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Man Lives in Subaru Outback for 4 Years (Says He’s Thriving)

As much as Subaru owners love their vehicles, not many would attempt living in an Outback. On the smaller end of the Subaru offerings, the Outback doesn’t have nearly the headspace or capacity of larger off-road vehicles. 

And yet, where there’s a will, there’s a way. For the right person, an Outback isn’t just adequate; it’s perfect. Maybe just the right shift in perspective will help us see the possibilities. 

Today we’re exploring the tiny house that makes other tiny houses look like mansions. 

Let’s jump in!

Steve “Z” Ziegler Flourishes While Living in His Subaru Outback

Steve “Z” Ziegler considers himself a nomad. He lives full-time in his 2004 Subaru Outback so he can travel to his favorite adventure spots. YouTuber CheapRVliving spent some time with Z in July 2022 and gave us an inside look at Z and his setup. 

In the video, Z talks about growing up with a “go outside and explore” mentality, which he carries with him daily. He’s a long-distance hiker of the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail, among others, and a climber, so getting to trailheads is essential. 

Before his latest stint on the road, he preferred trucks, but circumstances changed, and he needed to rebuild.

Z loves to think about the space he has as an upgrade. Long-distance hikers and climbers know that a tent is bigger than a bivy sack and a vehicle is larger than a tent. With that in mind, Z considers his Outback a castle. 

He has everything he needs either in or towed behind his compact SUV. He’s even got a contingency plan for if the car craps out, a sled he can pull behind him with all the necessary things at his fingertips. 

He didn’t always plan to live in the back of the Outback. Behind the vehicle is a ten-foot trailer he planned to build into a teardrop. But instead, he found that everything he owns fits into four storage boxes. 

Putting his possessions into storage boxes gives Z all the space he needs inside the vehicle. And even with over 300,000 miles, Z’s car still gets over thirty miles to the gallon.

Close up of the Subaru Outback
No matter your age, you are never too old to hit the road and live affordably in your vehicle.

How Does Z Earn a Living From His Subaru Outback?

CheapRVliving points out one of the obvious facts about Z – that he’s not of retirement age. Although, for someone living in the back of an Outback, there aren’t a lot of regular bills. Back in 1998, Z began teaching kung-fu remotely through video. He’s brought his practice into the digital age through his website 

He provides some free videos and some that are only available to his Patreon subscribers. Z sees his kung-fu practice as complementary to his life on the road and a service he shares with other nomads. He believes that his martial arts training gives him situational awareness and the ability to defend himself, vital skills for a life on the road. 

Do Other People Live in Outbacks?

Plenty of other folks have made their Outbacks into livable spaces. Most aren’t living in them full-time like Z, but their setups allow for all kinds of travel luxuries in a tiny package. 

Outback owner Ethan converted his vehicle for shorter travel periods by adding a cot and some storage boxes. Essentially a crash pad, this conversion is an easy switch back to car mode when the trip is over. 

All he needs to do is pull out the cot and put the boxes up in storage, and he’s good to go. Not the most luxurious setup, but it gets Ethan to his music gatherings on the cheap. 

Outback owner Sean took her vehicle to Solid Wood Worx, a company specializing in buildouts. For her Subie, Sean wanted a few essentials and some luxuries. The guys at Solid Wood Worx gave her the must-haves, sleeping, cooking, storage, refrigeration, and power. 

However, Sean wanted a couple of bonuses that make her setup special. A spot to store and charge a laptop and a closet complete her buildout. 

A guest poster on Erin Outdoors, Nicole shares step-by-step instructions. In her post, she discusses how she and her boyfriend built out their bed and storage, and how much it cost. For their build, they constructed a bed box connected to a hinged platform that allows them to move seats around when they aren’t sleeping. 

Primarily for summer use, the information provided by Nicole is detailed enough that you can plan your conversion easily. 

Pro Tip: Want to use your Subaru to tow your RV? We took a closer look at Can the Subaru Outback Tow a Camper Trailer?

Subaru Outback parked at campsite at night
A Subaru Outback is a comfortable car camping option.

How Can You Sleep Comfortably In a Subaru Outback?

So, we’ve convinced you to give Outback camping or even living in one a try. You may be ready to break out the plywood and saw but before you take the plunge, read on. Here we have some tips and tricks to help with the transition. 

Air Mattress

All the convenience in the world won’t do you much good if you aren’t comfortable. Because of the relatively low head clearance, you’ll want to ensure that your air mattress isn’t too tall. For width, measure your Outback from wheel well to wheel well for the narrowest space. 

Most are around 42” wide, which will accommodate many models of air mattresses. There are even a few companies that manufacture air mattresses specifically for car camping, like Luno, so check them out!

Foam Pad

You could go the budget route if you don’t want to blow $300+ on a car-specific air mattress. Some campers use foam intended for seat cushions as their sleeping surface. For around $80, you can get a piece of foam big enough to fill the cargo area of your Outback. 

The foam is comfortable and will supply decent insulation from the elements. This might be a good option if you plan to leave your Outback in camping mode. 


If the weather allows, tent camping is an option as well. And if your budget is big enough, you can even put a rooftop tent on your Outback. This is an excellent option because it gets you up off the ground level and away from critters and unwanted guests. 

But if a rooftop tent isn’t in your budget, some tents will connect to the back of your car. An affordable option, these tents give you access to your vehicle’s interior plus outdoor space. You can, of course, just go with a traditional tent if that’s your jam. 

Couple holding hands in front of Subaru Outback at sunset
Hop into your Subaru Outback and hit the road for an epic adventure.

More Tips for Living in an Outback

You’ve got your sleeping situation sorted out and are ready to take things to the next level. These tips set you up for success before you even hit the road. 

Organize Your Storage

Plan your storage ahead of time to ensure you have enough space for the essentials and don’t leave anything behind. Several manufacturers make modular boxes that are perfect for storing gear and toiletries. 

As you start packing, make sure you take time to explore all the storage spaces in your vehicle. Most Outbacks have extra storage space around the spare tire. You’ll also find under-seat storage and little nooks and crannies for that random piece of gear.

Set Up Solar

When you head out into the wilderness, access to power can mean the difference between having your cake and eating it too. Manufacturers have kept up with the growing car-camping market. You can find everything from permanent systems that bolt to your roof to simple panels that deploy when you get to your campsite. 

Make sure you figure out what kind of power you’ll need before investing in a system. The best setup can support charging ports, a small refrigerator, and lighting systems. 

Block Your Windows (and Crack Them)

This is an important tip. Make some inserts to block your windows to provide a more secure sleeping area. If people can’t see in, they’re less likely to cause problems for you in your vehicle. Blocking your windows isn’t just about privacy, though. Using a reflective material also keeps your car cooler. 

Whether you’re out in the wilderness or parked on the side of the road, keeping your windows cracked at night for air circulation is also a good idea. There are lots of systems with mosquito netting that offer secure, bug-free sleeping. 

Grab Some Shade

While the hatchback on most Subarus provides enough shade for shorter folks, you may want other options. Several manufacturers have awnings for car camping that will give you more protection. Thule, Roam, and CVT all have great options. Of course, you can always DIY it with a tarp and some cord if you’re on a budget. 

Pro Tip: Subaru not for you? Try out one of these 10 Best SUVs Under $35K.

Mods Can Help You Thrive While Living in a Subaru Outback

When you already love your vehicle, camping or even living in it can be the next step. It’s easy to transform your Outback into a mobile home through simple modifications and hacks. 

Or, if you’re like Z, you can make the transition and live in your Outback full-time. It’s not for everyone, to be sure. But for some, the tradeoff is worth it. Get busy exploring!

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