Current Alpha Industries MA-1 "Classic" Review

Discussion in 'Outerwear' started by MeachamLake, Feb 3, 2018.

  1. MeachamLake

    MeachamLake A-List Customer

    Messages:
    361
    Location:
    North West, UK
    Just thought I'd throw this out there for anybody considering one of these jackets, as we've ended up chatting about MA-1s quite a bit recently, even in threads that have nothing to do with them!

    I took a shot on this Alpha MA-1 from a UK clothing store where it was on sale for £85-ish. Usually these retail for the £130 mark as far as I can see, although I'm aware they're substantially cheaper than this in the USA.

    The Fit

    This is not the slim fitting MA-1 (also known as the VF59). That one has strange, inaccurate interior pockets and chunky ribbed knits on the collar and cuffs. This is the original/classic MA-1 that's part of Alpha's core line.

    I ordered a size XL. I'm 6 foot 3 and have a 45 inch chest approximately. This thing is HUGE. I almost never wear a large in any jacket, but I would definitely go a size down in this.

    Unfortunately, the cut of this jacket in general just feels poor, and the Alpha fares poorly in this category. You can usually tell a well cut item even if it's a size too big - not in this case. The armholes are huge and very low, there's a ton of bunching of the nylon fabric near the waist and the sleeves are gigantic. I know originals didn't exactly have the slimmest sleeves, but these are more akin to two medium sized sleeping bags!

    Measurements on this XL are here for reference:

    Pit to pit: 28.5 inches
    Base of collar to hem: 26.25 inches
    Across shoulders: 21 inches
    Sleeves from shoulder: 27 inches
    Front zipper length: 23.5 inches

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Quality

    On a positive note, everything is very well stitched together, and feels solid. There are no loose threads anywhere I can see. The knits are an acrylic blend (I'm pretty sure), and they feel quite nice and stretchy. Two plastic pencil puncture protectors are included on the sleeve pockets too, which is a nice touch. The zips are Alpha's own, but they don't have the smoothest action in the world and do feel a little cheap.

    Unfortunately I'm not too impressed by the nylon they've used. I was somehow expecting that it would be great quality considering it's what makes up 95% of Alpha's range, but I am a little underwhelmed, even at this price. It feels surprisingly lightweight and, dare I say, a little cheap. They've used a poly batting on the interior, so overall the jacket feels very lightweight as a result - although I'm not sure this is in a good way. The orange liner in particular is clearly a cheaper grade of nylon too.

    Verdict

    I know people often say that paying top dollar for a McCoy's/Buzz nylon seems absurd, but on this evidence their stuff is on another planet entirely - whether that premium is justified is up to you. Whilst I don't feel this is a bad jacket for the price I paid, you certainly get what you pay for, and I wouldn't place this above any other mall brand jacket I've tried before. I've probably had better from high street brands. Considering Alpha's history, that feels very disappointing to say.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  2. HanauMan

    HanauMan Practically Family

    Messages:
    783
    Location:
    Inverness, Scotland
    Sorry, I think that jacket looks terrible. Having said that, I'm not a fan of these jackets so I'm perhaps a little bias towards this one. I never liked these puff sleeves nor the material it is made from. Your jacket looks really baggy.

    I always thought that the army CVC (Combat Vehicle Crew) jackets, based loosely on the MA-1 design, to be a much more practical jacket. It isn't made of nylon but a fire retardant nomex aramid material. I also think that the collar is good, useful when it is cool or windy.

    But each to their own.

    [​IMG]CVC1 by Al Sutherland, on Flickr
     
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  3. MeachamLake

    MeachamLake A-List Customer

    Messages:
    361
    Location:
    North West, UK
    Oh yeah, I’m not keeping this lol. It looks horrendous! Should have put that in my review - it’s definitely going back.

    Always liked those CVC jackets too, quite practical from the looks of things.
     
  4. Doctor Damage

    Doctor Damage My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Messages:
    3,239
    Location:
    Ontario
    If it was a size smaller it would look and fit better, but gosh the nylon (in the close up photos) looks thinner than it has been. I've got a couple of USA-made ones (from the 90s) and have had a couple of modern ones (from a couple years ago) go through my hands, and the nylon was pretty heavy on all them. This coat, to judge by the photos at least, isn't in the same league. As for the polyfill insulation, it's pretty warm.
    I think our member Peacoat was issued an early version of those when he was an Army pilot and he said they were disappointing. I hope he chimes in.
     
    bn1966 and Harris HTM like this.
  5. Doctor Strange

    Doctor Strange I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    4,759
    Location:
    Hudson Valley, NY
    Alpha's mainline MA-1 is indeed cut very large... for an overweight population at a time when baggy oversized fit is familiar to lots of them. I got one in 2010, and went for a 2XL because I'd just given away an Alpha B-15 (mainline, with removable fur collar) XL that was tight at the gut and short in body length for me at the time... and it had a bum zipper too. I wanted it big for layering. And this gunmetal gray MA-1 was indeed big, and seems bigger since I dropped around 20 pounds. (I paid $70 for it online at the Barre Army-Navy Store.)

