Safety Matches vs. Strike Anywhere Matches: What’s the Difference?

Safety Matches

A single safety match

Strike Anywhere Matches

A single strike anywhere match

Reactive Ingredients: Match Head
Potassium chlorate Phosphorus Sesquisulfide and potassium chlorate
Reactive Ingredients: Striking Surface
Red phosphorus None
Possible Striking Surfaces
Special striking surface included with matches (e.g. side of matchbox) Any rough, hard, and dry surface (e.g. side of matchbox, wood, rock, brick)
A safety match and a strike anywhere match side by side

The strike anywhere match (top) has a white splotch of phosphorous on its head while the safety match does not.

After purchasing strike anywhere matches for some side-by-side tests to find the best strike anywhere matches available today, I began to wonder:

“How are strike anywhere matches different from safety matches?”

I figured other people would be wondering the same thing, too, so I decided to research the differences.

Here’s what I found out.

What Are Safety Matches? What Are Strike Anywhere Matches?

To start, let’s define what safety matches and strike anywhere matches are.

Safety matches are matches that will only ignite when struck against a specially prepared striking surface like those found on the sides of matchbooks and matchboxes. For this reason, they are also known as “strike on box matches.” They are the most common type of match available today. They are the type you probably have in your kitchen or camping gear stash right now.

Safety matches also have a couple derivations beyond simple kitchen matches. Safety matches is a sort of umbrella term, underneath which you find waterproof matches and stormproof matches.

Strike anywhere matches are matches that will light from friction against any suitable striking surface. In this case, “suitable” means hard, rough, and dry. For example, in our tests to determine the best strike anywhere matches available today, we struck matches against rock, wood, brick, and even other matches with success.

Should You Buy Safety Matches or Strike Anywhere Matches?

Are you interested in purchasing safety matches or strike anywhere matches for camping or another outdoor activity?

If so, I recommend you buy safety matches. However, not just any old safety matches, but high-quality ones such as waterproof matches or, even better, stormproof matches (stormproof matches are waterproof and windproof).

Why do I recommend safety matches?

Simple: strike anywhere matches are hard to come by nowadays. Many brands have been discontinued. The only brand widely available in the US at this time is Diamond Greenlight Strike Anywhere Matches. According to Jarden Home Brands, the maker of Diamond Greenlights, here’s where you can find Diamond brand products:

An email from Jarden Home Brands, maker of Diamond brand products, explaining in which stores one can find Diamond products

You can find a few brands of strike anywhere matches online but I suggest you read about why I’ll never buy them online again before going that route. Overall, strike anywhere matches are a hassle — sometimes an impossibility — to find in the US.

Safety matches, on the other hand, can be found in most big-box retailers or outdoors stores. While buying matches to test for this site, I found quality waterproof matches and stormproof matches at Walmart, Academy, REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Gander Mountain. I’m sure you could also find them at Target, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, and any local mom-and-pop outdoors store.

Is One Type of Match Inherently Better than the Other?

Finally, you might be wondering if safety matches are inherently “better” than strike anywhere matches, or vice versa.

The short answer? No.

The long answer is that it depends on what you mean by “better.” If you want matches that are reliable and easy to light, for example, there are brands of both safety matches and strike anywhere matches that fit that description.

If you want matches that are capable of lighting in adverse weather, then safety matches are better, particularly the waterproof and stormproof varieties.

However, if you’re searching for matches that can light on as many surfaces as possible, then clearly strike anywhere matches are better in that regard.

For most people, though, who simply want matches that are reliable and easy to light, a good brand of safety or strike anywhere matches will work.