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Anya Murphy November 27, 2023 Feature Stories

Exploring far and wide – and keeping Mother Nature safe for future generations, too.

Some things just go better together: sunsets and cold beers, hiking and dogs, marshmallows and graham crackers… and Natalie Muilenberg and her Subaru Outback Wilderness, nicknamed Blue. Blue isn’t just Muilenberg’s overlanding rig and camping home base, she’s also a daily driver who’s just as capable on the pavement as she is off-road.

Vehicle and driver alike feel right at home in their desert camp spot.

“I’ve always had vehicles that could be good daily drivers and give me options off the pavement,” Muilenberg explains, “I really like how Subaru offers great technical features in a not-too-rugged design. They also have a great mind for sustainability and giving back to the community.”

“Blue isn’t just Muilenberg’s overlanding rig and camping home base, she’s also a daily driver who’s just as capable on the pavement as she is off-road.”

With her full range of upgrades, Blue is ready for anything Muilenberg throws at her.
While she may not be climbing any vertical surfaces, Blue has more than enough traction to handle just about anything else.

She’d previously been driving another Subaru, a Crosstrek, but was thinking about upgrading to a larger rig. It was almost fate that she spotted an Outback Wilderness in a parking lot one day. It was love at first sight. That’s what led her to Blue, which she spent the last year building into her ideal vehicle for everything from daily errands to off-road adventure.


Exploration is embedded in Muilenberg’s DNA. Growing up in the outdoors, she developed a passion for environmental justice early in life that has continued today. One of the things she likes most about Blue is her relatively low emissions. Keeping emissions low is just one part of her sustainability mission, but she loves that Blue helps her get closer to that goal while still enabling her to enjoy exploring the outdoors.

The front end is adorned with KC HiLiTES.
The Outback Wilderness package is already capable, so Blue only needed minimal modifications.

“My love of the outdoors, which extends to overlanding and off-roading, started as soon as I could walk,” Muilenberg shares. Like so many other overlanders, her childhood was spent camping. “We were always camping as a family, and my dad loves anything with a motor and wheels. He’s taught me about everything from dirt bikes to Jeeps.” It’s that foundation that facilitated her growth into the environmentalist outdoorswoman she is today.

The environment is more than just an interest for Muilenberg, though. She tells us, “Even my master’s thesis studied the Imperial Sand Dunes of California, where we’d often go duning in our sand rail and UTVs.” With a strong educational background to inform her natural desire to protect the environment, Muilenberg is more than familiar with the requirements of responsible recreation.

The Go Fast Campers roof top tent is a great option for those looking for a low-profile tent.
Ahsoka is a loyal camp buddy, never straying far from her parents.

“Being in the outdoors makes me want to protect it, so I always try to have a good land ethic and leave it better than I found it, something I learned from my parents,” she explains. Just like so many overlanders, pushing her own boundaries in the pursuit of adventure only strengthens her convictions.

Sustainability Mission

You’ll likely never meet an overlander who doesn’t care deeply for the natural world around them. That’s why we’re here, right? We all recognize the importance of ethical outdoor recreation. After all, there wouldn’t be any beautiful places for us to enjoy and explore if we didn’t take care now to preserve them for the future.

Muilenberg gets ready to set up camp. Popping up the GFC is the first step.
With the ladder secured to her rooftop, Muilenberg is able to easily access her RTT.

Appreciating the beauty and accessibility of our natural resources is just one way to achieve that overarching goal of environmental preservation. We of all people know how important it is to the planet better than we found it. By following principles like T.R.E.A.D. Lightly and Leave No Trace, we have the ability to pass on these beautiful places for the next generations to experience.

For Muilenberg, part of that mission is a focus on eliminating as much air pollution as possible. She works from home, so doesn’t drive as much as some, but the one thing she wishes she could change about her Subaru Outback Wilderness is its emissions – even though they’re on the low end to begin with, her standards are high. If it could run cleaner without losing any of the off-road grit synonymous with Subaru, that would be her ideal.

Who could resist this cute face?
Parking in an ideal spot as the Blue’s shadow grows longer.

