While noticing part of your tent break is never fun, a broken tent zipper might be the most annoying issue to deal with of all. You’re reminded of it every time you go in and out of your tent door, and the zipping/unzipping process is extremely frustrating when it’s not working well.
Fortunately, our team of experts has fixed quite a few broken tent zippers during our years of camping experience. Continue reading below to learn exactly what you need to fix a tent zipper, the different types of broken zippers, and maintenance tips to keep everything working well.
Here’s how to fix a tent zipper in a few simple steps:
Be prepared beforehand with a tent repair kit.
Identify the exact problem with your zipper. Typically, it is one of the following 4: stuck, split, broken slider, or broken teeth.
Once you know what is wrong, fix it by following the relevant section below.
Take care of your zipper after so the problems don’t return.
Before You Fix Your Tent Zipper
If you’re not prepared before you go ahead fixing your tent zipper, there’s a good chance you either won’t do it right or make things worse.
Always Have a Tent Repair Kit With You
Without a tent repair kit, it will be very difficult to fix a zipper while you’re camping. Most of these have small zipper repair kit sections that will have what you need to fix it. These materials might include pliers, a small sewing kit, and lube.
Diagnose the Problem
Not all broken zippers are created equal. Depending on your situation, you might have a zipper that will only take you a minute to fix with your hands, or you could be looking at a full replacement. Go through each type of damaged zipper below before you choose how you’ll fix it.
How to Fix Your Tent Zipper
There are 4 primary ways a tent zipper might find itself not working. Below, we’ll go over how to identify and fix each problem to get your zipper good as new again.
A stuck zipper won’t move up and down the track no matter what you do. When you notice this problem, you should not pull on the zipper aggressively, which is what people often do. This has a high chance of making things worse by ripping the tent fabric or breaking zipper teeth.
Instead, calmly diagnose what is stuck and go from there. Many times, the tent fabric itself will be stuck in the zipper track.
If this is the case, you should gently pull the stuck fabric in several different directions while also moving the zipper slider around at the same time. After a minute or two, you should find the right angle and the fabric will pull away safely from the zipper.
Sometimes, it is not the fabric but rather a piece of dirt or rock stuck in the zipper teeth. In this case, you should move the zipper slider away from the affected area and grab a small brush, such as an old toothbrush.
You should then gently rub up and down the zipper teeth until all the debris has been removed. Often, this happens because your zipper itself is dry, so you should apply some lubricant if this happens to you frequently. We prefer graphite or WD-40.
A split zipper is when your slider is running fine, but the two sets of teeth won’t connect. Sometimes, this is due to dirt or rocks stuck in your zipper teeth, in which case we’d suggest you reread the instructions in the prior section to fix the issue.
If that isn’t the problem, however, then it’s likely a problem with your zipper slider. Refer to the section below to see how we’d fix it.
Broken Zipper Slider
The zipper slider is a small piece that you drag up and down the tracks and acts as the connector for the teeth. If it’s broken, that is a big problem for your tent.
If your zipper slider is still sliding up and down the tracks, but not connecting them (a split zipper), then that means the slider is loose. Fortunately, this is usually a fixable problem.
Grab the pliers from your tent repair kit and press down lightly on the edges of the slider. You shouldn’t need to compress it much to get things back into place. If it doesn’t work the first time, you can try making it even tighter.
If that still doesn’t work or your slider was broken from the start, you’ll need a replacement slider instead. Sometimes, these will be in a tent repair kit, but if not then you should look for a medium-sized zipper replacement slider online.
You can tell what size your zipper is by checking the number on the back of the slider. Small zippers are sized 1-4, medium 5-7, and large 8-10.
To replace your slider, follow the below steps:
Using your pliers, pry the stopper (small square piece at the end of the zipper track) off the tent fabric.
Slide the stopper off the track and store it in a safe place.
Move the old slider down the track and take it off.
Push the new slider onto the teeth. It should go pointy side first and on the same side that the stopper is connected to.
Test out the slider to make sure everything works properly.
Reattach the stopper to the zipper teeth and sew it back into the seam if needed.
Broken/Missing Zipper Teeth
Lastly, we have the problem of broken or missing zipper teeth. Unfortunately, if your zipper is in this kind of shape, there isn’t much you can do to fix it.
If it’s only 1 or 2 teeth, then it’s possible your zipper could work fine without it. In these situations, you can order a cheap zipper repair kit online that will act as a good stopgap option.
However, if you want it fixed it will have to be done professionally. Most camping or outdoor stores can fix it for you at much cheaper than the cost of your tent. We highly recommend doing this instead of buying a new tent altogether.
Zipper Maintenance and Care Tips
By properly taking care of your zipper, you can reduce the chances that something will break. Plus, it doesn’t take much work.
Regular Cleaning & Lubrication
At the end of a camping trip, you should clean your entire tent, including your zipper. The easiest way to do this is to take a brush (from your tent repair kit or somewhere else) and run it up and down the entire zipper.
Make sure to brush out any rocks or dirt you notice, as they could damage your zipper if left sitting there for a long time.
Once you’ve cleaned your zipper, you might also want to lubricate it with a zipper-friendly lubricant like graphite or a WD-40. You don’t have to do this every time, but some periodic application will keep your zipper track running smoothly.
Keep Closed When Possible
If you keep your tent zipper open when setting it up and storing it, you risk it breaking far more frequently versus leaving it closed.
Open zippers are much more likely to catch on or hit something, which could break the teeth or slider. If something catches tightly enough, it might even rip the zipper right off the seam.
Taking an extra second to zip up your tent if it’s not already will help you avoid these situations, and it doesn’t cost you anything.
Compared to a snapped pole or damaged fabric, a broken tent zipper can be one of the most annoying issues to deal with on a camping trip. Now that you’re equipped with the repair knowledge from this article, however, it will be simple to deal with.
Do you have any other tips on how to fix a tent zipper? If so please let us know below in the comments. Happy camping!
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Carl is a content writer for The Camping Buddy, specializing in informational camping articles and product reviews. Carl has been a freelance writer for outdoor news sites while spending his time backpacking across the world. His favorite camping spot is Malaekahana Beach in Hawaii.