Subaru Forester “Dirtbag” Camper Set-up

When I bought my car I was actually looking for an Outback, but once I test drove a Forester and realized the huge difference in height, I immediately changed my mind, purchased my car, and started day dreaming of an amazing little “dirtbag” car camping set-up for the back of it.

Last year, after two iterations and a whole lot of really creative thinking and re-purposing, we finally began to really dial it in! As we took our set-up with us to various locations, we would get asked a lot just how we did it and so I wanted to piece together a quick blog and gallery of how our set-up works!


We kind of have to start from the beginning here… My husband and I spent many hours drawing and re-drawing plans for how we wanted to do this and our first version seemed really great! Storage underneath, a nice flat sleeping surface, easy to assemble and disassemble. There was just one major design flaw; we were WAY too close to the ceiling and it made sleeping and exiting the set-up a little awkward.

The second time around, I drew no plans and started taking our old set-up apart, piece by piece, and re-measuring and cutting our old pieces to fit this new idea I had stewing in my head.

The end product is a 2 piece platform that links into itself and is then bolted together.


The set-up is really comfy, provides a little storage underneath, and we use a couple different pieces to insulate or ventilate and create privacy while we are inside!


Want to build your own? Here are some suggested materials and steps to take!


  • 1 – 1/4″ plywood sheet (we had Home Depot cut into the sectional sizes we need to make it easier to transport and then it was just cutting off an inch or two as needed.)
  • 2 – 2/4s, also cut into more manageable sizes.
  • Rotary sander and sheets
  • Circular Saw
  • Drill
  • 2 – Bolts with wing nuts and washers.
  • Foam mattress (we got our’s from Ikea and then cut to size.)img_5762_34420144125_o
  • A cheap sunshade and some suction cups, cut to the size of your two most rear windows for insulation and privacy!img_5708_34420157795_o
  • Slip over window shades, for your second to back side windows. These netted ones found on Amazon were a great find, during the drier camping, we can roll the windows all the way down and get great ventilation!
  • A sunshade for the front window.img_5713_34260885942_o.jpg
  • Curtains for the back or front, if you want.
  •  Optional:
    • An old tent for the summer back cover, easy in and out and added ventilation!13767245_10153879818707879_7044651002449407281_o
    • We got a little netted canopy by Coleman and a fold up camp table to make a little kitchen area at the end of the car.
    • The Thermarest 1/2 sleep pad makes the perfect insulation on colder nights for your feet!img_5707_34289316731_o


  1. Plan, measure and then measure again! You can never be too certain about your lengths and for the legs it is crucial to get them the right height.
  2. Take your two sections of plywood and cut right down the middle. (Unless you had home depot do so for you!)
  3. Cut out the diagonal cut that will go past the edges of your seats.
  4. Sand and round the edges to get the fit you need and finish this portion off.
  5. Remove your mats from the back, lay the plywood so it rests just on top of your center console and measure for 2 legs, one each just to the right or left of the center console and one right up against the seats in the middle.
  6. Use the remaining 2×4 pieces to create the under support system, pictured above. I found that one long “beam” supported but beams on the “edge” and the ability to lock the center one into an external one of the opposite side was perfect!
  7. Screw it all together, drill holes for you center locking point and beam locking point.
  8. Sand it down and you’re good to go!


A few things to note about this set-up:

  1. The mattress will likely get popped up on the sides where the wheel wells are, but we find that doesn’t cause us any issues and we still have ample room to sleep both humans and dogs.
  2. The platform does rest on top of the center console and you have to pull the sliding portion forward to open, which I actually kind of like.
  3. My husband and are both on the shorter side, so this set-up may not work for all and is a little dependent on where you need your seat pushed back to while driving.
  4. Making the whole thing a little more robust the legs removable for storage is the next little project.

Feel free to message me for more specifics!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jenna Mae says:

    do you think this would work in older foresters??


    1. thehollyllamawp says:

      Hi Jenna,
      I think that elements of this could absolutely work in an older forester, but you might have to do some tweeks to get it customized to what works for you! I posted this mostly to help others generate ideas for their own set-up and wanted to show it is possible. When we went to start out project we tried to find other blogs or people who used subarus and could only find other SUV’s. I hope this can inspire others the way I was inspired by folks to do it in the first place!


  2. Mercae says:

    This is really cool! I have to share with my boyfriend! But why is it called “dirt bag”?


    1. thehollyllamawp says:

      Hello Mercae,
      The term “dirtbag” is coined from climbing culture and often is used to refer to folks who sleep in their vehicles just to be close to climbing routes and trailheads, much like I do with this set-up. 🙂


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