The humble zipper. Like many other inventions that are practically indispensable to our daily lives, we frequently overlook just how useful zippers are. That is, until they become stuck.
If your coat zipper starts playing up on the way to work, it’s annoying to say the least, but it’s not such a big deal. However, if you’re miles from civilization, the weather’s turning and you’re desperately wondering how to get a backpack zipper unstuck, the situation can seem pretty serious. Let’s take a look at what may cause zipper malfunctions and some of the easiest ways to get stuck zippers unstuck.
Why do Zippers Get Stuck?
Zippers are, by their very nature, the most fragile part of a backpack. Backpacks are increasingly made from strong, durable materials, reducing wear and tear and extending their lifespan. Although certain zippers may be stronger and more reliable than others, the mechanism remains the same, and where there’s a possibility of things going wrong, that possibility often becomes a reality.
Zippers are made up of a series of interlocking teeth on opposite side of the zipper tape. The slider, when pulled up or down, either locks the teeth together or forces them apart. While the zipper’s design allows for quick and easy opening and closing, it is often subjected to a variety of situations that are likely to cause malfunctions.
Common Zipper Problems
Common zipper problems often come down to faulty manufacturing, or a poor-quality product. With a top-end backpack, this is less likely to be the case. Zippers may also get stuck due to overstraining, trying to squeeze in that one extra piece of gear that just won’t fit while tugging hard on the slider pull. Over time this can deteriorate the regularity of the teeth’s alignment or the slider’s inner mechanism.
Aside from misalignment from straining, zippers, especially those used in hiking products, can get stuck because of dirt buildup. Small particles like sand, earth, dust, grit and bits of vegetation can clog up the inner mechanism leading to a malfunction resulting in slider and teeth distortion. Fabric from either side of the zipper can also become trapped with similar results.
Ways to Unstick a Stuck Backpack Zipper
If your backpack zipper is refusing to budge, as tempting as it may be to start pulling hard to release it, it’s important to stop and assess the situation. Is any of the surrounding fabric trapped? Was the zipper working fine up until now? Are you going to be relying on your backpack for the next few days?
Before possibly irrevocably breaking your backpack, taking the time to examine the problem can help to provide a solution.
If the zipper is snagged on the surrounding fabric, gently try to reverse it. The more gently you can do this the less likely you are to cause any lasting damage. Sometimes a good deal of patience will be required, holding the trapped fabric a millimeter to the left or right can help to release the slider while slowly reversing it.
If you can’t see any obvious reason for your backpack zipper to be stuck, it could be caused by a buildup of trapped dirt within the slider. Try blowing hard to get any loose particles out before they cause any further problems. Gently try to manipulate the zipper, stopping immediately if there’s any sign of it straining. You may want to try wetting or submerging the zipper area whilst gently jiggling it to remove any trapped dirt.
If the zipper is clean, there’s no trapped fabric (remember this could also be on the interior), then your zipper may be faulty. Some people recommend greasing zippers, and you could try it if you happen to have any kind of lubricant to hand. However, this can often be a bad idea as it can attract dirt and grit causing them to stick inside the zipper, making the problem worse, or creating a new one. However, this is a great last-ditch option and could save your backpack.
If your backpack zipper is well and truly broken you should consider your options and upcoming needs before breaking it further. If you’re going to be relying on your backpack for the next few days, you should consider cutting through from another internal compartment with a functioning external zipper if possible. This will maintain the integity and functionality of your backpack, enabling you to continue your hike with the least inconvenience.
If this isn’t possible, decide if you want to rip or cut open your backpack at the zipper opening and try to replace it later upon returning home, or if there’s another more convenient place to cut into your backpack. This opening should be created in a position where it would be easier to tie or somehow fasten shut for the rest of your hiking expedition.
Replacing and Mending Broken Zippers
It can be a waste to throw away a good backpack because of a broken zipper. Zippers themselves are relatively inexpensive and if you can’t fix the zipper yourself, you should be able to find a local company that can replace it for you.
If your zipper is faulty, you may be entitled to a new backpack under your manufacturer’s guarantee. In any case it’s often worth contacting them, you never know, they might at least offer you a discount even if the product itself wasn’t faulty.
How to Avoid Future Zipper Problems
Zipper problems often occur because of misuse, by taking good care of your zipper you will reduce the chances of it getting stuck and extend your backpack’s lifespan.
Helpful hints to keep your zipper from sticking:
- Don’t overfill your backpack. Not only is it going to be heavy, trying to squeeze in extra items will strain the zipper. Plan before packing.
- Always open the zipper fully when putting your stuff inside. You may just need to quickly slip a container in, but if the opening isn’t wide enough this will cause the teeth to tear apart and increase the likelihood of your zipper getting stuck in the future.
- Don’t ever force your zipper, you will cause it to become (even more) stuck. If you’re not the patient type and you don’t urgently need access to your backpack contents, give it a few minutes and try again later.
- Clean your zipper after every hike, especially in dirty conditions. Give your backpack a good shake out and wipe over in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Pay attention to the quality of zippers, their positioning and how well they function on future purchases. When possible try before you buy or ask questions online.
It’s not always easy to figure out how to get a backpack zipper unstuck, but a bit of patience and common sense can make all the difference and may save your backpack from unnecessary destruction. If not, you might just have to make the best of a bad situation and look forward to treating yourself to a new backpack, there are worse things that could happen 🙂