The Kovea Hydra is a dual fuel backpacking stove (canister gas or white gasoline) from Kovea Co., Ltd. of Korea. Kovea refers to the Hydra as a “multifuel” stove; however, the Hydra only works on two fuels, so I’m going to refer to it as a dual fuel stove. In my mind, a stove needs to support at least three fuels before it can truly be called a multifuel stove. It is important to note that, per the manufacturer, the Kovea Hydra should not be run on kerosene type fuels. Conveniently, there is no jet (fuel nozzle) change needed when one switches from canister gas to white gasoline or vice versa. This is a nice feature, and I didn’t notice any loss of power when using canister gas after using white gasoline. In other words, the single jet seems to be working well.
The first thing that I noticed about the Hydra is how very compact it is. How many white gas stoves do you know of that will fit into a 550 ml mug pot with room to spare?
The stove is actually smaller than a 110g canister of gas. Its fuel line is extremely flexible, allowing it to be wound around the stove for compact storage.
The fuel line is also nice and long, long enough that the fuel bottle can be upright for pumping while still attached to the stove. I find this arrangement far superior to stoves where the bottle must be lying on its side while pumped.
Pumping is of course irrelevant when running on canister gas. For canister gas, the stove’s valve assembly rotates easily so that one can invert the canister for cold weather use. The Hydra comes with a nice little canister stand to hold the canister when running inverted. Interestingly, the valve assembly on the Hydra is exactly the same assembly as used on the excellent and popular Kovea Spider. Could the Hydra’s canister stand be used on the Spider? Absolutely. It will work equally well with either. Kovea really needs to make this canister stand available for all of its stoves that can handle inverted canister mode and have this valve assembly.
Another nice feature: The Hydra has a cover on its threaded connector. This is a great idea, but I think there’s room for improvement here. This little cap is liable to get lost. Many stove companies have a plastic retainer that connects such a cover to the stove. Really, Kovea needs to add such a retainer to their pump.
Note also in the photo above the white filter on the end of the fuel intake. This is exactly where a filter should be. A filter here stops gunk before it gets into the works of the stove. I wish that every stove pump had a filter here. Good job, Kovea.
Overall the pump is solid and well designed. To connect the pump to the burner, one threads on the valve assembly on the right and then turns the knob on the left. This is super convenient and is a really smart feature from Kovea.
Practical Pot Sizes
The Hydra will support a wide variety of pots. My small 550 ml mug pot is quite stable on the Hydra. However note that the Hydra’s burner is fairly wide, and a lot of the heat output will go out beyond the edges of the pot and be wasted. So, in a pinch, the Hydra can handle small pots, but it’s really going to be more efficient with wider pots.
The largest pot I tried was a 2.6 L Evernew pot. The supports of the Hydra still had roughly 3/8” left to spare on all sides (about 1 cm). In other words, the Hydra could easily support pots bigger than my 2.6 L pot. Some will need more; some will need less, but I generally recommend about 750 ml capacity per person in a group. The Hydra could reasonably support a 4.5 L pot which would provide enough capacity for six people. In other words, the Hydra might be a really good choice for youth groups, outdoors clubs, Boy Scout patrols, etc. Of course in winter, for snow melting, more capacity is required; at least 1000 ml per person, perhaps even 1500 ml.
On the other end of the scale, I think it is reasonable for a Hydra to be used with a 1500 ml pot which is a nice size for two. I don’t see the Hydra as a top choice for soloists, who typically use small pots – unless you plan to use a larger pot as in melting snow.
Speaking of pot supports, the pot supports on the Hydra are adequate but they will bend. One should not try to force the stove into the provided case. Care must be taken to observe just how the stove goes into the case. Really, there’s only one way that it fits. If one is meticulous about packing, the stove, spare parts kit, repair tool, and canister stand will all fit into the case. It takes a bit of practice, but everything will fit.
