Bipedalism is a defining feature of the hominin lineage, but the nature and efficiency of early hominin walking remains the focus of much debate. Here, we investigate walking cost in early hominins using experimental data from humans and chimpanzees. We use gait and energetics data from humans, and from chimpanzees walking bipedally and quadrupedally, to test a new model linking locomotor anatomy and posture to walking cost. We then use this model to reconstruct locomotor cost for early, ape-like hominins and for the A.L. 288 Australopithecus afarensis specimen. Results of the model indicate that hind limb length, posture (effective mechanical advantage), and muscle fascicle length contribute nearly equally to differences in walking cost between humans and chimpanzees. Further, relatively small changes in these variables would decrease the cost of bipedalism in an early chimpanzee-like biped below that of quadrupedal apes. Estimates of walking cost in A.L. 288, over a range of hypothetical postures from crouched to fully extended, are below those of quadrupedal apes, but above those of modern humans. These results indicate that walking cost in early hominins was likely similar to or below that of their quadrupedal ape-like forebears, and that by the mid-Pliocene, hominin walking was less costly than that of other apes. This supports the hypothesis that locomotor energy economy was an important evolutionary pressure on hominin bipedalism.