Studies of inbreeding depression or kin selection require knowledge of relatedness between individuals. If pedigree information is lacking, one has to rely on genotypic information to infer relatedness. In this study we investigated the performance (absolute and relative) of 10 marker-based relatedness estimators using allele frequencies at microsatellite loci obtained from natural populations of two bird species and one mammal species. Using Monte Carlo simulations we show that many factors affect the performance of estimators and that different sets of loci promote the use of different estimators: in general, there is no single best-performing estimator. The use of locus-specific weights turns out to greatly improve the performance of estimators when marker loci are used that differ strongly in allele frequency distribution. Microsatellite-based estimates are expected to explain between 25 and 79% of variation in true relatedness depending on the microsatellite dataset and on the population composition (i.e. the frequency distribution of relationship in the population). We recommend performing Monte Carlo simulations to decide which estimator to use in studies of pairwise relatedness.