Regarding the repair tool, the tool seems overly heavy to me. I would like to see Kovea find a way to lighten this up a bit. The repair tool has a “pricker” (a thin wire with which to clear the jet of blockages) that recesses into the handle of the tool. This is a nice feature. Some stove companies, MSR comes to mind, have their pricker wire unprotected which means that it can easily become hopelessly twisted and bent and therefore unusable when you need it.
The Hydra has a side mounted jet (fuel nozzle). The jet fits into the generator (aka “pre heat loop”) opposite the generator nut. One must remove the generator in order to clear the jet if a blockage occurs. This is a bit tedious. Note however that in a month’s worth of testing (not every day, but multiple times per week), I encountered no blockages.
When used with liquid fuel, the Hydra must be primed as must almost all liquid fueled backpacking stoves. Except in cold weather, the best way to prime a liquid fueled stove is with alcohol. A little 60 ml (2 fl oz) bottle of alcohol will easily be enough to prime a stove for a week for an experienced user.
Why alcohol? Well, there are three reasons:
- It’s easy to control the amount of alcohol dispensed. It’s relatively more difficult to control how much white gasoline is going into a burner. Too much white gas, and you’ve got a fireball which if nothing else tends to blacken the stove. You might also lose some body hair. Any white gas stove user who says they haven’t lost body hair while priming is either a noob or a liar!
- Alcohol burns cleaner than white gas during priming. Priming with white gas can produce a lot of soot. Soot contributes to blockages at the jet as well as an overall decrease in burner throughput.
- Alcohol is much less likely to flare up into a large fireball the way white gasoline does.
Now, if carrying a little squeeze bottle of alcohol is too much trouble, then just go ahead and prime with white gas. However, for those of you who do use alcohol, here’s a little trick: Don’t squirt the alcohol into the bowl of the burner. The burner has relatively high sides which restrict air flow, and the alcohol at the bottom of the bowl won’t burn well. Instead, squirt the alcohol into the slits on the rim of the burner. The alcohol will burn readily here and quickly bring the stove up to operating temperature.
One thing to note: The instructions are in English that was clearly not written by a native speaker of the language. White gas is sufficiently volatile that mistakes with such could be bad, very bad. Were an accident to occur because Kovea’s instructions were not clear, Kovea could land themselves in legal hot water. If Kovea wants to do business in English-speaking markets, Kovea really needs to work with a native speaker of English when writing instructions.
The Hydra is a pretty versatile stove. On canister gas in upright mode, it simmers very well. The Hydra is a little more difficult to simmer with when the canister is inverted, but not overly so, and I was able to simmer well.
On white gas, I was able to get a reasonably effective simmer out of the stove, far better than many stoves of this type. However, for really serious, involved cooking, this probably wouldn’t be my first pick for a liquid fueled stove. There are two general types of liquid fueled backpacking stoves: valve-at-the bottle and valve-at-the-burner. If you really want precise control of the flame, you pretty much have to have a valve at the burner. If the valve is back at the fuel bottle, you’re just not going to have as good of control. I was able to get a decent simmer, but after a while, sometimes the flame would die out, and I would have to re-start the stove. I also experienced some sooting on the bottom of the pot while simmering. However, the Hydra gets the job done and as I say is good for this class of stove.
The Hydra’s burner weighs in at 308 g (10.9 oz) on my scale. This is about average for this class of stove (liquid fuel and canister gas capable stoves). Clearly there are lighter stoves out there of this class. The OmniLite Ti comes in at 239 g (8.4 oz), but of course the Omni Lite Ti is more expensive.
The Hydra’s pump comes in at 113 g (4 oz) which is somewhat on the heavy side for a pump but not overly so. The pump is the last place you want a failure on a stove system, so a good solid pump is actually a plus in my mind. The Hydra’s mostly aluminum pump with brass threads is of good quality. Of course if you’re going to be running on canister gas, the weight of the pump is irrelevant.
I won’t list the weight of the case, tool, spares, etc. Some will take those along, others will not. Neither will I list the weight of the bottle. There are many sizes of bottle; weights will vary.
