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Is Subaru Forester Or Outback Best For Camping? There’s A Clear Winner

Which Subaru model is the best for camping, the 2021 Forester compact SUV or Outback midsize wagon/SUV? We think there is a clear winner.


June is National Camping Month, and with summer fast approaching, many outdoor enthusiasts will use their SUVs to get away. Kelly Blue Book (KBB) just came out with the best trucks, cars, and SUVs for camping in 2021. Two Subaru models are on the list, the trail-ready 2021 Subaru Outback, and the 2014-2018 Forester. But what about the hot-selling 2021 Subaru Forester?

Is the Forester or Outback best for camping?

All 2021 Forester and Outback trims come standard with Subaru's Symmetrical all-wheel-drive, 8.7-inches of ground clearance, and both offer a "dual-function" version of X-Mode that can be driver-selected to different terrains for off-pavement adventures. So it's a tie for off-road ability.

2021 Subaru Forester, 2021 Subaru Outback

How big is the 2021 Subaru Outback and Forester?

The Subaru Outback is almost two inches wider and eight inches longer, while Forester is two inches taller. Both have excellent outward visibility, with Forester being the best with oversized greenhouse windows. The Outback has 32.5 cubic feet of cargo-carrying ability with the seats up; Forester has 35.4 cubes. Outback offers 75.7 cubic feet; Forester has a bit more with 76.1 cubic feet, with the seats folded flat.

Outback has slightly more space for people with 109 cubic feet and Forester 107.8 cubes. Rear legroom is very similar, with Outback scoring 39.5 inches and Forester 39.4 inches of rear legroom. We give Forester a nod for its extra room for camping gear and headroom if you sleep inside.

2021 Subaru Forester, 2021 Subaru Outback

What is the difference in engine power?

Standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engines in both cars produce 182 horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque and run on regular unleaded gasoline. Both come with a Lineartronic CVT automatic (Continually Variable Transmission). Both get an EPA estimated 26/33 city/highway mpg.

Outback comes with an optional 2.4-liter turbocharged engine producing 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. It gets an estimated 23/30 city/highway mpg. If you need more power to carry extra cargo and passengers up a high mountain pass, the Outback XT turbo is the better choice for you.

But you pay an extra $6,000-$8,000 more for the Outback XT trim over a Forester Premium or Sport trim. We give the advantage to Forester for its affordability.

What if I want to tow a small trailer or camper?

If you need to tow a small trailer Outback has 2700 lbs of towing capacity with the standard 2.5-liter engine and 3,500 lbs with the optional 2.4-liter turbocharged engine. Forester has a maximum towing capacity of 1,500 lbs—advantage Outback.

What is the price of the 2021 Subaru Forester?

The 2021 Forester comes in five trim levels, and the base trim has an MSRP of $25,845, Premium ($28,845), Sport ($30,445), Limited ($32,445), and Touring ($35,945). Pricing includes $1,050 destination.

What is the price of the 2021 Subaru Outback?

The 2021 Outback comes in seven trim levels, base $27,845, Premium ($30,095), Limited ($34,645), Onyx Edition XT ($36,195), Limited XT ($38,545), Touring ($39,045), and Touring XT ($40,995). Pricing includes $1,050 destination.

We give the nod to the 2021 Subaru Forester over the 2021 Subaru Outback for the best camping vehicle for three reasons. The Forester offers more cargo-carrying ability, the Forester is affordable, and if you sleep inside, you'll want the extra headroom. We think there is a clear winner.

That will change when the all-new 2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness arrives this summer. Check out why in the Torque News report below.

You Might Also Like: The Rugged Subaru Outback Wilderness Is The Brand’s New Halo SUV And More Is Coming

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. Check out Subaru Report where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Subaru Report - We’ve got you covered! Check back tomorrow for more unique, informative SUBARU news, reviews, and previews you can trust.

