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Why Chia Seeds Are a Magical Snack for Backcountry Hunters

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chia seeds
Chia seeds pack a powerful energy boost. Tyler Freel

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On an extreme backcountry hunt, like the Dall sheep hunt that I’m about to leave for, you will be in calorie deficit if you’re doing things right. That means you are burning more calories than you are consuming, and the numbers can surprise you. I’ll typically lose 10 pounds on a sheep hunt. In 23 days in the mountains last fall, I lost 21 pounds.

Because weight is a major consideration for backcountry foods, most of my vittles will consist of freeze-dried meals, but most of us bring a variety of other snacks for daytime sustenance, and we’re forever looking for foods with a high calorie-to-weight ratio. You won’t believe the food that hits way above its weight: chia seeds.

Especially for those who are a bit leaner than I am, eating enough food to keep going can be a big issue. Since you have to carry every ounce of food, it’s wise to pick foods that are over 100 calories per ounce, and high fat and protein content is a plus. It’s nice to be able to give a little calorie boost to your foods, and this year, which is why I’m packing in chia seeds this year. And believe me, I’m getting plenty of flack about it from my hunting buddy.

My hunting partner, Frank, immediately responded, “Well, I’ll bring the ceramic pig. That way we can have a chia pet at camp.”


What Frank doesn’t know is that chia seeds are a good way to boost your calories. They are cheap, packed with calories, fat, protein, and because they’re basically tasteless, they’re easy to mix in with things like oatmeal. I have to adjust my self-image a little bit, just thinking of how much of a granola cruncher I must sound like. It’s the same feeling when I tear into a calorie-packed snack bar with the word “vegan” on the label, but then I smile to myself, imagining the type of person that made that bar, and knowing that it will help me fill my pack with fresh, pure protein in the form of wild-sheep meat.

In every ounce of chia seeds, there are approximately 140 calories, 5 grams of protein, and 9 grams of unsaturated fat. On a typical mountain morning, I’ll usually start the day with coffee, and two packs of instant oatmeal. The oatmeal itself is about 310 calories, but if I dump a couple of spoonfuls of chia seeds into it, it almost doubles the calories, more than doubles the protein, and triples the fat content (which is also very important).

Although many of us have no value for those little seeds other than as a windowsill occupier when you were 6 years old, don’t write it off. If you’re willing to do some research, and make an appearance at the “hippy” section of the grocery store, you can get some serious calorie boosting additions to your loadout. And you can make good use of all those empty hours glassing up sheep by picking chia seeds out of your teeth.