How to Fix Backpack Zipper Stuck on Fabric?

Zippers are, by their very nature, the most fragile part of a backpacking pack. Backpacks are usually made from strong, durable materials to reduce wear and tear and extend their lifespan. Although certain zippers may be stronger and more reliable than others, the mechanism remains the same. That’s where a possibility of things going wrong.

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. Zippers are made up of a series of interlocking teeth on the opposite side of the zipper tape. The slider, when pulled up or down, either locks the teeth together or forces them apart.

How to Get a Backpack Zipper Unstuck?

The first thing you want to do is to see if there’s any material from inside that may have gotten stuck in the zipper. You can lightly pull or tug that material to see if you can loosen it. Chances are you’ve probably already done that. A more precise pull of the material is by using tweezers. See if you can get in there with some tweezers to pull the material out. Sometimes that will do the trick as well.

If both those methods don’t work, take a pencil. A pencil has graphite which is actually a lubricant and works well to free up zippers. Coat the tracks as well as inside. Coat everything with graphite and sometimes that will do the trick.

Common Zipper Problems

Common zipper problems often come down to faulty manufacturing, a poor-quality product, or perhaps general wear and wear. With a top-end backpack, this is less likely to be the case.

Small particles like sand, dirt, dust, grit, and bits of vegetation can clog up the inner mechanism. This can lead to a malfunction resulting in slider and teeth distortion. Fabric from either side of the zipper can also become trapped with similar results.

Zippers may also get stuck due to overstraining. As you try and 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 build-up.

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. Before possibly irrevocably breaking your backpack, take the time to examine the problem can help to provide a solution.

Snagged Zippers

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.

Trapped Dirt

If you can’t see any obvious reason for your backpack zipper to be stuck, it could be caused by a build-up 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 submerging the zipper area in water whilst gently jiggling it to remove any trapped dirt.

Other Scenarios

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.

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 integrity 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. Try to replace it later upon returning home. 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.

  • Don’t overfill your backpack and plan before packing. Not only is it going to be heavy, trying to squeeze in extra items will strain the zipper. 
  • 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.