Subaru Outback Camping: Everything You Need To Hit the Road

August 16, 2022

If you're interested in taking your Subaru Outback camping, you've come to the right place.

You don't need to spend upwards of $10,000 on parts and labor for a conversion van to go boondocking.

We'll explain why the Outback is a great choice, how to turn it into a camper, and excellent products to get you rolling.

Why a Subaru Is Perfect for Camping

The Subaru lineup of vehicles is very popular with the car camping crowd. The Subaru Outback is made for rugged adventures and offers plenty of leg room and a versatile trunk area. It also provides better gas mileage than its competitors, such as the Ford Bronco Sport, without the extra cost.

High Clearance

The Subaru Outback, Crosstrek, Forester, and Ascent have 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

You can trek through challenging terrain with confidence. The chance of scratching your vehicle's underbody is negligible.

All-Wheel Drive

Subarus receive better power, traction, stability, and control with symmetrical all-wheel drive.

This assists in maintaining a firm grip on the road under various circumstances.

All Subarus (excluding the BRZ) feature all-wheel drive (AWD), making them ideal off-road vehicles.

Ample Cargo Space

The Subaru Outback and its variations come with a great cargo area.

When the back seats are folded, there's enough space for sleeping. Additionally, the spare tire well and the area beneath the front seats give additional storage.

Ways To Turn Your Subaru Outback Into a Camper

There are several methods to convert your Subie into a camper. Maybe you want to create a sick rig for overlanding, or you may be more interested in a DIY budget adventurer.

There are also other custom-made alternatives tailored to specific makes and models.

We'll go over everything you need to know before you embark.

Fold The Back Seats Down to Make Your Bed

With the entire rear row of front and back seats folded down, you have about the same amount of storage space as a full-sized bed. You could even add a bed platform if you want extra support.

However, the car's interior dimensions vary somewhat across years and models.

If you move your front and rear seats forward, you'll have around 4 feet of room across from the narrowest point, about 6 feet.

Use Your Vehicle’s Built-in Storage

Be sure to use the vehicle's storage space for your car camping equipment.

An Outback can also serve as a charging station for gadgets.

There's no need to stuff everything inside a tent like with tent camping, and you can keep your food secure from critters.

Add Roof Storage

Using the roof bars for extra storage space is a great idea with the Subaru Outback.

Skis, kayaks, motorcycles, and other heavy equipment are best transported on the roof.

Roof bars can also be used as shower caddies and kitchen hooks.

Tips (and Accessories) for Subaru Camping

There are several items you may purchase to make multiple trips more enjoyable.


A cargo basket (or cargo tray) is an open storage platform that fits on top of your roof rack and may carry a variety of objects, even weirdly shaped ones. You can bring additional storage containers

Load your rooftop basket up and secure your belongings using cam straps, bungee cords, or a net.

We don't recommend cutting costs on rooftop equipment. For that reason, we like Thule products.

rooftop cargo carrier

Box or Cargo Carrier

A sturdy cargo container is the best way to store and secure stuff on the roof of your Subaru.

They keep water out and eliminate the need for additional straps.

They are also aerodynamically engineered to reduce wind resistance to save on gas.

Thule manufactures a range of rooftop cargo boxes in various sizes. Here's what we recommend for the Subaru Outback.

thule pulse container


A cargo bag often resembles a cargo box, although it's considerably smaller and lighter.

They accommodate irregularly shaped things and don't require a roof rack to be mounted.

They're not the best for bad weather, but they're also much less expensive than a cargo box.

asi rooftop carrier

Methods Used To Gear Up Your Subaru for Camping

Now we'll get into camping gear for your Subaru Outback for a Conversion-van style adventure. Remember that you don't need to do everything on the list.

Think about where you're going, what you'll need, and how you like to camp.

We've got some great picks for Subaru camping. We've also included some budget items for those interested in taking their Subaru for a car camping test run without so much extra cost.

Rooftop Tent

You can enjoy tent camping with a rooftop tent that fits various Subaru models. Rooftop tents are small tents mounted on the roof of your vehicle. They work on vans, SUVs, and of course, the Subaru Outback.

Rooftop tents often have canvas/fabric sides that compress easily when not in use.

With a rooftop tent, you'll enjoy a panoramic view, plenty of room, and a simple setup and takedown process.

rooftop tent


There are several mattress options for car camping. It depends on how much time, money, and comfort you're willing to sacrifice.

Air Mattresses

If you've got enough space inside, you can turn your Subaru Outback into a bedroom to sleep comfortably. SAYGOGO makes an excellent custom-cut air mattress that matches the precise form of your car.

The air mattress inflates with a pump powered by your cigarette lighter. They also fold up easily into a small package. Remember to push your front seats up for more room.

custom cut air mattress

Foam Mattresses

A foam mattress is a simpler option. However, they typically don't offer the comfort of an air mattress. They are a more affordable and quicker route than air mattresses. 72" x 24" x 4" is recommended. Here's our recommended WELLAX foam mattress.

foam mattress wellmax

Sleeping Pads

A sleeping pad offers the lightest weight option. Our recommended sleeping pad weighs less than a pound and folds up to approximately the size of a water bottle.

This sleeping pad works perfectly in my Outback and is also ideal for backpacking and rooftop camping.

sleeping pad

Compact Cooking Equipment

A compact butane stove and a cooking set are all you'll need.

Our recommended burner weighs about 3 lbs and comes with a carry case.

You can buy the butane fuel canisters almost anywhere that sells cooking or camping equipment.

compact butane stove

All-Terrain Tires

Many campers like to turn their Subaru Outback into an off-road beast. All-Terrain KO2s are rugged, grippy, and long-lasting.

