- Humans have evolved the ability to walk very efficiently. Further, humans prefer to walk at speeds that approximately minimize their metabolic energy expenditure per unit distance (i.e. gross cost of transport, COT). This has been found in a variety of population groups and other species. However, these studies were performed on smooth, level ground or on treadmills. We hypothesized that the objective function for walking is more complex than only minimizing the COT. To test this idea, we compared the preferred speeds and the relationships between COT and speed for people walking on both a smooth, level floor and a rough, natural terrain trail. Rough terrain presumably introduces other factors, such as stability, to the objective function. 10 healthy men walked on both a straight, flat, smooth floor and on an outdoor trail strewn with rocks and boulders. In both locations, subjects performed 6-8 trials at different speeds relative to their preferred speed. The COT-speed relationships were similarly U-shaped for both surfaces, but the COT values on rough terrain were approximately 215% greater. On the smooth surface, the preferred speed (1.24+/-0.14 m/sec) was 5.1% faster (p>0.05) than the speed that minimized COT (1.18 m/sec) but on rough terrain, the preferred speed (1.06+/-0.07 m/sec) was 6.2% slower (p>0.05) than the COT minimum speed (1.13 m/sec). This suggests that the objective function when walking on rough terrain includes additional factors such as stability.