Estimates of daily energy expenditure are important for many areas of research in human ecology and adaptability. The most common technique for estimating human energy expenditure under field conditions, the factorial method, generally relies on activity-specific energy costs derived from published sources, based largely on North American and European subjects. There is concern that such data may not be appropriate for non-Western populations because of differences in metabolic costs. The present study addresses this concern by comparing measured vs. predicted energy costs at rest and during sub-maximal exercise in 83 subjects (52 males, 31 females) from three subsistence-level populations (Siberian herders and highland and coastal Ecuadorian farmers). Energy costs at rest (i.e., lying, sitting and standing) and while performing a standard stepping exercise did not significantly differ among the three groups. However, resting energy costs were significantly elevated over predicted levels (+ 16% in men, + 11% in women), whereas exercising costs were comparable to predicted values (-6% in men, + 3% in women). Elevations in resting energy needs appear to reflect responses to thermal stress. These results indicate that temperature adjustments of resting energy costs are critical for accurately predicting daily energy needs among traditionally living populations.