Millionaire American conservationist Douglas Tompkins stands on his land in this file photo from January 2000 during a interview with the local media, in the region of Palena, some 1,800 kilometers south of Santiago, Chile. Leo Beca/Reuters

By Anthony Esposito

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) -- U.S. environmentalist and businessman Douglas Tompkins, the founder of outdoor clothing and equipment company The North Face, died on Tuesday during a kayaking trip in Chile, local health officials said. He was 72.

Tompkins was on General Carrera Lake in Patagonia in southern Chile with a group of five others when his kayak flipped and he fell into the icy waters, the Aysen regional health service said in a statement. Local media reported that he was knocked over by a strong wave.

The service said he was admitted around 1:30 p.m. to the regional hospital in Coyhaique, some 1,140 miles (1,832 km) south of Santiago, but was pronounced dead of severe hypothermia hours later.

Tompkins' body temperature was 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius) after being taken out of the water, the statement said. All five of his companions were unharmed.

Tompkins founded The North Face, now part of VF Corporation, in the 1960s as a small ski and backpacking retailer in San Francisco. The company markets clothing and gear to hikers, mountain climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

"We are all deeply saddened at the news of Doug's passing. 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," the company said in a statement.

Tompkins also co-founded clothing company Esprit, which started with he and his then-wife selling clothes out of the back of their car before becoming an internationally recognized brand, according to his conservation website.

Tompkins later grew into an active environmentalist. He began acquiring vast tracts of land in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina in the 1990s, which he converted into protected nature parks.

Among the most well known are Pumalín, Corcovado and Yendegaia, which are visited by thousands of tourists each year.

He was also part of environmental advocacy group "Patagonia Without Dams," which opposed the construction of huge dams for power generation company HidroAysén.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Felipe Iturrieta in Santiago, Chile; Writing and additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Sandra Maler)