    I have to agree that the materials aren't so great: it's the same zipper that eventually went bad on the B-15, and both layers of nylon seems less robust than expected. But it's warm and has held up through a lot of wear just fine as my main dead-of-winter jacket. It's certainly a lot better than the cheaper Rothco version ("Ultraforce", etc.)... but I can't help but think that the versions from Cockpit, Schott, and Gibson & Barnes are probably sturdier.

    MA1b.jpg

    Yes, it's big. An XL would fit me better. But I have plenty of other jackets that fit correctly, and I can layer just about anything under this when it gets mega-cold.

    BTW, about 20 years ago I got an LL Bean version of the MA-1 (for just $40) with some notable variants: though orange inside, it's not reversible, with a wallet pocket instead of inside vertical pockets; it has Thinsulate-type insulation (long since mostly lost through the seams with wear and washing); and most significantly, the exterior nylon layer is much, much tougher than the Alpha's... it's like pack cloth. And it has a notable construction error - which may be why it was only sold for a couple of years - the neck hole is much larger than it should be. A high-necked fleece or sweater is required underneath to close the neck, and generally, since the jacket isn't that warm now. But it's absolutely indestructible, and it's been my main winter hiking and snow-shoveling jacket ever since. (Alas, I don't have a good picture.)
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2018
  6. nick123

    nick123 I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    5,799
    Location:
    California
    Hmm....You have the frame for jackets to look automatically good on you; you just need to size down. Can’t speak for your experience with quality of materials or cut, as to each is own and can be viewed as dealbreakers but certainly to my eyes sizing down would lend you a pretty nice looking jacket!
     
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  7. MeachamLake

    MeachamLake A-List Customer

    Messages:
    361
    Location:
    North West, UK
    Oh, definitely. I don't think this would be a bad jacket at all in a size smaller, I think it would actually fit pretty well. I'm just a bit disappointed by the quality of the materials - I don't know if Alpha makes different grades of jacket or something, but I expected the nylon they use to be a little better than it really is.

    Perhaps I've been spoiled though by handling a lot of originals/Buzz Rickson jackets recently!
     
  8. Harris HTM

    Harris HTM Practically Family

    Messages:
    825
    Location:
    the Netherlands
    I own one of the made in China Alpha Ma-1 from 2012. Judging purely from your photo's it seems that the external nylon is now considerably thinner. Mine is much closer to the made in US Alpha's I was wearing in the mid 90's.
    The cuffs and waist I think they are poly/cotton mix but still after 5-6 years they feel and look the same, no problem with the zipper either.
    And you definitely need to size down!


    20180203_182109.jpg 20180203_182051.jpg
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2018
  9. bn1966

    bn1966 Call Me a Cab

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    2,509
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    I won't be buying one of those modern Alphas :) thanks for the very thorough review, will stick to chasing around after their old 'Replica' series.
     
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  10. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

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    Australia
    I have a Gibson and Barnes made MA-1 - it is made from very solid nylon and is cut trimmer. Worth considering as they are reasonably priced and made in USA. I have a black recent (ish) Alpha that is in a long size. People cross the road when I walk by. I think it's the number two buzz cut and my height. I kind of look like a extremist. My Alpha from 2016 is well made and constructed. Sounds like these things vary in quality.
     
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  11. MeachamLake

    MeachamLake A-List Customer

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    361
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    Still looking for those pesky replicas here too on your recommendation! :) No luck yet. I regret not going for those ones on eBay a few weeks back!
     
    bn1966 likes this.
  12. Big J

    Big J Call Me a Cab

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    2,989
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    Kudos to the OP.
    People often say (not pointing any fingers) that Japanese repro prices are a lot to pay for a 'nylon windbreaker' (and I used to be one of them!), but MeachamLake has just proved why the price is justified; it's about fit, cut, and quality of materials, and these are differences that are hard (maybe impossible?) to appreciate unless you've actually handled a genuine issue MA-1 (I certainly didn't until I bought my '67 and '68 originals, and then it was like I underwent a sudden awareness altering experience!).
    I can't speak for anyone, but at this price point, the Alpha is probably a reasonable jacket, but you know what I think really bites? Alpha were makers of genuine issue jackets, so they should be able to do better, and I think that's where all my disappointment for them comes from. They haven't got any excuses for not making a better product- they've just sold out in the race to the bottom.
    They should really be looking at making a mid-price repro coz that's a market no one is catering to. Kind of Gibson & Barnes leather jacket territory.
     
