Feature image via Outdoorsy
The Subaru Forester is an excellent vehicle to convert into a camper. This SUV is reliable and has great cargo volume, plenty of roof rail capacity, and decent ground clearance.
It’s no surprise that Subaru Forester campers are quite popular. Those who bought the Outback version, which is virtually the same vehicle, have done the conversion, too.
The great roof rail capacity offers many options: you can mount a rail to store bikes, a roof box, or fit an awning. Alternatively, you can mount a rooftop tent. The roof can hold up to 700lbs of stationary weight.
Bear in mind, though, that the Subaru Forester and Subaru Outback are SUVs, so they are not huge – they’re still cars.
You’ll be able to fit a lot of gear in them, but you’ll need to sit inside them at all times. They are ideal for solo campers or minimalist couples who just need to crash at a trailhead for the night.
A quick tip: always carry some extra engine oil with you on the road; Subaru Foresters tend to consume quite a lot.
Let’s look at some of the camper conversions that are out there. There are no professional kits advertised as suitable for this car, but we have found DIY full-on builds, as well as simple and cheap set-ups.
Keep reading to see the 8 Awesome Subaru Forester campers we have compiled below!
$80 No-Build Subaru Forester Camper Conversion
FrontrangeForester decided to convert his Subaru Forester on a Thursday, just before a weekend away. Having a small budget, no space, and very little time, the man opted for a simple, quick, and cheap conversion.
The best way to go was no-build, of course. FrontrangerForester worked on the project in the parking lot of his apartment complex.
At the back of the Forester, he left the regular storage compartment unchanged and covered it with standard coverings. He used two 2ft by 4ft sheets of plywood he bought from Home Depot to create a sleeping platform.
These slide into the Subaru Forester camper to make a single bed. To make the sheets level with the passenger seat, which is folded down, FrontrangeForester used a couple of blankets he had no use for.
On top of the plywood sheets, he laid a rubber mat, on top of which he placed a sleeping mat and sleeping bag.
During the day, he uses the ply sheets to set up a low table where he can cook and eat.
Next to the bed, in the back of the vehicle, he keeps his cooler and propane camping cooking stove. Behind the front passenger seat, in the footwell, there is a big bin he uses for storing his cooking gear and some food. Simple but effective. Not bad for a 2-day DIY conversion.
Backcountry-Style Subaru Forester Camper
SoftroadingTheWest decided to turn his 2012 Subaru Forester into an adventure vehicle on which to explore the Oregon backcountry.
First, he upgraded the wheels to install bigger off-road tires. This improved the performance of the car on the trail.
Then, he installed a lift kit to improve the suspension. He also added a light bar to mount extra lights on the front of the vehicle. On top of the car, SoftroadingTheWest installed a roof rack, on which he places a roof box for storage.
For camping, the man built a completely removable plywood kit, which he keeps in storage.
Whenever he heads off, he slides the pieces into the back of the Subaru Forester camper and he’s ready to go in minutes. The kit includes a bed platform, with a foam mattress and sleeping bag, and a storage unit.
The last allows him to keep his cooking gear and cooler at the rear of the vehicle. The platform bed hides a flip-out table. The cooker is mounted to a second slide-out panel, which comes out of the storage unit.
This build shows that you can adapt your current vehicle to your adventures, rather than going all out and buying a 4×4.
Subaru Forester Camper For Two People
Liv and Dylan have converted a Subaru Forester into a road-trip-ready camper for a couple, with the help of Liv’s dad.
They used all the space available at the rear of the vehicle to install a plywood sleeping platform. The platform rests on some supports, which create a decent amount of storage.
The guys covered it with flooring foam and a layer of carpet to make it more comfortable. The front part of the platform flips up to allow for more space at the back of the car during the day.
The couple carries foam mattresses to sleep on and uses the space under the platform to store their camping gear. That’s it. Simple and functional.
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A Road-Trip-Worthy Subaru Forester Build
Nicole and Matt decided to go on a three-week, 7,000-mile-long road trip across the States during the pandemic.
To keep things safe, they bought and converted a Subaru Forester into a small camper. The guys wanted to be able to use their SUV as a car after the journey, so the conversion isn’t permanent.
Even though Nicole and Matt had no carpentry experience, they managed to build a few custom items, which they installed in the Subaru Forester camper.
