The clink of metal on metal....

… It’s enough to drive a saint to madness; or so, at least, many of us appear to agree.

I think we all know the problem: you’re hiking along, and all you can hear with each footfall is some muted impersonation of the spur-clad swagger reminiscent of some misplaced cowboy. “Clink, clink, clunk, clink.” When will the madness end?

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. An end to the audible misery that – certainly in my case, anyway – turns an otherwise pleasant hike into a boiling pot of frustration as it not only grinds upon my eardrums, but erodes evermore away at my remaining patience.

I’m not an angry person, honestly, but repetitive, uncharacteristic sounds tick me right off! While I’m not prone to sudden attacks of violence, were I ever to commit a murderous rampage, chances are some kind of obnoxious sound would be the triggering factor.

Anyway, with my expressions of nuisance over, let’s see how we can end the suffering, and bring joy back to what should, always, be a joyful experience.

Paracord

We can’t get enough of the stuff, we really can’t. As I’ve said before, Paracord is basically “the WD40 of cordage,” the answer to many of life’s problems; and while not the only tool required to tame the outdoors, it certainly binds it together.

In our article titled “How to do a Paracord Grab Strap Wrap,” we discussed how “what’s on the outside of your pack might just one day save your life;” and while the solution offered in this particular article doesn’t quite achieve this level of utility, it might just save your nerves.

Using Paracord to replace metal zipper pulls isn’t exactly a new technique. People have replaced broken or damaged zipper pulls with all manner of cordage since long before I was in school.

Design for Style

What reminded me of this idea was when my eldest daughter arrived home from school sporting lots of differently-coloured, cordage-fashioned zipper pulls on her school bag. In that case, she had utilized the cordage for the sake of “style,” and while not exactly a consideration (certainly not to me, at least) in the world of outdoor equipment, I still applaud the ingenuity it demonstrates.

Indeed, these days a lot of outdoor and “tactical” pack manufacturers market packs sporting cordage-based (often Paracord) zipper pulls by design. In some cases, this is done to reduce manufacturing costs, but in others it is clearly the result of careful consideration; certainly evident on higher-end packs, sporting premium price-tags where corners don’t need to be cut as the customer carries the cost.

Design for Purpose

What I have come to find surprising are the instances where purpose-designed packs should never have included metal zipper pulls in the first place, but bizarrely have.

For example, the Karrimor SF (Sabre Force) “Predator” pack range. These packs are designed specifically for military use, to be carried by troops on assignment and even in combat; where not only is stealth a consideration, but where distracting sounds could potentially cost lives.

Why, then, did the designers at Karrimor not consider the need for “silent zipper pulls” when conceiving of this product range?

In other cases, I’ve seen hunting packs sporting metal clinky zipper pulls. I know first-hand just how infuriating it is when you’re out with a hunting party, only for the quarry you’ve stalked for a considerable length of time to be scared away by some uncharacteristic, obnoxious sound.

Packs designed for purpose where silence is a consideration should never include metal zipper pulls. Even plastic zipper pulls make a noise when they tap against the teeth of the zipper itself.

Fortunately for us all, in almost all cases, it is possible to remove these audibly-infuriating zipper pulls, and replace them with whatever silent alternative we desire: in the case of this article, by using Paracord.

When not to replace metal zipper pulls

As I said in the previous paragraph, “in almost all cases, it is possible to remove…

I say this because there are some cases where it is not appropriate to replace the existing metal or plastic zipper pulls with Paracord.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way, after replacing all of the zipper pulls on my Karrimor SF Predator 80-130, only to discover that the vertical zippers (used to extend the internal capacity of the pack from 80 litres to 130 litres) began sliding down of their own accord.

There are some zipper mechanisms that, as in the case I just mentioned, prevent the zipper from sliding without force being applied to the zipper pull itself. Essentially, the zipper pull acts like a trigger, pulling on a “sliding lock” within the zipper mechanism itself, allowing the zipper to disentangle the teeth of the zip. When no force is applied to the zipper pull, the “sliding lock” acts to prevent the zip from rolling back along the interlocked teeth of the zip.

It is possible that, by removing the metal zipper pulls on these particular kinds of zips, you’ll defeat the “sliding lock” and make it possible for these zips to come undone of their own accord.

For this reason, it is important that you examine each zipper you intend to modify closely, and determine whether or not the zipper pull performs any mechanical function within the zip itself. If it does, use an alternative means to silence this zipper pull; such as by encasing the metal zipper pull in “heat shrink” tubing, as used in the world of electronics to insulate wires.

Knots and Weaves

As with most applications for Paracord, there are a multitude of knots and weaves you can use, all to achieve fundamentally the same result. The video (below) demonstrates a simple Paracord zipper pull using the ubiquitous “Cobra Weave” (this is demonstrated clearly in the video) but you can substitute this weave for your personal preference as you wish.

A lot of packs sold with cordage zipper pulls by design use the simple “loop through and knot” approach, such as Maxpedition’s packs. While this approach does produce a silent zipper pull, I have found through experience that the basic overhand knot they use to secure both running ends of the cord can come undone randomly, and you might find yourself losing the zipper pull as a consequence.

In these cases, one of the very first things I do to such packs is remove all of their existing cord zipper pulls, and replace them with a more robust solution fashioned from Paracord.

If you don’t have any cordage to hand, in some cases (if the cordage provided for each zipper pull is sufficiently long) you can simply retie the ends using the Figure-8 Knot, which is far less likely to come untied randomly.

My personal approach is to use the “Cobra Weave” for all general zipper pulls, and to use the “DNA Weave” (which is also demonstrated in the video accompanying this article) for critical compartments; such as on medical pouches, pockets containing flashlights or any other item I may need to be able to find in absolute darkness.

Using specific weaves for your various zipper pulls provides a tactile way of differentiating between them when visibility is limited. This is a consideration you may want to make each time you replace a zipper pull.
Similarly, you can use different colours of Paracord to differentiate visually between compartments when visibility is not limited.

It’s also worth pointing out that you can get “glow in the dark Paracord,” which, while in my experience has never actually been “true” Paracord, serves its purpose just fine when used to fashion zipper pulls.
This is now the go-to cordage for my First Aid Kit (FAK) zipper pulls, as they can be seen clearly hanging from my ridgeline day or night.

While the amount of cordage used to produce a zipper pull is so small that it wouldn’t really offer any extra value or functionality; once you consider that we can take advantage of our zipper pulls to provide visual and tactile distinction between pouches, you can see that this simple modification could possibly one day save your life, while in the very least it definitely serves to make your life easier.

The Video...

Now that I’ve provided the background information, explaining the problem as well as the merits of our solution, please enjoy this video tutorial on how to tie a Paracord Zipper Pull.

Key Points

  • We use cordage to replace plastic and metal zipper pulls, to eliminate the clinking noises they produce while we’re moving.
  • A near-infinite variety of different cordage types can be used, but because we only use a very small amount of cordage for each zipper pull, there’s no inherent additional value to (alternative uses for) that cordage.
  • We can use different colours of cordage to differentiate between compartments visually.
  • We can use different knots and weaves on the cordage to differentiate between compartments through tactility when visibility is diminished.
  • We can use glow in the dark paracord for highest priority compartments to make them instantly visible in darkness, which is best applied for First Aid Kits (FAKs)
  • We can make zipper pulls as large or small as we require, and can design them to support single finger operation if we choose.

In Conclusion

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can leave a comment either on this article, or on the YouTube page for the included video.

Hopefully you have found this article, and its associated video, useful; and you’ll welcome the new-found silence that Paracord Zipper Pulls provide when you’re out on a trail.

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