The one big problem with proper, rigid sand mats is their size. Storing them inside the vehicle is a pain due both to bulk and their ability to damage nearby gear or luggage. Outside storage demands either a roof rack, a rear tire-carrier rack, or some other specialized arrangement.
So I was intrigued to stumble upon the Traction Jack, a two-piece sand mat only 25 inches long when folded. A pair fits inside a box about a foot wide by six inches deep.
The Traction Jack is stoutly built—in fact a pair weighs a substantial 28 pounds (compared to just 18 for a pair of MaxTrax). They are rated to 1,900 pounds per tire each, which easily handles most overland vehicles; a special-order version molded from high-strength nylon boasts a 4,500 pound per tire rating, which is up in fully loaded Unimog territory.
Obviously, the hinged Traction Jack will be of absolutely no value for bridging, even compared to the relatively flexible MaxTrax, which bridges surprisingly well when doubled. On the other hand, the two-piece construction of the Traction Jack should virtually eliminate kick-up into the vehicle's bodywork as you drive on or off it.
The company cautions against wheel spin when driving a tire onto the mat, as excess heat can melt the poly composite nubs that provide grip. I'm not sure how one would completely eliminate wheel spin when buried in sand; I expect a little extra pre-recovery shovel work would help—which is a good idea anyway. Fortunately the company's excellent guarantee grants one free replacement of a damaged section, and a discount on further replacements. By then one would hope to have learned the proper technique. It seems to me larger nubs would reduce the issue and provide more traction as well, but I need to test these in the field to be sure.
Besides ease of storage, another advantage to the Traction Jack is price: At $180 per pair (black), they undercut the MaxTrax by $120.
Competition in the sand mat/bridging ladder market seems to be heating up. The excellent MaxTrax has in a short time become a (slavishly copied) standard by which other one-piece sand mats are judged. I think the Traction Jack will provide a viable alternative for some people, giving up some versatility (bridging) in exchange for convenient storage options.
The Traction Jack website is here. I'll have a pair with me at the Overland Expo. Come by the BFG booth where the sand pit tire demo area is. I'll try to keep them there.