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The North Face

Doug Tompkins, Founder of The North Face, Dies in Patagonia

The lifelong conservationist was involved in a kayaking accident in Chile. He was 72 years old.

by Will Grant
Dec 9 2015, 2:41pm

Sam Beebe / Wikimedia

Doug Tompkins, founder of The North Face and clothing company Esprit, died today, at the age of 72. Tompkins was kayaking with five other people in Chilean Patagonia when his boat capsized. He was taken to the hospital, where he later succumbed to hypothermia, according to the New York Times.

"We are all deeply saddened at the news of Doug's passing," The North Face said in a statement to VICE Sports. "Doug was a passionate advocate for the environment, and his legacy of conservation will help ensure that there are outdoor spaces to be explored for generations to come. He will be sorely missed, our thoughts are with the Tompkins family at this time."

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Tomkins was born on March 20, 1943 in Ohio, and spent much of his childhood in Millbrook, New York. In 1960, at the age of 17, he went West to ski and rock climb. In 1963, he founded the California Mountain Guide Service. In 1966, he and a friend started selling ski and backpacking gear under The North Face moniker. The company's first retail store opened in 1968 in North Beach, California. For the opening, the Grateful Dead played a set, and Hell's Angels worked the door.

The North Face became an industry leader in outdoor gear and apparel, catering to a wide range of people, from urbanites wearing Denali fleece jackets to professionals like photographer Jimmy Chin for his Himalayan climbs. The North Face has continued to promote the outdoor and action sports community by sponsoring athletes and expeditions around the world. (The company also sponsors VICE Sports' action content.)

Tompkins was a lifelong conservationist who came to see The North Face as a platform for promoting environmentalism. To this end, Tompkins set up the Conservation Land Trust in 1992; in 2005 it purchased more than 700,000 acres in Patagonia, which became a private nature reserve called Pumalin Park. The Trust has protected more than 2 million acres in Chile and Argentina.

Tompkins is survived by his wife, Kris.