When you go camping you might not plan on spending a great deal of time inside your tent. Even in the wilderness, though, you will probably want to retain a bit of privacy in the form of a tightly zipped tent. Whether you are wanting to keep your belongings safe from prying eyes or wanting to sleep peacefully at night without worrying about bugs and small animals, proper tent zipper repair is a basic skill for any camper.
Unfortunately, a broken tent zipper is one of the most common issues campers face. A broken zipper on an expensive, heavy-duty tent can seem like the universe’s way of laughing at your attempt to brave the outdoors.
Luckily, knowing how to fix a tent zipper isn’t just for the elites. There are a few methods for fixing tent zippers that should save you in a pinch and allow you to enjoy the bug-free privacy of your tent once more.
Much like dependable printers and dryers that won’t steal your socks, humanity has yet to invent a perfectly invincible zipper. It seems that, at some point, any zipper will inevitably find itself not functioning properly. Sometimes the zipper’s slider gets off kilter and slides up and down across the teeth without actually connecting the teeth on each side to one another.
Other times the pull tab will decide it has had enough and fall off in your hands, causing you to briefly consider that maybe you’ve finally learned to channel the super strength you’ve always thought was lying dormant inside of you. No matter how expensive and high-quality your camping gear is, the zippers on your tents and sleeping bags will typically wear out eventually.
Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty
A zipper that has stopped connecting on either side of the slider is a common problem for campers. Dirt and sand can often gather along the zipper of a tent since it is being used primarily outdoors. Once enough grit builds up, the zipper slider will no longer be able to keep the two sides of the chain together. A simple solution is to try to clean the zipper and zipper slider with mild soap and water. Sometimes this will be enough to get the zipper working again.
Rely on Pliers
If simply cleaning the zipper does not fix the problem, turn to pliers or vice grips. It is always a good idea to pack extra hardware in the event of an emergency, including an unpredicted broken zipper. A good pair of pliers is neither big nor heavy and can easily fit in your glove compartment or backpack, readily available should such a contingency arise.
If a tent’s zipper slider has grit inside it for too long, it will become physically warped. That’s when you may need to rely on hand tools.
- Locate the zipper’s slider.
- Position the slider between the pliers with the side of the pliers facing you. Do not place the slider between the pliers from left to right, but from front to back. Do not include the pull tabs in the pliers.
- Gently squeeze the two sides of the slider with the pliers. Decreasing the space between the sides of the slider should allow it to once again pull the sides of the zipper chain together effectively. Take care not to squeeze too hard or you will warp the zipper’s teeth or the fabric around them.
Repeat these steps if the first squeeze was not tight enough. It is better to take it slow rather than to squeeze it too much the first time. Don’t forget to read our article review of the best multi-tool to carry on your backpack.
If you find that you have squeezed the slider a little too tightly, you can try working a small flat-head screwdriver into the space between the slider’s front and back sides to widen it back out.
Replace the Slider Altogether
If your handy-dandy pliers did not do the trick, you may need a new slider altogether. Don’t panic because this doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy a whole new tent. You can still repair its zipper all by yourself if you have the proper tools.
You will need a zipper slider of the same size as the one that originally came with your tent. Removing the broken slider may also require a seam ripper because tents often have closed-sided zippers. If this is the case, a small sewing kit will also be crucial.
While you are less likely to have these things laying around than you are to have a pair of pliers, knowing this trick ahead of time might make all the difference.
- Remove the slider from the zipper. If the zipper is closed on both ends, use the seam ripper to remove the seams keeping the bottom of the end of the zipper attached to the fabric of the tent. Using a seam ripper will be a lot cleaner than trying to pull the seam apart yourself. If the fabric around the end of the zipper teeth gets frayed or torn, the zipper will stop working effectively and you’ll be out of luck.
- Once the end of the zipper is free from the tent, move the slider down the zipper tracks until it comes off. If there is a metal stopper preventing the slider from sliding off the bottom, the stopper can be gently pried off to allow the slider to exit.
- Locate the new slider and attach it to the zipper by guiding the teeth through the top of the slider and out the bottom. The top of the slider will be curved and the bottom will be flat. Do not install the slider backward or upside down. Because sliders are supposed to be tight, it might be a little difficult to guide the teeth through the slider but patience and a little finesse will get you far.
- Test the slider by pulling the pull tab up. Gently, now. Don’t let all your meticulous work go to waste by losing control of your super strength again.
- If you had to remove the stopper from the bottom of the zipper hem, get your sewing kit and sew a new one on. You don’t have to be a professional seamstress for this part. A rudimentary knowledge of needles and thread will be enough.
