This Is the One Item You Shouldn’t Forget to Pack for Alaska, According to a Travel Writer

My GoPro captured the northern lights like a dream.

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GoPro HERO11 Black Tout

Travel + Leisure / Tyler Roeland

As a frequent traveler who rarely checks a bag, I'm very selective about what makes its way into my suitcase. On a recent trip to Alaska, only the most useful gear made the cut: waterproof hiking pants, comfortable shoes, and a trusty bag, to start. But looking back, the M.V.P. of my entire trip — the one thing I'd never go back without — was my GoPro Hero11 Black.

I've known how valuable GoPro's action cameras are since 2008, back when I purchased my very first GoPro (the Hero5 Black) for a snorkeling trip. I recall blindly recording myself during the underwater escapades, crossing my fingers that at least half of my face was in frame. While GoPro remains the leader in the action camera space (and was even ranked the best action camera of 2023 by Travel + Leisure editors,) there have been tons of improvements over the past 15 years, including the roll out of the front screen that makes it a versatile, user-friendly camera.

GoPro HERO11 Black


To buy:, $449 (originally $500)

So when the GoPro Hero11 Black launched last fall, you could say I was excited to try it out for a few reasons. For starters, the latest iteration boasts a taller sensor that gives it an 8:7 aspect ratio, making it easier than ever to crop a conventional 16:9 video as well as vertically for, say, Instagram and TikTok. As someone who enjoys sharing my travels on social media, being able to do the latter was a huge draw. I could also now pull 24.7-megapixel stills from my videos, meaning that I can just focus on recording and extract a high-res photo using GoPro’s Quik app later on. And to top it all off, the Hero11 has a 10-bit color depth, up from the Hero10’s 8-bit. With the ability to capture more than a billion shades of color, the average user will notice more vivid details and less banding, but this significant improvement is huge for professionals, providing more freedom for color correcting.

I quickly decided my Alaska trip was the perfect time to take the GoPro Hero11 Black for a spin. While it was the start of spring, it was still frigid and I knew the battery would drain quickly as a result. Thankfully, the Hero11 now comes with the company’s longer-lasting Enduro battery, which was previously sold separately. But to make sure I remained charged throughout the day, I also brought along a Volta, a handheld mount that also serves as a battery pack, tripod (albeit a very short one), and remote. If there’s one accessory you’re going to splurge on, I’d highly recommend the Volta given its versatility.

GoPro Volta - Official GoPro Accessory


To buy:, $130

My first adventure kicked off with Alaska Helicopter Tours, where I set out for Knik Glacier just northeast of Anchorage. I started to get back into the groove of using a GoPro after a long hiatus, taking videos from the chopper and recording myself sliding around in an ice cave. But it was here that Anchorage-based painter, filmmaker, and creator Max Romey taught me the ultimate GoPro hack. With a collapsible, near-nine-foot pole in hand, the talented multihyphenate demonstrated how to capture drone-like footage with a GoPro. And thanks to the GoPro’s HyperSmooth 5.0 stabilization, the video turned out nice and smooth despite light wind and walking on the mountain’s craggy surface.

GoPro Hero11 Glacier

Travel + Leisure / Max Romey

 The drone-esque glacier moment was a nice preliminary assessment of the camera’s stabilization, but it was my time in Fairbanks where I really put it to the test. At Chena Outdoor Collective, I grasped onto my Volta as Alaskan huskies pulled me around in a sled. Upon arriving at Midnight Sun ATV and Snowmobile Tours, I switched my GoPro over to a clamp mount and attached it to one of the snowmachine’s — as they call it in Alaska — handlebars. No matter how bumpy the ride in either situation, videos and TimeWarps (essentially a timelapse with movement) were both unbelievably smooth.

GoPro Hero11 Snowmobiling

Travel + Leisure / Christina Liao

 But if there was one goal I had for my great Alaskan adventure, it was to see, and capture, the northern lights. I spent one evening at Aurora Pointe in Fairbanks to learn more about the natural phenomenon. As I waited for my guide to announce an aurora sighting, I decided to try the Star Trails feature, one of the Hero11’s new night effects. Eliminating hours of post-production editing, this new mode allowed me to shoot a star trail video with the push of a button. The only caveat is that you do need to have a basic understanding of ISO, shutter speed, and white balance when filming after the sun sets, but once you grasp these concepts it really is just as easy as hitting record. (And while I didn’t get a chance to try this out during my time in Alaska, there’s also the new Light Painting and Vehicle Lights Trails modes, too.)

GoPro Hero11 Star Trails

Travel + Leisure / Christina Liao

 My night at Aurora Pointe didn’t pan out the way I had hoped, but I lucked out on my last day while on Northern Alaska Tour Company’s “Aurora Fly Drive Adventure.” Following jaw-dropping aerial views of the Last Frontier, the drive from Coldfoot back down to Fairbanks began. Along the way we stopped at the Arctic Circle sign and the Yukon River Camp. Whenever there was a glimpse of the northern lights, the driver would pull over for everyone to snap their photos. But the real fun ensued once we reached the Arctic Circle Trading Post. Immediately upon arrival, the northern lights began to dance. For the first time, I was able to see them with my bare eyes without having to wonder whether they were just clouds. And once I set up my GoPro, toggling between night photo and night lapse mode, the camera revealed how the vibrant green hues were painting the sky. 

GoPro Hero11 Northern Lights

Travel + Leisure / Christina Liao

By the end of the tour, I was running purely on a northern lights–fueled adrenaline rush. As I made my way to the airport on zero sleep, scrolling through the footage I had captured the last several days, I realized just how attached to my GoPro I had become. I’ll continue to use the camera in ways that I have in the past — snorkeling, snowboarding, scenic road trips, sunset timelapses — but I look forward to incorporating it in situations that I had never thought of before, like light painting with friends or recording my niece’s dance competitions while simultaneously getting great photos of her in action. And no matter where I’m headed to next, I’m making space in my backpack for the GoPro Hero11 Black.

At the time of publishing, the price started at $449. 

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