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How to Wrap a Canoe in Bottomland

By Damon Bungard

There’s a good chance that primitive hunters were using some form of a canoe to hunt or fish from before the wheel was even invented. Whether primitive dugout canoes in the Amazon, to modern space-aged composite canoes, just as we often here the ‘History of the bow is the history of mankind’, so be it with the canoe. They’ve been the utilitarian watercraft of human history, moving people from point A to point B along the waterways that created civilization.

They’re also the utilitarian workhorse of an outdoorsman, whether fishing, hunting, hauling, camping or just out for a leisurely paddle, the canoe is a classic watercraft, so why not make one ‘Better in Bottomland’!

In this article we’ll break down the tools needed and methods to wrap a canoe in Mossy Oak Bottomland vinyl so you can customize a canoe to your own liking.

Tools Needed:

  1. Canoe
  2. Mossy Oak Bottomland Vinyl and Squeegee
  3. 3M Knifeless Tape
  4. Masking Tape
  5. Heat Gun
  6. Cleaning aids. Dish Soap/Sponge and Rubbing Alcohol & Paper Towels
  7. Saw Horses or Kayak/Canoe Stands
  8. Tape Measure
  9. Knife, Scissors and Sharp Pin
  10. Sharpie


Step 1: Clean the Canoe

My canoe of choice for this project was an Esquif Adirondack. It’s a small, light solo canoe in a material called T-Formex that is a specialty polymer. It’s extremely durable, but not overly hidden in stock solid tan form, so Bottomland will give it a great stealthy aesthetic, and a vinyl wrap will help protect it from UV rays when stored for long periods upside down on a canoe rack. So, win-win on looking cool while getting an added layer of protection. The Adirondack is largely designed for still and deeper water, like ponds, lakes and swamps, but I’ll also use it on the New River here which is a deeper and slower moving river in sections with less risk of hitting rocks and damaging the vinyl. My canoe is fairly new, and it’s easier to wrap any surface that is newer and has fewer scratches, but not necessary. To start I cleaned the canoe with soapy water and a sponge to remove dirt and built up pollen, then I followed that up with a wipe down of rubbing alcohol to better prep the surface for vinyl adhesion.

Step 2: Mask Graphics

Since canoes often have existing graphics like make and model or serial numbers as stickers applied after manufacturing, you may not want to risk pulling them off when applying the vinyl. You can just cover them with regular painting masking tape which have adhesives specifically designed to peel away easily while not removing base material. I masked areas on the bow and stern, and the primary Esquif graphics in the middle.

Step 3: Apply 3M Knifeless Vinyl Cut Tape


3M Knifeless Tape is a handy tool for trimming excess vinyl without needing a sharp tool like a razor blade to cut through it from the outside and risk cutting too deep or scratching the base material. It’s kind of like a string of dental floss embedded in a small, flexible strip of tape. I applied it around all the graphic areas I’d masked, and along the edge of the gunnels since that’s where I wanted to ultimately end and trim the vinyl wrap. You apply it, and leave a few inches of tag end exposed so at the end you have something to grab onto, and pull the string and it cleanly cuts the vinyl from underneath, inside out. It’s a pretty cool specialty vinyl tool, and I got it on Amazon.

Step 4: Measure and Lay Out Vinyl

Mossy Oak Graphics has vinyl available in various patterns and widths, standard being 2’ and 4’ widths. With the Adirondack being around 12’ in length, I got 14’ of vinyl in a 4 foot wide roll so I’d have a little excess when all was said and done. Excess is handy for wrapping other things, or patching up damaged areas over time. I was hoping I could avoid having to have any seams underwater to help minimize and risk of delaminating over time, and the 4 foot roll was just wide enough to almost contact the gunnels at the widest point in the belly of the canoe, while having plenty of material to cover the narrower ends. With the canoe propped upside down on kayak stands, I laid the vinyl over the canoe (backing still on at this point), and taped it along the mid line to anchor it in place, while running masking tape along the centerline (keel) of the canoe to help as a guide to align it once the backing was removed, and I marked the excess material edges along the gunnels with masking tape to help as a guide to trim away the excess vinyl before removing the backing.

Step 5: Trim Excess

Once marked with the masking tape, I used Leatherman shears to trim away excess material. You don’t necessarily need to do this and could just throw it away, but that’s valuable vinyl that could be used for other Bottomland projects, or patching up damaged areas of vinyl in years to come.

Step 6: Remove Backing

This is the point of no return, removing the vinyl backing. Since I decided to try to do this project with just one massive piece of vinyl, I thought it would be easier to try to remove just half of it, then peel the rest later. I’m not sure if that was the best decision in the end, but it ‘kind of’ worked, it just ended up being harder than I expected to reach under and get the other backing off once half of the vinyl was adhered. And since I did it outside where I could film, some untimely and unexpected wind gusts made it harder than it needed to be.

(Pro-Tip: Do all of this in a closed garage with no wind if you can)

Step 7: Apply Vinyl


With the help of my wife, and half of the backing removed, we held the vinyl over the canoe, and slowly lowered it down using the keel line masking tape and mid line markers as guides. Luckily with vinyl it stretches and can be lifted and pressed back down a few times so alignment doesn’t have to be perfect. This is not a vinyl application guide, and I’m not an expert, but basically you start at the inside and work the material outwards with a squeegee (comes with the vinyl from Mossy Oak Graphics) trying to minimize bubbles and wrinkles. This can be a bit tedious, so take your time. Sometimes you may need to relift the material and start over in small sections. You can use a heat gun to soften the material and make it stretch more, and bubbles and wrinkles can be worked out a bit later.

Once one half was on, I reached underneath, removed all the remaining backing, and repeated the process on the other side of the canoe, working from the keel (centerline) out.

Step 8: Remove 3M Vinyl Cut Tape

Once the vinyl was applied, it was time to pull the tag ends of the 3M Vinyl Cut Tape, which trimmed the excess vinyl around the gunnel lines, and around the graphics I wanted to stay visible the in end. It worked great and left a nice clean edge.

Step 9: Remove Masking

Once the vinyl was trimmed, I peeled away the masked graphics and everything was exposed and undamaged, just like I wanted.

Step 10: Work Out Bubbles and Wrinkles

Working with a piece of vinyl that big, and not being one who applies vinyl for a living, bubbles and wrinkles seemed inevitable to me on a complex 3D surface like a canoe hull. With some patience and expertise, you can remove things like bubbles by carefully warming the bubble with a heat gun, then popping it with a sharp needle. Warming it increases air pressure from inside the bubble, and popping it lets that air out so the vinyl can lay flat. Again, this isn’t a specialty vinyl application tutorial, but it’s oddly satisfying popping bubbles and watching them disappear. And one of the nice things about a camo pattern like Bottomland is that any little imperfections kind of blend away into the pattern anyways.

So, there you have it, one distinctive canoe custom wrapped in Mossy Oak Bottomland. In the end it took me a few hours, and while not perfect, it was perfectly adequate for my needs and a fun DIY project. I’m sure you could also take your canoe and vinyl Bottomland material to most professional vinyl applicators that do car wraps and they could do it for you for a fee as well, but I’m the type that enjoys trying new things.

finished canoe

Last Thoughts

In hindsight my biggest suggestion would be to do this in a protected area with no wind gusts so things don’t get stuck before you want them to, and hanging the canoe from bow and stern handles so you can start at one edge by that gunnel and work your way down and around so gravity wouldn’t pull the bulk of material down onto the canoe before you wanted it to be adhered. Doing it in strips is another option.

Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below. I’ll read them and comment back when I’m not on paddling and hunting trips in my Bottomland canoe

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