Outbred mouse stocks, often used in genetics, toxicology and pharmacology research, have been generated in rather haphazard ways. Understanding the characteristics of these stocks and their advantages and disadvantages is important for experimental design. In many studies these mice are used inappropriately, wasting animals' lives and resources on suboptimal experiments. Recently, however, researchers from the field of complex trait analysis have capitalized on the genetics of outbred stocks to refine the identification of quantitative trait loci. Here we assess the most widely used outbred stocks of mice and present guidelines for their use.