Organisms that can resist parasitic infection often have lower fitness in the absence of parasites. These costs of resistance can mediate host evolution during parasite epidemics. For example, large epidemics will select for increased host resistance. In contrast, small epidemics (or no disease) can select for increased host susceptibility when costly resistance allows more susceptible hosts to outcompete their resistant counterparts. Despite their importance for evolution in host populations, costs of resistance (which are also known as resistance trade-offs) have mainly been examined in laboratory-based host–parasite systems. Very few examples come from field-collected hosts. Furthermore, little is known about how resistance trade-offs vary across natural populations. We addressed these gaps using the freshwater crustacean Daphnia dentifera and its natural yeast parasite, Metschnikowia bicuspidata. We found a cost of resistance in two of the five populations we studied – those with the most genetic variation in resistance and the smallest epidemics in the previous year. However, yeast epidemics in the current year did not alter slopes of these trade-offs before and after epidemics. In contrast, the no-cost populations showed little variation in resistance, possibly because large yeast epidemics eroded that variation in the previous year. Consequently, our results demonstrate variation in costs of resistance in wild host populations. This variation has important implications for host evolution during epidemics in nature.