They created a bed platform with two drawers underneath. These contain their kitchen gear and act as tables.
For the trip, they simply used the platform as a storage area while driving. They put storage boxes and a cooler on top of the bed during the day and then moved them onto the front seats at night.
Matt ran out of time for installing a big, permanent solar panel on the roof. So instead, he simply wired up two smaller panels, which they pulled out of the back of the car at campsites when they needed power.
There is also a water tap at the back of the car, which extracts water from a big jug. While this camper isn’t very elaborate, it allowed them to escape the pandemic for three extra-fun weeks.
Fully Removable Subaru Outback Conversion
Chase swapped from a truck to a Subaru Outback for camping, because the bed was too short and he was getting too cold in the winter.
He self-built his own removable conversion, which he can slide into the vehicle on his days off and weekends.
Inside his Subaru Forester camper, there is a single bed with a foam mattress and sleeping bag. Under it where the passenger seat used to be, there is a well for storage.
Next to the bed, there is a cabinet, which contains batteries and his kitchen gear. All his kitchenware fits inside a drawer, while he stores a water jug on top of the cabinet.
For cooking, he installed two slide-out platforms, which act as a table. Behind the cabinet, there is a cooler and a seat, where he can work at his laptop.
On the roof, Chase added a rack, on which he stores any extra gear. This cool rig allows Chase to head off to the wilderness any weekend.
Looking for gear? You might find The Best Truck Camper Accessories For Life On The Road helpful!
A Glamping Set-Up In A Subaru Forester
Allison was looking for an adventure vehicle that would allow her to travel, without bumping into anyone during the pandemic.
She looked at all options online, but ultimately, she didn’t want to spend a lot of cash and time on the project. So she decided to convert her 2018 Subaru Forester SUV into a camper – a simple, quick, and cheap solution.
However, she upgraded her build with lots of impressive equipment, which makes her outdoor adventures a lot more comfortable.
First, she built a sleeping platform out of three pieces of 3/4 inch plywood sheet, leaving enough room for storage underneath it. On top of it, she stuck carpeting and fit a 4inch twin-size folding mattress.
For storing her gear, Allison uses transparent boxes, which slide out from under the bed.
On the roof, she installed a roof rack with an awning, which offers protection from the sun and rain. It’s really handy for sitting up in any conditions – she isn’t stuck inside the car all the time.
When camping, she brings along a cooler, fire pit, a cooker, a power station, portable solar panels, a pop-up tent pod, and a heated portable sink and shower.
This allows her to work, cook, and stay clean on the road. Glamping out of an SUV – who would have thought it possible?
Learn how to build your own van with this detailed van build sourcebook. While the title reflects Sprinter vans, the concepts can be used on any DIY campervan conversion. You'll learn design considerations, how to plumb your van, choosing solar panels, installing water tanks and electrical and wiring systems. A great resource!
No-Tools, $100 Subaru Forester Camper Build
Adam and Elise needed a no-build, cheap solution for sleeping at trailheads. After searching the internet for a solution, finding complicated plans only, Adam decided to improvise.
It took him a total of one hour to create the sleeping platform. He used zero tools and spent a total of $100.
He used some plywood, a mattress, some foam mats, and two old ex-military canisters. Any heavy items will do.
He got the ply cut at Home Depot. Then, he measured the gap in height between the back of the boot and the top of the folded backseats. He used two ex-military canisters that fit the measurement.
All he needed to do to complete the build was place the canisters at the back of the car, place the foam mats on top of them and on top of the folded seats, and slide in the bed platform.
He then added a foam mattress and bedding. The guys place some mosquito netting on top of the side windows, held in place by magnets, to be able to keep the Subaru Forester camper ventilated.
Mini Subaru Forester Camper
If you’re not too worried about keeping your SUV stealthy, you could copy Janiel’s excellent conversion idea. At campgrounds, she attaches a tailgate shade awning tent at the back of her Subaru Forester.
This allows her to keep the back hatch open at night for a fantastic van-life-style view from the bed.
The tent has mosquito netting, so you can get a nice flow of air at night. Inside her conversion, she simply laid down a mattress and her camping equipment. A set of plastic drawers can be easily pulled out to be used outside.
