The outdoor community lost a legend and an inspiration this week, with the passing of The North Face founder, Douglas Tompkins. Tompkins was kayaking on Lago General Carrera in Chilean Patagonia with a group of outdoor industry and conservation figures, including Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) and Rick Ridgeway (climber and Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Patagonia), when the paddlers capsized due to high wind and surf. Though none of the other paddlers were seriously injured, Tompkins succumbed to hypothermia and died in a nearby hospital on Tuesday afternoon. He was 72 years old.
An accomplished rock climber, paddler, and mountaineer, Tompkins and his then-wife, Susie Tompkins-Buell, started a modest ski and backpacking shop called The North Face in 1966, with the mantra “Never Stop Exploring.” The North Face ultimately grew into one of the leading brands in the outdoor industry. The pair also established the lifestyle clothing brand Esprit in the 1980s, whose success would help drive much of the conservation work to which Tompkins dedicated so much of his life.
Tompkins and his second wife, former Patagonia CEO Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, moved to South America during the 1990s to focus on land conservation efforts in Chile and Argentina. Through their various charitable organizations, the couple acquired 2.2 million acres of land for conservation, including the world’s largest nature preserve, Pumalín Park in Southern Chile, established five new national parks and expanded others, bought and restored degraded farmlands, and helped to advance conservation activism, including the multiyear campaign to stop a massive hydroelectric project that would had dammed wild rivers in Chilean Patagonia.
It’s difficult to put into words what someone as influential and inspiring as Doug Tompkins means to the outdoor industry as a whole, to Ruffwear as a company, and to us as individuals. Tompkins has demonstrated that we have a duty to give back and to protect these special places where we find both joy and inspiration for our work and life. We as an industry share a passion for the outdoors, and Tompkins emboldens us to pour our passion into collaboration, to be just as ardent about preserving the wild places where we play as we are about actually playing. As a company, we look to Tompkins’s legacy as one to emulate, carry forward, and build upon. We think about what type of products we make, how our products are made, what materials and processes are used, and what happens to our products once their life cycle is over. We think about how to shrink our footprint in each step of the process, and how to use our position as an outdoor brand to make a positive impact on our world. Tompkins inspires us to do better, to strive for constant improvement. Finally, as individuals, we can look to Tompkins as an example of what’s possible in life, in terms of both adventure and doing good. We make choices every single day, and each day is an opportunity to make the best choice we can.
In this sense, “never stop exploring” can be understood literally, in terms exploring new areas and activities in the outdoors, but it can also mean never stop exploring ways to protect what we love, to be better humans, companies, and societies, and to do more than we think we can. Doug Tompkins truly embodied his mantra, “Never Stop Exploring,” and through his life has inspired all of us to do the same.