My current tripod is an inexpensive Slik aluminum with its own non-standard plastic tripod mount and a simple swivel head. To be honest, it spends more time in the closet that under a camera.
I had a little bit of sticker shock looking at the range of tripods and heads available, particularly because I started out interested in carbon fiber. I would like to find a tripod that is somewhat easy to travel with and makes me want to bring it along and use it, but it doesn't necessarily have to be super-compact or high tech. I have a GorillaPod for backpacking when size and weight are extremely limited.
I guess I'm just wondering if anyone can help me evaluate what is worth it and what isn't when it comes to picking out a tripod.
For your stated purposes, I'd recommend a Manfrotto CF tripod. I think they offer the best compromise between quality and value. Gitzo is tops, and costs like it; Manfrotto is owned by the same company as Gitzo, for what that's worth. For the Manfrotto CFs, there are two lines - 190 and 055. The 190 is smaller, lighter, cheaper, and has a lower weight limit. I have a 190CXPRO4 (4 leg sections for better portability), and it supports a gripped body with 70-200/2.8 or 100-400 lens just fine. The key factor should be your height - you want the tripod tall enough to have the viewfinder at your eye level - do not
include the center column in that measurement (but do add in the distance from camera base to viewfinder. Don't consider the center column because you should only extend that as a last resort - it adds much instability and vibration.
You'll also need a ballhead. Gitzo makes the best legs, but their ballheads aren't so good. Really Right Stuff, Kirk, Markins, and Arca Swiss all make excellent ballheads - and they're priced to match the Gitzo legs. Manfrotto has decent heads, but they don't use an Arca Swiss-compatible clamp. The solution is the Wimberley C-12 clamp, AS-type which can mount on other heads, including some by Manfrotto. The two I'd recommend are the 468MG and the 498 (no RC# since you'd be attaching the Wimberley clamp). The 498 is relatively inexpensive but good quality; the only downside is that after you tighten the ball, when you release the camera there's a very slight droop that's ok for most uses, but can make critical adjustments tedious. The 468MG is a hydrostatic head that locks down firmly with minimal effort, and doesn't move at all once tightened.
Other than Manfrotto, a few other intermediate lines are worth a look - Induro, Benro, and Feisol.
Hope that helps...