In this paper, an adaptive MAC protocol (variable load adaptive (VLA)-MAC) is proposed for wireless sensor networks. This protocol can achieve high energy efficiency and provide low latency under variable-traffic-load conditions. In the case of VLA-MAC, traffic load is measured online and used for adaptive adjustment. Sensor nodes transmit packets in bursts under high load conditions to alleviate packet accumulation and reduce latency. This also removes unnecessary listen action and decreases energy consumption in low load conditions. Simulation results show that the energy efficiency, latency, and throughput achieved by VLA-MAC are higher than those achieved by some traditional approaches.