RIGEL Frequently Asked Questions

If you are thinking about joining a RIGEL expedition, there are a lot of details to consider! If you have additional questions after reading these FAQs, please feel free to contact Jen Emigh (jen.emigh@psu.edu) or Drew Lehnerd (dlehnerd@psu.edu). We look forward to responding to your inquiries!

What is the cost for RIGEL and how will it be billed?

Because RIGEL is offered as a 3-credit Summer Penn State course (KINES 89), you don’t need to be a full-time student summer student to enroll.  You will be billed for this class on a per credit basis, so you only have to take these 3 credits. For the current summer tuition rates, please visit this page

In addition to tuition, there is a class fee of $225. The fee will be billed directly to your student account upon registration in this program. This fee includes instruction, special equipment, transportation, camping gear (sleeping bag, backpack, etc.), and food for the expedition.  If you must cancel, please do so by email at rigel@outreach.psu.edu.  If you cancel on or after June 1, you will be charged a cancellation fee of $225.

How big will my RIGEL expedition group be?

Although as many as 40 students will participate in RIGEL during each session, each EXPEDITION GROUP consists of a maximum of 10 students. In addition to your fellow students, there are two leaders per group — one male and one female. In the past, RIGEL groups have been usually 50/50 male/female.

How are groups determined?

For the most part, RIGEL expedition groups are selected randomly. We do arrange, however, for the number of males and females in each group to be as equal as possible. In addition, we try to ensure that RIGEL participants in each expedition group come from as diverse a geographic background as possible.

What are the RIGEL leaders like?

RIGEL leaders, like the participants themselves, come from diverse backgrounds and have varied interests. Some RIGEL leaders are graduates of Penn State; some are current graduate students; and some are undergraduate students. Their majors are equally diverse and include agriculture, theatre, marketing, engineering, and others. What all RIGEL leaders do share in common is a love for the outdoors and a great deal of experience in both technical and personal aspects of expedition leading. Many RIGEL leaders are past AURORA participants themselves who enjoyed the experience so much that they wanted to help others have a similarly positive experience! All RIGEL leaders participate in staff training prior to going out with a group.

How far will we hike during RIGEL?

RIGEL routes are planned meticulously and are the result of years of research and experience.  Routes can vary in length from 15 to 25 miles, but there are also many variations that go along with that.  The overall goal of RIGEL is not to see how far and how quickly a group can hike. A unique part of RIGEL is that your expeditions are actually present as expedition “facilitators.” In other words, they are not simply guides pointing you in the right direction and dictating the actions of the group as a whole. Groups work together to plan their days and make decisions that are based on the input of all group members. The leaders are there to ensure that all voices are heard and that the decisions made are physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy for all group members. Their job is to empower RIGEL participants to make the expedition their own and to be present as resources for their group throughout the trip. There is no requirement for how fast groups must hike or anything of that nature. Decisions on the pace of hiking, when to take breaks, and many other aspects of the trip are made based on the comfort and ability of the group as a whole.

Do I need a certain level of outdoor experience?

Some RIGEL participants come in with years of experience; others come to the program without having any camping experience. Your experience level doesn’t matter — instruction will be provided for those who have never done anything like this before. Those with more experience are relied upon to share their skills with others. RIGEL does not emphasize the physical aspects of the program. Our main focus is on providing a unique social experience that will help incoming students to transition from high school to college. Though a great deal will be learned about backcountry living, a great deal more will be learned about life at Penn State, working with others, about yourself, and more!

Do I need to physically prepare for RIGEL?

Yes. The trails that are chosen for RIGEL vary in degree of difficulty. Some trails are easy and moderate while others are more steep and rocky. The pace and the mileage of the hikes are determined by the group to accommodate all levels of experience. Our goal is for you to enjoy the physical challenges that RIGEL has to offer, rather than make you suffer through them. However, many participants state in hindsight that they wish they had been in better shape before they arrived. It is highly recommended that you prepare yourself in advance with any form of cardiovascular exercise so that you are prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. Your backpack will seem heavier than it really is on a hot, summer day. Walking, jogging, swimming, and hiking are great ways to train for RIGEL. Be sure to break in your boots ahead of time!

What kind of footwear do I need for RIGEL?

Other than a positive attitude, appropriate footwear is the most important thing you can bring to RIGEL. Well-broken-in, supportive hiking boots are a necessity. When we use the term “well broken-in,” we mean that you should purchase this footwear AT LEAST a month in advance of RIGEL and wear them often enough that they are comfortable to be in for four days. Often students purchase hiking shoes just a few days before coming — some even on the way! Boots that do not have dirt and scuff marks on them are an easy clue that they are not broken in properly. In this case, you would be setting yourself up for an uncomfortable trip, to say the very least! There is a great deal of information about appropriate hiking footwear on the internet — do your research! If you are going to purchase boots online, we highly recommend going to a gear store and trying different models on beforehand. Shoes feel very different when you have a 30- to 40-pound pack on, so ask a shoe sales clerk for a pack and some weights to feel how the boots feel under more “realistic” conditions. Finally, it is important to purchase the boot that is right for you — not the “in-style” brand or sale model. The links shared below are merely to provide information; they are in no way promoting a particular type of boot. Also, knowing how much walking you’ll be doing once classes begin, comfortable boots will get a great deal of use beyond RIGEL.

