A Subaru Outback setup to take off anytime and live anywhere
In late 2019, inspired by #vanlife, I decided to travel indefinitely while living out of a Subaru Outback.
I’ve gotten several questions about my setup, so in this post, I’ll go over my setup as well as share some helpful resources.
Table of contents
The base vehicle for my setup is a 2020 Subaru Outback.
To power items such as cellphones, fans, lights, and even a small fridge, I have a dual battery system in my Subaru.
A dual battery system consists of hooking up a secondary battery to the car’s main battery, which allows the secondary battery to charge whenever you are driving. This secondary battery can then be used to power anything even when the car is not running.
With such a setup, you practically have infinite electricity as long as you drive a couple hours each week to keep the secondary battery charged.
I have the Goal Zero Yeti 1400 as the dual battery linked to the car’s main battery. To create this setup, you need the following accessories with the Yeti 1400:
- Yeti Link Expansion Module— This expansion module is a required add-on to connect the Yeti 1400 to the car’s main battery and provide isolation so that the Yeti 1400 doesn’t drain the main battery.
- Male EC8 to Ring Terminal Cable and EC8 12Ft Extension Cable— These cables connect the Yeti 1400 to the main battery.
Having a fridge that can run 24/7 in a car? Sounds pretty extra, right? You’re right. It’s probably not necessary to have a fridge, but it is super convenient.
I have the CF-18 Portable fridge by Dometic.
Reviews of the Dometic CF18:
- Van Kookz— Dometic CF-18 Fridge/Freezer Review
- The Vantasy Life— Van Life: Dometic CF 18 Fridge Review
Having a bed platform creates a flat surface for a mattress and also has the added benefit of extra storage beneath the bed. Resources I used to build my own bed platform:
- VanKookz— 2009 Subaru Camper Blueprints
- Jordanmaki— A Place to Call Home: Build Out for a Subaru Outback
- Erin Outdoors— Guest Post: How to Turn Your Subaru Outback Into a Camper
- Nick John— Subaru Outback LIVING CONVERSION
- Pair of Drifters— Car Camper Conversion Under 100 Dollars | Subaru Outback Tour
- LesGoes— Platform Bed for Subaru Forester/SUV
The mattress is a Zinus 5″ Memory Foam Mattress* (Quick shout out to Parked in Paradise, where I got the mattress recommendation from).
*Note that this is a full-size 53″ x 72″ mattress, which is a little too wide to fit into a Subaru Outback. The width was cut down by 10″ in order to fit into the car. You can do this by removing the mattress cover and cutting the foam underneath with a kitchen knife. The final mattress dimensions are 43″ x 72″.
Proper ventilation is important when spending extended time inside a car. Having the windows up when camping in any small vehicle leads to depletion of oxygen, build up of carbon monoxide, lots of condensation, and no air circulation. The solution? Rolling down the windows. 🙃 But, what about rain and bugs? I’m glad you asked…
To be able to roll down the windows when it’s raining or snowing, you can install window deflectors. Subaru makes sleek and straightforward to install OEM deflectors for Outbacks and other Subaru vehicles.
You can buy OEM deflectors online at better prices than at car dealers. I got my deflectors at Subaru Online Parts.
Check out this video for an example installation. Note that installation varies depending on the car’s model and year.
Now, what about bugs? One solution is to use window vents.
Primarily used in the world of car rallying, window vents are a way to allow for airflow while keeping windows rolled up and not having to use a car’s A/C system. These parts slide on top of your Subaru’s windows and have circular holes in them to allow for airflow. These holes can have mesh in them to act as a bug/dust screen while still allowing airflow.
The window vents I have are from Billetworkz and have foam mesh in them.
Window vents are a rather obscure item to find. If you don’t have a shop nearby that can make them, and can’t find them online for your specific Subaru, here are a couple alternative options…
- Use a one-size-fits-all sunshade like this.
- Make DIY window vents. It’s not as clean looking, but it’s better than having bugs in your car. Some resources:
Another crucial item for ventilation is having a fan. In most vanlife setups, a rooftop mounted fan is the way to go. But, that involves making a giant cutout on top of your car…not something I wanted to do. Thus, I ended up getting a portable fan. It is not as efficient as a rooftop fan, but it does the job.
The fan I have is the O2COOL 10-Inch Portable Smart Power® Fan.
You probably think there isn’t much space while living in a car. Well, you’re right. There isn’t much space at all. With the bed taking up most of the back, where do you keep any extra stuff? The answer: in a roof-mounted cargo box.
The cargo box I have is the Yakima Skybox 16.
A solar-powered lantern is useful to have to ensure you always have lighting when out in the wilderness.
The lantern I have is the Goal Zero Crush Light.
Having a supply of water is crucial for any long road trip. But, since I didn’t plan to be far away from civilization, I decided on a smaller tank to save on space.
The water tank I have is a 3.5 Gallon Water Tank by WaterBrick with a spigot for dispensing.
Note on safety: since this tank is kept on top of the mattress, one thing to keep in mind is that anything on top of the mattress can come flying up towards the windshield if not secured when braking. Thus, for safety, the tank is secured with a quickdraw to the car’s back seat latch catch.
One option to increase privacy is adding window tint.
If you happen to be in the SF Bay Area and need window tinting, I recommend this shop in San Mateo, CA. Ask for their ceramic tint for better thermal performance.
Even with window tint, there is not true privacy since light can still pass through. For true privacy, you can make yourself a DIY set of window covers…
Resources I used to create my window covers:
- Ethan Maurice— How to Make Beautiful Blackout Window Shades for a Camper Van
- Sara & Alex James— Custom Reflectix Window Coverings for Insulation & Privacy
I originally had a cooking setup, but I found that I never used it. Thus, I decided to remove it in favor of buying foods that don’t require cooking.
Besides the preceding items, here are some useful items to bring along for safety:
- Offline GPS— I have both my phone with offline maps downloaded and a dedicated GPS device with offline maps. Perhaps one day we will have absolute Wi-Fi coverage across the globe, but until then, better to keep offline options handy.
- Carbon monoxide monitor —I found that this monitor did pick up small traces of CO (from me breathing) when the windows are rolled up. This is why I highly suggest having window vents and always leaving the windows cracked even if the weather outside is freezing.
- Rain‑X De-Icer® Windshield Washer Fluid— Although warned by my coworker beforehand, I forgot to change out my wiper fluid before getting to Washington, D.C. and my lines froze overnight in January.
- A portable jump starter or at least jumper cables— I haven’t had to use these, but a good safety item to carry for any vehicle.
- Personal locator beacon— For the off chance that I wander into the wilderness. Having peace of mind knowing I can have help come my way in the most dire of circumstances is quite relieving.
Whew, that was a lot…
If you’re interested in trying out subielife yourself, I hope you now have all the info you need to get started. As always, if you would like to know more about anything, please feel free to send me a message anytime.