You'll experience added road noises. However, you'll be able to rove over every possible surface without sliding. That includes sand, mud, snow, ice, boulders, and dirt.

Make sure that whatever new tires you install don't take up too much of the wheel wells. Once cars get loaded down, that area tends to shrink (confirm your wheel and tire size).

all terrain tires

Suspension Lifts

The Subaru Outback already has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, but installing a suspension raise improves it significantly.

You can install your suspension lift set in about 2 hours with a few wrenches, a garage jack, and jack supports.

Installation is straightforward. The kit also contains alignment standards to send to the alignment company after installing it.

suspension lift subaru outback

External or All-in-One Batteries

An external battery means you don't have to rely entirely on your car battery. The Jackery Explorer 1000 combines a lithium battery, solar charger, and 120V AC converter into a small, lightweight device ideal for weekend camping.

It's larger than a gallon of water and weighs 22 pounds, making it highly portable.

external battery jackery

12V Fridge

Most succumb to fast food and restaurant meals sooner than expected without a nice fridge.

With a 12 Volt fridge, you can go off-grid and store food to make nutritious meals for days.

They're also great for keeping cool refreshments handy.

12 volt fridge campervan

We also have a budget pick for you if you're looking for something that takes up less storage space (and less money).

Emergency Gear

Having recovery and emergency camping gear on hand is essential regardless of how much you prepare. Here are some items you will not regret bringing with you.

Tool Kit

Fortunately, we've learned our lesson and always make it a point to keep a small tool set in the car at all times.

This set has everything you need for field repairs without the extraneous items.

van life tool kit

Duct Tape

Duct tape fixes many problems in the car and on your gear. Here are some clever ways to use duct tape:

  • First aid equipment
  • Maintain hose pressure
  • Keep de-railed windows in place
  • Fix just about anything (if you're creative enough)

This particular brand of duct tape can withstand far greater weight and pressure before ripping than the others.

duct tape subaru van life

Tire Sealant

If your tire catches a nail, this flat tire puncture repair sealant will fill the hole well enough to get you to a repair shop.

tire inflator liquid subaru vanlife

Tire Inflator

Slime's heavy-duty tire inflator can inflate all four tires quickly and efficiently thanks to a strong pump and sturdy construction.

It's heavy-duty, connects directly to the car battery for extra power, and comes with a convenient carrying box.

cargo hitch carrier subaru van life

Spare Tire

Most automobiles come with a little donut tire that's nearly worthless in rugged terrain. Even worse, some vehicles don't even have a spare!

The Subaru Outback has ample trunk space for a full-size spare.

You can even keep an old tire as a spare when it's time for a replacement.

Hitch Cargo Carrier for Extra Storage

The Yakima EXO cargo hitch carrier is an excellent choice.

It can carry two storage items, such as two gear lockers, a bike, or a single gear locker with a shelf on top to use as a cooking table.

Consider how low your rear hitch sits if you intend to go off-road.

It will also add weight to your car's setup.

cargo hitch carrier subau van life

Crossbars for Easy Mounting

You can use lock washers to mount crossbars if you need an additional cargo area for your adventure mobile. Attaching a retractable crossbar system to your Subaru Outback, Forester, Crosstrek, or other vehicle creates additional space and additional weight.

The crossbars make connecting other goods like kayaks, bikes, skis, etc., much easier.

If you want the best in quality crossbars, we also recommend Thule.

mounting crossbars subaru

Awnings to Keep Dry

When cooking or resting next to your Subaru, a rooftop awning keeps you dry and shaded.

Thule OverCast, Roam, and CVT produce various sizes of long-lasting, weatherproof rooftop awnings.

Sunshades for Shade and Privacy

Sunshades keep vehicles cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

You can also get custom-made reflective and sunshades. However, here's our quick and easy pick.

subaru sunshades van life camper

Mosquito Nets for Open Windows

Cracking a window keeps moisture at bay. It also lets air circulate through your Outback.

You can buy (and cut) some Coghlan mesh polyester mosquito netting to keep the bugs out and the cool air in.

Sleeping Bags for Additional Insulation

The level of insulation you require will be determined by the season and environment you are in.

The Sea-To-Summit Ascent is an excellent all-season sleeping bag.

These down-filled sleeping bags fold up compact, making them great for hikes.

sleeping bags van life

Lightweight Camping Table for Extra Counter Space

Any simple metal and plastic foldable table will do.

If weight and size are more important to you than price, we recommend the Helinox series.

They manufacture durable, lightweight tables and chairs that fold up tiny and may be used for various purposes.

camping table counter space van life

Shower or RinseKit for Boondocking

RinseKits are portable shower kits that provide hot or cold water in 30 seconds or less.

These systems, which use a pressured system similar to a garden hose, may hold water and then create hot and cold water simultaneously.

If you're interested in a budget option, you could use a simple portable shower.

Portable Toilet for Quick Access

Cleanwaste manufactures portable toilets that can be taken anywhere.

It makes going to the bathroom much more pleasant, and waste can be quickly wrapped up and packed away.

Trash Drybag to Keep Your Site Clean

The ability to take your Subaru Outback off-road is a great way to separate yourself from other campers.

Sea-to-Summit makes a Waste Dry Sack to help keep your vehicle and campsite clean.

This dry bag is waterproof, robust, compact, and lightweight, making it ideal for hiking adventures.

Final Thoughts

You don't need a van to experience van life (or hang out with van lifers).

Subaru Outback camping means you can go to national parks or on a road trip exploring the west coast. Whatever remote places you have in mind, you can go for a long period.

If you like to travel light and travel often, let us know about your next planned Subaru Outback camping adventure in the comments.

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