When it comes to classic British sea kayaks, few designs are more familiar than the NDK Explorer and Romany. In 2010, Nigel Dennis Kayaks released the Pilgrim Expedition, along with a smaller sister named Pilgrim, that promises to be just as popular. Built for the petite paddler looking for a capable cruiser with a playful streak, the Pilgrim Expedition already holds the female record for paddling around Ireland and Anglesey.

Nigel Dennis Pilgrim Expedition Specs
Length: 17’
Width: 19.7”
Weight: 58 lbs
Dry Storage Volume: 40.4 U.S. gal
MSRP: $3,906 USD

NDK’s Pilgrim Expedition is sized for smaller paddlers

NDK founder and designer Nigel Dennis says the Pilgrims allow lighter paddlers to “keep the full waterline engaged for expedition speeds even while day paddling.” To this end, both Pilgrims feature a slim 20-inch beam and 12-inch foredeck depth, with the Pilgrim Expedition adding 15 inches in length for increased carrying capacity.

While the Pilgrims’ long, slender lines are certainly eye-catching, the most distinctive feature is the knee bumps. Low decks reduce weathercocking and eliminate unnecessary volume around the paddler’s legs, but they also create comfort and fit limitations. NDK solved this problem by molding whitewater kayak-inspired knee pockets into the deck.

Your knees will thank you

At 5’6”, I found the knee bumps on the Pilgrim Expedition perfectly situated. Combined with the low deck and small keyhole cockpit they provide locked-in responsiveness for edging, bracing and rolling that’s akin to form-fitting Greenland-style kayaks. Getting knocked about after a capsize in rough water, I felt none of the dreaded knee slip all too common for smaller paddlers.

Paddling through breaking waves and strong currents, the Pilgrim Expedition inspires confidence. The hull is a very shallow V, resulting in surprisingly high initial stability for its narrow beam. Secondary stability is even better—you can bury the coaming without needing so much as a low brace.

Heading into a heavy wind chop, the Pilgrim Expedition is mercifully dry and carries speed well whether empty or loaded to travel. The upswept bow’s fine entry flares voluptuously into the hull, adeptly piercing waves and then deflecting them away from the paddler’s face. The flush-mounted skeg slider is robust and easy to deploy, though superior tracking means you’ll seldom need to.

Woman paddles a Nigel Dennis Pilgrim Expedition kayak
Feature Photo: Vince Paquot

Pivoting around for a downwind run is a bit more work—blame the long, distance-chewing waterline—but edging aggressively will quickly bring it about. Running with the sea, the Pilgrim Expedition catches waves easily and the bow stays at the surface while surfing.

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The Expedition is strong and robust

Outfitting is traditional British minimalist, but it’s a formula that works. The fiberglass seat pan is comfortable and available in three sizes, while the low profile backband won’t interfere with rescues and can be removed altogether for easier laid-back rolling. Two eight-inch round rubber hatches and a smaller day hatch ensure bone-dry storage compartments but necessitate careful gear selection and packing.

The build quality is equally impressive. The fiberglass lay-up feels like it could go bow to rocks and come out on top. NDK says “it is ideal for the kayaker who really wants a durable kayak and is not too fussy about weight.” Smaller paddlers may find solo carrying difficult.

Wander far and wide with the Nigel Dennis Pilgrim Expedition

Continuing the NDK lineage with a winning blend of tried-and-true and intelligent innovation, the Pilgrim Expedition is a perfectly proportioned tripping kayak for both small and taller, slim paddlers with incurable water wanderlust.

This article was first published in the Summer/Fall 2012 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Video review of the NDK Pilgrim Expedition sea kayak”


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