Tripods are an essential accessory for many types of optical equipment - spotting scopes, cameras, observation binoculars, telescopes and more. A tripod is used to 1) improve steadiness when using high magnification instruments and/or 2) support the weight of large, heavy instruments. Which tripod is right for you? Here are some basics to help you decide.
For the sake of simplicity, think of tripods as having two basic parts - a tripod head, which holds your optical product and a tripod leg set.
On less expensive tripods, typically under $100, tripod heads and tripod legs set are sold together as a unit - no need to buy them individually. Most tripods in this price range do not allow you to remove and switch heads anyway. More expensive tripods, however, offer interchangeable legs and heads, so you may need to buy both pieces to make a complete tripod. When ordering a Bogen Tripod, for instance, you only get a leg set if you order a model labeled as a "tripod". If you want both a leg set and a head, you must order a tripod by Bogen labeled and described as a "kit". If in doubt as to what is included, check the specs. If it is a leg set, only, there will only be specifications for a leg set. If a head and leg set are included, there will be specifications for both.
Big instruments and/or high magnifications require heavy tripod heads and these do not come cheap. Be sure to budget for a tripod that matches your instrument and needs. Anything less is a waste of money. Indeed, most tripods under $100 have plastic heads, which can crack and drop your expensive camera or spotting scope on the ground without warning. Cheap tripods are only suitable for small loads and small instruments.
Some manufacturers offer weight or payload capacities of their tripods. These should not be taken too literally and are nearly always inflated. Payload specs can be used as a basis for comparison, but rarely translate into anything real in actual use. A tripod or head rated for 13 pounds DOES NOT automatically make it a good choice for a 13 lb giant binocular.