Managing Inevitable Zip Failure on a Long Bicycle Tour

WARNING: this post is about zip repair, which may¬†be¬†quite dull for some. But if you’re going on a long tour it could be quite handy.

Top tips / short version:

  • Clean and lubricate the zip (e.g. candle wax, soft 2B pencil, some kind of specialist zip lube: e.g.¬†this¬†).
  • Fix slider with pliers.
  • Bring spare sliders that match the most important / hard to replace pieces of kit on tour.
  • Bring something like¬†this ‘easy’¬†replacement slider¬†or this¬†that require no stitching etc. (I’ve not tried them)
  • Spare sliders of similar size can often be found on other pieces of your kit.

Long version:

If any one bit of kit is likely to fail on a long tour it’s the zipper – something I wasn’t really aware of¬†at the start. Every zip I own has eventually failed, down to¬†the flies on my trousers. There’s normally some kind of problem with kit but the frustration of not being able to close a tent fly sheet in rainy Patagonia can really upset the zen. So what can be done?

In fairness a fate that befalls all of my kit.

1. BE GENTLE: First, treat the zip with care. If you fill your bag to bursting point and¬†the zip can barely close it’s likely to wear the slider down quickly (something I’m particularly guilty of doing!).

2. CLEAN AND¬†LUBE: Often you might just need to clean the zipper with sponge and water plus a bit of detergent – dirt can cause¬†issues. Then you could coat it with some kind of dry lubricant: examples include candle wax, a specialist zip lube (e.g.¬†this), a soft pencil (e.g. 2B). The idea is to use something which will lubricate the zip but dirt won’t stick to it.

3. USE PLIERS: If that fails, try using a pair of pliers on the slider. Lots of information on the web about this – for example (skip to 1:20 if you’re in a hurry):

4. REPLACE THE SLIDER: The last option I know of, before having to replace the entire zipper, is to replace the sliders. ¬†If the zip has two sliders¬†you could swap¬†them around or find a similar¬†size slider on another bit of kit. Or, if you have them, resort to your¬†spare sliders. Every item with a zip should come with a spare slider in my opinion particularly for ‘adventure’ gear designed for tours but it often doesn’t. So before you leave on a long tour take time to find¬†the same model slider for your most important pieces of kit at your local store; the number can often¬†be found on the end of the slider (e.g. the mosquito net of my tent is ‘5RC’). You could probably find a¬†similar sized slider in a capital city in Latin America (for example) if you’ve not brought spares but it could take a bit of time messing around. I found it¬†surprisingly hard to find a good brand like YKK which could¬†last a lot longer.

HOW TO REPLACE THE SLIDER (UPDATE): The difficulty of slider replacement depends if it is coil or tooth and how the zipper has been stitched, it could be a matter of just removing the top stopper (and then ideally replacing with a new one afterwards) or one of the teeth. Or you may need to unstitch the zip, in that case I would suggest visiting a local sewing shop unless, of course, you know what you’re doing or you don’t care much about the item. I imagine they’re in most places in the world. This video shows a common way to replace the slider for a zip:

5. ZIPPER REPLACEMENT: My MSR Hubba tent lasted from Alaska to Peru with some heavy use before the fly sheet zip started to fail. It was replaced with a plastic zip (frustrating since I’d just asked¬†to switch the sliders) and it¬†lasted an astonishingly short two¬†months. Unable to zip my¬†tent up in a Bolivian sandstorm was¬†enough to make a grown man cry. The pliers treatment worked somewhat but eventually the teeth were¬†so damaged¬†the whole zipper needed to be replaced. Finding a decent repair is not always that easy. Try to replace with a quality brand like YKK¬†or you may end up having to replace it again like I did. Luckily for me, Choike Custom Bike Bags in Santiago did an excellent job (located here). The joy of being able to effortlessly close the tent fly? Indescribable! NB: They also have some fine looking bikepacking bags.

Effortless zip closing

CONCLUSION: Bring good quality replacement sliders on a tour, at least for the most important pieces of kit.

Any thoughts or other ideas welcome.

UPDATE: the following various additional ideas / comments were taken from my¬†FB post¬†(NB: I’ve not tried these suggestions):

  • On Lubricants:
    • Careful using dry chain lube: I’m told it can denature waterproof coatings.
    • Specialist zip lubes. This¬†was recommended in particular if you can find it.
    • “Run a soft pencil ( ideally 2b or softer ) along it”.
    • Vaseline on the zip was suggested but I imagine this would attract dirt? I could be wrong.

More ideas in this short video:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *