One of the most common modifications I do to bags is messing with the zipper pulls. I don’t like metal zipper pulls with something attached to the very end of them, as they jingle when you move about and annoy the crap out of me. The fix for this is pretty easy, and can be non-destructive if you prefer, so I thought I would share some different options I use/have used over the years.
Especially, since I’ve been seeing some brands start to sell zipper pull kits, for stupid prices. Most of this stuff can be done very low-budget.
Modifying Filson Zippers: Non-Destructive
Let’s first start with Filson, I’ve never cut the brass pull on a Filson zipper. These bags are expensive, and generally the second hand market doesn’t look favorably on such a modification. And, to add to that, there’s actually a great and easy fix for the jangles here.
Filson bags come with leather zipper pulls on them. These are really nice strips of leather which is hard to find/buy anywhere (Filson won’t even sell you replacements, you need to instead send in your entire bag for restoration). The zipper pulls come like this:
That’s a strip of bridle leather, slip knotted through the top of the pull, with a simple overhand knot at the end. My fix is this:
All I did was undo the leather, and weave it back through the bottom of the zipper pull where it meets the zipper itself, back up through the top opening, and then overhand knot. This completely removes the jingle, looks nice, and gives you a larger leather surface to grip. All and all, this is a straight improvement for me, and completely reversible should you need to.
Note: There’s an older variant of Filson zippers which are the ‘Talon’ zippers. These pulls, are 100% better than the YKK, but the side effect is that the bottom opening on the brass pull is too small to utilize this tip. Bummer.
Modifying Standard YKK Zippers: Weave Method
Effectively, this is the same method as above, but not with leather and brass zippers. Instead, take a section of cord/rope/etc and do the same weave. For bags like Mystery Ranch, you can even undo the knot in the cord they ship, and reuse that — thus keeping the original equipment all together.
However, the downside here is that often cord is too thin to fully stop the jingling sounds, or it’s too thick to allow the zipper to flop back and lay flat on the bag. So while this is non-destructive, there are a few downsides.
Luckily, you can add on to this method if you really don’t want to take a destructive approach. What you do here is the weave as described with the cord you like best. Then at the end, before to tie the finishing knot, slip on a bit of heat shrink. You’ll shrink that over the entire metal pull on the zipper, and slightly let it overhang on the edge towards the zipper itself. Once you’ve shrunk that tubing, the pull should be more or less rattle free, while being fully reversible.
This method is one I use only under a couple scenarios:
- I might not be keeping the bag, and so I don’t want to cut the zipper pull tabs off.
- It’s a bag for someone who is not me, and thus they might prefer being able to grasp metal to help slide the zipper past tough spots (when bags are overloaded).
Generally, I prefer this method the least. So I mostly use it on bags for my wife and kids, as they like keeping the metal pull tabs for ease of use.
Modifying Zippers: Destructive
This is my preferred method, and if you buy a bag from me that isn’t Filson, likely this has been done to it. This is also called the GORUCK method, but I don’t fully do the same as them.
Effectively: cut the zipper pull tab off the zipper head, weave cord of your choosing through, add heatshrink (optional), tie a knot. It’s very simple to do this, but there’s no going back once you cut that pull tab. That said, here’s some gotchas, and notes from my experience:
- You need to first examine the zipper head before you choose the cord. If there’s a gap on the part the pull tab attaches to, you need to make sure that your cord is sufficiently thick enough that there is no potential for it to slide through the opening — because it will for sure slide through if given the chance.
- The GORUCK method is 550 paracord, with the inner strands removed, adhesive heatshrink tube between the end knot and the zipper head, and an overhand knot to finish it. This method looks clean, is fairly easy to do, and is not as good as I initially thought. I used to do this on a ton of bags, but I’ve soured on it. I keep my GORUCK bags this way, and no others. The reason is that the heatshrink breaks down easily and starts to look like crap. They don’t lay as flat as other methods and I am unsure they have any added utility.
- There’s more than just 550 cord out there. There’s tons of weights to the cord and thus you should play with it. Larger zippers with 750 cord, can feel really nice in hand. Smaller zippers with 3-400 weights can also be nice.
- Generally, removing the inner strands on paracord will cause more issues than leaving them in. I tend to leave them be these days.
- Paracord essentially hates to keep a secure knot, but it will stay if you take liquid super glue and apply a drop to the inside of the knot (just shove the tip of the glue container there). You’ll have to cut the cord back off later, but this has been battled tested by my kids on their school bags — works like magic. You can’t see or feel it either. Awesome.
- The color of the cord you pick can really change the aesthetics of the bag in surprising ways. Be sure to pay attention. Coyote + Bright Orange, looks really good. I also strongly recommend that you look into multi color cord over solid colors.
Almost every bag I think I am going to use for some time goes through this process.
Tools & Materials
Alright, let’s talk about stuff to buy:
- Side Cutters: you need something which can cut metal, and do so without cutting things you don’t want it to. A pair of these are what you want.
- Targeted Heat Gun: if you are dealing with heat shrink, then you need to shrink it with heat. You can use a lighter or hair dryer but there are issues with both. A lighter runs the risk of melting the shrink tube, the bag, or the pull — don’t use a lighter. A hair dryer can struggle to get hot enough to do the work you need, and applies the heat to a large area, which might not be good depending on your bag material. There are precision heat guns, where you set the temp, and the air is very targeted. It’s what I use, and it’s amazing.
- Torch Style Lighter: you need a butane torch type lighter for melting the ends of the cord. You can buy a dedicated tool for this, but even I have yet to justify such a purchase. The torch style will make this work faster, and more precise. But more than that, a yellow flame tends to smoke more, and thus discolor the cord more readily. With a torch style you need to be careful not to over heat when melting, otherwise you’ll get a gross yellow blob (seen in images above). Practice makes perfect here.
- Utility Knife: I know you have other knives, but you need something razor sharp every cut.
- Marlin Spike: I don’t have, or use one, but if your fingers struggle with dexterity, then a Marlin Spike can help you undo knots that you want to redo.
- Needle Nose Pliers: helpful for holding the knot/cord when heat shrinking so that you don’t burn your fingers.
The materials you might want:
- Paracord: I buy mostly from Paracord Planet, and they sell grab bags of colors if you want to get a lot of random assortments. Plan on about 14” per zipper pull being needed. You want to cut it long, and then trim after you get the knot done, this will make your life much easier than cutting it short. I recommend getting at least: black, international orange, navy. But the multi-colored cord are really versatile. I love them.
- Heat Shrink Tube: This stuff is pretty good, I’ve not found any I really love. Plan on one tube per pull.
- Leather Strips: I ordered some off Etsy here, to replace some missing Filson ones. It was of solid quality.
- Premade Molded Pulls: you can readily buy some premade pulls, here are some options: PDW, DSPTCH, MSR. They are all a mixed bag, and generally they don’t stick long for me.
- Reuseable Pulls from Tom Bihn: Tom Bihn’s are actually really nice and easy to put on. Slightly DIY, but not fully. A quick way to get started with or without any tools. I’m a fan.