You're right, Julie, that helmet pattern IS badly written. I ended up getting out some leftover yarn and knitting one ear flap, and like you I was getting pretty frazzled with it!
I did end up with k2, p2 columns of ribbing... its actually 3 knits on each end, with p2, k2, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2, k2, p2 in between, but only after very painstaking checking and re-checking as I knit. I really think Sirdar failed here, though their patterns are usually reliable!
"Next row: K1, inc in next st, patt to last 3 sts, inc in next st, K2. 10 sts"
I think when the pattern says to "patt to last 3 sts" its a bit of a cop-out on their part! LOL... because it IS hard to figure out, so rather than try to spell it out to the knitter, they're saying do the best you can!
What I decided was that they want you to have the first and last stitch a knit, whether you're working on the wrong or the right side. I guess that's supposed to give a nice edge to the strap. This, combined with the little bumps made by my increase stitches, made it hard to keep with the pattern. Those bumps looked like they were supposed to be purled when I came to the next row, but sometimes if I purled them I found that to keep in sync with the pattern they should have been knit. Other times if I purled them it was right in keeping with the rib forming... it depended on which number row I was up to.
So in the part where it says "Rep last 2 rows 7 times more. 24 sts." you can't
always repeat those last 2 rows exactly as they are written. The first and last stitch does always need to be a knit, but its the 2nd and second last stitch that varies and throws the pattern out if you're not careful. Sometimes it should have been a knit, sometimes a purl, and I had to feel my way carefully and follow the k2, p2 rib idea by visually checking OUTwards from the middle. Your original k2, p2 rib will be the centre stitches, so make sure that the ribbing either side of that is k2, p2 as the width of your strap increases. Each time you turn back to the right side, check that and if you've messed up you can quickly go back to the previous row and fix it.
Guess that's not much help, especially since you've already worked out a compromise, but at least you know that you're not the only one who's not a beginner knitter and yet found this confusing.
As for the stitch counts in the other hats, they look pretty typical as Sirdar hat patterns go. I've done a lot of their hats and they tend to be pretty similar in method. That doesn't mean there isn't necessarily an error in stitch counts somewhere, but without knowing exactly which size and style and row you had problems with, I can't say.
There's an email address for Sirdar's helpline at the bottom back of the leaflet. I've contacted them before and they've been most helpful, so perhaps try that if you knit from this pattern again?