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Clothing designer turned environmental philanthropist dies of hypothermia after kayak capsizes in Southern Chile

Douglas Tompkins, the 72 year-old co-founder of outdoor clothing and kit brand North Face, died on Tuesday after being taken to hospital in Coyhaique, in Patagonia. The American environmentalist was paddling across Lake General Carrera in Patagonia when high winds and waves caused his and others’ kayaks to capsize in near freezing water.

A military patrol boat rescued three of Tompkins’ group of kayakers while a helicopter lifted out the other three, according to the Chilean army. He died about six hours after being admitted to the regional hospital.

Tompkins and his wife Kristine – herself the former CEO of outdoor brand Patagonia – had dedicated the last 25 years to saving pristine South American ecosystems, buying up an estimated two million acres in first Chile and then Argentina.

It’s over half a century since Tompkins and a partner set up The North Face in San Francisco, as a ski and backpacking retail and mail order company. But in 1989, he left behind his affluent Californian lifestyle and moved to the wilds of Patagonia, spending months at a time exploring the rainforests, wetlands and prairies.

Ever since the billionaire had campaigned with environmental activists, buying up huge tracts of land to keep them pristine and free of development. On his own Chilean land Tompkins created Pumalin Park, 2,900km2 of lakes, forests and fjords that stretches from the Pacific coast all the way to the Andes.

Douglas Tompkins’ environmental legacy will continue through the Foundation for Deep Ecology, which he co-founded with activist Jerry Mander in 1990.