After many years of spending my weekends at racetracks, whether doing media or racing, I began to long for the main reason that I moved to the bold and the beautiful state of Montana– nature. After taking almost an entire year off from automotive duties to go camping and exploring, I realized that the racetrack life just wasn’t for me anymore. I feel like I have accomplished more already than I had ever dreamed of and it was time to tackle the next phase of life. That is why I decided to turn my Subaru Racecar into a Subaru Camper. Example A, above, may not look like the ideal platform, being that it’s so low to the ground– but fear not, the coilovers are going to be replaced by Subaru Forester struts and springs to give my 1999 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport a healthy lift that will be about 2-inches over the stock height (and much higher than it currently is). Plenty of room to get me to the places that I want to explore.
The wagon is also rear wheel drive currently, but all wheel drive will be functional again by the time that winter hits.
Building a Bed and Storage in Your Subaru Camper
Once I got the notion to create a Subaru Camper that would allow me to take off at the last minute with minimal preparation, as well as to be able to road-trip and sleep nearly anywhere– I headed to Lowe’s to snag a sturdy wood panel to create my base. At nearly 3/4 of an inch, I found the Fir plywood panel to be plenty rigid and very affordable. I also snagged a couple hinges while I was there– but more on that in a bit.
The most important thing to remember is to measure 3+ times before cutting. I set my seat to the position that I am comfortable driving in, then I measured from the back of the seat to where the hatch begins, and I also measured from the widest parts of the strut towers.
*Remember to wear goggles– safety first as wood chips are flying.
I have all of the plastic panels removed, which gained me a little bit more room length-wise and width-wise. I also took that overall length and then cut my board roughly 3 inches shorter. This assured that the wood wouldn’t be pressing against the back of my seats and potentially tear through after prolonged use. It also gave me some leeway towards the hatch for the storage door (more on that in a moment, as well).
I am 5′ 11″ and I cut the platform to roughly 5′ 6.5″. This allows me to lay completely out if my legs are spread, or I can comfortable lay on my side in a “S” shape. It’s okay to cut the board wider and longer the first round. It’s easy to remove more, but you can’t add wood easily after you chop it off.
I layed 2″x4″s down on each side of the spare wheel well to assure that the bed platform would lay flat. If these weren’t in place the board wouldn’t have laid flat, as the hump where the fuel pump compartment is in the center portion of the car sticks above the rest of the rear floor.
I also eliminated these pesky little interior trim mounts that were hindering the bed platform from laying down flat. All it required was a flathead screwdriver and a hammer to pound out the welds. I utilized it as a wedge to pry the mount away. You can see the screwdriver wedged in there in the bottom left photo. The overall width of my bed platform is roughly 39 inches.
I wanted to be able to access my spare tire compartment so I could utilize it as storage or my spare tire if it isn’t in a basket on top of my car. That meant to create a door within the bed platform. All this required was measuring from the back of the hatch area to just passed where the spare tire compartment ended. I then drilled in the latches to the board before I cut it. I had to remove them to cut, but by pre-drilling the holes it made it much more easy to connect the two pieces perfectly after I cut it.
The next step came with stabilizing the front of the bed platform in my Subaru camper. The rear area has plenty of flooring to stabilize it, but with the rear seats removed the front section is just floating in the air. I measured from the floor of the car to the bottom of the plywood. I then cut 2″x4″s and attached them to the platform using two 3″ screws in each. This proved to add a mass amount of support. By removing my rear seat, it opened up a respectable sized area to utilize for storage that can be accessed via the rear doors or by scooting the front seats forward all the way.
To further aid with storage, I decided to run a net storage system in my Subaru Camper. I connected a basket-style net to each door area. One side wraps around a strut bolt, and the other around the knob that you use to adjust your seatbelt height. Depending on the style of net that you go with, mounting points can vary. These are genuine Subaru nets that came with my parents’ 2015 Subaru Outback. The top net is the flat type that you would typically attach to a roof basket. It had hooks on it that I was able to connect to many holes around the skeleton portion of the roofing (perk of having a completely stripped interior), as well as utilizing hooks that are connected to magnets that just stuck to my roof. I snagged 8 of them from Harbor Freight for crazy cheap and each can hold 4.75 lbs. I plan on utilizing the top net to hold lighter items, such as my jacket at night– while the side nets can hold my books, phone, wallet, knife, bear spray, gun, drawing pad, camera, ect… you know, the essentials.
The final step was to install the mattress. There are many options here, from custom sized foam strips to just a sleeping mat. I found that a twin size mattress is just slightly too long to fit properly, so I went with a full-size memory foam mattress topper. I know a full size futon mattress will also fit. However, the main selling point of a memory foam topper is that it easily conforms. The side portions wrap around the strut towers to keep you from laying against bare metal, and the back part fills in all of the side gaps to allow for more foot room. Towards the section by the seats, excess foam will fill in any gaps– especially if you move your seats all the way forward to sleep to maximize space. It is also flexible enough to allow you to open up the storage door over the rear wheel compartment. I put it in expecting to have to trim it, but it fit better than I had ever imagined.
Now that your bed platform is created and you have established some storage areas– you can lay down and relish in what you have just created.
Think of all of the places that you can now go in you Subaru Camper – whether it be deep into the woods or in a Walmart parking lot on a road trip. No more must you waste precious time setting up a tent. And, it’s surprisingly more spacious than expected.
This guide can be modified to make essentially any wagon or SUV into a camper. If you don’t want to strip out your interior, you can sacrifice some storage space– but not lose your rear seats. A full size futon mattress or memory foam mattress topper will fit just fine with the rear seats folded down. I used to have a futon mattress when I rocked a full interior.
This Subaru Camper project has been dubbed the Backwoods Outback. You will be able to follow it on adventures via the links below, as well as the tag #backwoodsoutback on Instagram.
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