Better Zipper Pulls

Let’s spend some of your free time making your bags better for when you can get out and use them again.

One aspect that can make or break a bag is the zipper pulls: those little metal, plastic, or rope tabs we yank on to open our bags. There are a myriad of options out there for these, and my favorite are the GORUCK style pulls. They are paracord shells with heatshrink tubing and a knot at the end. No metal, or any other stuff. GORUCK calls them “silent zipper pulls” which is to say they don’t jingle around when you move the bag about.

Back in 2012 when I initially reviewed the GORUCK GR1, I wrote this about the zippers:

My absolute favorite part about the GORUCK is the zippers — actually it’s the zipper pulls not the zippers themselves.

Since then I have reviewed a ton of bags, and that line still stands out to me as prescient. GORUCK has nailed the zipper pull, nothing has even come close to it. On most of my bags, if I think the looks warrant it, I cut the zipper pulls off and put on these GORUCK style pulls. They are simply better, here’s why:

  1. They make no noise. No matter what, they don’t make any noise and that’s frankly how it should be. (Don’t confuse this with thinking that this means you can unzip the bag quietly, because that is not what I mean here.)
  2. They are easy to grab. No matter if you have gloves on, cold hands, wet hands, sweaty hands, there is always something to grip.
  3. The heatshrink tube makes them stick out a bit, so they are easier to find. Also you won’t confuse them with other parts of the bag, or get them tangled together, since the tubing works in your favor here.
  4. They will last a lifetime. Just remember to tighten the knot every year and you are good to go. You might need to replace the tubing at some point in the future as well.

These pulls are incredibly easy to make. All you do is take a loop of paracord, remove the inner strands, slide it through the zipper, slide on heatshrink tubing, tie the knot, and shrink the tube. Done.

The zipper pulls in question.

You can even buy the official GORUCK Zipper Pull Kit to do this, and you have almost everything you need. But, if you are like me, you might want to DIY this a little more, so here’s the tools and gear you need to replace zipper pulls on all your bags:

  • You need paracord. Black is standard, but you can buy any color you want, I use pink on the bags for my girls. Pick whatever. Just get 550 type III. They even make glow in the dark variants for extra 1980s fun.
  • You need heatshrink tubing, I bought this, but it is out of stock. I’d buy this now, because colors!
  • You can use a lighter, torch, or hair dryer to shrink the tubing but the results will be inconsistent, so I recommend one of these. Remember you have to do this while on your bag, so you don’t want to burn/damage the bag with a blowtorch. Precision and controlled heat is key.
  • Lastly, you need to be able to cut off the metal pull tabs, so get one of these.

When you cut and remove the paracord centers, you are going to want to melt the end of the paracord together with a lighter and press them flat before the melted paracord fully cools. A top tip is to cut the paracord long, and then shorten it after you tie the knot. This is much more professional looking.

Here’s the steps you need to take:

  1. Cut off the current zipper pulls on the bag.
  2. Cut a piece of paracord, a good starting place is about 7” long, this will be too long, but we will cut it down to size later.
  3. Cut a piece of heatshrink tubing to the desired size. Start with 1.5” here. As for which size heatshrink, it will shrink to about half its size. So get the biggest one to shrink it down as that will create a thicker piece of tubing when shrunk. If you only have smaller ones, you can shrink one, then slide on another and shrink that over the top to get more thickness.
  4. Remove the inner strands from the paracord so you just have the hollow shell left.
  5. Slide the paracord through the zipper eyelet.
  6. Melt the ends of the paracord with a lighter until they are looking melty but not dripping. Let the melted bit cool and then pinch the ends so that they are flat and smooth. This will take practice, be careful not to burn your fingers.
  7. Slide the heatshrink tubing on to the paracord so that both pieces are inside.
  8. Tie the knot for the paracord.
  9. Shrink the tubing with your heatgun, making sure to move the heat around the tubing to shrink all sides of the tubing. The tubing will start to bend and curl as it shrinks, your goal is to try and evenly heat it so it stays straight the entire time, and especially when you are done. You will see when it is fully shrunk, just keep an eye on it.
  10. Cut down/off any excess paracord past the knot, and then melt the ends again as we did in step 6.

You are done!

This type of pull is well worth the time and effort involved. The only bags I don’t replace the pulls on are bags like Filson, or other items which need a little classier/traditional pull to fit with the style. But if the bag is nylon, I replace the pull. Enjoy.

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