Zippers on a sleeping bag can be awfully frustrating, often to the point where a button-up option would be far more appealing. No matter how well the zipper is made, cloth getting caught in the zipper and throwing it off of its track is inevitable or it may split, not to mention the zipper tab pulling off completely. So, how to fix a sleeping bag zipper or, should you replace it?

You can fix a broken zipper in several ways, so long as you have the patience. Adjusting bent teeth, forcing the split back into the zipper channel, cleaning the zipper teeth, or replacing the tab with something of your own design is a shortlist of ways to get the job done.

As mundane and irritating as a zipper can be, there’s room for some creativity here and you will want to do something about it because there’s a big difference between no zipper on a warm, summer evening and no zipper when it’s -30°F.

Unless you want to ditch your zip-up sleeping bag for some irritating velcro or a long string of buttons, we’ll walk you through some of the best ways to get your zipper back on track:

Let’s dive straight in, shall we?

How to fix a separated sleeping bag zipper

Photo by Marcus Urbenz / Unsplash

A split happens when one side or the other gets separated from the track inside the zipper itself. It’s one of the more annoying drawbacks of owning anything with a zipper and it’s usually caused when you are trying to pull the cloth material out that jams up in the channel.

Just when that cloth finally pops out of the channel and you have the moment of happiness and relief, you realize that the entire thing came with it. The despair that follows is usually enough to make you toss the whole thing in a corner and move on with your day.

When you decide to come back to it and give it another go, you’ll want to come back with:

  • A pair of pliers (preferably needle nose pliers)
  • A toothbrush
  • A small bowl of water
  • A dry rag
  • Some mild hand soap (preferably biodegradable soap)

When you’ve found the things you need, here’s what you’re going to do:

  • Mix your soap and water up
  • Dip your toothbrush and scrub the zipper teeth, up and down, on both sides
  • Use your dry rag to wipe the soapy water off
  • Use your needle nose pliers to straighten any bent teeth
  • Don’t overdo it and pull any teeth loose or out of place
  • Use the pliers on the slider channel to open it up just a fraction
  • Work the teeth of the side that came out, back into the slider groove/channel
  • Straighten out both sides so the material is flat and even with the zipper
  • Zip and unzip to test it out

When you are trying to work that material into the slide channel, you want to do so either at the very top of the sleeping back, where your head is, at the farthest point from where the zipper starts to close and bring the material together.

You want to attempt to line everything back up in the channel from either the very beginning or the very end of the zipper line. This is easy if you have a sleeping bag that zips all of the way down, because you can zip the slider to the bottom on one side and simply feed the loose side into the channel at the bottom.

How to fix a sleeping bag zipper with missing teeth

Photo by Ekaterina Grosheva / Unsplash

Missing teeth is usually a miserable experience because the stop at the bottom prevents you from feeding the remaining teeth into the channel. If you’re missing teeth well up the zipper line, you’ll either need to replace them or get proficient in sewing buttons.

However, when zipper teeth come off, it’s usually very close to the zipper stop. The best way to fix this is to remove the stop altogether. Get a strong knife blade because you will need to pry off the backside of the stopper to remove it:

  • Slide your knife into the base of the metal on the opposite side of the stopper
  • Pry the tack loose and remove the stopper
  • Feed the zipper up, past where the stopper was, and feed the teeth into the channel
  • Take a new zipper stop that is large enough to cover the gap from the missing teeth
  • Using a pair of pliers, clamp the new stop in place

The new stop will cover those missing teeth and the gap that makes your zipper fall off of one side when it gets below the available teeth. A larger stopper not only fills that gap but makes it so that both sides remain even in length, which is necessary when you’re dealing with a zipper and want to avoid material bunching up in one of the channels.

Going through the effort will give you a bird’s eye view of just how the zipper functions, draws the teeth together and locks them in place during use, all of which will make future zipper repair jobs that much easier.

Should you bother repairing a broken zipper?

You have to admit, a broken zipper usually means a one-way ticket to the garbage, and then it’s on its way to the local landfill. However, that’s a pretty wasteful thing to do when it’s usually pretty easy to repair the problem or focus on something more personalized.

The key is preventative maintenance. While it may seem like an irritable and wasteful expenditure of your time and energy with a 5-year-old coat, that’s not the case with a good sleeping bag that’s been with you through thick and thin.

As time goes on, the channels that press and lock the two zipper lines together become loose, opening up gradually with time and use. Every so often, when your mind is on it or you happen to be involved in some camping gear organizing, take a pair of pliers and press the two sides of the zipper down.

That way, it will always remain tight and dependable and you won’t have to worry about the dreaded split that causes so much headache in the first place. Repairing the zipper before you have to truly repair it will ensure that your sleeping bag stays in your inventory for much longer.

Customizing your sleeping bag zipper

If your zipper is acting up and you have to go through the madness of having to fix it, why not just remove the thing altogether and go with something that you like instead? Sure, it’s a tiny little zipper but you’d be amazed at how much a little personalization makes something truly belong to you.

Or, at the very least, it’ll give you that warm and cozy feeling in the pit of your stomach. Zipper kits are prevalent on the marketplace and while finding a replacement zipper isn’t too hard, finding one that is “themed” is a little more difficult.

What you need to do is purchase a zipper kit, much like this one. Once you have it in hand, use a pair of wire cutters to lop off that ridiculously boring tab. Now, you can replace it with something that you want.

If you know how to do a bell loop, you can run a small key ring into the old zipper channel and then rope something to the keyring, such as a paracord, a fidget, a wicked keychain, a small compass, a swiss army knife, or something else because you are really only limited by your imagination.

The bell loop is incredibly easy to tie and if you’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, you likely know how to do one pretty well. Once you have the knot down, and you watch a few paracord videos on it, you’ll likely become addicted to paracord as well, which is extremely useful when it comes to repairing things, including your sleeping bag.

Zipping up your bag with a rubber figurine of the Balrog from Lord of the Rings, a shark tooth, or a tiny, digital compass adds that flavor to your camping items that are missing. Plus, it’ll probably start a conversation around the campfire.

Replacing your old zipper with a new one is done pretty much the same way that you would repair one when the side comes completely off. Only now, you’re doing it with two sides instead.

It will make your job a whole lot easier if you start by removing both of the stoppers until you have the new zipper on and the teeth are aligned on each side. Use a pair of pliers to clamp down your stoppers or you can replace them altogether as well.

Final thoughts

Now that you know how to fix it, there’s no reason to relegate your old sleeping bag to the trash bin of camping history. Now you can repair it or replace it altogether. Whichever you decide to do, your sleeping bag will be your go-to crash pad for at least a little while longer.