  13. Harris HTM

    Harris HTM Practically Family

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    Has anyone tried the Cockpit USA Ma-1's?
     
  14. bn1966

    bn1966 Call Me a Cab

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    Not yet but I'm keen to try one...heard good things :)
     
  15. Edward

    Edward Bartender

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    20,202
    Location:
    London, UK
    Certainly is a shame that Alpha are not doing the issue-quality stuff they once did. Inevitably, the bottom line will be that they simply don't need to: this is what their market wants. I doubt anyone will really push for better on the mass-market level until it's profitable: basically, we need a new Steve Macqueen to repopularise an accurate repop. Part of the reason the Japanese stuff is so much more expensive is because they are producing in relatively low numbers, for a smaller market. If they were able (and willing - a lot of the Japanese bits I've seen seem to be designed to be exclusive, with deliberately low production runs) to put them out in the number Alpha do, thy could probably afford to do them achunk cheaper.


    The older Alpha Replica Series was very good indeed; comparing lose-enough like for like (AlphaReplica B15C to Buzz N15C Mod), I've found the Buzz was appreciably slightly better, though how much the difference was worth is debatable; I had £70 in the Alpha and £150 in the Buzz, and at that the Buzz was the better deal. Not sure whether I'd have made the same call at £100 v £500, though clearly the current Alpha product isn't up to scratch. I'd love to see comparison with the Bronson and JIanshu jackets. I'd have taken a punt on the Bronson by now to try it if there was a UK seller; I don't fancy ordering from China to then decide to send it back.

    To think I remember the days when Milspec MA1s were cheap as chips in any surplus store you could find...

    Not yet, though they look good. I plan to check one out when I'm next in the US, but for now I'm avoiding anything US made while the pound stays in the toilet against the dollar. To be gouged for import taxes and VAT on top of that...... oh, no.
     
    bn1966 likes this.
  16. Harris HTM

    Harris HTM Practically Family

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    825
    Location:
    the Netherlands
    If you guys try one let me know! I've been considering either a MA-1 to replace my Alpha or a CWU-55.
     
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  17. Peacoat

    Peacoat I'll Lock Up

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    4,653
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    South of Nashville
    I remember making a comment about my MA-1 several years ago, but don't remember now what it was. I did get my MA-1 out of the closet and took a look at it. Probably I downgraded it on the shortness of the torso. I think I was issued the L2-B (lightweight flight jacket), which is a Satellite brand. It is short as well. Didn't really make any difference back then because while wearing flight suits it doesn't appear to be short waisted. Flight suits have no belts or indicia of the location of the waist.

    I think I got the MA-1 at the PX after I returned from RVN. But that was almost 50 years ago, and memories dim. Seems as though when the temps on the flight line were in the mid to upper 20s in Savannah, GA, I needed more than the L2-B which was sufficient in the Central Highlands (RVN) during the winter at night. I believe I got the heavier flight jacket that first winter at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, but I could be wrong.

    At any rate, I looked carefully at the Alpha MA-1 and think it is a quality jacket. The nylon is heavy and the wool batting insulation is quite warm. Sleeve length is OK, and it was comfortable to wear in the cockpit. My only downgrade is the shortness of the body, but now that I have gotten use to the length of the body on my three Aero jackets and three or four other short body jackets, It doesn't feel as short as it did a few years ago.
     
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  18. robrinay

    robrinay One Too Many

    Messages:
    1,271
    Location:
    Sheffield UK
    Vanity sizing strikes again - it looks like a triple XL. I’ve got a vintage Alpha made for the European market and its true to size L for a 44” chest. I wonder when brands started pretending they were smaller than they actually are. I remember certain women’s UK brands doing this in the eighties.
     
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  19. Edgar Laurel

    Edgar Laurel One of the Regulars

    Messages:
    289
    Location:
    Porto, Portugal
    I need a MA-1 jacket ASAP but have completely excluded any chance of it being an Alpha. Thin, poorly constructed and with strange "spots" of a different colour/shade. I've checked them in a store here that carry a big number of their products and in fact comparing to some "mall" MA-1 clones the "mall" clones seem even better but still of a sub par quality.
    Any kind of advice?
    What/where should I bee looking for?
     
  20. Peacoat

    Peacoat I'll Lock Up

    Messages:
    4,653
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    South of Nashville
    You might try for a vintage model made in the 60s. The two I have are quality jackets. Well, one is a N2-B but the same specs and quality control.
     
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