To some, a car is just a car—a means to get from point A to point B, nothing more. But for car campers, truck campers, and vanlifers, a vehicle is so much more. It’s a public lands exploration station, a mobile gear garage, a cabin on wheels. As cliché as it may be, when you’re car camping, your vehicle is home. And while we’re firm believers that the best car camping vehicle is the one that’s already in your driveway, some rigs are better suited to life on the road than others. As such, below you’ll find our picks for the best SUVs, trucks, and vans for car camping in 2023. Whether you’re in the market for a new camp-worthy rig or daydreaming about an upgrade, read on and enjoy.
The Best SUVs for Car Camping
Base Price: Starting at $28,395
Typical List Price for a 2008 Subaru Outback According to Kelley Blue Book: $5,926
Drool-worthy Upgrades: Peep the Outback Wilderness, starting at $38,445. MPG is much lower than the base Outback at 21/26, but it sports a turbo-charged engine, raised suspension, adventure-ready upholstery, fixed roof rails, and burlier bumpers with fixed tow points.
Fun fact: The seeds for Luno were planted when our founder camped on a flimsy backpacking pad in the back of his Subaru on a weekend snowboard trip to Mammoth. After a couple of sleepless nights, he realized that there had to be a better way to car camp and immediately started sketching up the first Luno Air Mattress.
While you can debate whether the Subaru Outback is a crossover or an SUV (or whether it’s for cool dudes or old ladies), you can’t deny that it’s built for a life of adventure. Thanks to a spacious, comfortable, and family-friendly interior and a capable base package, this affordable AWD machine continues to be a go-to for campers of all creeds.
First and foremost, we’re big fans of this Subie’s backseat–it lies perfectly flat, making it an ideal platform for our ultra-comfy Luno Air Mattress. Speaking of snoozing, you can’t sleep on the Outback’s proven durability and safety ratings. New Outbacks are safer than ever, too, as they come with Eyesight Driver Assist Technology, an active safety system Subaru calls “an extra set of eyes on the road and, if need be, an extra foot on the brake.”
We’ve also got to give the Outback props on its 8.7 inches of ground clearance. The base Outback isn’t ready for full-on off-roading, but it can handle some surprisingly bumpy backroads. Also of note: fog lights that blaze through coastal haze, responsive LED headlights that swivel as you steer for better sightlines on windy roads, a state-of-the-art multimedia system, and raised roof rails that’ll have gear-toting car campers raising the roof.
Base Price: $39,555
Typical List Price for a 2008 Toyota 4Runner According to Kelley Blue Book: $12,172
Drool-worthy upgrades: Check out the easy-to-love TRD Pro at a hard-to-swallow base price of $54,020. Your extra $15K gets you matte-black TRD alloy wheels, a rock-ready skid plate, FOX suspension, and more.
Fun fact: The first 4Runner hit dirt roads in 1984. Toyota’s celebrating the 4Runner’s 40th birthday with an anniversary edition that sports a throwback tri-colored stripe and bronze wheels. Sexy is an understatement.
The 4Runner’s pricetag might be hard to swallow, but at least the resale value is through the roof. A reliable, rugged, off-road-ready SUV of the highest caliber, this Toyota has been a dream car for outdoor enthusiasts for decades, and the 2023 edition is no exception to the rule.
The latest 4Runner comes equipped with all the techy bells and whistles we expect these days: a smart key and push button start, driver-assist technology, a primo media system, etc. But the real drool-inducing aspects of this modern marvel remain the tried-and-true 4.0-liter V6 engine, optional 4x4 drivetrain, and clearance that can take on ridiculously rocky terrain. Optional add-ons only enhance this beast’s off-road capacity, like an electronic locking rear differential, a gas- and brake-managing “Crawl Control” setting that helps the driver focus on steering in gnarly terrain, obstacle-scoping cameras on the sides of the body, and more.
All told, the 4Runner is an exceptional choice for car campers and off-roaders looking for a vehicle they can trust. It’s not for the faint of budget, though, as the 4x4 drivetrain and extras are well worth it.
The Best Trucks for Car Camping
Base Price: $27,750
Typical List Price for a 2008 Toyota Tacoma According to Kelley Blue Book: $10,601
Drool-worthy Upgrades: The coveted TRD Off-Road package, which comes with the same rock-crawling tech as the upgraded 4Runner, including a locking rear differential and Crawl Control.
Fun Fact: Diehard Tacoma owners are partly responsible for the launch of our newest mattress, the increasingly popular Truck Bed Air Mattress. Luno’s first mattresses were designed for SUVs, but as soon as Tacoma owners peeped our products, they saw potential. They’ve been sliding into our DMs ever since, clamoring for a truck-specific, Taco-compatible air mattress. We are stoked to answer that demand with the Truck Bed Air Mattress.
