Measures of energy expenditure can be used to inform animal conservation and management, but methods for measuring the energy expenditure of free‐ranging animals have a variety of limitations. Advancements in biologging technologies have enabled the use of dynamic body acceleration derived from accelerometers as a proxy for energy expenditure. Although dynamic body acceleration has been shown to strongly correlate with oxygen consumption in captive animals, it has been validated in only a few studies on free‐ranging animals. Here, we use relationships between oxygen consumption and overall dynamic body acceleration in resting and walking polar bears Ursus maritimus and published values for the costs of swimming in polar bears to estimate the total energy expenditure of 6 free‐ranging polar bears that were primarily using the sea ice of the Beaufort Sea. Energetic models based on accelerometry were compared to models of energy expenditure on the same individuals derived from doubly labeled water methods. Accelerometer‐based estimates of energy expenditure on average predicted total energy expenditure to be 30% less than estimates derived from doubly labeled water. Nevertheless, accelerometer‐based measures of energy expenditure strongly correlated (r2 = 0.70) with measures derived from doubly labeled water. Our findings highlight the strengths and limitations in dynamic body acceleration as a measure of total energy expenditure while also further supporting its use as a proxy for instantaneous, detailed energy expenditure in free‐ranging animals.