hike
Using a wet, soapy washcloth, gently remove any dirt or debris from your zipper. This will keep grit from getting caught in the teeth and the slider. Such grit can obstruct the zipper and result in snags. Do the same if you hike near the ocean, as the salt in the air can settle on and corrode the zipper’s metal.
Once the zipper is dry, lubricate it. A variety of both liquid and solid lubricants are available on the market for zippers. For a natural lubricant, use paraffin (candle) wax, powdered graphite, heat-softened beeswax.
Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.