Zipper Repair Kits
If this all seems a little overwhelming, or you’re not sure if you can remember to pack all of these seemingly miscellaneous and easily misplaced tiny items, you’re in luck. It’s 2018, after all, and even the world of wilderness camping has been graced by the wonderful touch of modernity.
You can pick up all types of zipper repair kits at your local outdoor store or online, saving you the trouble of coming up with these items on your own.
Zipper repair kits typically include a seam ripper, sewing needle, thread, stoppers, and sliders in several different types and sizes. These zipper repair kits can really save you in a pinch if you’re out camping, but they will also work on other kinds of zippers besides the one on your tent, such as zippers on clothing or luggage.
You Don’t Need a Professional
Unfortunately, even the most expensive camping gear usually doesn’t feature a great zipper. Top camping gear brands boast durability, sturdiness, and high-quality fabrics, but the zippers on these tents are usually not held to that same standard. Worse, still, is that most zippers will not be covered under warranty.
You can always take your tent to a professional seamstress who should have no trouble completely replacing a zipper, but that doesn’t help you if your zipper gives out in the middle of the forest.
Professional seamstresses can also charge a lot more than you might want to pay to have a simple zipper replaced. At that point, you could be better off just buying a new tent. Luckily, zipper repair kits, whether homemade or store bought, cost a fraction of what a professional would.
Other Repairs You Can Complete Yourself
It is no secret that zippers can wear out, and can wear out fast. But there is a host of other tent-related things you may find in need of repair.
Whether you are taking your gear out of storage for the first time in quite a while, or your tent gets damaged during the trek to your campsite, knowing how to repair these things yourself can save you a great deal of headache.
Repairing Tent Poles
Picture this: You’ve arrived at your destination. It’s a beautiful day. You’ve unpacked your gear and are ready to start pitching your tent. You’re overcome with awe and admiration at the incredible scenery around you, natural wonders that never get old. A single tear forms in your eye.
More tears form because, in your infinite inspiration, you have stepped on a tent pole that now lays broken, forming a harsh, stark contrast against the enchanting foliage around you. But keep calm, you are not going to let this small setback ruin your trip because you can fix this
Some tent manufacturers will actually include a kind of splint that will act as a temporary fix for a broken tent pole. Whether you have one of these on hand or you make one yourself, repairing a damaged pole using this method is easy.
- Locate the repair sleeve and some duct tape.
- Align the broken pieces back to back, trying not to cry at the image of what once was.
- Slip the sleeve over the break and secure it with duct tape.
If you don’t have one of these repair sleeves, you can make a splint out of whatever you can find that will do the trick. A metal tent stake or some other straight and sturdy material will do. Just make sure that it is thin or it won’t fit through the eyelets on your tent. Place the stake or another substitute next to the break in the pole and duct tape that baby in place.
Rips, Tears, and Leaks
Sticks and stones might break your bones and they can also damage your tent. It’s always a good idea to pack an extra tarp or cloth to place underneath your tent to act as a barrier between the tent floor and the ground. Many tents will come with one of these, often referred to as a footprint. If you don’t have a tent footprint you can use a basic tarp or cloth folded to the same size as your tent floor.
If a stray stone or branch still happens to snag or tear the fabric of your tent, knowing how to create a quick fix will save you from despair and potentially wet sleeping quarters.
- Locate your duct tape.
- Place a piece of duct tape firmly over the hole.
That’s it! If the location of the hole is on a mesh portion of your tent, place a piece of tape on both sides of the hole. There are plenty of seam tapes on the market for sealing leaks should one arise among the vulnerable parts of your tent. It’s always better to inspect your tent for rips or leaks ahead of time to avoid finding out the hard way should a bought of rainfall occur.
Once again, if you’re lucky, or have sense enough to prepare ahead of time, you likely packed repair kits to bring in the event of an emergency. These repair kits will include the items needed to fix broken or bent poles, small holes or leaks, or the seemingly inevitable broken zipper.
Anything Can Happen
These tips are to help you come up with a quick fix on your own because there is no way to prepare for every contingency, and no one will blame you for not packing the entire inventory of an outdoor store for your camping trip.
When dealing with any emergency, keep a cool head and your solution will become clear. A broken zipper is not the worse thing that can happen on a camping trip. Any seasoned camper will know that you can always expect the unexpected, and even that usually isn’t enough.
A broken zipper is not the end of the world. Now that you know all the methods for repairing one, you’ll be able to extend the life of your tent. You may even be able to make some new friends by offering to repair the broken zippers of other campers’ tents. But if you don’t, that’s OK too. Enjoying the comfort of your fully zipped and bug-free tent shouldn’t be a luxury, and with these tips, it won’t have to be. So, don’t despair, check out our tips on how to repair a zipper for more information.