Tent-care tips. 

Outdoorspeople know there are three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and zipper failure. None are any fun, and I’ll avoid the first two, but hopefully these tips will help you with the latter inevitability.

If your tent zipper is splitting open or acting up, do the following: stop using it if possible, and don’t move the slider. This isn’t always an option, of course, but it’s ideal. Check for damaged teeth or coils. If there aren’t any, you probably only need to replace the sliders. This is a possible do-it-yourself job, or can be done by a professional. If there’s damage to the teeth or coils, you may need a new zipper. This is less of a do-it-yourself situation, although some folks are up for it. If it’s fully stuck, get it to a professional who will get the slider off without doing any damage to the zipper.

This is the point where squeezing the slider with pliers is a common remedy. It’s fine to do if you have no choice, and will probably work temporarily. Just use very light pressure. The disadvantage of this trick is that it changes the shape of the slider, which is made to work with those delicate zipper coils. Once the bent slider puts pressure on them over and over, it often leads to a larger problem and the need for a full zipper replacement. The best option is to replace problem zipper sliders at the onset, rather than tinker with them. They’re worn out on the inside, and no amount of pinching them will change that. Start fresh with the small parts and you probably won’t have to replace the big ones.

The common causes of zipper failure are dirt, sand, dust, oil, WD-40, silicone, chapstick, trail mix, children, and dogs. Some can be avoided, some can’t, but keeping your zippers clean is what will help the most. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and don’t add waxy or oily substances in the hope of lubricating the zipper, as these attract dirt and cause further problems. I recommend Zipcare (McNett), which is a cleaner and lubricant. It feels like silicone but it’s not (silicone damages plastic zippers), and is a great addition to your repair kit, particularly if you camp somewhere sandy.

Overall, when it comes to zippers, cleaner is better. Zipcare helps, and early assessment and repair with the proper parts will save you money and hassle. Outdoor stores sell zipper repair kits with instructions that work for tents if you’re a do-it-yourselfer. Be sure you replace with the same slider, save the original one, and compare before proceeding.

If that’s not your style, the Green Darner can assess the problem and give you options for repair or replacement. Tent-zipper sliders are usually $40 per pair. New sliders and a zipper cleaning are often all that’s needed. With some careful attention, repairs, and maintenance, you can be camping mosquito-free in no time.

For professional assessment and zipper repair, visit greendarner-repairlab.com.