Rear cargo capacity

Many mid-size SUV’s, 4WD's and station wagons can generally meet most of our camping requirements, but one thing that varies considerably between different car models is the dimensions of the boot / trunk or it's rear cargo capacity. As camping gear is much more easily placed inside the car rather than strapped to the roof racks, our camping car of choice will need to have a generous rear cargo area to comfortably hold our camping gear.

Determining whether or not a car has adequate space to transport our camping gear has actually been a challenge and really quite confusing. Cargo capacity measurements provided by car manufacturers (if indeed they provide them as many don’t) are based on two different and confusing measurements, and in any case aren’t a good indication of whether the rear cargo area actually has the right dimensions for our camping gear to be packed in the way we suggest in our packing guidelines.

Physical measurement, or better still, a trial pack of your camping gear during a test drive, is the best way to determine if the cargo space can be comfortably loaded with your camping gear.

In summary:

When inspecting a car, you should always check the car boot / trunk dimensions and physically measure the space. The minimum required rear cargo space measurements for our setup should be:

Depth: 100 cm / 39.4" or longer
Height: 78 cm / 30.7" or higher
Width above wheel arches: 110 cm / 43.3" or wider

Cargo space measurements

The details:

Depth

Partially loaded bootProbably most important for our setup, and the biggest variable, is the depth of your car boot. In our packing guidelines, you will see that the space needs to be deep enough to lengthways hold your icebox / fridge or kitchenware container (whichever is wider) and also to provide a sufficient space between these items and the rear seats to store the chairs and other items. 

While the deeper the boot the better, cars with an effective boot depth of 100 cm / 39.4" or more, measured at floor level close to the side wall, will accommodate our kitchenware container (up to 60 cm / 24" wide) and an icebox/fridge of up to the same width, as well as the chairs and other items in the rear.

Boot depth measurementYou will need to reduce the measurement if the rear liftgate tapers in towards the front of the vehicle. The easiest way to determine this is to actually place your camp fridge or a box of a similar height into the boot, close and then open the liftgate and measure the boot length to the edge of the fridge / box (pictured). 

An even deeper car boot / trunk will be required to comfortably accommodate the larger icebox / fridges that are wider than 60 cm / 24", as well as the dining table and seat sets that are longer than 100 cm / 39.4".

Height at opening

The height of the boot / trunk at the opening should be at least 78 cm / 30.7" from the top of the rear door to the floor in order to accommodate the items as they are packed in our packing guidelines.

Width above wheel arches

The width of the cargo area of most of the mid-size and larger SUV's and station wagons will accommodate our setup, but the main consideration is the distance between the side wall at the rear of the cargo area where the chairs and quad folding tables will be transported. This distance is usually between 100 cm and 110 cm and will need to be at least the length of your chairs and quad folding table if you want everything to fit neatly without any wasted space. To be safe it should be at least 110 cm / 43.3".

Other considerations

Fridge slides fitted to the floor of the cargo area may restrict the position of the icebox / esky in the car boot / trunk, and the space available in the rear to store quad folding items such as chairs.

Spare tyres are essential in the event of a puncture - especially when the inevitable happens and you could be all loaded up with people and gear and in the middle of nowhere. A number of cars these days don't even offer one at all, but instead provide a puncture repair kit with a compressor, which creates a huge amount of cargo space but still, in my personal opinion, is pretty bizarre. Hopefully this doesn't apply to most of our preferred cars and car styles.

Cars can also come with a space-saver or temporary use spare tyre, as an alternative to a full spare, to save on weight and space in the rear cargo area. In one particular car, cargo capacity reduces by 10% with a full spare compared to a space saver tyre. While they save on space, they are not designed to be driven long distances and will need to be replaced fairly quickly. This is fine if you are in town but not if you are in a remote location and need to divert, possibly a long distance, to your nearest service station. So, if possible, try to measure your cargo space with your preferred type of spare tyre in place.

Many cars also secure the spare tyre to the rear of the vehicle, or alternatively to the undercarriage, to free up precious cargo space and to avoid the hassle of removing most of your gear from the boot / trunk to change a tyre.

Cars with rear seats that slide back and forward (similar to the front seats) will often boast good leg room (when the seat is pushed back) AND a large cargo capacity (when the seat is pushed forward). But you might not get both at the same time. For our purpose, you want to measure the cargo space after you have positioned both the rear and front seats for driver and passenger comfort. And remember, a two year old child won't need a huge amount of extra leg room in five years time, but 10 year olds can definately shoot up over the same period, so allow for passenger growth.

The above specifications are summarised in our car buying checklist.

Related articles:

Loading the rear cargo area
Hiring a car? Which car and how to pack it