I used 16" circs (bamboo) for the hats. I really enjoy the circs since I can just knit and knit and not worry about purling except for the ribbing rows. At the top I decrease a few rows then pull it together with the tail and add a pompom. So far I like the bunched look at the top but want to be able to make a graceful fitted beanie with dpns and eventually small things like gloves.
I tried the magic loop but had about as much luck as with the dpns. I don't want to get frustrated so I'm trying to learn new things slowly.
I like the idea of starting out on circs and joining the first few rows later. I will def try that. It will at least get me over the hardest part and let me practice with the dpns. And I'll try what suzeeq said about tightening the 2nd stitch after joining. I have some bulky yarn leftover so I will practice with that.
Thanks y'all! I can always count on some wise advice here.