It can sometimes be a slog, trying to fill your days in the off-season. This winter has been a bit of a bust in the snowsports department and spring seems so far away. In my house, we just drag around looking at maps and planning future trips. Quite frankly I’m tired of looking for things to do. I know what I SHOULD be doing, but it’s hard to get motivated. What drives me though, is that I don’t want to be one of those people who drops into a shop the day before a trip begging for help to fix an important piece of gear that has been put away all winter. Why do we wait until the last-minute to deal with maintaining and repairing our gear? Because it isn’t fun, it isn’t glamorous and it isn’t on our minds until we need it. Well I’m here to tell you that this is the perfect time to go through your stash and pull out all of the pieces that need a make-over.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I actually used to work in a gear repair shop. I was a seamstress for many years and have repaired so many jackets, tents and sleeping bags that I’ve lost count. Not to mention that in my day job, I fix any number of pieces from stoves to water filters and everything in between. You can trust that I’ve seen a lot over my decades of gear repair, so I thought that I might share a few simple repairs that you can do for yourself at home.
Lets start with one that I see on almost a daily basis. The best part of this repair is that it seems difficult, but is in reality super easy and puts a useless piece back into rotation within minutes. Lets talk zippers. I know far more about zippers than any one person should. I could put so much information into this post that it would cloud the simplicity of the repair, so I’ll try to keep it simple. There basically two kinds of zippers…coil, which are made of a continuous pieces of thin plastic wrapped into, well, a coil, and then stitched to the fabric with a straight row of thread. The second is a tooth zip, where individual teeth made of either metal or plastic are attached to the fabric. You likely won’t find metal teeth on modern gear as they can corrode with exposure to the elements. Coil zips are most often used when it is sewn around a curve like a backpack because they stay aligned regardless of the curve. Teeth are independent little creatures that can go their own way when curved, so they are reserved for things like jackets where the zippers stay relatively straight. A lot of technical jackets also use coil zip, particularly if they are made of lightweight material and need small gauge zippers.
coil zipper on the left, teeth on the right
The number one most common problem with zippers…SPLITTING. What I mean by this is that when the slider (the pull or handle if you will) is pulled the zipper reopens behind it. Zippers usually split when the slider is worn out. If the slider is dealt with quickly, you are good to go. If it is left too long, it in turn damages the teeth or coil and the whole zip needs to be replaced, so act quickly.
A slider wears in two ways…it runs over obstacles like dirt, or getting caught in the fabric and its back-end starts to become splayed out…it becomes too wide on its back side. Secondly, from continuously running over the teeth/coil, a small groove gets worn into the inside of the slider. In both cases, the box that usually meshes the two sides of the zipper together becomes more spacious than it once was and in turn doesn’t marry the two sides together the way it should. A quick fix? Try pinching the back of the slider (hint: the back is flat while the front is rounded) with some pliers gently making that box smaller again. This will help until you can replace the slider. If you can find the parts, replacing the slider is an easy job to do yourself if the zipper is in a jacket or sleeping bag as these zippers come completely apart and are not sewn in on both ends like backpacks. Simply pull or snip off the zipper stop (little bits of metal or plastic at the top of the zip, NOT the piece that the sliders sit on when the zipper is undone) and pull the old slider off. Put on the new slider and pinch on an aftermarket stop. It really is that easy. The tricky part is finding and choosing the correct replacement parts. Most alteration places (try your dry cleaners), repair shops or fabric stores should have a selection of the most common sizes and should be able to advise you which one you will need. If not, you can cannibalize a new zipper for the parts. This is still a much cheaper option than having a repair shop do the work for you.
top stops on jackets. clip these off to remove slider, but don't damage the fabric.
How to tell what kind of slider you need.
There are usually numbers and letters printed on either the back or lead (nose) of your slider. Simply copy them to get the right fit. Standard size for a jacket 5. Standard size for a sleeping bag 8. Coil sliders will have a C after the number. Sometimes they will have other letters, but these don’t affect the use, they usually denote things like what they slider is made out of (for example an N means it’s nickel). Tooth sliders will have either a V or a VS. As a general rule V and VS are not interchangeable (although sometimes poorly manufactured ones are). V’s have more of a rounded nose and VS’s are more heart shaped.
5CN zip left, 5VS zip right
Just to make things more complicated, modern construction has seen designers sewing coil zips in backwards. That means the coil that was once visible from the outside is now sewn facing the inside. This makes for a cleaner look and more water and abrasion resistance, but it also adds another element to the slider mix. Teeth occupy the same amount of space on both the top and the bottom of the fabric that they are attached to, so the slider can face both inside or out and it will work just fine. Coil zips have the teeth sewn onto only one side of the fabric and the other side is simply flat. Because of this, there is a right and wrong side to the slider. Depending on which way your zipper is sewn, you have to get either a regular or a reverse pull slider. If you choose the wrong one, the handle that you pull on will be on the inside of your coat!
top slider is a reverse coil, bottom is a tooth
Your zipper still occasionally but not always splits from the BOTTOM and the jacket is too new for it to be worn out.
Okay, here is the most likely reason. Tooth zippers will only do up when they are properly aligned. If you haven’t put the pin on one side all the way into the box at the bottom of the other, it just won’t move. This is where you try again and everything is good with the world. Coil zips are not so agreeable. Or really, they are too agreeable. Even if you haven’t lined up the pieces correctly, the zipper slider will still pull up. This leaves a mismatch of teeth and they will split open when give a good tug. So the answer is…YOU DIDN’T DO YOUR ZIPPER UP PROPERLY. There is nothing actually wrong with it.
the coil zipper was done up incorrectly allowing it to split from the bottom
Your daypack zip is splitting.
Sorry folks, you are out of luck. The number one complaint of daypack owners is that the zipper isn’t working. Well, the tighter a curve sewn into a zipper, the faster it wears out. Unfortunately it is a moving part and after running over and over the stitching holding down the coil, that stitching wears off. It is not the sign of an inferior zip, it’s all about how many times that poor stitching can take your punishment. The tighter the curve, the harder that slider is rubbing on the thread holding it on. Once the stitching has rubbed off completely in a spot, the coil can pull away from the fabric, it then gets distorted and the slider can completely pull free of it, causing it pop off one of the sides. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because if something else doesn’t kill your pack first, this will happen in 100% of cases 100% of the time. This is just how these zippers wear out. You can have the whole zipper replaced (it’s very expensive) or you can just call it a night and replace the whole pack. It was time for a change anyway, right?
There. I hope that wasn’t too much information to swallow. Believe me, I could go on and on. I do hope though, that this helps save some of your precious gear. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.