Alex Gauthier, Subaru Adventure Team

I would love nothing more than to fix up my 84 Westy and hit the road at least part time, however like many out there, I have responsibilities that keep me tethered to my sweet Colorado town which has ample climbing, skiing and other adventures close at hand. Honestly, though the van lifestyle is much celebrated in social media and blogs these days, for most of us it doesn’t really make a lot of sense and it certainly isn’t quite as glamorous as you may think. The car you already have can work great if van life isn’t for you with just a few adjustments to your camping system.

Enter the trusty Subaru. Subaru may as well be the official car of Colorado and a few other states. Heck, some of us even sleep in them at trail heads or on road trips. As practical as it is for its intended purpose it can definitely fall short when it comes to cargo space and creature comfort for multi-day camping excursions when compared to the cathedral-like spaces of a van. Here are some ways to upgrade your #subielife to find a balance between full-on van life and sensible subie life.


The Car Cocoon

In a pinch, you and another person can just rack out in the car. Many people do this with good results. There are various configurations that will work for you but for best results consider adding a rooftop cargo carrier to your Subaru. You may spend a little extra time re-arranging gear to make room for sleeping bodies.


Simple. You pitch a tent on the ground. Just pack your favorite car camping tent and do your cooking out of the hatch back. You’ll spend some extra time setting up and breaking down for bed but if you’re staying put a couple days it’s not that much trouble. Consider ditching a tent entirely and just sleep in the open. If you think about it, there’s not many downsides unless it’s buggy or wet out. 

Roof Top

Sure you can drag that huge car-camping tent of the hatchback each trip. Maybe that’s your thing. It isn’t mine. Setting up a roof-top tent is  If it isn’t dry when you need to break camp, no worries just fold it up on it’s roof platform and take off for your next destination without dragging mud and pine needles into your Subie. A nice bonus is that most rooftop tents have fairly plush foam to sleep on which eliminates the need for inflatable mattresses. Many people report feeling better sleeping elevated above the ground as well. At Heuberger Subaru in Colorado Springs, you can even build a Tepui tent into your car deal.


There is a ton of flexibility here. Many times, I opt for no or low-cook camping situations opting to have my fancy meals in restaurants along the road. Most of my friends find this approach to be unacceptable. If you also find this unacceptable you have a wide range of options. Probably, you have some totes you shove all your dishes, stoves, food and cleaning supplies in and while this works just fine, there are better ways to take care of your nourishment needs.

Cold Bevies are Gold

The venerable cooler has just as much place in our camping arrangements today as it ever has. If you decide to upgrade your cooking arrangement, it’s likely keeping stuff cold will become even more important. When it comes to coolers, you have a wide variety of options at all different price points so defiantly do some research and don’t just head down to the discount store for whatever is cheapest. Look for sturdy construction, and thick walls with lids that lock securely so as not be opened by camp robbers or rough roads. Go with block ice, instead of cubes to extend the time between ice replenishment. Don’t forget to utilize sealed containers or wire racks to keep your bread and other goodies out of the ice melt in the bottom the cooler.

If you start shopping for a higher-end cooler you owe it to yourself to have a look at battery powered fridges as well since the prices start to be equivalent at some point.. There are tons of options on the market now that can be powered off your car battery or a small solar system but do be mindful that you’ll drain your car battery if you depend on it alone for too long.

Fast and Light

If you’re a Grounder, simply bringing a little gas stove to boil water for coffee, oatmeal and freeze-dried meals may just do the trick. This is a quick way to add important comfort to your hasty car-camping but may not work for longer trips with multiple people. You can find some amazingly tiny tables that will leave room in your car for other gear.  To be safe, don’t cook in your car or on a non-metal table without something heat-proof under the stove and plenty of ventilation. Pay special attention to the heat proof part. I had an incident once…

Going Heavy

If eating well is important for you while camping out of your car then you’ll want to look at a bigger propane stove and some cookware to support your culinary efforts. You’ll also need to deal with doing dishes. You could simply bring a folding table to set your kitchen up on but there are also some amazing all-in-one solutions that fit in the cargo area and are self-contained kitchens. Check out Trail Kitchens, and similar turn-key options online. If something like that isn’t in the budget, consider making yourself a DIY Chuck Box out of plywood. There are tons of ideas for these online and this way you can design something specifically for the way you like to organize your kitchen and the cooking gear you already own.

These are just a few tips to help curb your temptation to go down the van life rabbit hole but you can learn more over at the Subaru Adventure Team website.