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Photo credit: Subaru


Tim Sharp (not verified)    June 3, 2021 - 5:54PM

I think you left an important distinction in which the Outback would be better.. For one our two people sleeping in the back with seats flat, the extra length and width would be needed'

JEREMY Shawn MOORE (not verified)    June 4, 2021 - 11:30AM

In reply to by Tim Sharp (not verified)

A lot of people can sleep in the new Foresters. I have an 06 that I turned into a permanent camper. The front seats have to go up all the way for me to fit at 6'1" but that's not true of the new ones

Hayat Subaru (not verified)    June 3, 2021 - 8:26PM

I really want a subaru car, but I don't have enough funds to buy it yet.
It I have one I will show it with a licence plate :
H.4.YAT. so according to my name...
Thanks. Hayat Subaru in Indonesia.

Joe (not verified)    June 3, 2021 - 9:34PM

They are extremely similar cars. The bed in the forester is not long enough for anyone 6 feet or taller. Honestly they are far too alike. Choose the one that suits your lifestyle.

Tommy G (not verified)    June 3, 2021 - 11:52PM

The author has one thing completely wrong. For sleeping' the Outback is the clear winner. With the back seat folded down, two people - both over six feet in height - can sleep fully stretched out in the cargo area of the Outback.
Additionally, l think the Outback's longer, but less tall cargo area, is usually (not always) more useful. They may have almost the same volume (c.f.) of space, but the Outback has more cargo floor area (s.f.).
Of course, there are lots of goof reasons to pick the Forester for camping in scenic, rugged areas. Bigger windows provide views that cannot be beat, and a shorter wheel base can work better in tight spaces and where the ground is particularly uneven.

ben (not verified)    June 4, 2021 - 1:59AM

What a joke review.
Everyone knows the Outback is better for sleeping because of the greater length with the seats folded. The reviewer didn't even try!

Ray (not verified)    June 5, 2021 - 6:21AM

In reply to by ben (not verified)

ben - I have to agree. It doesn't sound like the reviewer has actually tried to camp with both - an armchair review. I have 2015 Outback. My brother-in-law 2014 Forester. Yes there's more height and ceiling view on Forester, but not as usable for sleeping in. On bumpy terrain, the Forrester's taller CG really has it swaying/rocking back and forth (wanting to flip), while Outback is more planted/balanced over off-road. Outback is much better/comfy long-distance/HWY cruiser. But both (in particular the Forester) after 2010 have issues with gasket leaks (result of too much cylinder over-boring to get displacement/power without proper re-engineering block-head surface area to maintain sufficient head gasket area. Increase in bore without proper re-engineering has also resulted in more engine pinging (further stressing head-gasket and engine heat). Personally I would not opt for Turbo Subaru unless Subaru redesigns it's engine block-head combustion to beef up/fix long standing head-gasket/pinging-knocking issues (both caused by marketing driven quick-fix engine displacement increases). For us post 2012 Outback/Forester owners, suggest use of 91-94 octane on long trips and don't push the motor too hard (rev it out, don't lug). Love the Outback - what an engineering marvel! What balance and smoothness at speeds! Gets over 30mpg on highway. (When towing, though, of course MPG drops a lot). Overall - Outback is a beauty.

Wayne Petranek (not verified)    November 20, 2021 - 6:44PM

In reply to by ben (not verified)

I disagree. I specifically bought my 2019 Forester over the Outback because it was long enough for me to stretch out ( I am 6'4" ) and I value having more head room from the sleeping position, for sitting up to change clothes, maneuver around ect.

Mr A (not verified)    June 4, 2021 - 11:25AM

I have a 2018 Forester 2.5 and a 2017 outback 3.6.. have had many foresters and outbacks over the years ..hands down winner is the outback, I'm 5'9" and cannot sleep in the back if the Forrester, it is not long enough, also the longer wheel base on the outback is so much nicer for longer trips, tracks better on the highway and for overland commutes it is more stable. Especially when they both have a 2" lift it's even more noticeable ..outback for the win

Sarafina (not verified)    June 4, 2021 - 12:59PM

No. You cannot fit a full length mattress in the back of a Forester. So, I guess Denis likes to sleep with his legs curled up.
I do not. You can fit a twin air mattress perfectly in the back of an Outback. Even the older models.

Marc Krizack (not verified)    June 4, 2021 - 2:55PM

I chose the Outback over the Forester because the Outback is longer and therefore taller people can sleep in it more comfortably than they can in the Forester. That's a big deal.