Compatible Fuel Bottles and Canisters
The first thing to note is that the Kovea Hydra fuel bottle uses standard threads. In other words, you can use MSR, Primus, Optimus, Sigg, etc. brand fuel bottles with the Hydra. The Hydra comes with a 600 ml fuel bottle as part of the package, so there’s no reason you’d need to use another brand, but if you’ve already got some and they’re of a size that’s convenient for what you like to do, you should be able to use them – provided that they are tall enough to accommodate the Hydra’s pump.
The only major brand fuel bottles that I’m aware of that one cannot use with the Hydra are the Soto bottles for the Muka stove and Coleman brand fuel bottles. Coleman uses the same diameter opening but has a completely different thread. Soto bottles have a much wider opening.
Now, Kovea of course will insist that one should only use Kovea bottles. I view this as a way to limit legal liability and/or to increase sales. If you screw up and burn yourself when using another brand of bottle, Kovea can say, “See? We told you not to use that bottle,” and you’ll lose your court case. In reality, any fuel bottle from a reputable manufacturer with compatible threads should suffice. I would be very wary of no name knock off bottles.
And I’m not just picking on Kovea here. This is pretty standard verbiage; all the stove companies do this. As for the Kovea fuel bottle itself, it’s a really nice bottle. Instead of a “do not fill past this line” warning printed on the outside of the bottle, Kovea’s bottle has an indentation that goes all the way around the bottle – an indentation that can be clearly seen when looking inside the bottle as one fills. A line printed on the outside can wear off, and it’s hard to figure out exactly where that outside line is when you’re looking inside the bottle.
Kovea’s innovative bottle solves this problem for good. The stated volume may be less than the actual working volume. You must leave adequate air space in the bottle or run the risk of over pressurizing the bottle and potentially causing a leak. Leaking gasoline near a hot flame would not be a good thing.
With respect to canisters, any standard 7/16ths UNEF threaded gas canister from a reputable manufacturer should work. Kovea canisters are not sold in the US, so American owners don’t even have the option of restricting themselves to the Kovea brand. Most of the major brands of gas (Primus, MSR, Optimus, GasOne, Jetboil, Snow Peak, Olicamp, Brunton, and I’m sure others) are all made under contract by Taeyang Industrial Co., Ltd. of South Korea which controls about 75% of the world gas canister market. The threads are all exactly the same. Any of those brands will do. Coleman also makes 7/16ths UNEF threaded gas canisters. The threads might vary in some minute detail, but they will be compatible with the Hydra.
MSRP is $180. For American consumers, Massdrop is probably your best bet for picking up the Hydra – and you’ll probably pay less than retail. I’m not aware of any “brick and mortar” stores that carry the Hydra. You can potentially also pick one up from eBay but those stoves are being sold “under the table.” Someone is just buying them in Korea and then selling them on eBay; they are not authorized retailers. Kovea stoves sold on eBay may not be export grade, and these stoves have no warranty from Kovea. Only stoves bought from an authorized Kovea dealer come with a warranty. If you buy a Hydra on eBay, you may be fine, but if you have a problem, you’re on your own.
The Kovea Hydra is a low velocity flame stove. What the heck do I mean by that? Well, some stoves shoot out flames with great force. These stoves have what is typically called a “roarer” burner and as you might suspect from the word “roar” they make a heck of a lot of noise. They’re often called “conversation killers.” On the plus side, roarer burners have very good wind resistance.
On the other hand, there are stoves whose flames come out with far less force. These stoves tend to be significantly quieter. On the downside, they tend to be far more affected by wind currents. There’s a tradeoff here; pick your poison.
