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Top Five Beginner Hang On The Back Filters & Refugiums

The most traditional method for keeping a saltwater aquarium is called the Berlin Method.  Basically you rely on a sump, protein skimmer, and a lot of live rock!

But you don’t need a sump to have decent filtration.  In fact, you can save a lot of money by purchasing an inexpensive glass aquarium and utilizing a HOB (hang on the back) filter.

There are three different types of HOB’s I’m going to recommend in this post:

  • Power Filter – this is just your standard HOB.  It utilizes a small utility pump to pull water from the tank and into the HOB filter.  Then you place various types of media in the filter, which the water passes through before being returned to the tank.
  • Power Filter w/Protein Skimmer – This is a standard HOB filter on steroids!  By adding a protein skimmer, you are able to clean your water column much more effectively.
  • Refugium – For those of us who run high nutrient systems because of a lot of livestock, you can set up a refugium with macroalgae to give a home for various copepods and amphipods, as well as provide phosphate and nitrate export via the algae growth.

I have personally only used the Penn Plax Cascade 300, and I still use it on my 40 gallon breeder tank.

This post is sort of in order of preference, but then again not really.  Every item on this list is different enough, so it’s really just going to depend on what your particular needs are!

5. AquaMaxx HOB-R Refugium

This is actually a really nice HOB refugium.  It comes with a Sicce Syncra Nano Circulation Pump (my favorite brand), and the baffled housing allows you to add a live sand or Miracle Mud substrate.

It does not come with a light, so I’m also recommending one.  The nice thing about the Innovative Marine Auqa Gadget Chaetomax Refugium LED is that you can mount it using velcro, so it just sticks right to the back of the AquaMaxx Refugium.

AquaMaxx and Innovative Marine make high quality products, so I trust the reviews I’ve read.  

The HOB refugium is pretty large, so make sure you have space for it before purchasing.  Here are the dimensions:

  • 16.75″L x 3.25″W x 12.75″H (43cm x 8cm x 32cm)

This HOB refugium will really help reduce nitrates and phosphates, as well as provide a safe breeding ground for various species of pods, allowing you to be able to have certain species of fish such as Mandarin Dragonets.

4. CPR AquaFuge2 HOB Refugium

This is pretty much the exact same thing as #5, no joke.  But, the CPR AquaFuge comes in three different sizes, so you are able to customize a bit more.

It comes with a small utility pump, but again, it does not come with a light.  The Innovative Marine Aqua Refugium Light will also work well for this HOB refugium.

3. Marine HOB Breeding Box

So this is a type of refugium in the technical sense.  It is a safe “refuge” for fish.  But typically, in the saltwater hobby, a refugium refers to a place to grow macroalgae.  So I’m stretching the definition a bit!

This Marine HOB Breeding Box is actually quite cool. I’ve never owned one myself, but I can’t tell you how many times I wish I had something just like this.

Especially once your tank is fully established, the introduction of any new fish can bring out aggression.  Sometimes all you need a safe place for all the fish to see each other until they get used to the new fish.

This HOB Breeding Box is also a natural refuge for any fish that might be being picked on by its other tank mates.

The Marine HOB Breeding Box does not use a utility pump, but rather creates gentle flow via an air pump.  So you will need to purchase both an air pump and airline tubing.  Click anywhere on this sentence for a link to standard airline tubing.

2. AquaMaxx HF-M HOB Multi Filter w/ Protein Skimmer

AquaMaxx HOB Filter With Protein Skimmer

Built for tanks between 20-60 gallons, this power filter / protein skimmer is a beast! This HOB is incredibly well thought out:

  • Uses a modified Sicce pump to power the protein skimmer.
  • Included filtration cartridge perfect for various media.
  • Third filtration chamber can either hold up to two AquaMaxx FR-S media reactors, or a refugium with macroalgae.
  • Plus, there is a built in holder for up to three probes and a dosing tube holder for 2-part dosing.

Yes, this is a lot more money than #1 (like $250 more!), but this is full reef level filtration disguised as a HOB.

I currently use #1 (Penn Plax) on this post for my 40 gallon breeder, but I assume that I will someday upgrade to this bad boy.

Protein skimmer and utility pump are included.

The only reason this is not #1 on my list is strictly the price.  At close to $300, it’s a big budget item for most beginners.

1. Penn Plax Cascade HOB Power Filter

I mean this is not the most highly rated HOB power filter available, but when you consider what you get for $20, I don’t know how the company makes a dime!

I currently own the Cascade 300 which is rated for aquariums from 55-100 gallons, and I use it on my 40 gallon breeder.  It is slightly overpowered for the tank, but I like it that way!

The Penn Plax Cascade comes in various sizes, with the 300 being the largest.  There is nothing fancy about this setup.  It comes with a simple utility pump, a plastic removable baffle, and simple black sponge.

I typically just stuff a bunch of filter floss in the rear chamber, but sometimes I’ll put a mesh bag full of activated carbon in there as well.

If you have an extra $250, then by all means purchase #2 on this post, the AquaMaxx HF-M HOB Filter w/ Protein Skimmer, but if you are just setting up a simple tank that doesn’t need anything fancy, then this inexpensive HOB from Penn Plax will work just fine.