When I first picked up a fly rod, I didn't know what tippet was...so lets start there. I had read enough to know a tapered leader was required to turn the fly over for proper presentation. So I bought some of those. Then I bought a couple more...and then some more. Finally I got smart and looked into tippet, now I use a tapered lead and 6-12 inches of tippet with a strength less than the leader. Now when I snag (as I often do), breaking off costs me only a few cents worth of tippet instead of a $4 leader. The revelation has saved me at least $100 so far. I'm sure fly fishing aficionados will tell me I'm missing something, but if there is another purpose for tippet I have not discovered it.
Now a little more about tippet and the god sends who package it. Tippet is rated on an scale of X's. Generically speaking, the higher the number the thinner the line but the exact tensile strength depends on the brand you buy. Being of bass fishing heritage, the "X" system means nothing and I prefer to know the breaking force in pounds. Breaking force doesn't change from brand to brand and it is something I can really wrap my brain around. For example, in the picture above you can see two spools of Scientific Anglers tippet, one is 6.8lb (4X) and the other is 3.7lb (6X.) Those spools are the only two I own.
The angling I do falls into two categories: big fish and little fish. I always use a 8-10lb tapered leader but the tippet will change depending on bass or blue gills. This is where the geniuses (or is it geniusii?) who market this stuff have a solution to make life simple and I've come up with an easy memory trigger to quickly find the tippet I want.
First, it is worth noting many brands will snap together to