“After working in air quality regulation and having family members with asthma in one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the country, I’m keenly aware of air pollution and its effects,” she explains. “I think it’s really important to leave every part of the environment better than we found it, just like when we’re camping or overlanding.”

“Growing up in the outdoors, she developed a passion for environmental justice early in life that has continued today.”

Like her plates say, she’s one “blueroo.” Get it?
Toyo Open Country A/TIII tires wrap fifteen52 wheels.

So, Why Subaru?

Choosing a vehicle on the smaller side, at least for an off roader, with decreased carbon emissions, is an important part of practicing sustainability for Muilenberg. Not to mention the fact that most of her travels are just her, her partner, Jon, and their pup Ahsoka, so they fit into Blue pretty easily—she handles almost everything they need.

Ahsoka is at home in the back next to a Dometic fridge.
It’s easy to climb in and out of the RTT with the help of a ladder.

“The Wilderness Edition of the Outback comes already pretty decked out if you want something that can handle easy forest roads, but I wanted to make it mine,” Muilenberg reveals. While the stock vehicle suited most of her needs, her wealth of outdoor recreation knowledge pointed toward her first step: wheels and tires. “I knew I needed a bit more bite to my tires, and I really wanted to complement the Geyser Blue color with bronze-colored wheels.” Fifteen52 Metrix MX wheels bring in the bronze element, and, wrapped in Toyo Open Country A/T III tires, give Blue plenty of grip.

Where Muilenberg and blue find themselves the most: navigating through the desert.
The low-profile RTT pops up to give Muilenberg plenty of “indoor” space.

Her next two upgrades went hand in hand. After inheriting dad Eric’s old Go Fast Campers RTT, she needed a stronger roof rack. Prinsu gave her the answer she needed there. Additionally, she’s “always loved the vintage vibe of KC HiLiTES,” so the decision to add a series of Flex Era 3s was easy. “They’re a perfect size,” she notes.

That’s just about it for the exterior, and Muilenberg has kept it simple on the interior as well. A crate for Ahsoka is standard, but a whole assortment of gear is regularly swapped out as Blue pivots from daily driver to weekend warrior. Often, Muilenberg keeps her Dometic fridge in the trunk as it fits perfectly next to Ahsoka’s crate.

With all her lighting flipped on for the evening, Blue looks a lot more yellow than usual.
A daily driver and weekend warrior, Blue swaps between dirt and pavement with ease.
The Subaru’s blue paint pops even more brightly with the GFC deployed.

Blue’s Next Adventure

Blue is truly small but mighty, and a capable do-anything rig. “We took Blue on her first visit to Dana Point, Calif., for my birthday last year to surf my favorite break,” says Muilenberg, noting that Blue, “looked really good with a surfboard strapped to her Prinsu rack!” Maybe more coastal adventures are in store for this Arizona-based crew, but we’ll have to wait and see. Back in 2017, Muilenberg took Blue’s predecessor, the Crosstrek, on a solo road trip across Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California, which was over 8,000 miles. Reflecting back, she says, “I’d love to do the same thing and visit Wyoming, New Mexico, and Texas. Maybe next year!”

But at the end of the weekend, Muilenberg’s favorite place to go? “Home. Always home.”

“Choosing a vehicle on the smaller side, at least for an off roader, with decreased carbon emissions, is an important part of practicing sustainability for Muilenberg.”

KC HiLites Flex Era 3s provide additional illumination.
Muilenberg is the proud owner of an incredible rig.


2022 Subaru Outback Wilderness

Engine: Factory turbocharged 2.4L 4-cylinder

Suspension: Factory

Wheels & Tires: Fifteen52 Metrix MX wheels in Bronze; Toyo Open Country A/T III tires

Interior Accessories: Dometic fridge

Exterior Accessories: KC HiLites Flex Era 3 on A-pillars, SAE fog lights; Prinsu roof rack; GoFast Campers Superlite Roof Top Tent

Additional Modifications: Rally Armor Mud Flaps

Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared in TREAD Nov/Dec 2023.

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