BACKGROUND—The purpose of this study was to develop an externally controlled, constant paced field walking test to assess endurance capacity in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There were four objectives: (1) to develop a protocol; (2) to compare treadmill and shuttle walk tests of endurance capacity; (3) to examine the repeatability of the endurance shuttle walk test; and (4) to compare the sensitivity to pulmonary rehabilitation of endurance and incremental shuttle walk tests. METHODS—The test was designed to complement the incremental shuttle walk test (ISWT) using the same 10 m shuttle course and an audio signal to control pace. The intensity of the field endurance test was related to a percentage of each patient's maximum field exercise performance assessed by the ISWT. A number of cassette tapes were pre-recorded with a range of audio signal frequencies to dictate walking speeds between 1.80 and 6.00 km/h. In the first limb of the study 10 patients with COPD (mean (SD) forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) 1.0 (0.36) l, 35% predicted) performed three endurance shuttle walk tests (ESWTs) and three treadmill endurance tests. The walking speeds were calculated to elicit 75%, 85%, and 95% of each patient's maximum ISWT performance for the field tests and measured peak oxygen consumption for the treadmill tests. In a separate group of patients the repeatability of the ESWT at an intensity of 85% of the ISWT performance was evaluated. Finally, the ESWT (at the 85% intensity) and the ISWT were performed at the start of a five week control period and at the start and end of a seven week pulmonary rehabilitation programme in 21 patients with COPD (mean FEV1 0.80 (0.18) l). RESULTS—The mean (SE) times achieved during the ESWT were 13.1 (2.3), 10.2 (2.5), and 5.3 (1.7) min for the walks at 75%, 85%, and 95% intensities, respectively. Patients tended to walk for longer on the treadmill than during the field tests at all intensities, but there were no significant differences between the end of test heart rates or Borg ratings of breathlessness or perceived exertion. Following one practice ESWT at the 85% intensity, the mean difference and limits of agreement (2SD) between tests 2 and 3 was +15 (42) s (p>0.05). There was no significant change in performance on either test following the five week control period prior to rehabilitation. Following rehabilitation the ESWT duration increased by 160 (24)% and the ISWT distance increased by 32 (11)% (effect sizes 2.90and 0.41,respectively). CONCLUSIONS—The ESWT was simple to perform, acceptable to all patients, and exhibited good repeatability after one practice walk. The test showed major improvement following rehabilitation and was more sensitive to change than the field test of maximal capacity.