The Hydra is a nice, quiet stove, and as you might expect, the Hydra is sensitive to wind. The Hydra comes with a 5.5 inch (14 cm) tall windscreen. The stove itself is roughly 4” tall (10 cm). This means you only have about an inch and a half (3.8 cm) of coverage on your pot. This is woefully inadequate for most pots. I’m not sure what Kovea was thinking here, but this windscreen simply won’t do. Take a look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1-yt40YU7g
In order to provide decent wind protection, a windscreen generally needs to extend about 75% of the way up the pot. You should measure the pot(s) you intend to use on the Hydra. The height of the windscreen that you need will be 3/4ths (75%) of the height of your pot plus four inches (10 cm) for the height of the stove. If you just want to get one windscreen and be done with it, an 8” (20 cm) tall windscreen is a pretty good bet for most pots that are wider than they are tall up to maybe 3L in size. The 8” windscreen that I used was a Vari-Vent from Trail Designs. It’s a good windscreen, but if you order one, you should ask Trail Designs to make you one that’s a bit longer than their normal size if you plan to use a pot larger than say 1.75 L in capacity. With my 2.6 liter pot, I would have liked to have had about 4” (10 cm) more of windscreen in terms of length.
If you’re using a really tall pot, you might want to get one of those tall, folding panel windscreens.
Here is a video shot on a windy day at Crystal Cove State Park. I think that you’ll see that an 8” (20 cm) windscreen offers adequate protection from wind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAfsoAn7nRQ
The bottom line here is that you must be able to adequately shield the Hydra from wind. Would I choose the Hydra for areas where severe winds are expected? I probably would not.
For most conditions, the Hydra should be fine provided that adequate means of wind protection are used. In fact, for a lot of conditions, the windscreen that comes with the Hydra may be fine, and you’ll wonder what Hikin’ Jim was going on about. However, as can be seen in the video, wind really can affect the Hydra, and one must be prepared. I didn’t just dream this up. During field testing, I encountered conditions where the stove’s flame was really wonky in a cross breeze which led me to test different windscreens. In other words, my comments about the necessity of wind protection for the Hydra arise from testing in real world conditions.
- Compact (really compact)
- Good ergonomics
- Uses standard fuel bottles and standard canisters
- Sensitive to wind
- The supplied windscreen is too short
- The instructions are in English that was clearly not written by a native speaker of the language.
Bottom Line: The Kovea Hydra is recommended, provided that adequate wind protection is supplied.
I thank you for your readership,
- Massdrop provided me with a Hydra at no cost to me for the purposes of this review.
- I receive no compensation from Massdrop for this review other than getting to keep the stove (well, Massdrop did give me a free pair of socks but whatever). I have more than 100 backpacking stoves and get nothing but grief from my dear wife every time I get yet another one. I couldn’t care less if Massdrop never sent me another stove. I review therefore with complete and utter independence. This is just a hobby. If someone doesn’t like my reviews, they’re welcome not to read them. I don’t make money from this other than a trivial bit of money from the advertising on my blog, about a dollar a day, frequently less. This dollar a day pays hosting costs and maybe buys me some fuel. It certainly doesn’t provide me with a living.
- I am a Massdrop customer, and I have purchased multiple items from Massdrop. My experience with Massdrop has been good. Your mileage may vary. I like deals. I recommend Massdrop on that basis. I receive no compensation for my recommendation.
- Once, several years ago, the Kovea rep bought me lunch at a very modest restaurant, Chili’s as I recall. If the Kovea rep was thinking that I’d give a good review to a crappy stove on that basis, he’s dreaming (not that I suspect the rep of any such thing; this is just a disclosure). If you the reader suspect such, then you haven’t read enough of my reviews.
About Hikin’ Jim
Hikin’ Jim is an avid hiker and backpacker residing in Southern California. Jim is something of a backpacking stove aficionado, owning well over a hundred backpacking stoves. You can find him most any weekend out field testing stove related gear in the local mountains or, in the summer, wandering the Sierra Nevada. Hikin’ Jim has a blog, Adventures in Stoving, devoted almost exclusively to backpacking stoves, including reviews, general stove tips, and other articles pertaining to the use of stoves in the backcountry.
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