When you’re camping out of your truck miles from civilization, durability and reliability are mission-critical. No truck has a better reputation in those departments—or a more cult-like following of campers—than the Toyota Tacoma. As such, the Tacoma has unsurprisingly high resale value, just like its 4Runner cousin.
Much of that resale value comes courtesy of base-level badassery. The Tacoma gets its hefty horsepower from a 3.5L V6 or 2.7L 4-Cyl engine, comes in a 6-speed automatic or manual transmission, and can be configured as a 4x2 or 4x4. As always, we lean toward the 4x4 for winter driving and off-roading purposes. Speaking of which, the base model sports 9.4 inches of clearance and Toyota armored the engine and front suspension with skid plates.
While the base package is drool-worthy in and of itself, it’s possible to upgrade the Taco with all manner of backroads-bashing accouterments. Those upgrades include integrated technology like remote tire pressure monitoring systems and hill start assist settings. Exterior enhancements are on tap, too–we’re talking suspension lifts, lockable bed storage, TRD Pro skid plates, and more. With that in mind, we suggest coming to the table with extra budget, just like we do for the 4Runner. That said, even if you’re not actively shopping, it’s fun to nerd out on specs on Toyota’s Build page and put together your dream Tacoma configuration. Don’t forget to send a screenshot to Santa.
Base Price: $38,775
Typical List Price for a 2020 Jeep Gladiator According to Kelley Blue Book: $38,498
Drool-worthy Upgrades: The classic Rubicon 4x4 build, starting at $51,490, which boasts locking front and rear differentials, 33-inch All-Terrain Tires, steel Off-Road Rock Rails, and a 4:1 low gear ratio for rock-crawling performance, control, and torque.
Fun Fact: Merriam-Webster defines the word “rubicon” as “a bounding or limiting line; one that when crossed commits a person irrevocably.” The word has a wild history, dating back to ancient Rome. It references the Rubicon River, which demarcated the border between Italy and Gaul. When then-general Julius Caesar crossed that line in 49 BC, it was considered an act of war, one that ultimately led to his becoming emperor. That tidbit of history provides a little bit more context to the name “Gladiator,” doesn’t it?
5-Foot Truck Bed? No Problem!
While the Gladiator only has a five-foot truck bed, it’s compatible with our new Truck Bed Air Mattress. The mattress itself is five feet long, fitting in the Gladiator’s truck bed when the tailgate is up. However, it’s easy to extend the length of the bed for a better night’s sleep: just drop the tailgate, inflate our two mattress-extending Tailgate Buddies (included), and snap them into place. All of a sudden, you’re looking at an ultra-comfy, six-foot sleep setup in the back of your rock crawler, up out of the dirt and away from creepy-crawlies.
If you’re looking for a beautiful mash-up between convertible and badass truck, there’s only one option: the Jeep Gladiator. Available in Jeep’s classic soft top or standard hard top constructions, both of which offer campers the opportunity to ditch the roof and feel the breeze, the Gladiator is a remarkably capable off-road vehicle and one of our all-time favorites for car camping.
Off-roading and Jeep go together like campfires and ghost stories. While rock-crawling Jeepers will want to go on a spending spree and kit out their Gladiator with lift kits and other upgrades, even the baseline package is remarkably capable in technical terrain. The base Sport package boasts best-in-class gas towing capacity, a rugged steel bed with a three-position tailgate, Jeep’s trusted Trail Rated 4x4 drivetrain, and more.
Pro tip: While it’s easy to drool over the $50K+ builds, it’s not necessary out of the gate. Since the upgraded models are so pricey, many Jeep drivers will start with a stock setup and add to it over time, easing the cost upfront.
The Best Vans for Camping
Both the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Dodge ProMaster are compatible with our ground-breaking Front Cab Air Mattress. This innovative air mattress is purpose-built to convert the front cab of a van into an extra sleeping nook that’s perfect for pets, kids, and adults shorter than 5’7”.
Base Price: $43,500
Typical List Price for a 2008 Dodge Sprinter According to Kelley Blue Book: $11,980* (Sprinters were sold under Dodge name during the 2000s).
MPG: Depends on drivetrain, wheelbase, roof height, etc.
Drool-worthy Upgrade: If you’ve got a $200K budget and the letters “DIY” raise your blood pressure, check out the Winnebago Revel. It marries Winnebago’s RV expertise with a 4x4 Sprinter chassis, making it a dream rig for any van-curious adventurer.
Fun Fact: Mercedes is on the brink of launching the eSprinter in the United States. According to this recent press release from the German auto empire, we should be on the lookout for an eSprinter stateside in the second half of 2023.
Sprinter vans have become synonymous with vanlife over the years, and for good reason, too. Spacious, customizable, and crafted by one of the most respected automakers in the world, these vans are a hot commodity with a high price tag to match.
Configurations are near endless, with a variety of wheelbases, roof heights, drivetrains, and more to choose from. Here are a few tips to consider when picking the right build for you:
- 4x4 or 2WD: As always, we lean toward 4x4 options for winter driving and backroad applications. However, this is an expensive upgrade and 4x4 gas mileage is lower than the 2WD alternative.
