Florida Man on the Run

Your Comprehensive Guide to Camping in a Subaru Forester Affordably

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The ability to go camping in a Subaru Forester was a big selling point when we decided to purchase one. We figured it would be super easy to simply load up the car and hit the road. We quickly found out it wasn’t quite that simple, but we could still go camping in a Subaru Forester affordably and comfortably with a bit of thought. There are a ton of different options available for your camping adventure. After some research, as well as trial and error, we nailed down our preferred approach. However, I want to put all the options on the table so you’ve got a chance to pick the best one for your next outing!

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Approaches to Camping in a Subaru Forester

As I mentioned at the outset, there are quite a few different options for Subaru Forester camping. Each option for camping in a Subaru Forester will have their own pros and cons when it comes to both cost and comfort levels. I’ll first look at each option from a logistical perspective (how you do it, ease of setup/break down, comfort level), then in the next section we will look at all three together from an affordability point of view. With all this in mind, I will go ahead and say that we usually stick with the first option: camping in the back.

Camping in the Back

Camping in a Subaru Forester can be taken very literally if you want. Which is what we did when first buying the car. I wanted to simply setup shop in the back to help minimize the amount of time it would take. Honestly, once you get the setup done on the first night, each night after is extremely simple.

Our main approach is by using a full size air mattress. We use an Intex 10″ Dura-Beam which will fully inflate without too much pressure from the wheel wells. It’ll also leave enough headroom for sleeping, but it is definitely a snug fit. There are companies which make air mattresses that fit perfectly, but they can be expensive. An alternative would be getting a thick foam pad, but personally, I opted against this because all our stuff sits on top all day and might deform it.

The setup for taking our subaru forester camping
An example of our air mattress in the back setup before a trip!

Once you’ve chosen your sleeping apparatus, the main logistics come down to where you put everything when sleeping. If you can pack light, it may be as simple as tossing it on the floor boards in the rear or front. We do not pack light, especially on big road trips. For us it means playing supply Tetris across the car each night, but this certainly isn’t something you’ll have to do.

The biggest draw back to camping directly in the back is air flow. While you’ll be free from the rain, it can still get steamy inside. Mesh window nets help with this since you’ll be able to roll down the windows. However, as we have still found, once it’s above 75° it’ll start to be uncomfortable. Depending on where you camp, this needs to be a big consideration.

Rooftop Camping

An extremely popular alternative to simply camping IN a Subaru Forester is to camp on TOP of your Subaru Forester. While this isn’t necessarily a new or novel approach for Subaru’s, the sheer amount of them I have seen while road tripping makes it stand out. Camping on the roof isn’t quite just pitching a tent or sleeping bag on the top to watch the stars. In reality, this approach involves something akin to a pop-up tent attached to the roof racks.

One of the big benefits of this style of camping is that it gives you more sleeping space, while still remaining compact. Setup or takedown in most cases is very quick, especially if you practice a few times before hitting the road. Another benefit compared to a traditional tent is that you’ll be off the ground. Less chance for bugs, critters, or water to seep into the tent. By camping on the roof, you’ll also keep the inside of your Subaru Forester free to put all the supplies you need without hassle.

You can easily go camping in a subaru forester with a rooftop tent
A Roofnest Sparrow Eye 2 Roof Top Tent is an excellent choice if you want to camp on top!

There are a couple of drawbacks though. If you aren’t tall enough to setup from the ground or have mobility issues which may prevent climbing a ladder to reach the sleeping area, then that pretty much tosses this option out the window. From an expense point of view, this is also by far the most expensive option. While it’s not hard to find equipment for rooftop camping in a Subaru Forester, figuring out what is right for your needs can be difficult at times with all the different options.

Pitching a Tent

This brings us to our final option: the traditional method. Well, it’s mostly the traditional method. When you’re out camping in your Subaru Forester, simply packing a tent in the back is the easiest and often preferred method for most. For those traveling as a family, it’s also the only way to accommodate more than two campers.

That being said, you actually have two options when it comes to tossing up a tent. The first is to take a hybrid approach. There are quite a few tents out there that are designed to hookup to the back of the car with the hatch open. This provides additional covered space which can be used in a variety of ways. For single or couples camping, it gives extra room to move while benefiting from the protection of the car. In the case of families, you essentially get two somewhat separate sleeping areas.

Alternatively, most Foresters are more than big enough to let you pack a tent of practically any size. We have taken our large Ozark Trail 12 person Instant Cabin Tent and thrown it in the back without issue (seats down of course). You’ll gain storage space and sleeping space with a tent. On the flip side, one thing you’ll lose is versatility in where you can setup. Most traditional campgrounds will be perfect. However, if you’re going off road it may be more difficult to find a good spot to pitch a tent, especially of the size we normally pack. No matter the case, it’s still hard to go wrong camping the old fashioned way.

How to Keep it Affordable

With all the possible options available, a key questions becomes affordability. Camping with a car like the Subaru Forester can be a great way to lower costs when traveling, especially if you include it as part of your planning for a road trip. Lodging is probably the #1 expense when traveling, which makes camping my #1 way to minimize that cost.