Where can I find appropriate clothing and other equipment for RIGEL?

All gear is provided for RIGEL participants except for what is listed on your gear list. We have an excellent local outfitter in State College — Appalachian Outdoors — with staff who are familiar with the RIGEL program; some are even RIGEL expedition leaders. Appalachian Outdoors offers RIGEL participants a 10% discount to their store and a link on their website to help participants find the items that will work best for the expedition, and for while they are attending school at Penn State.

Other sites you may want to check out for prices and availability of ordering:

Other than well-broken-in hiking boots, what personal gear do I need?

A complete gear list is included in the Essential Information Packet information that will be view able on our website. This packet of links will also be sent to you, via email, once you register for RIGEL. It is not necessary to have items identical to those listed, but you will need to have each of the items listed. For example, if you do not have a mid-weight fleece, pack something that would be comparable, such as a wool sweater or other layer. The list we have created is composed of the lightest and most practical items to keep you comfortable in a variety of weather conditions and, therefore, we encourage you to have the exact item listed whenever possible. (Borrowing is a great way to fulfill your needs without spending a lot of money!) The weather is unpredictable in State College during the summer. We have seen Fahrenheit temperatures as low as in the 50s and as high as 100 degrees. Since you will be in a remote location, it is necessary to be fully prepared.

Can I bring my own backpack and other gear?

Although many students who sign up for RIGEL may never have been camping before, some are already experienced outdoors people. If you fall into the second category, you may already have all of your own gear (sleeping bag, backpack, ground pad, etc.). You are more than welcome to bring your own gear for the expedition; however, we reserve the right to review your gear when you arrive. If we feel that our backpack or other piece of equipment will be more appropriate than what you have brought, we will switch it out and securely store your gear for the week.

How do we deal with personal hygiene during RIGEL?

There are many hygiene issues to be addressed while on the trail — including keeping yourself clean, helping to ensure the water you drink and cook with is pure, washing dishes and other equipment, dealing with human waste, and special concerns for women. Although some expedition groups may be near state parks along the way, most will be in remote areas the entire time they are backpacking. This means that there will not be shower facilities and/or other bathroom facilities along the way. This does not mean, however, that one must give up cleanliness. As with other aspects of the RIGEL program, we follow “Leave No Trace” principles in dealing with hygiene issues, and your leaders will instruct you on all aspects of how that applies to daily living in the woods. If you would like to find out more about this topic in advance, you can visit the Leave No Trace website or pick up a copy of The Backpacker’s Field Manual by Rick Curtis.

What if I have my period on the trail?

This is a common fear for many female participants. No worries. Our female instructors will talk to you about how to deal with hygiene, trash, and other related concerns. This should not be a factor that keeps you from participating. Note: All females should pack extra supplies just in case your period comes unexpectedly.

Can I be in touch with my parents while out on the trail?

Due to the fact that all RIGEL participants spend the expedition out on the trail, there is a limited ability to be in contact. However, each expedition group will carry a cell phone in case of an emergency. In addition, if parents need to contact their son or daughter due to an emergency of their own, they can call Jen Emigh, AURORA director, at 814.571.2667 (day or night). Please be aware that expedition leaders do not leave the cell phone on the entire time, so it may take several hours to transport a message by foot to participants out on the trail. We do not allow students to bring along their own cell phones, as it takes away from the primary goals of the RIGEL experience.

What if I need to leave the RIGEL expedition early?

Whether it is by your own personal choice or due to injury, if you leave the program week early, no refunds will be given. Accommodations and transportation are to be arranged and paid for by the participant and their family.

Is there a place for me to park if I drive my own car?

Yes. If you choose to drive your own car, you can reserve (in advance) a weeklong parking permit for $26. This parking fee will be billed to your student account. You should indicate your need for a parking permit on your RIGEL application form or by calling our office at 814-863-2000.

What is Shaver’s Creek?

The Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center and Field Laboratory was founded by Penn State in 1976 as an outdoor classroom for students to get hands-on experience teaching in, and about, the natural world. Since then, “Penn State’s Nature Center” has expanded to offer more than 60 credit courses a year, including our AURORA first-year student outdoor orientation programs, environmental interpretation courses, adventure and leadership courses, and our capstone integrated SEED Semester.

Opportunities for Penn State students at Shaver’s Creek go well beyond the classroom. The center is open to the public seven days a week from mid-February through mid-December, free of admission. Students can enjoy miles of hiking trails through Penn State’s 7,000-acre Stone Valley Forest, as well as visit the Shaver’s Creek Raptor Center, to get an up close look at many of our region’s bird of prey species, including eagles, hawks, and owls.

Many students get involved in other ways at Shaver’s Creek, too, whether through volunteering to help in the Raptor Center or to maintain trails, earning income through a Penn State work-study position, or by enrolling in one of over 35 credit classes we offer. Navigate around our website to learn more about our programs and courses.



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