Janiel likes her privacy, so she also carries a collapsible toilet tent, where she stores a portable toilet. For her energy needs, she uses a solar panel and a battery.
Subaru Outback Camper Conversion For Tall People
Brian is 6ft2in tall, so he needed to convert his Subaru Outback (virtually the same vehicle as a Forester) in a clever way.
He built a sleeping platform out of plywood, with the help of his dad. The bed makes the most of the space between the front seats and the back hatch, so when Brian sleeps, the front passenger seat is folded. Under the bed, there’s a cooler and all of Brian’s camping gear.
He uses the other passenger seat to sit and work, thanks to a hanging table. At the back, he fit a slide-out table, where he can cook, and a water jug. Brian uses the front passenger seat as a closet – he stores two bags with his clothes in them.
Our Favorite Subaru Camper Conversion Gear
Now that you’ve got some good inspiration for converting your own Subaru Forester or Outback, it’s time to window shop for some of the gear you’ll want to install or bring with you.
We have selected our favorite pieces of gear, keep reading to see them below!
1in ADF Lift Kit
Do you dream of going off-road with your Forester or Outback? It’s a good idea to improve the ground clearance with a lift kit.
Anderson Design And Fabrication make 1in and 2in kits for this model. It may not sound like a lot of extra clearance, but it does make a difference when you’re out on rough terrain.
Rally Light Bar By Rally Innovations
A light bar is a fantastic addition to your Subaru Forester, if you plan to go on off-road wilderness adventures.
It allows you to mount extra headlights, which allow you to see better in the dark. It has also a hidden, secondary advantage. It offers extra protection to the front bumper.SoftroadingTheWest recommends the Rally Innovations Rally Light Bar.
Keeping a window or two open will allow you to keep decent ventilation in your vehicle and prevent moisture. This is especially important in the summer.
Buying a big sheet of netting like this one and then cutting it to size is an easy, cheap way to get it done. Many campers fix it in place with magnets.
Others sew two layers of netting together, so they can slide the sleeve over the top of the door. Closing the car door keeps it in place.
If you plan to travel for a while, you’ll need a way to recharge your electronics. Many YouTubers recommend the impressive Jackery Explorer 1,000 setups.
These have a huge capacity, allowing you to charge a laptop, tablet, phone, and camera batteries multiple times. However, they do come at a hefty price.
If you don’t need to work on the road and are just starting out, why not try out a cheaper product first? This ECO-WORTHY set costs under $100 and has excellent reviews.
Want to keep camping even in winter? Rather than going for an expensive and complicated diesel heater install, why not invest in a cheap travel heated blanket?
You could keep it on your legs while relaxing and pre-heat the bed before going to sleep. For under $50, you could get one off Amazon.
If you’re trying to stay on a budget, you could always buy a couple of hot water bottles and fill them with boiled water in the evening.
A heated blanket won’t last a long time. You’ll only be able to use it to help you fall asleep.
To stay warm outdoors, why not get a fire pit? We like this foldable portable one from Amazon. It’s super easy to store.
You can collect deadwood at your campsite to reduce the amount of stuff you need to pack. A fire on which to roast marshmallows or meat completes any campground.
Camping in a car means traveling light and being able to go almost anywhere. However, the space inside the vehicle is extremely limited. A platform bed that’s too high means having little headroom for sitting up.
So creating an area where you can sit outside, protected from the elements is an excellent idea. There won’t always be a picnic table and BBQ waiting for you. We love the Rhino-Rack Sunseeker – a sturdy and easy-to-assemble side awning.
Being able to cook while camping is essential. Eating cold food gets old quickly. If you stick to short trips, a cheap one-burner stove will do. For longer weekends and holidays, opt for a double-burner with wind-blocking panels.
Conclusion On Subaru Forester Campers And Outback Camper Conversions
Subaru Forester and Outback campers are an inexpensive vehicle in which to go camping. As they are SUVs, the room inside the car isn’t huge.
There is no standing headroom, of course. And if you need to bring a lot of gear with you, it’s best if you go solo.
However, they make for an excellent small adventure camper for solo travelers and minimalist couples.
If you need to turn your car into a camper just for the weekends and holidays, then a Subaru Forester camper is an excellent solution. No need to buy, maintain, and store an extra, bigger vehicle. Just slide in your gear and set off on a new adventure.
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