Strictly speaking, I wasn't using default settings -- but I was starting in Wilderness Survival mode, which is one of only a few modes presented in the New Game menu, without making any additional changes to the difficulty. Wolves were definitely killing me in one hit. I've since changed to Standard mode, which has been at least a bit more forgiving, but it still feels like that should be how the Wilderness Survival mode is balanced, and the Standard mode should be even more forgiving. I have a tendency to play survival games in Ironman mode, even if I have to impose it on myself, and even in Standard mode a wolf can really ruin your day if it catches you in a vulnerable position.
That is reassuring. After my encounters in Wilderness Survival, I hadn't even attempted to take them on in Standard mode.
Ruin your day? Sure, and the fear is good too. But as weird as it sounds, I'd rather helplessly watch my character bleed out over the course of a few minutes, or even die of an infection that lasts an hour or two, than just get insta-gibbed. It feels like a more authentic survival experience then, and at least in principle it means I can make some token effort to save myself.
Honestly, even a couple of fox hunts can fuck me right up in this game if they go badly, leaving me unprepared for any wild animal encounter whatsoever. A major loss of health forces me to rely on wild berries and mushrooms with significantly fewer calories, and that can cause major problems in itself -- not only threatening me with starvation, but forcing me outside the bubble of my home base, where there may even be more wolves lurking.
I actually feel like the irrealism of the large inventory space counteracts the equal and opposite irrealism of not being able to properly store all the detritus you pick up that might be useful in the early game. Even with four reed baskets, the inventory limit starts to get a bit claustrophobic as you're making inroads into the Copper Age. And on the other hand, there's no convenient way to store those two full stacks of slate rocks you picked up from mining, unless you're willing to be constantly picking them up again by accident. So your unrealistic personal inventory space ends up as a stand-in for the floor space you should realistically be able to properly use in your hut.