An SUV camper is a great way to get out and start camping without the hassle of throwing up a tent.
An SUV camper can be whatever you want it to be: a mattress thrown in the back, a sleeping platform with storage underneath, an SUV camper conversion kit or a rooftop or SUV tent.
SUVs are great for camping as they are often AWD or 4WD, the perfect rig for exploring bumpy dirt roads or driving on sand and snow. Plus, many SUV models are now hybrids, which will save you money on gas.
If you already have an SUV sitting in your driveway or garage, right now might be time to create your very own SUV camper conversion.
However involved you want to get in turning your SUV into a camper, we have suggestions and tips to help you get outdoors in no time.
The DIY SUV Camper Conversion: Cheapest Option
The most affordable way to create an SUV RV for SUV camping is to do it yourself.
You’ll probably end up spending only a few hundred bucks on your SUV camper conversion if you do all the work yourself. Plus, an SUV can be converted into a comfortable camper in just a couple of days.
Check out the bed platform and storage in the RAV 4 SUV below:
Here are a few easy steps to remember when doing a DIY SUV camper conversion:
- Take out or fold down the middle seats
- Build a bed platform out of plywood or wooden beams. A platform bed will give you storage space underneath
- Buy a memory foam mattress to put on top of your new bed platform (many like a 4″ memory foam mattress like this one)
- Find window coverings to make your SUV camper private
Those four steps are all you need to create a bed and storage space in your SUV. Here’s more you can do with an SUV camper conversion and what you might want to have inside your SUV:
- If you want to power anything like a portable refrigerator or roof vent fan, buy a house battery and connect it to your alternator via a battery isolator relay. This means your car’s alternator will charge your house battery when the car is running. If you do this set-up, you will need to run your SUV every day to keep that battery charged.
- You might want to bring along a solar shower
- Also, think about bringing a folding camp table, a camping stove, and a couple of chairs for an outdoor kitchen and relaxation area
A few examples of DIY SUV Camper conversions:
Honda Element SUV Camper Conversion
This Honda Element Camper is built out to maximize a small space. We love the single bed, the storage, and the back hatch. The hatch in this “down” position is the perfect spot to create your campervan kitchen.
Emily Mannisto built this SUV camper conversion, and said her memory foam mattress folds away when not in use. She also suggests having a big multi-gallon jug for water (we recommend this collapsible jug), window blockers for privacy and curtains that go over the front seats.
This is a super simple DIY SUV camper that anyone can build.
This 6" tri-fold memory foam mattress is good if you have a non-permanent campervan bed. It easily folds up and goes into "couch position" to use in your van during the day. We love that this mattress is convertible and easy to set up in your campervan.
Honda CRV SUV Camper
Here’s an example of a simple Honda CRV SUV camper conversion with a platform bed and storage beneath for SUV camping! As you can see, an SUV camper doesn’t have to be fancy.
Just a cozy, comfortable bed and some storage are the most important parts.
We also love the twinkle lights on the roof, which gives this SUV camper conversion a really homey feel.
Subaru Forester Camper
If you think a Subaru Forester is too small for SUV camping, think again! Subarus can be converted into super comfy, off-grid camper.
I just love how she set out a table and chairs to create a mobile, outdoor “office.”
Jeep Grand Cherokee Camper
Jennifer Vegvari lives in this 1989 Jeep Grand Cherokee camper. It has a simple bed platform with pull-out plastic bins.
If you’re interested in a Jeep camper, check our in-depth article: Jeep Camper: A Rugged Off-Grid Rig
4- Runner SUV Camper
A Toyota 4-Runner camper is a great SUV for off-road boondocking and adventures. Sir William chose this red 4-Runner for dependability and its off-road performance.
He told The Wayward Home his favorite components are his bed platform and his 12-volt refrigerator.
I'm not lying when I say this portable refrigerator from ARB totally changed my life while living in my van. I no longer have to deal with food ruined by melting ice, let alone race to a store to grab new ice.
A portable refrigerator should be on your van life packing list as it allows you to go off-grid for days. The best thing is this 12-volt fridge is energy efficient, too - mine only comes on for about 10 minutes per hour.
You can connect it to a portable solar generator, an inverter tied to your solar system, or a cigarette lighter.
It's pure bliss accessing cold drinks and food after a long hike.
We love these six boondocking guides, where you can learn about where exactly to find free campsites. The writer, Marianna Edwards, is an RVer herself and details GPS coordinates of each site, and whether it has phone signal, water, bathrooms and what size rig it fits. Although boondocking can be quite cost-effective, it does have a bit of a learning curve. Since travelers can't hook up to water or electricity, they have to get a little creative when using appliances or amenities.
Plus, boondocking isn't allowed anywhere, so RVers have to know which spots are safe and which ones could lead to a ticket or fine. These travel guides showcase the best locations and offer tips and tricks on how to make the most of each stop.
Nissan 2003 X-Trail T30 SUV Camper
A Nissan is another rig you can easily turn into an SUV Camper.
This one has a plywood platform with a cotton rug and foam mattress. The van’s owner, Shona, did a lot to make her SUV cozy.
