Best Fish Tank for Beginners in 2021 – How to Choose an Aquarium Kit?
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Picking out the first fish tank is an exciting time for any beginner aquarist. But which is the best fish tank or aquarium kit for a beginner? How to choose a good and inexpensive aquarium kit in 2021?
When I think about my first tank, I remember being overwhelmed by the number of choices available.
Indeed, one of the most daunting tasks in setting up an aquarium as a beginner is piecing together all the different components that make up the entire system.
If you find yourself in this position, you’re probably wondering some or even all the following things:
- Should you get a small tank or go for the bigger-sized tank?
- Do you get an aquarium kit or buy all necessary equipment separately?
- Do you get a glass tank or an acrylic one?
- Where do you place the tank?
- Do you need a stand for it?
If you’re asking yourself these questions, don’t worry, picking out the best fish tank boils down to a few things that I will discuss in this article.
In this guide, you’ll learn which tank size is best for a beginner aquarist and which starter aquarium kits you should consider as your first choice.
Best Aquarium Kits for Beginners
Here is a list of best aquarium kits I recommend for beginners:
|Aquarium Kit||Max Tank Size||Measures||Product Price|
|1. Tetra 20 Gallon Complete Aquarium Kit||20 Gallons||24.2 x 12.4 x 16.7 inches|
|2. Aqueon Aquarium Fish Tank Starter Kit||10 Gallons||20.2 x 10.5 x 13.3 inches|
|3. SeaClear Acrylic Aquarium Combo Set||50 Gallons||36 x 15 x 20 inches|
|4. Marina LED Aquarium Kit||20 Gallons||24 x 12.5 x 16.5 inches|
|5. SCA 50 Gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium||50 Gallons||24 x 24 x 20 inches|
Let’s start with the best tank size for a beginner aquarist.
Choosing the Right Tank Size
If it’s your first time setting up an aquarium, you might think the most cautious thing to do is to get a smaller tank and upgrade later as you get some more experience under your belt.
That’s what common sense dictates, right?
Unfortunately, this is what many beginner aquarists get wrong and why many of them don’t succeed the first time they try to set up an aquarium.
The thing is that even experienced aquarists will steer away from getting a small tank because water chemistry is a tricky thing and maintaining stable tank conditions in a small tank is difficult.
Fish produce waste constantly and depending on the type of fish you plan on stocking your aquarium with, some fish will have a higher bio-load than others.
As fish waste breaks down in the tank, it releases chemicals that are toxic to your fish and that can cause a lot of health issues or even kill them.
Then there is the risk of overfeeding your fish and having leftover food in the tank that is decaying, which also releases toxins into the water.
In a bigger tank, the concentration of these toxic chemicals will be lower, in a smaller tank, they’ll build up much faster.
This is the main reason why you’ll need to regularly perform water changes – to dilute and remove these toxins from the tank.
Therefore, I recommend going for at least a 20-gallon tank for your first fish tank. Keeping water conditions stable in a tank this size will be much easier, plus you can comfortably house your fish.
With a larger tank, you’ll have more time to fix things if you make a mistake. This luxury is not afforded to those who opt for a small tank, where even a small mistake can have a huge impact.
As a beginner, you’re bound to make some mistakes in feeding and maintaining your tank, and a larger fish tank is less susceptible to change than a small tank.
You may also be tempted to choose a smaller tank because of lower costs, but again, no matter how small a tank is, there is a price floor under which you simply cannot get no matter the size.
Now that you know why you shouldn’t choose a small tank, let’s see what other factors you should consider when choosing a fish tank.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Fish Tank
Take my recommendation of a 20-gallon tank with a grain of salt, because ultimately, the type, size and number of fish will be the most accurate parameters in determining the right tank size.
Besides size and fish, you should also consider where will you be keeping your fish tank, because the location where you’re going to keep the fish tank will help determine its shape.
Next, you’ll need to consider the pros and cons of glass vs acrylic aquariums and factor in the tank’s weight.
And lastly, you’ll need to weight the pros and cons of investing in an all-in-one aquarium kit that will include all necessary equipment or getting each item separately.
Type & Adult Size of Your Fish
If you’re buying baby fish, any random aquarium may look like a good option to you, but those tiny fish will grow and when they reach adulthood, that random aquarium may prove to be too crowded for them.
Therefore, I recommend that you research the fish you’re going to buy and factor in their adult size when choosing a tank for them.
If your fish need a huge tank to thrive, you’ll need to invest in one. Period.
If you don’t, you’ll end up with fish that struggle with health issues due to the lack of enough space and because of exposure to high levels of ammonia and other toxins.
Another thing you should be careful about is the number of fish you’re going to keep in the tank. Just because you’re getting a larger tank, it doesn’t mean you can keep a lot of fish.