- Roof Height: We can’t overstress the value of a high roof. The ability to stand comfortably in your van is a luxury that makes full-time life on the road much more comfortable.
- Wheelbase Length: Wheelbase is the toughest choice for many van shoppers. Shorter wheelbases are more maneuverable, but of course, they supply less living space. Vice versa, longer wheelbases provide more real estate, but can be a pain to navigate in urban areas, tight switchbacks, or crowded trailhead parking lots.
Regardless of what configuration you land on, expect smooth handling and solid resale value. Also, because Sprinters are so common in the vanlife world, it’s easy to find Sprinter van builders or YouTube videos explaining how to tackle DIY projects. However, there are a few cons, most centered around cost. Sprinters aren’t just expensive up front, they’re expensive to maintain, too, as some mechanics refuse to work on Mercedes vans. Additionally, parts can be difficult and expensive to source, especially if you venture south of the border.
Base Price: $42,190
Typical List Price for a 2014 Dodge ProMaster According to Kelley Blue Book: $17,979
MPG: Depends on wheelbase, roof height, etc.
Drool-worthy Upgrades: Winnebago’s Solis Pocket is the RV maker’s most affordable camper van, and it’s built on the ProMaster chassis. The floorplan sleeps three and includes versatile storage solutions, like a high-platform murphy bed that can fit two bikes beneath it.
Fun Fact: The ProMaster has been around since 2014 in the United States, but it’s gone by other aliases in Europe since 1981, where it’s mainly been referred to as the Fiat Ducato.
The ProMaster is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to the Sprinter for several reasons. First off, it’s more affordable, both off the lot and to maintain long-term. Also, it has an exceptionally boxy shape, facilitating easy build-outs if you’re going the DIY route. Lastly, it’s available in a shorter wheelbase, if you value maneuverability over living space.
On the other hand, the ProMaster doesn’t come with a 4x4 option. Instead, it’s a 2WD ride, and a front-wheel drive one at that. If you’re planning on driving in snow or exploring rough roads, the Sprinter 4x4 is a much better option. That said, the front-wheel drive does provide decent traction, and with a set of high-quality tires you’d be surprised at how much this Dodge can handle.
The Overall Best Car Camping Vehicle? Hint: It’s Already in Your Driveway
As we mentioned at the outset of this article, the best rig for car camping is the one that’s already in your driveway. Sure, it would be swell to bring home a shiny 2023 Tacoma, a kitted-out 4Runner, or a custom-built Sprinter before that next camping trip, but for most of us, that’s just not in the cards. And the truth is, a new rig isn’t remotely necessary to embark on memorable road trips and car camping adventures.
All you really need is a vehicle that runs (so don’t skip that oil change or skimp on preventative maintenance), a tank of gas, and a willingness to explore. Oh yeah, and some snacks. And some good tunes. And last but not least? A comfortable, rugged, and easy-to-setup Luno Air Mattress, so you sleep like a rock. Or a baby. Or better yet–a baby rock.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on the road–no matter what you’re driving.
-The Luno Crew
Adventure Accessories: Turn Any Commuter Into a Camp-Worthy Rig
Looking to turn your everyday commuter into the ultimate adventure mobile? While our Air Mattresses are the first step in that journey, our innovative accessories will help you make the most of life at camp and on the road. Below, you’ll find a few Luno essentials we won’t leave home without.
Privacy Curtain: When camping in public, a little privacy goes a long way. Our easy-to-install Privacy Curtain doesn’t just block the unwanted gaze of strangers, it also defends sleeping campers from bothersome sun rays. That’s a win-win for us. Shop Here
Mesh Gear Duffle: Let your damp gear breathe with our revolutionary Mesh Gear Duffle. We originally designed this mesh duffle for use with wet, often-stinky items like fishing waders and hiking boots, but it’s also an incredibly helpful tool for on-the-go organization thanks to the see-through mesh. Shop Here
Seatback Organizer: Staying organized on the road is always a challenge, but it becomes second nature with our Seatback Organizer. Equipped with pockets, pouches, and features galore, this camp caddy will revolutionize your road trips. Shop Here
Gear & Shoe Storage Bag: With magnets that secure the bag to the outside of your car, a waterproof top flap, and a mesh bottom panel, our Gear & Shoe Storage Bag lets your shoes drip-dry overnight. While this bag is perfect for keeping muddy kicks out of the car, it’s also a helpful storage solution to keep track of smaller essentials like headlamps, pocketknives, fire starters, and more. Shop Here
Window Screens: Nothing ruins a camping trip like a squadron of mosquitos buzzing in your ears while you’re trying to sleep. Our mesh window screens enable you to let in the breeze without letting in any of the bugs, making it an absolute essential on muggy summer nights. They also add a little much-appreciated privacy, too. Shop Here