The drawers were repurposed from a kitchen fit out frame. She also has panels to cover the windows secured by Velcro dots. Also, she has mesh covers for the back windows so they can be open at night to let a breeze through.
A small ring light clip – one that’s made for selfies – creates light in the interior of the SUV camper at night.
SUV Camper Conversion Kits for Sale
If you want to turn your SUV into a camper with zero work, you can invest in an SUV camper conversion kit.
With one of these, you’ll get a modular set-up for SUV camping that includes things like a bed, kitchen, storage, etc.
Bounty Hunter Compact SUV Sleeping Platform Kit (Freeway Campers)
If you don’t feel like investing the time and energy to construct your own sleeping platform in an SUV camper conversion, you can order this one from Freeway Campers.
Choose between a variety of wood finishes or no finish at all on this completed bed platform, made out of Baltic birch. You can also add on a 4″ memory foam mattress.
This SUV camper sleeping platform conversion kit features adjustable legs to create a bed of any level. It’s super easy to put together with zero tools. Take it out when you’re ready to transform your SUV back into a daily driver.
Kit includes a huge sliding work table in the back with a collapsible 9.5”(24 cm) x 13.5”(34 cm) container the can be used as a sink.
The entire SUV bed platform kit is 80 pounds.
Honda Elment SUV Camper Conversion Kit (Freeway Campers)
The Honda Element SUV camper conversion kit is also an awesome offering by Freeway Campers.
This interlocking kit, made from Baltic birch panels, was made to fit Honda Elements from the years 2003-2011 but isn’t limited to that particular vehicle. You can easily slide this kit into other flat-bottomed vehicles like the Dodge Grand Caravan.
This incredible SUV camper conversion kit can be installed with zero tools and is easy to store if you want to remove it from your Element. Just order it online and Freeway Camper Kit sends it straight to your address!
You can choose between several styles of kits and can add a mattress, mattress cover, and 37-quart portable fridge for a few hundred more bucks.
The QuQuQ module turns your SUV into a camper in 5 minutes
This modular system by QuQuQ can turn your SUV into a camper in just a few minutes. The QuQuQ comes in a box, which unfolds at the pull of a handle to create a bed. Parts of the box pull out so you can access your portable refrigerator and camping stove.
The bed in this SUV camping kit is made from three pieces of 10cm thick cold foam and uses an aluminum framework.
The kitchen in this SUV conversion kit comes with a 2-burner stove, 20-liters of drinking water, a sink, table and a storage area.
This is the simplest solution we could find for an SUV camper conversion.
Nestbox Camper by Egoe
Another really cool SUV camper kit we have our eye on is the Nestbox Camper by Egoe. This European company is beginning to debut its products in the U.S. at various expos and camper van shows.
The Nestbox Camper is one of Egoe’s smallest offerings, built for SUVs and offers a bed platform, outdoor kitchen, storage space and cooler.
These elegant SUV camper conversion kits create a perfect little camper for two, and we love that the cooking module is removable if you prefer cooking at a picnic table.
An electric pump makes getting water and doing dishes a breeze.
There aren’t any Nestbox dealers yet in the U.S., but you can order one from the company directly.
SUV Camping Tent: Rooftop and Hatchback
If you don’t like the idea of building a bed platform or taking out the seats in your SUV, you might want to consider an SUV camping tent.
There are two different types of SUV camping tents: Rooftop and Hatchback.
This is a really simple option that lets you keep your SUV as a daily driver and also use it for camping.
Weight: 155 lbs
The Skycamp 2X rooftop tent is a more expensive option for an SUV camper but comes with some added features and luxuries.
The biggest draw is the 60-second setup time, which means you can crawl up for a nap right after you park your SUV.
The aerodynamic design of this rooftop tent, huge 4-person interior, and inclusion of creature comforts like a thick memory foam mattress make this rooftop tent feel more like an oasis.
We also love the hard shell locks, the breathable, poly-cotton canvas, and aerodynamic lightweight design.
If the price tag doesn’t scare you too much, the iCamper Skycamp is an awesome option for SUV camping.
Weight: 145 lbs
The Roofnest Sparrow XL Rooftop Tent for SUV camping is a reimagining of the Roofnest Eagle, with 4″ more of headroom, three larger doors and windows and windows with ladder mouts on three sides.
This hard-shell rooftop tent goes straight up and down, which allows for a flatter profile when closed. This means a more aerodynamic drive, better fuel efficiency, and easier handling in transit.
It also comes with a 3” foam mattress, easily accessible overhead netting, and removable shoe pockets to help keep the mud and sand out of your bed. You’ll also find space to mount solar panels.
You’ll enjoy the anti-condensation mat in the Rooftop Sparrow to keep moisture out of your mattress and bedding.
Weight: 130 lbs
The Sparrow Eye Roofnest SUV camper tent is very similar to her XL cousin, just at a smaller scale. This SUV tent includes many of the conveniences of the XL, like the 3” mattress, detachable shoe pockets, and anti-condensation mat.
