We studied the selection of preferred step width in human walking by measuring mechanical and metabolic costs as a function of experimentally manipulated step width (0.00-0.45L, as a fraction of leg length L). We estimated mechanical costs from individual limb external mechanical work and metabolic costs using open circuit respirometry. The mechanical and metabolic costs both increased substantially (54 and 45%, respectively) for widths greater than the preferred value (0.15-0.45L) and with step width squared (R(2) = 0.91 and 0.83, respectively). As predicted by a three-dimensional model of walking mechanics, the increases in these costs appear to be a result of the mechanical work required for redirecting the centre of mass velocity during the transition between single stance phases (step-to-step transition costs). The metabolic cost for steps narrower than preferred (0.10-0.00L) increased by 8%, which was probably as a result of the added cost of moving the swing leg laterally in order to avoid the stance leg (lateral limb swing cost). Trade-offs between the step-to-step transition and lateral limb swing costs resulted in a minimum metabolic cost at a step width of 0.12L, which is not significantly different from foot width (0.11L) or the preferred step width (0.13L). Humans appear to prefer a step width that minimizes metabolic cost.