Here too, learning about things like activity level and bio-load are extremely important in determining the size of the tank you should get to offer enough space for your fish.
Finally, you should be aware that not all fish get along, and sometimes you may need to provide enough hiding spaces for some species if you want to keep them together with fish that may pester them.
Research into fish compatibility and temperament are key in creating a peaceful community aquarium.
Because I don’t know the layout of your home or the room where you would like to put your aquarium, I can’t pinpoint an exact location where it would be best to keep your tank.
I can, however, offer advice on where not to place your tank.
Anywhere where your aquarium is in direct sunlight is a bad idea, because it will trigger algae growth, which brings about a whole set of other problems you’ll need to worry about.
Another extremely bad place to put the tank is close to air vents, heaters, doors, or windows. Drafts and air conditioning can interfere with the temperature requirements of the tank.
Choose a location that’s visible and where you can get access to electrical outlets, water, and other things you may need for your aquarium.
You also need to think about maintenance, so placing the tank in a location where you can easily access it is also important.
If you don’t have enough room to move around it, it will be an issue when it comes to maintenance.
Make sure you come up with the best place to set up your aquarium before you buy it. Having decided on a location, you can take measures and consider the size, shape and weight of the tank.
Another tip is to avoid placing the tank close to speakers (think subwoofers), because the filter system is usually already noisy as it is and combining tanks with vibrations will stress the fish.
Choose a quiet location, on a surface that can support the weight of the tank, in a room that’s not exposed to sudden changes in temperature.
Glass or Acrylic?
This is a question that comes up a lot when deciding on a fish tank. Although I prefer glass, I have no problems with acrylic aquariums either.
That said, glass is cheaper and more resistant to scratching, while acrylic tanks tend to scratch more easily and lose their clarity over time (they tend to yellow too).
Glass is heavier, however, and it has a poor impact resistance, while acrylic aquariums are lighter and have a better impact resistance.
When it comes to shape, acrylic tanks display more variety than glass tanks.
At the end of the day, they’re both good options, but if you’re looking for an unusually shaped tank or one that’s easily modifiable, acrylic is best. In all other cases, going with glass is probably better.
I mentioned that glass tanks are heavier and acrylic ones are lighter. Add water to them, plus the other equipment and the whole set-up becomes even heavier.
The larger the tank, the heavier the whole setup. And you don’t want anything breaking under the weight of an aquarium filled with water, because that will be an expensive accident.
The weight of the tank impacts your choice of location for the tank. If you don’t have a sturdy piece of furniture that can hold up all that weight, you’re going to need to invest in an aquarium stand.
Should You Get an All-in-One Aquarium Kit?
You’ve chosen the tank size, the location, the tank material, and you’ve considered weight aspects, now you should think about other equipment you need for you tank.
You could try to piece everything together yourself, or another option for a beginner is to buy an aquarium kit that comes ready with all necessary equipment.
Chances are that as a complete beginner, you’re still learning about the different components needed to put together a new aquarium.
I tend to recommend beginners to get an aquarium kit to see how an aquarium goes together and get a general feel of the role of each component in the system.
Typically, aquarium kits will include the filter system, lighting and/or heater, water conditioner, net, and some other accessories you may need.
You’ll also find guides that will dissuade you from getting an aquarium kit and that’s because there are some really bad options out there as well.
This is one of the biggest disadvantages to getting an aquarium kit – you don’t have a say in the different parts that the manufacturer chooses to put in the kit.
You may run into issues like having off-brand components that don’t perform to expectations or that break down too easily.
However, all these can be prevented if you buy from a reputable manufacturer.
Best Beginner-Friendly Aquarium Kits
If you do decide to buy an aquarium kit, here are a few reliable options that I recommend:
1. Tetra 20 Gallon Complete Aquarium Kit w/ filter heater LED & plants
The Tetra Aquarium Kit comes complete with an LED hood, a filter system, and artificial plants. It’s a glass tank manufactured in the USA and features scratch-resistant glass that won’t lose its clearness over time.
The LED hood offers natural daytime effect and the quiet filter systems aptly named Whisper offers silent and efficient filtration and dependable water flow.
The tank kit is dispatched with an artificial Boxwood plant mat and four artificial plants that adds a natural feel to the tank and offers plenty of hiding spots for your fish.
With this setup all you need next is to add the substrate, perform the nitrogen cycle and add your fish to the tank.
- Includes all essential equipment to get started
- Easily manageable tank size and shape, perfect for beginners
- Energy-saving LED lights
- Mini-heater for temperature control
- Some complaints about the filter offering a low flow
Experienced aquarists may take issue with the simplicity of the system; however, the Tetra aquarium kit is a great choice for beginner aquarists who are looking to set up their first tank on a budget.
