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Doug Tompkins, North Face Founder and Environmentalist, Dies in Kayaking Accident

The entrepreneur and outdoorsman leaves behind a legacy of conservation and an exploratory spirit.
Doug Tompkins at the controls. Photo by Howard Quigley/Panthera
Howard Quigley / Panthera
A pilot and mountaineer, Tompkins was most at home on the far edges of the map.

Doug Tompkins, the founder of The North Face who championed environmental causes throughout his life, died Tuesday after a kayaking accident in a remote lake in southern Chile, the company said in a statement. He was 72.

“We are all deeply saddened by the news of Doug Tompkins’ passing,” read a post on The North Face’s Instagram page. “He was a passionate advocate for the environment, and his legacy of conservation is one that we hope to help continue in the work we do every day.”


Tompkins was kayaking with other five other people on the vast General Carerra Lake in rugged, remote southern Chile when strong waves capsized the group’s kayaks, the regional health service told the New York Times. Tompkins endured extremely cold water before being rescued via helicopter, but later succumbed to severe hypothermia at Coyhaique Regional Hospital, which confirmed his death.

When Tompkins founded The North Face with his first wife, Susie Buell, in 1966, they rented and sold skiing and backpacking gear in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, according to the company’s statement.

Though he was best known publicly in the U.S. as the founder of outdoors brands like The North Face and Esprit, Tompkins embraced a life of devoted environmental conservation. He channeled the success of his businesses into efforts like the Conservation Land Trust, through which he preserved huge swathes of land in Chile and Argentina, where he lived later in his life.

“Doug was one of the world’s greatest conservation heroes,” Alan Rabinowitz, Ph.D., the CEO of Panthera, a global big cat conservation organization of which Tompkins was a member, said in a statement to Men’s Fitness. “Conservation was a way of being to Doug: You either lived it, or you were just talking about it.”

Tom Kaplan, Ph.D., the founder and chairman of Panthera, echoed those sentiments. “Doug Tompkins’ legacy is monumental,” Kaplan said in the statement. “He and his wife Kris have been among the most influential conservationists, not just of our generation, but in history.”

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