How to fix backpack zipper?

Susan Fernandez November 11 2021

Toddlers do love using backpacks to transport their toys and snacks. However, if care isn't taken with the zippers, they can break and cause the contents of the backpack to spill out. Unfortunately, broken backpack zippers are a common problem as toddlers tend to use them as playthings. You will likely find your toddler playing with or chewing on one of the zipper pull tabs at some point.

When this happens, you do not need to replace your child's backpack. Instead, try repairing it using a few tools and replacement parts that you probably already have around the house. If that doesn't work, then simply buy a new zipper and install it yourself without having to take your child's bag to a seamstress.



  • Scissors (to cut the new zipper);
  • Sewing machine (if you are sewing the zipper in by hand);
  • Pliers to remove the zipper pull.


Replacement zippers for backpacks can be found online or at any major department store that sells fabrics. They should come with instructions on how to install them. Make sure you have enough time before your child's next use of their backpack so there is no chance of it not being ready in time. Also, make sure you have all the necessary tools listed above before buying a replacement zipper. You don't want to buy one only to realize you don't have everything you need.  

If possible, try testing the zipper first by pulling it up and down a few times while it is still on the fabric. Make sure it is in good working order before attempting to reinsert it into the opening. If the zipper does not work, you'll need to buy a new one and install it using this tutorial.


  1. First, you will need to remove the old zipper if possible. For most backpacks with plastic or metal zippers, you can use pliers to grab and pull out the individual teeth of the zipper one by one until they are all removed completely from their tracks. Removing your child's backpack carefully helps reduce damage to other components that may be near where you're pulling out each tooth. You can also use scissors if that works better for your particular bag.
    TIP: It may be helpful to keep a piece of cardboard inside your child's backpack while you remove the zipper. This will help avoid damage to other parts and components in the opening when you pull out each tooth.
  2. Once all or most of the teeth are removed from their tracks, open up the backpack and flatten it out as best as possible. You should be able to see where your old zipper was sewn into place along one side of the top opening. If there is still some part of an end tab left, use pliers or scissors to completely remove that last bit.
  3. Now you need to add the new zipper in its place using a sewing machine if possible for more durability. This step isn't too hard so long as you have already laid out your fabric before removing the old zipper. If you haven't, do so by opening up your backpack flat on a table or floor.
  4. Place the fabric face down on the surface and then place your new zipper directly in line with where it needs to be sewn into place. The teeth should be facing down towards the bottom of the fabric while one side of the tab should line up directly along one side of where you plan to sew in the zipper.
  5. Use a ruler to make sure you have everything lined up properly before sewing it in place using a straight stitch alongside your old stitching from when you have previously sewn it in. Note that this will actually use some of your original stitches as a guide for how far to pull each end of your new zipper through. Once you are done sewing, close up your backpack and test the zipper to make sure it works properly.
  6. If you don't have a sewing machine, then try using a needle and sturdy thread alongside some pliers. Use the pliers to grab each end of the replacement zipper and pull it through one half at a time until all of it is through so that both sides of the tab are showing on either side of your backpack's opening.

Note that this process may be more difficult than doing it with a sewing machine so go slowly if possible so as not to damage anything or break your needle beforehand. Now you will need to attach each end piece by hand. Try using an overcast stitch by simply stitching back and forth through each hole along with your fabric until both sides of the tab are securely in place. This will not be as durable as using a sewing machine but should work well enough to last until your next backpack purchase.

If you've followed these steps correctly, then you should now have a fully functional zipper again! You may want to test it by opening and closing it several times so that it doesn't get stuck halfway through like the first time you used it. Practice makes perfect so if this is your first time replacing a zipper, try practicing before fixing something with more sentimental value such as an old school backpack from when your child was small or family heirloom luggage.

Prevent the problem before it happens

Though replacing a zipper may seem tedious to some, it's usually better than the alternative of having every morning spent tearing apart your child's backpack just to get them off to school. One way to avoid this is by taking good care of your backpacks so that they'll last for as long as possible. Here are some tips you can apply each time you put it away:

  • Choose backpacks with strong zippers or other durable closures (such as clips);
  • Store heavy items towards the bottom and lighter ones towards the top;
  • Avoid packing sharp objects in case they rip through the fabric, especially if there isn't much support around where the hole could form.;
  • Never overload your backpack beyond what it can handle;
  • Repair any small tears in the fabric before they expand;
  • If possible, use a portable sewing kit to do quick repairs when needed or store an extra zipper in your backpack or at school in case something ever happens.

It's always better to be safe than sorry so if you try these things regularly and practice good habits with your children, then you'll be able to avoid all but the most serious backpack emergencies. It also helps if your child is aware of how their actions affect the condition of their backpack. Keeping your kids involved in taking care of their own things gives them a sense of responsibility so that hopefully they will learn to take good care of everything else in life!


Q: What is the best material for backpack zippers?

A: Generally, you'll want to use nylon or polyester. They're both strong materials that won't easily rip like other fabrics like cotton can. Nylon tends to be more water-resistant than polyester but will cost a bit more. If you need something particularly sturdy, try using stainless steel instead of plastic or aluminum. This type of zipper is often found in tough work gloves and boots so it should hold up well without tearing through your pocketbook at the same time!

Q: Why do backpack zippers break?

A: Zippers usually break down after being used too frequently or if they're overloaded beyond their limits. Heavy loads can put pressure on the teeth and cause them to break down over time until they finally get stuck together or come apart completely. It's also important that you don't store sharp objects inside your backpack, especially if it's not made with reinforced stitching because then it will be easier for items to tear through the fabric.

Q: My backpack is completely torn apart. What can I do?

A: First, you'll want to remove the broken zipper so that nothing gets stuck in it or cuts up your hands when trying to fix it. You also have the option of replacing the entire fabric part if you feel there isn't enough support around where the tear is located. Otherwise, you might be able to sew up smaller tears depending on how big they are. If anything, try using a portable sewing kit for quick fixes until you're ready to replace the material altogether.

Q: What size plastic teeth will work best with my backpack?

A: It really depends! A good rule of thumb is that 9mm-10mm will work well with average kids' backpacks (and won't cost too much), 11mm-12mm is standard for most adult backpacks, and 13mm-15mm would be good for leather or suede backpacks that need a bit more durability. Of course, the best way to find out is by trying different sizes to see what works well with your zippers. You can always contact us here at Vargo Outdoors if you have any further questions about backpack zipper sizes!

Remember that zippers can break at any time even after years of proper use so knowing how to fix one yourself can save you a lot of time and money. Fixing it before it gets stuck halfway through is best to avoid any further damage so take the time to learn these steps beforehand.