There is an ocean of distance between finding the boot that works for you and finding the boot that fits you. Knowing the difference can be difficult, but with a bit of preparation and a healthy dose of skepticism, you can happily enjoy the outdoors both worry- and blister-free.

If at any point in your life you’ve purchased footwear for more rugged uses, it’s a safe bet you’re familiar with the term ‘breaking in’. Ugh, the dreaded words.

Two more useless and unhelpful words have never been uttered by a minimum-wage part-timer working in a sporting goods store. Remember, hiking, be it for an hour or a week, is nothing like city walking. In most cases, your car isn’t only a few blocks away.

If you pick a pair of footwear that hurts or blisters your feet, you may be days from relief. Better to get it right the first time.

So here for your benefit (and sanity) are a few quick notes to always keep in mind, especially when that same part-timer returns to you and says, “We didn’t have a size 10, but I brought you a 9 to try just in case.”

Know Your Enemy: The Store

In this case, the “enemy” in question is the store you’ve chosen to find your footwear. In some places, outdoor gear stores have sprung up like weeds, and in others, they’re few and far between. Be sure to know what all of your choices are.

Is there a good selection? If not, what are the qualities of the brands they carry? A little ‘net research beforehand goes a long way (factual information only, please.

A personal review of footwear’s fit and function is like a personal review of favorite foods. One person’s favorite is rarely the same as someone else, but rotten food is always rotten food.)

Know Your Help: The Employees

A major chain may have a great selection, but the odds are higher that you’d meet our favorite part-timer. Smaller, independent stores are more likely to get you a passionate and well-educated staff but be prepared to pay 5-10% more, and more often than some like to admit, you may catch an air of, “You don’t know what Vibram is? Scoff” attitude as well.

Trust your gut. Those who know their stuff will ask questions, tell stories and make you comfortable without trying to make you comfortable.

(The Golden Rule) Know Yourself: Only You Are the Purchaser

A silly thing to say, but so many people go on the words of the stranger bringing them the boots. If something doesn’t feel quite right, don’t get it. The salesperson isn’t you and isn’t the one wearing those boots.

They may break in (shudder), but if they don’t, you have a pair of boots you can’t return and are no good to you. If $300 mountain boots fit like a dream for your day hikes (or casual trips on the bus, which I’ve seen), there’s nothing wrong with that.

If a cheap, soft pair of casual boots you bought from the mall carry you with ease over peak after peak, that’s fine too (that would be me, 5,000-plus miles and counting.)

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of choices out there for you. Shop around, take your time, do some research, find out what return policies a store has just in case, and don’t be afraid to say “No,” even to the good salespeople.

It’s not their fault they don’t carry a model that fits you perfectly, and yes, the perfect fit is what you want, and it’s far easier to find than you think.