Easy Way to Convert Your Outback's Backseat into a Bed
The Outback is the ultimate car-camping experience. Not only is the back wide enough for two people and a medium-sized dog to sleep in, but it is also long enough for a 6’7” person to comfortably fit in the back. The seats lay down flush with the cargo area so that you’re not tilted and the wheel wells don’t encroach on your room too much. There is also an incredibly convenient area underneath the cargo area to store things like an extra set of clothes, toiletries, first aid kit, and towels. This was a bonus feature that we hadn’t been looking for but that has made such a huge difference for us convenience wise.
Now for our setup. We started by measuring the back seat area with the seats lying flat, and then picked a mattress size that would be a bit bigger than that. We headed to Wal-Mart on a quest for a full-sized mattress topper that was 3-4” thick. I was feeling pretty cheap at the moment, so we went with two 1.25”-foam toppers that cost $10 each. If you are willing to spend more, I’d recommend going with one 4” mattress that is memory foam ($75-$130). We’re going to add a third thin mattress and call it good for now.
Using sharp sewing scissors, we cut one of the mats to fit inside the car, making sure to cut around the wheel well and the cracks where the seatbelts feed through. Then we laid the cut-out mattress on top of the second one and used it as a pattern so they’d be exactly the same shape and size.
Placing the mats back in, we took a fitted sheet and tucked it in around the edges. Since we have a dog that travels everywhere with us, we purchased a dog mat that is made for the Outback and similar vehicles and covers every inch of the seat. We lay this over our fitted sheet while we’re driving around and then remove it and replace it with our bedding when it’s time to sleep.
During cold months, the bedding is extremely important. Here’s what we used to make it through snowy nights in Salt Lake City where the weather was 0° Fahrenheit (-18° C): two fleece blankets from Target and a down comforter from Amazon. This cost us around $80 total and we had no issues with being cold on our entire trip. The key is to put a sheet and one fleece under you and then the other fleece on top of you with the down blanket insulating that. It’s a snuggly heaven and we’ve taken to using the same method at home to save on using a heater.
We typically just use our down jackets wadded up as pillows, but bringing your favorite pillow from home would add to the comfort level. Keep a headlamp or flashlight in the nearest pocket so that you don’t use the car’s interior lighting and risk killing your battery. It is also a good idea to keep a small roll of toilet paper in this same area so that you don’t have to lift up the cargo area in the middle of the night if you have to use the restroom outdoors.
We’re both readers, so we tend to just curl up with a book before bed and both use electronic devices to read. If you can’t live without your favorite shows, buy an adapter that allows you to plug your laptop into your car via the cigarette lighter. This way you can keep your laptop charged during the day and then have plenty of battery for a movie or a couple of shows at night.
We have considered building the box frame in the back to give us more in-car storage, but ultimately, we don’t want to give up the feeling of head space. The under the cargo area storage has allowed us to store almost all of our necessities in a tucked away area, and we usually just toss our backpacks into the front seat at bedtime. If you have exterior storage, like a roof rack or hitch rack, then you shouldn’t have to worry about this. The negative side of storing your backpacks in the front seat while you sleep is that it might get you caught if you’re sleeping somewhere that doesn’t allow it. We attempted to sleep just inside of the Grand Canyon in a parking lot with a lot of cars in it but were booted out at 3 AM because they noticed our suspicious bags in the front seat and had a closer look in the back where we were sleeping. At 4° F (-16 C), that was a cold wake-up call.
If you have any question on how to set up your car as a sleeper, comment below. Or feel free to give us additional ideas if you think we could improve on anything, we’re always looking to make it cozier and more convenient. In the meantime, we'll be waking up in places like these: