Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Zipper Pulls

Small things are not important, until they are. 

Zippers are a good example of a thing I often improve and customized, because factory zipper pulls have always sucked. The pulls are (almost always) metal tabs like this: 

Often small. Slippery. Clang on each other or everything else. Zinc or (rarely) mild and un-heat-treated steel, they also just break off. A lot. 

Some are plastic or rubber covered sure. These for example are nice and big and have enough rubber they are fairly silent at least. This is issue gear. Plenty of the stuff in my examples is provided is top tier brands and/or issue stuff for western militaries.

The standard hotness in zipper pulls is adding paracord or neat zipper pulls. ADDING. To the metal tab. Like this:

This is a "value added feature" and when all works, is useful for gloves, cold weather, etc but it doesn't totally silence it, and it doesn't mitigate the problem with the metal pull itself breaking. I you don't care, you can buy these add on pulls from several places like: 



I find that replacing the pull entirely with something else is a much better solution. 

Locking Zippers

Let's take a brief aside to mention there are such things as "locking zippers." These are automatic, so you may not have noticed them but if modifying the zipper pulls, you need to know this. 

The "locking" is not a security feature like a padlock (though they make those also to be confusing!), but a method of keeping the zipper from unzipping itself. This is typically found on clothing, instead of pouches, packs, bags. They usually only prevent movement one direction. So you can zip up, but the lock prevents stress or load items (bags you wear across the body) from causing the jacket to unzip itself. 

They work by having the zipper pull tab interact with a little spring-loaded bit inside the part that looks like the pull passes through. Look REAL close, and you can see it. So close, I can't get a good photo. Test for it

Now, cutting off metal pulls (or having them break) with locking zippers MAY work to replace with cord. But sometimes it does not. Or it works irregularly. This seems to have to do with the type of cord being used; it causes the system to hang up, the cord snags or catches the outer slider passage before it can move the lock lever enough, etc.  

So, it's your risk to totally replace locking pulls with cord. If broken, there are replacement pull tabs like this, split setup. You can also usually thread on a small but sturdy split loop, like a key ring. Then, tie cord to that, and if the ring is small enough and the cord is thick, it will also be pretty silent still as it's hard for the metal ring to bang into anything.

The best I normally get from the gear maker now is like this. Replace the zinc tab with a loop of paracord.

Not... bad. It is almost impossible to break, if it begins to fail you can fix it. You can repair in the field if smart enough to bring spare cord, and is silent. But not optimal as it can rotate around like this. Out of position it's hard to find, hard to identify as a zipper pull, etc.

Some try to get around this with knotting or as seen here, shrink tube, sometimes all the way up. It's... okay, but is a lot of work and wears. Shrink tube is nothing like the sturdiness of nylon cordage so that will break away some time.

This is an alternative method, tie the loop down up near the zipper pull.

This is similar though the halfway-down knot is a bit far away so it sometimes also snags, gets out of position such as under the storm flap and I cannot find it. The plastic silencer at the end is hard plastic so can become loud under some circumstances, but it's not terrible.

Also note that this is not just a cord keeper but you can use those add on zipper pulls as total replacements instead of adding to the metal pull. Install the same way, looping through themselves, but direct to the slider. 

Okay now, check out this one. To the left is a new low in attempted-tactical pulls. It's a loop... of elastic! It snags on everything and doesn't stay snagged but the elastic makes it worse and worse. (Also note how poorly tightened the knot was. At LEAST inspect all zipper pulls when you get your gear to make sure they work and will stay working!)

But let's now look to the right hand zipper from above. That is the Correct Way to to do them, I say. I am right: 

  • Cut off whatever pull tab is already there and throw it away. If a metal one, cut with wire cutters, then bend up till it clears the zipper pull body. Do not use force on the pull body itself as that is fragile and important.
  • Cut a loop of paracord or similar about 3x longer than you want the pull to be when done. Fold in half, shove the fold through the zipper body. You may need to use a punch to push through and/or needlnose/hemostats/tweezers to pull it through:
    • Smaller zippers need gutted cord or smaller cord.
    • For real safety items, consider fire-resistant cordage like Kevlar. It doesn't melt, and cutting is a whole thing, but paracord-sized cord is available and it works well for things like this.
    • Always-wet items (boating, diving) will usually want to use hygrophobic cord of some sort. 
    • You can also decide if you like stiffer cord or like it to flop a bit.
    • Longer is also fine, IF it won't get in the way. Very long pull loops are good for winter, dive stuff, etc but make sure they won't snag. Loops snag.
  • Pull the folded end of the cord through about halfway.
  • Put the two loose ends through this loop.
  • Pull the loose ends, tight. Tie the two loose ends together. Done! 
    • If you want a long cord with less loop to snag, tie more knots along the length, including clever things like a series of cobra knots to make a grabbable chunk of stuff with no closed loop.

Video on how to make a snake knot: 

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