This amazing little tent is Roofnest’s easiest to use.
It opens from the side and you’ll see an incredible view of the sky from the top window. This rooftop tent tent comes with stainless steel gas struts, an impermeable ABS-fiberglass top and waterproof canvas walls so you’ll stay warm and dry even in the worst weather.
The only real difference between the Sparrow Eye SUV tent and the XL are the size and weight, so if you don’t need the extra sleeping space or elbow room, this model is the perfect option.
Weight: 53 lbs
A hatchback tent like this Napier family SUV tent for SUV camping is a great way to expand your sleeping and storage space.
This roomy 10×10′ tent offers 7 feet of headroom, simple one-person set up and a carrying bag.
The vehicle sleeve included with this SUV camping tent connects you to the interior of your SUV. You can either store gear there, like your clothes bags, or you can sleep right inside the back of the SUV.
What’s cool about using an SUV camping tent like the Napier family SUV tent is you have access to your vehicle’s USB chargers for simple electronics charging.
Weight: 7 lbs
If you don’t need the big tent that comes with the Napier Family SUV tent we mentioned above, you might like this awning with a bug screen.
This Napier Sportz Cove tent is perfect for sleeping in the back of your SUV camper with the back hatch open. That way, you’ll get amazing airflow and protection from bugs without feeling like you’re trapped inside a closed vehicle.
You can also enjoy this SUV camping tent as an awning. It provides 2′ of overhang for shade. Just plop your camping chairs down and enjoy sitting outside even during the hottest hours.
The Napier Sportz Cove tent also comes with a storm flap for privacy and protection from the elements during inclement weather.
Weight: 1 lbs
If you want to easily create an SUV camper, you may want to look at this Roadie Overnight SUV tent.
This is a very simple concept that works to give you cross ventilation when camping inside your SUV.
All you do is stretch this tent around the perimeter using the built-in elastic band (no tools required). Your SUV tent will be set up within minutes, creating a safe, ventilated, and bug-free space for camping.
The Roadie SUV camping tent is a universal fit for SUVs like the 4Runner, Caravan, CR-V, Element, Escape, Expedition, Forester, Highlander, Grand Cherokee, Outback, Pilot, Rav 4, Sequoia, Suburban, Tahoe, Town and Country, Wrangler, Xterras, etc.
The Best SUV For Camping
A lot of people who own SUVs probably don’t know how easily they can be turned into an SUV camper conversion. There are all sorts of roomy vehicles on the market that are perfect for sleeping and storing camping gear.
Here are our top picks for the best SUVs for camping:
- Honda CR-V
- Honda Element
- Kia Sportage or Soul
- Subaru Outback or Forrester
- Ford Explorer or Expedition
- Jeep Grand Cherokee
- GMC Acadia
- Nissan Rogue
- Toyota Highlander
- Toyota RAV4
- Toyota 4-Runner
Why an SUV camper?
There are many reasons to choose an SUV camper conversion over a campervan or other type of rig. Here are a few reasons we came up with!
If you’re going to be using your SUV campers in cities or neighborhoods, it’s a good idea to be ultra-stealth. Nobody will even think someone is sleeping in the back of an SUV, especially if you buy blackout curtains and don’t flash your phone around after dark.
Good for off-roading
There aren’t many picks for 4×4 or AWD campervans, but its easy to get this type of SUV.
Use your SUV camper to explore bumpy, dirt roads, sandy beaches, or snowy mountain passes.
They can also be a daily driver
An SUV camper is easy to park, drive and store, making it a major plus over other types of vehicles. Some campervans are too tall to fit in parking garages or even your own garage.
With an SUV camper conversion, you can easily remove camper components like a bed platform when not in use.
With so many used SUVs on the market, you’re bound to find an affordable vehicle to turn into a camper.
Unlike campervans, you can easily find a hybrid SUV to turn into a camper. This saves you a lot of money on gas, especially if you’re doing long road trips in your SUV.
Some hybrid SUVs for camper conversions at are the Toyota Highlander, Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, Suburu Crosstrek and Ford Explorer.
Conclusion on SUV camper conversions
If you already own an SUV, it may make more sense to turn your SUV into a camper rather than purchasing a new campervan.
You can build out an SUV camper conversion in a matter of days and it won’t break the bank. Some people even do SUV conversions for a few hundred dollars!
A DIY SUV conversion is one way to go, or you can purchase an SUV camper conversion kit if you’re not feeling handy.
The downside of SUV campers is they are not as big as a van, so there isn’t hang out space, headroom, or space for a kitchen or toilet.
OTHER STORIES YOU’LL LOVE:
- The best truck campers for off-roading
- 40+ ways to make money on the road
- The best small cargo vans to turn into campers
Want to find FREE camping?
Download my FREE boondocking starter guide right now:
Kristin Hanes is a journalist who founded The Wayward Home as a place to learn about alternative living. She currently lives on a sailboat and in a Chevy Astro van, and has written articles about alternative living published in Good Housekeeping, Business Insider, Marie Claire and SF Gate. Read more about Kristin here.