2. Aqueon Aquarium Fish Tank Starter Kits with LED Lighting
It’s also an Amazon favorite, being picked as an Amazon Choice for 20-gallon aquarium kits.
The kit is available in 10-gallon and 20-gallon sizes and in line with my previous recommendations, I urge you to buy the 20-gallon tank if you’re going for an Aqueon fish tank.
The glass aquarium is shipped together with an impressive list of starter equipment and accessories.
In terms of equipment, the Aqueon aquarium comes with a Quiet Flow LED Pro Power Filter with medium cartridge, a 100W preset heater, and a low-profile LED full hood.
The preset heater keeps water in the aquarium at a constant 78 degrees, which is suitable for most tropical fish.
The filter system is equipped with a filter cartridge replacement indicator that will flash a red LED light when it’s time to replace the cartridges.
The filter is an Aqueon QuietFlow HOB Filters, for which you can buy replacement cartridges on Amazon.
Other accessories shipped with this product include a setup guide, fish net, water conditioner, premium fish food, and a thermometer.
With this kit you’re pretty much ready to set up the tank, substrate is all you need to add.
- Complete kit with essentials + accessories
- Glass tank for extra sturdiness
- Quiet Flow Filter System
- LED lighting
- 20-gallon tank is the biggest available size
This starter kit is excellent for beginners, but even as an expert I wouldn’t dismiss this kit as it’s a nice and affordable setup. My only issue is that it isn’t available in bigger sizes.
3. SeaClear Acrylic Aquarium Combo Set
You can also choose from three backdrop colors — black, clear, and cobalt blue.
The tank is suitable for freshwater or saltwater aquariums, it has a much better resistance to chipping or cracking than glass.
What about the pros and cons of this Combo Set? Here’s what you should know:
- Available in sizes from 15 to 50 gallons
- Includes reflector and light fixture
- Choice of backdrop colors
- Strong and lightweight acrylic tank
- Filter system and heater must be bought separately
All in all, this aquarium kit is a good option for beginners even though it’s not a complete kit.
4. Marina LED Aquarium Kit, 20 gallon
The filter system is a Marina Slim S20 clip-on filter that features quick-change cartridges for an easy changeover and maintenance.
Although there’s a 5-gallon version of this Marina LED Aquarium Kit, I don’t recommend going for that version because of the reasons I discussed when mentioning the best tank size for beginners.
- Filter and lighting included
- Easy filter changeover
- Energy-efficient LED lighting
- Sturdy glass tank
- Filter system gives off a constant low humming
- No heater included
Despite the lack of a heater, the Marina LED Aquarium Kit is a good purchase for beginner and offers good value for money.
5. SCA 50 Gallon Starfire Glass Aquariums Complete Package
The other caveat is assembly. If you’re not mechanically gifted, you may have trouble with setting it up.
However, it is a complete aquarium package and it even comes with a sturdy aquarium cabinet. Plus, it’s a 50-gallon tank, and when you look at it like that, the price tag isn’t that higher either.
So, apart from the glass tank and the cabinet (which comes in black or white color choices), the SCA package includes a sump for clutter-free display, a SCA-301 skimmer and Atmen PH2500 return pump, filter media, bio media, Durso Stand Pipe, Return T pipe, bulkheads, and tubing are all included.
- 50-gallon glass tank
- Filter media included
- Aquarium cabinet with dual opening doors included
- Sump, return pump, return T pipe included
- No heater
- Difficult to assemble by complete beginners
If you’re an absolute beginner, this SCA Starfire Aquarium may not be the best choice for you, however, if you’re looking for a larger glass aquarium and an aquarium cabinet, this product offers good value for money.
Which Aquarium Kit Should You Buy?
The SCA 50 Gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium Package is also a good choice if you need a 20+ gallon tank and an aquarium cabinet, just make sure you can figure out the assembly or have someone help you out.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide which tank you like best based on budget, components, aquarium size, and material.
If you prefer to source all the different components yourself, you can do that too, just make sure you do your research.
In the end, the goal is to create a healthy and happy environment for your fish and enjoy your aquarium many years on end without issues.
I hope my quick intro on how to choose the best fish tank as a beginner and my review of the best aquarium kits for beginners has served as a good basis for you to get started with your own tank.
Whether you’re getting an aquarium starter kit or you’re sourcing all the components yourself, take your time and do your research.
Take your time in choosing the location, the size, the fish, the substrate and everything that goes into setting up an aquarium.
I say this because once you’ve put everything together, it’s very difficult to make important changes.
From moving the tank by a few inches to changing the substrate, it can all be difficult to do without stressing out your fish.
And once you complete the nitrogen cycle and add your fish, you don’t want to disassemble everything and start all over again.
Therefore, take your time and enjoy the process because it will be all worth it in the end!