However, it is one thing to minimize your nightly costs and an entirely different thing to make it actually affordable in the long run. The truly cheapest way to do a car camping trip, is simply staying in the car itself. The only real upfront costs you’ll find with this approach is what you’re sleeping on and window nets. You truly don’t need anything fancy to make it work, which is the beautiful part of it all!

The traditional tent method is going to be the next most affordable. There are a million options to choose from with tents and a vast majority are affordable to the average camper. Honestly, the biggest cost difference between simply sleeping inside the car and a tent is the tent. You’ll still need to buy something to sleep on (or brave the ground conditions). I’m still a big fan of camping this way, and it’s a great way of taking your Subaru Forester camping.

The most expensive way is easily rooftop camping. While you could theoretically DIY some kind of crazy tent platform option (please don’t), you’ll almost certainly end up buying something appropriate. These setups easily start in the hundreds of dollars, with many going for a thousand dollars or more. If you’ve got the money and you like the benefits of rooftop camping, by all means do it. It looks super cool! However, it’s definitely not the most affordable option for camping in a Subaru Forester.

Other Considerations When Camping in a Subaru

Now that we’ve talked through some of the main logistical and budgetary concerns, there are a couple more items to consider. For me, each of these has a little less weight that our first two points but they are still important aspects to think about when camping in a Subaru Forester.

Perhaps the biggest one is weather. While rain can be a major consideration, it is also important to consider wind as well. Both rooftop and ground level tent camping can be difficult in windy conditions. Temperature is probably the biggest factor for sleeping inside the car itself. In each case, really consider what time of year you’ll be camping most and the option which might make you most comfortable. We do most of our camping in spring or fall, to help avoid Florida’s hot and rainy season. Taking our Subaru Forester camping in the chilly weather has been no issue at all either.

How long you’ll be in one spot will play a big role as well. If setting up shop for long periods in one spot is how you do it, you’ll likely want the extra space gained with a tent. You’ll simply have a bigger need for the space and more time to get setup and comfortable. We tend to do a lot of road trip camping, so it’s usually a single night per site (and many times getting in near dusk). This means I want an extremely quick setup that can maximize our time away from camp.

A quick setup means you can see a sunset like this and still have enough light to setup camp! Image courtesy of NPS.

You’ll also want to be mindful of the “style” of camping you enjoy most. “Glamping” is a totally valid way to go camping, but probably less conducive to sleeping in the back of a Subaru Forester. However, there are plenty of rooftop options that can still give a “glamping” experience while minimizing your need for space. As I mentioned before, you might be wanting to take your Subaru into the back country. A more rugged experience might necessitate sleeping in the car. Alternatively, you may simply want a tent to minimize the introduction of everything you collect while hiking into where you’re sleeping. Solo camping is way easier if all you’re doing is laying the seats down and tossing a foam mat in the back! So many different options, there simply isn’t a one-size fits all solution!

My Favorite Places to Take My Subaru Camping

No matter which way you choose to take your Subaru Forester camping, what will really matter is WHERE you take it camping. Obviously this will be heavily dependent on where you live, unless you’re like us and love long road trips.

Our favorite place to take our Subaru Forester, Linda, has been the Blue Ridge Parkway. Not only is this one of the best drives in America, but it’s got a ton of awesome camping spots. Combining camping in your car with the ease of getting on the road each day is right up our alley. Another great option for road tripping with awesome camping is the Pacific Coast Highway. Another major route with plenty of campgrounds, but also enough cities to give a chance to get away from the car for a night if you want.

A picture of our Subaru Forester that we took camping on the blue ridge parkway
We took, Linda, our trusty Subaru Forester camping just a couple months after buying her!

National parks are also fantastic destinations for camping in general. Most have full service camping facilities that make it easier for you to pack lighter. As an added bonus, if you’re out west it’s possible to string many of these parks into a single trip. Throw in some amazing state parks (which often are just as good) and it’s hard to argue against a trip like that.

Last, but certainly not least, we love taking the opportunity to do a trip to the springs or beach. For Floridians, this is a must do trip pretty much every year. These kind of trips get you close to the water and are perfect weekend getaways or day trips even. Camp one or two nights in the car, then head on home for the week! Can’t go wrong like that!

Getting Ready to Hit the Road

By this point I hope you’ve at least started to get an idea of how you’ll be camping in your Subaru Forester (or really any similar SUV at that). My biggest final piece of advice is to simply know what you want to get out of a trip. That will help inform each decision you make, especially since you can customize or tweak all the options I’ve discussed. Plus, it’s not like you have to stick with one option. Since most of these are pretty affordable, you can switch it up as needed.

There is a ton of joy to be had in having a car that is so very capable. We really love taking our car out for a trip and I’m sure you’ll be hitting the road soon too! If you want to read more about places we gone road tripping, check out my road trip tag. From the PCH to the Great River Road, there is plenty to explore once you get out there.

If you’ve got any questions at all, drop it in the comments below or send me a message on social media. You can find me on Instagram @Floridamanontherun for more pictures or Facebook to get more advice like this or keep track with my trips while they happen! If you loved this post, then pin it and check me out on Pinterest as well!

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2 Responses

    1. We use a full size mattress in the back. It’s a tight squeeze but I’ve yet to have any issues on the trips we’ve taken using it.

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